“Minpaku” (民泊) has become a buzzword in Japan since 2013. Minpaku are budget accommodations in private homes and condos, similar to bed and breakfasts except that they are not yet widely regulated in Japan. It could be a spare room in a house, a condo, or an entire house/condo for rent. Popular website Airbnb based in the U.S. is almost singlehandedly nurturing the minpaku business in Japan. Airbnb enables people to either rent out or find low-cost lodging. The minpaku phenomenon in Japan looked to be a game changer in the tourist industry until we saw at least one municipality in Tokyo starting to regulate them.
In places where there is no minpaku law, minpaku are technically illegal if money changes hands. (Not a problem if no money is made.) It is currently a strange, gray-zone situation in Japan with so many minpaku operating illegally (including in Shiga). But most minpaku operators are not getting arrested since local governments recognize the need and demand for minpaku and are taking steps to lay down the law for them. Even Shiga already has many minpaku registered at Airbnb, but I have not yet heard of any action being taken to regulate them. The national government is currently formulating minpaku regulations.
Minpaku has created problems among neighbors. Common complaints include minpaku guests not sorting garbage correctly, guests having loud parties, and too many different people coming and going in the neighborhood. There are also renters who evade taxes on minpaku income.
In Japan, to rent out a room for money, you are required to meet certain standards and be licensed according to the Ryokan-Hotel Business Law (旅館業法). After all, guests do want to make sure the accommodations meet safety and sanitation standards.
The Ryokan-Hotel Business Law has four stipulated business categories: hotels, ryokan, simple accommodations (pensions, minshuku, etc.), and boarding houses. They need to create a new category for “minpaku.” Or it can be included under “simple accommodations.”
In Ota Ward, Tokyo, they just instituted minpaku regulations from January 2016 to allow minpaku to operate legally. However, the idiotic caveat is that minpaku guests in Ota Ward must stay for a minimum of six nights. Most tourists do not stay longer than two or three nights in one location. Why do they have this ridiculous restriction? It’s due to opposition from the ryokan/hotel associations. This is a major damper and basically cancels out the practicality of having minpaku. It’s starting to look like that Japan really does not want minpaku. Such a restriction will only be another barrier for budget-minded foreign tourists and prevent the growth of a new business model/category. I hope that other local governments will not follow this example and allow short stays. When making these laws, why don’t they ask what tourists want? Hotels and ryokan offer a totally different kind of accommodations and should not hinder the growth of a new industry.
Airbnb has a good system. They have illustrated listings and a map of minpaku in Shiga. When choosing a minpaku, you want to make sure the accommodation is what you’re looking for and that the owner/renter is reputable. You can read reviews by people who stayed there and judge for yourself. Some minpaku have no reviews, and others have a few or more. I recommend choosing a reputable minpaku with good reviews. Also note that some minpaku listed at Airbnb are legitimate accommodations operating in accordance with the Ryokan-Hotel Business Law. Not all are illegal.
One thing Japan needs to do is to dispel its image of being an expensive place to visit or travel. Minpaku can be one way to achieve this.