Prejudice among obstacles facing non-Japanese tenants

With a falling population, a shrinking tax base and a shortage of carers for its increasing number of elderly, calls are growing for Japan to allow in a large influx of foreign workers to plug the gap. The question is: When they come, will they be able to find a place to stay?

With its “shikikin” (deposit) and “reikin” (key money)  which mean forking out several months’ rent upfront and tracking down a guarantor willing to take on the payments in case of default Japan’s real estate system is notorious for the high demands it makes of potential tenants. Even if an individual is able to pay all the fees and find a guarantor, foreigners often hit a brick wall when looking for a place to live simply because they are not native-born Japanese.

“You often hear about racial prejudice in the U.S., but it seems the Japanese aren’t really ones to talk,” Morii said with a sad smile. “We Japanese have been going abroad for the past 100 years, and maybe experienced some discrimination there, but we’ve still been able to establish ourselves. . . . I feel bad for foreigners who studied hard to come here, and who are treated like this.”

Discrimination is an issue that will need to be tackled if Japan is serious about creating a more international society. Tourism minister Nariaki Nakayama alluded to this problem days after his appointment in September, when he bemoaned the fact that Japanese “do not like nor desire foreigners” and called for Japanese to “open their hearts” to diverse cultures. Nakayama was sacked days later.

Calls to allow in more foreign workers to Japan have grown louder as the implications of a rapidly graying society on Japan’s global clout and industrial might have sunk in. The Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) last month urgently called for an influx of “medium-skilled” immigrant labor. In June, former Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa presented a proposal on behalf of some 80 lawmakers calling for the government to raise the ratio of foreign residents in Japan to 10 percent of the population within 50 years.