I feel I should warn you that I am about to write critically of life here in Japan. Maybe you’ll agree. May be you won’t. Fair enough. This is based on my experiences and maybe they don’t align with your own. Or maybe it lines up quite closely. Either way, feel free to leave a comment and let me know. If you think I’m being unfair, by all means let me know.
This afternoon I had a great little walk around much of the Shinjuku area. I wanted to travel to a bookstore and a few other places, and rather than zip over by train I wanted to enjoy today’s pleasant weather.
At around 3:00 my wife and I messaged each other. Neither of us had lunch and were game for meeting up at a nearby restaurant before it finished its lunchtime and went on break to prepare for dinner time.
We both like this place. It has a great menu of Japanese-style Chinese food, the prices are cheap, and it seems to be run by a nice grandmother of a woman. We were the only ones in the store, which meant that she let us order off menu. Don’t get me wrong, their menu is fantastic, but they also do a secret sun-ra-tanmen that is fantastic, but only when they aren’t busy.
Anyway, we were enjoying our meal and I was doing my best to tune at the television they have blaring. That’s still one of the little quirks about a lot of small restaurants that I have yet to get used to. I can understand having a TV to some extent, but having the volume up just distracts me. Sure, I’m sure other places in other countries do it to, but it does seem more prevalent here.
But, I’m doing my best not to watch or get distracted. I want to enjoy the nice late-lunch with the wife. But, I don’t really watch a lot of TV here. Sure, I watch a decent amount of US TV digitally, but I tend to avoid Japanese television. This is the point where the critical elements start.
See, I’m not really a fan of variety shows. I don’t have much of an interest in celebrity and that is a majority of what these panel shows tend to offer. That and food, which I also am not much into watching.
Honestly, most of what I watch falls into scripted, fiction television. And while there have been a few Japanese shows that I have enjoyed, most of their dramas leave me unsatisfied at best. For a variety of reasons (acting, music, scripting, story, etc.)
What was on in this shop was on of the standard panel shows where it seems the panel is also watching the same video you are watching and they and the studio audience are also reacting to it. (“Heeeeeeeee”) This time the topic is on shops that foreigners like to go to in Japan. I’m doing my best to ignore it. I fall into that category that does not think Japanese television does a good job in depicting foreigners and tend to selectively omit truths when doing so.
But, like I said, I’m ignoring it. Until they start talking about this realtor shop that foreigners just love to go to. Here is where I start paying attention, because I am wondering if they will bring up the topic that they need to bring up.
The TV show goes on to talk about this popular shop where 90% of the realtors are foreign and they speak multiple languages. Great. The show also says this helps the clients feel at ease because they can learn about the system of guarantor companies. Okay. That’s fine, I think, but get to the real issue.
The show changes topics. I sigh. The Mrs. tells me I shouldn’t watch Tv. It only gets me grumpy. I say “Yeah, but…” and start to grump. She indulges me slightly. She’s heard it before. I let the conversation change. We finish our lunch.
So, what was it that I was waiting for? Or, rather, hoping the show would have the courage to bring up but suspected they wouldn’t?
Housing in Japan has a great deal of racism worked into the system. This is from the realtors to the landlords. Many foreigners living here have experienced it. Some have not. Its a crap shot.
When I first moved over here, my housing was arranged and I didn’t need to worry. Four years later I moved to a new city. That was a challenge. I tried several realtor companies that were highly recommended. Through one I found a property I liked. I looked at the place. Was ready to sign. The landlord decided, without ever meeting me, that he didn’t want to rent to a foreigner. There might be a language issue. Keep in mind, all my dealing with the realtor company were in Japanese. After this landlord said no, they said they had no other properties to show me.
The next company I talked with showed me several places that were farther away from my work place than I had requested. When you are commuting by bicycle, this is important. They merely shrugged. Also, the best of the properties they showed me had a cracked toilet that they said might be fixed before I moved in. Or I might need to fix it myself. I passed on their properties.
The next place, and one of the larger realtor companies in that prefecture, simply asked if I had anyone to serve as a guarantor within Japan. I said probably not but was there any thing else that can be done. They said no and asked me to leave.
Keep in mind, I had been living in the country for the past four years and had just been hired by the Prefectural Board of Education as a member of their Compulsory Education Division. Although the best they were willing to offer foreigner was 36 hours a week that kept me from being “full time” it was still a well paid salary in the direct employ of the government. But, to many realtors and Landlords I was simply a foreigner that wasn’t worth renting to.
Even after getting married, renting a place could still be frustrating. While my wife, born and raised in Japan, was no problem, I often heard the realtors on the phone with prospective landlords letting them know that the husband was a foreigner. Yes, he speaks Japanese. Yes, he is employed. No? Okay, we understand. And then they would tell us we should forget about that listing.
Now, as I write this I am sitting in my apartment in Tokyo, so obviously I have been able to find places to live. But it annoys me that a TV show would raise the question of why foreign residents would seek out a realtor with such a high percentage of foreign staff without mentioning how much race/ethnicity can play a factor in getting housing here. Because, all those other issues that were thrown up as for why foreigners can’t get housing, there are ways around it.
I know because my story has a hero. This was over ten years ago now when I was looking for a apartment for that first move. I had spent most of the past two weekends trying, and getting rejected, my multiple realtor companies and landlords. I was feeling it.
At the local mall there was an area where various realtors had mini-storefronts. Barely more than a help desk. As I was walking by, I saw that a mom-aged woman at one of the storefronts was available. I walked over to her, and probably looked ready for disappointment as I asked “I don’t have a guarantor here in Japan. Most everyone I know is either a co-worker, or the girl I’ve been dating for about a year and don’t want to ask for such a financial commitment.
She smiled and asked what I knew about guarantor companies. I told her I knew nothing about them. She told me to sit down, not to worry about whether or not I would use that company or not, but hat she would explain to me how guarantor companies work, because it is information I should know. She spent the next hour breaking it down for me, and explaining how I could rent. She held my hand through the renting process, guided me to good landlords and protect me from the bad.
For years after, when I or my girlfriend turned wife went to that mall and saw her we would stop and chat. She knew there were problems in the housing industry here in Japan. And because of that knowledge, she was willing to go the extra step to make sure I could find a place.
So, when I see shows like the one today I get riled up. Because i wonder, who are you helping by hiding the truth?
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