Local governments in Japan are responding to an influx of tourists into rural areas by inviting homeowners to open their doors to travelers, amid an acute accommodation shortage at hotels and other boarding facilities.
The emerging "minpaku" industry, which has become especially popular in tourist areas, allows homeowners to take payment from travelers for lodging them in their homes, apartments and other rooms, while also providing a more culturally authentic experience.
But because the system is poorly publicized, there is still resistance from landlords unwilling to put up strangers, even with an influx of foreign tourists in the build-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics likely to make it a profitable exercise.
A revised government ordinance under the Inns and Hotel Law took effect last April, making it easier for individuals to rent their vacant homes or rooms. The Japan Tourism Agency expects the decision will go a long way to resolving rural accommodation shortfalls.
In August, in Tokushima city where the annual Awa Odori dance festival is held on Shikoku Island, southern Japan, Pasona Corp. was contracted by the city to promote minpaku operations to local landlords. A supervisor from the recruiting services company appeared on local TV programs and used other methods to advertise the idea.
There were a total of 1.23 million people who gathered to see the Awa Odori festival over four days this year, but only room enough to accommodate about 6,000 people at hotels, Japanese-style lodgings, and other boarding facilities in the city.
But for all the city's effort, there were just 36 homeowners who responded, with only 26 private homes meeting the floor space requirements, fire prevention measures, and other conditions required and laid out on exclusive websites and through other advertisements. A total of 275 domestic and overseas travelers were accepted into the 26 households.
Yukio Shintani, 69, who until two years ago operated a coffee shop from his home, invited a French newlywed couple and their three friends to stay.
He took the group on guided tours of the coast in his car in the daytime before his wife Tamiko, 68, helped them get dressed into their yukatas ahead of the festival. "Conversation was a little bit tough going, but using a translation app on my smartphone helped," Shintani said with a laugh.
Hyakusenrenma, a Sendai-based company that operates a minpaku business website in cooperation with municipalities in Goshogawara, Aomori Prefecture, Okinawa and other regional cities, has held nine recruitment minpaku events thus far, but with limited results. Only around a dozen landlords supplied vacant rooms.
"There are people who worry about trouble with lodgers but realize this isn't difficult once they experience it. We want to work steadily toward achieving results," said Yoshiko Ito, who handles the company's minpaku business.
The Japanese government has set a target of welcoming 40 million foreign visitors in 2020 and 60 million in 2030.
A law came into effect in June to allow private homes to be rented out to tourists.
While Airbnb Inc. of the United States is the sector leader in Japan, electronic commerce platform operator Rakuten Inc. has announced plans to take it on while railway operator Keio Corp. opened an apartment solely for minpaku in Tokyo in February.
Reports have emerged, however, of trouble between guests and neighboring residents over typically Japanese bugbears such as noise and garbage disposal.