We’ve been using Airbnb in Japan ever since we met more than three years ago. Joshua used it on his first trip and we’ve used it together ever since we started exploring the world together. We haven’t found any better way to rent a short term apartment in Japan and think an apartment is much better than a hotel if you’re staying more than a few days.
However, as Airbnb has grown it has become more controversial. Legally, it’s been kind of a grey area so the government decided to introduce new laws with clear guidelines for hosts who want to rent out their apartments.
What was it like using Airbnb in Japan before the law changed?
We usually have hundreds of options to choose from in most major cities, so it’s usually pretty easy to find a place. Japan has a lot of small, but well organized apartments that fit 1-2 people. These apartments usually have a small kitchen, bathroom, and more space than a hotel room for a lower price.
We have stayed in Tokyo, Osaka, Okinawa, and Fukuoka using Airbnb, including 17 different apartments and a house. Before the law changed we easily found a good place for less than 1,000-1,200USD per month even if it’s last minute.
Our experience after the law changed
Since the law went into effect on June 15th, 2018, the number of options has dropped by about 80 percent and prices of most remaining options have gone up. Many guests had their reservations cancelled and had to find new places to stay. Airbnb has paid for these costs, but it’s still pretty inconvenient.
Compared to less than a year ago, there are very limited options and prices have gone up. Most places are similarly priced to hotel rooms now and it’s really difficult to find apartments for more than a few days.
Luckily, we were able to find a reasonably priced place in Osaka, but we had to search outside of the city center, and take a chance on a new place without any reviews. We were in Tokyo for a couple weeks before this and couldn’t find a good option so we had to rely on traditional hotels and pod hotels.
Why is it so difficult to do Airbnb in Japan?
Many hosts had to give up doing Airbnb because most apartments in Japan don’t allow sub-leasing. Even if you own your own place, you need to get permission from the other owners in the same building on order to rent as a Minpaku (Airbnb). The result seems to be that most of the places left are run by companies, rather than individuals, since that’s the only way to make it work.
Can’t we just rent an apartment in Japan?
The problem is that renting an apartment in Japan usually requires signing a long lease, paying a lot of fees (a two month deposit plus a two month gratuity fee), and signing a long rental contract. Airbnb changed this by creating a platform for people to rent out their apartments on a short term basis.
As a traveler, the standard process was easy. Rent a place on Airbnb and the host will send very detailed instructions about how to reach the apartment and how to check-in. Before you check-in you’ll get the code to a lockbox with a key in it. When you check-out you return the key to the lockbox.
So, is Airbnb still a good choice?
If you can find a good option then it’s definitely a good choice. We think that staying in an apartment, rather than a hotel, is a much better experience overall and usually a better value, too. You’ll usually have more space, privacy, and a small kitchen of some sort. Some hotels offer a similar setup, but most don’t.
But, if you can’t find an available option that suits your needs, none of this matters. We recommend you plan farther in advance and consider different types of places. Or, if your flexible you can take a chance with a new host at the last minute. We’ve managed to find places to stay by booking new apartments without any reviews.
How to find more options on Airbnb
Before you give up on Airbnb, we recommend you expand your search. Look a little bit outside of the city and explore different dates. Also, consider renting a private room in a shared apartment, rather than an entire place. Sometimes, these places have nice shared amenities and you never cross paths with anyone else while you’re there. Just read the description and reviews carefully.
Sometimes, hosts will mark a place as a room, rather than an entire apartment, when in reality it’s your own place. We recently rented a place in Osaka that was listed as a room, but it’s an apartment building with many small studio-sized units. Each has a separate entrance, bathroom, and kitchen.
What are the best alternatives to Airbnb?
Unfortunately, if you want to rent an apartment or rent a room in a shared house for a short trip, you’re options are pretty limited. We’ve been exploring alternative ways to rent short term apartments and it’s surprisingly difficult even with Megumi researching in Japanese.
The best we’ve found is to research short term apartments and share houses using Google or another search engine. You will find some different companies offering short term apartments and share houses, which you can browse on their sites. They’re just not very convenient if you’re outside of Japan. Many sites aren’t updated frequently and their fees can be complicated.
The other option is to just stay in a hotel or hostel. The number of hostels and pod hotels seems to be growing, so there are quite a few options available. Business hotels are another good option. They are usually a little closer to an apartment than your usual tourist hotel.
The future of homesharing in Japan
Right now, Japan is in the middle of a shift in tourism. The 2020 Olympics are approaching and the country is trying to prepare for all of the tourists that will come with it. While it’s pretty inconvenient right now, things will probably improve over the next year.
But, until then it’s going to take a little more effort to find a place a stay. Hopefully this has given you a better understanding of where things are at right now. If you plan in advance, you’ll probably be able to find a good place to stay using Airbnb, but if not, staying in a hotel or hostel is still a good alternative.
Recently, we spent some time exploring Tokyo from two different perspectives. Joshua stayed alone in a few pod hotels and we stayed together in a business hotel. We’ll introduce you to these other options in our next article…