Home > Focus on Japan 2007 > Probably Not a Breakthrough

Probably Not a Breakthrough

October 6th, 2007

From the Chosun Ilbo, via Japan Probe:

A Kyoto court ruled partially in favor of a Korean woman who sued a Japanese landlord for refusing to rent a room to her. A Kyoto district court ruled that refusing to rent a room to a person due to her nationality is illegal and ordered the landlord to pay the woman W8.65 million (US$1=W916) in compensation.

Courts have taken a dim view of refusal to let rooms to foreigners since an Osaka court in 1993 ruled this went against the constitutional stipulation of equality before the law. But in reality, Japanese homeowners often reject foreign tenants citing differences in the lifestyle and customs. Counsel for the plaintiff said the ruling was a “head-on attack on discrimination based on nationality” and predicted it would help eradicate unfair discrimination against foreigners.

In case you’re wondering, the award comes out to ¥1.1 million, or about $9,500.

Now, seeing this, I kinda wish that option had been open to me in the past. Maybe it was, and I just never tried, but somehow I don’t believe it would have been so easy or assured; this woman may have simply gotten lucky with her judge, who clearly seems to want to make an example.

Also, the 1993 ruling mentioned may have something to do with things; the first four times I went apartment hunting were before that time, and I recall anti-foreigner sentiment, even in printed form, was rampant. Some fudosan-joho (apartment fliers, or the sheets of paper that each describe an apartment, giving all the info on it) would actually have written on then, “ペット、水商売、外人不可”–“No pets, bargirls, or foreigners allowed.” Rental magazines like “Apaman” would have a notation for which apartments accepted foreigners. I recall in my first few forays into apartment hunting, better than 95% of the apartments I asked about replied, “gaijin wa damé,” or “foreigners are no good.”

In later years, I heard less of this, and have not seen anything written that refuses foreigners–but even just this year, when Sachi and I were looking for a place, we still got refused because of my nationality fairly often–though rental agents would be a bit more circumspect in terms of that kind of thing, calling the landlord out of our hearing, and not saying “foreigners are no good” directly. I thought this was simply because of Sachi’s presence, but perhaps legal decisions since 1993 had some influence on that.

Also, if you read the last paragraph of the Chosun Ilbo story, it shed a bit of light on what may have allowed the woman to sue in the first place:

The woman signed a contract to rent a room through a real estate agency in January 2005. But after she paid the deposit to the landlord and commissions to the realtor, the landlord changed his mind since she was a foreigner.

I am fairly confident that the contract having been signed was a pretty significant element of the decision. I rather doubt that if someone simply refuses to even consider me for the stated reason that I am a foreigner, it would be pretty hard to make any claims; probably the landlord/rental agent filter could be used as an excuse, that there was a “miscommunication” or something.

Which also makes me pretty sure that housing discrimination will continue more or less unabated–they’ll just be sure not to leave any conclusive evidence of it, like they do in the U.S.

Which leads to the question: if they’re going to discriminate anyway, would you rather they be upfront about it, or that they hide it behind excuses? I would think the former manner is at least more honest and less problematic for the victims: one of the biggest problems with masked racism is that you have to wonder if every bad thing that happens to you is because of racism, as you are no longer able to discern between racism and simple bad luck.

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  1. Tim Kane
    October 6th, 2007 at 12:47 | #1

    The thing is, why the discrimination, and why is it against foreigners. My landlord here in Korea, for whatever reason, doesn’t require the key money that she insist of from Koreans. Of course, we are right next to a university so that probably factors in – as most foreigners are older then most of the students that might inquire to rent.

    But still, there has to be a reason. I would think that in Japan, away from American bases, foreigners were on a whole, more likely to be responsible.

    I wish you could crack open the whole Japanese inclusion, exclusion group think for me. It has enormous importance on Corporate behavior which I am extremely interested in.

  2. October 6th, 2007 at 16:20 | #2

    I think all the discrimination problems instantly vanish if you marry a Japanese citizen–at least that’s been my experience! 😉

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