Japan’s hate-hate relationship with AirBnB

Earlier this week, AirBnB removed a whopping 80% (about 50,000) of their properties from their lists, stranding travellers, and financially hurting hosts. This was an (expected) shock to many. In March of this year, Japan passed a new law restricting AirBnB hosts from letting out their properties for more than 180 days a year; and requiring registration. Most hosts ignored or delayed the registration. The law is due to come into effect on 15th June; however, AirBnB preemptively removed the unregistered hosts early on the 7th June. Apparently, most property owners are Chinese, and didn’t take the notice seriously. How true this is, is unknown. Among the issues is why would Japan make such a law, especially in the final two years before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and when another 12 million tourists are expected to be added to the already all time high of 28 million a year flooding into the country.


 

In any case, with 50,000 AirBnB properties suddenly de-listed, what happens now? Many travellers are suddenly without accommodation, and are certainly considering cancelling their plans, or restricting their travels to only places to where there are hotels still available. A friend of mine is suddenly stranded and may need to completely cancel her trip to Japan next week. Me, I was to assist in the photography of a major sporting event next weekend, but now my accommodation is suddenly unavailable. I wonder how many competitors will have to withdraw. It is certain that the company AirBnB will hurt, at least in the short term, because of all the refunds they have to issue. However, the month of June will certainly see a sudden hit to the Japanese tourist economy. This seems like a calculated move made by AirBnB to bring the Japanese tourist industry either back into line, or into reality. AirBnB de-listed the properties not in the middle of the month, but early; probably to emphasis the size of the loss in revenue for the whole month. It is hard to tell which. It will be interesting to see how the tourist industry will respond, and if they will put any pressure on the government to change the rules. It appears that AirBnB lobbed their first shell over Japan’s bow.

 


 

I have my own mixed feelings and experiences with AirBnBs. However, it seems many Japanese just don’t like it, and even hate it. Here, I’ll discuss how I’ve used AirBnBs, my experiences, and then why many Japanese hate it, and why some seem to love it. However, what is the real reason for the bitterness felt toward this social innovation?

I’ve used AirBnB just three times. The first was for a photo shoot (as shown here), and the other two were for personal family travel. The photo shoot house was chosen because it’s fairly typical of a Japanese style house, which is slowly going out of existence. There are plenty of wood floors and tatami rooms. Tatami rooms are the rooms with the rice-straw woven mats called “tatami”. These tatami rooms are places where you sit and relax (on the ‘floor’); whereas wood floors are where you traverse or have furniture (like tables, chairs, desks, bookcases, etc).


The one I stayed in Yokohama was Japanese owned, and seems to be an old family residence that was no longer in use. I assume because the family bought new property, or moved to some other city or country. There are some companies that routinely send their employees on stints in a variety of places. It’s normal for families to spend three years in places like the US, Belgium, or another Japanese city. However, if the company sends the employee to China, Thailand, or India, (it’s always the man), it’s usually the husband who goes alone, whilst the rest of the family remains in Japan.


 

The houses I’ve stayed in were all two stories and well equipped. They all have washing machines, ample space to lay suitcases out, and plenty of space for plenty of people. The Yokohama house I stayed in had lots of bedding (which of course is laid out onto the tatami), so it could house a whole football team. There were some creature comforts like books (in English), cushions, kitchenware, TV, air conditioner, slippers, cooking tops, full size fridge, and basically all you would expect. The house I stayed in for my Rabbit Island trip had diningware, however, I couldn’t find it anywhere. It was when I was about to leave did the host open a cupboard that looked like wall decoration, did I realise that I could have had cereal from a bowl like a civilised human! (No, I won’t say anything more on that). Some hosts even supply a folder with instructions on where the local supermarket is, what to see in the area, translations for using the TV remote, and other helpful info. The house I stayed in for the Rabbit Island trip was chosen simply because there was no other accommodation available. AirBnBs can be in places where there is not enough tourist traffic to support a hotel, and can plug the gap when hotels are filled. It was even touted by some journalists that AirBnB hosts can help house the roughly 40 million tourists expected to swarm Japan in the Tokyo-Olympic year. So, there are some definite advantages to choosing an AirBnB; however, not all is great.


A main reason why I’d still choose a hotel room is because it can be cheaper. An AirBnB might be half the price of a hotel room per night. However, hosts almost always charge extra for cleaning, which can be more than the overnight fee; making a single night stay actually more expensive. Though, if you need a “home base” for week, then an AirBnB would make sense, and is cheaper. Similarly, if you’re travelling with a large group of people or an odd-number group of people who can’t share beds, then it also makes sense to avoid the pigeon-hole system of hotels, which allocate people within their rigid system of single, twin, and double beds. For solo travellers, hotels can be cheaper, but groups can make huge savings with AirBnBs.


 

AirBnBs aren’t always so great. The one I stayed in for my Rabbit Island trip had a downstairs room that we were told “never to enter” (immediately all the Hollywood B-grade horror movie plots came to mind). The down stairs area isn’t very well secure; it looked like it would be very easy to jimmy open any window or “locked” door with nothing more than a metal school ruler, kitchen spatula, or something similar. Peering through one of the many gaps, I saw the downstairs room would open immediately on to the street had two very old hairdresser chairs, and it looked like it had been abandoned for many years (think Hollywood b-grade horror movie scene… at the start of the movie). The Yokohama property I stayed in seemed like it was only recently renovated (I am grateful). However, the place my visiting family and I stayed in in Nara was a small disused bar (as in whiskey, bourbon, sake type of ma & pa establishment), and an upstairs living area where we stayed. The Nara property was ok, just a bit weird for my visiting family to see. In any case, it was the last place available to book in Nara.

The Rabbit Island property we stayed in, we didn’t meet the host, but was managed by her friend, who was… nice. She picked us up from the station really late at night, and showed us in. Gave us a quick tour, and left us to it. She even left a head of cabbage in the fridge that we could use to feed the rabbits at bunny island. On the final day, she allowed us to leave our bags there, even overlapping the time a new guest was due to arrive. I felt a bit awkward about this, and felt a bit insecure. The new guest was a girl from a northern European country who seemed much too hot (like me… temperature hot, it was the worst part of summer, and the house had no air conditioning), to be bothered with socialising. The host’s friend made us cool drinks, and gave us a Japanese style sweet to enjoy. However, I wanted nothing more than to escape to the cool of an air conditioned train and get back to Nagoya for dinner. Socially it was awkward. I was making pleasant hints that I need to leave, she was insistent that I stay and chat. I suppose she imagined a parlance of travelling minds and interesting anecdotes. I suppose it happens, but not that day; not when heat stroke was tempering the situation.


Despite the advantages of AirBnBs, many in Japan does not seem to understand the importance that they now play. First problem is, by the government’s own reckoning, there is not enough accommodation in Japan to meet the demand for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Restricting hosts to being allowed to let out their properties to a maximum of 180 days in a year, means that the whole venture is probably not profitable anymore. This, in turn, will discourage participation in the accommodation sector, giving hotels an advantage, but also causing many to bail out of the hosting business altogether. In the short term, I’d expect to see a sudden lot of unwanted properties on the market, which would have few takers. Secondly, it will make some regions in Japan that have recently enjoyed a boost in tourist numbers, and money coming in, suddenly out of reach and abandoned. Tourists are less inclined to go to a remote town if it is too far from their accommodation. Rural Japan does have some train and bus services, but not enough, not frequent enough, does not run late enough, and not enough companies provide even minimal foreign language information support.


 

Kyoto residents have already recently described the mass of tourists that deluge their city as “tourist pollution”; yes, I am offended. I don’t like to be referred to as “pollution”. However, this phrase packages a lot of nuances of Japanese life, and how the Japanese contrast themselves to tourists and travellers. Japanese are typically very quiet, keep to themselves, and almost never talk to strangers. In contrast, at tourist attractions, Chinese tour groups tend to swarm and crowd out all other people, making the experience unpleasant for everyone else. Mind you, Japanese and Korean tour groups did the same to me in Italy and Hungary in the mid naughties. In the meantime, some Western travellers try to make friends with the locals, who just want to be left alone. Also, many travellers will face moments where they need to ask a local for help, but many Japanese are not confident in their English listening and communication abilities, and so face high anxiety at these moments; they just want to avoid interactions with foreign travellers. Furthermore, Kyoto public buses are often so overcrowded at peak times, that locals now avoid them, and try to use the subway instead, even if the walk to the nearest station is inconvenient.

 

Tourists waiting at a bus stop in Kyoto in the evening.

Tourists waiting at a bus stop in Kyoto in the evening.

 

Another point that Japanese tend to complain about, and it seems specific to Chinese tourists, is the manners. Typically, Japanese wrote off the manners of tourists as being “their culture”, and were tolerant of the differences of behaviour. All cultures have ways of showing manners and being polite, though different. In some countries, an action can be seen as essential for politeness, whilst others unnecessary. For instance, after a financial exchange Westerners thank the staff at the shop, and engage in small talk, though unnecessary in Japan and even inconvenient for others waiting. However, Chinese tourists typically show complete disregard and even contempt for Japanese shop keepers, leading some stores to have “No Chinese Tourists Allowed” signs. Many restaurants do not provide multilingual menus; some businesses even purposefully do not provide multilingual websites, booking forms, or any hint they wish to seek foreign money. It is interesting to see the self-assuredness of some business that they don’t need additional money. So, what is their motivation? Some businesses claim because tourists ruin the atmosphere of the place. We are noisy, and talk in foreign languages.

 


Another complaint I’ve seen in Japanese news was the noise that late arriving travellers make. Some AirBnBs are simply regular apartments in regular buildings, where regular people and families live. Travellers often do not even consider the noise they make when they arrive late in the evenings. The noise levels might be ok for their own countries, but Japanese try to be as quiet and considerate as possible. This has led to conflicts in buildings where some apartment owners were told that AirBnB hosting is simply banned by popular vote of their building-owners’ association.


A final point to discuss is the Chinese ownership of many AirBnBs in Japan. I’ve not seen any data on the number of properties that are Chinese owned and listed on AirBnB, but I suspect it is not much. However, local media probably report that the number is disconcertingly large; in the same way Japanese media blame all crime on us foreigners (the actual crimes per capita amongst the expat population is less than the Japanese population). I don’t understand Japanese peoples’ resentment for Chinese property ownership myself, at least, without considering that racism must be a key reason. I haven’t heard what the discussion is, just simply there is local opposition to Chinese accommodation ownership. From what I understand, the number of properties owned by Chinese for AirBnB hosting is not a factor in local housing prices, or any other societal problem. The only conclusion I can come to is just opposition to Chinese ownership, and the flow of strangers into local neighbourhoods may have reached a breaking point.

We are only two years away from the Tokyo Olympics. It seems AirBnB is not the actual problem. It seems Japan is in fact in a love-hate relationship with the idea of letting the outside world in. Japan wants the tourist money, but not the tourists. Japan wants to show off its acheivements, but it doesn’t want anyone in to actually see it. Japanese pride themselves on their manners and hospitality, but only for other Japanese.

These photos and more are available at my portfolio for immediate licencing. Contact me if you wish to publish this story, or a version of it.

Wednesday Wander

I’ve been making Wednesday a mission day; to get out and shoot some city life. I’ve been posting these to Instagram, but when I post multiple photos, they don’t get automatically reposted here. So, for as often as I can, I’ll be posting “Wednesday Wander” photos here too. Many photos I’ll eventually add to my portfolio. See the links in the menu. Let me know what you think.

Monkeys in hot spring baths

Japan has a lot of quirky things that are just totally unexpected, or cannot be witnessed anywhere else in the world. For this reason alone, Japan must be on every traveller’s bucket list. Among the must see things in Japan are the wild, untamed, untrained, self-motivated Japanese macaques taking nice warm baths in the winter snow and cold.


Photo taken in 2014, before a barrier blocking access to this part of the hot spring bath.


Where

The most iconic place to see this is near the town called Yudanaka, in Nagano Prefecture. It’s a place known for it’s hot spring-public baths, and hot spring resort hotels. We stayed in one of the many resort hotels at the town, near the train station.


Firstly by train, you can take a bullet train to Nagano city from almost any major city in Japan. Then take a local train to Yudanaka. Check into your hotel, and I recommend that you walk around town a little. You’ll find some bilingual signs that point you in the direction of the monkey park. The next morning, wake up as early as you can, and follow these signs up to the Monkey Park. It takes about an hour to walk from the township to where the monkeys are. There are buses from the township to the Monkey Park Entrance area.


Secondly by car, you can easily book and rent a car from Toyota Rental Japan on their English language website. We rented a small Toyota Vitz compact car; a four-wheel drive/SUV is not necessary. On my second trip there, we rented a car, as it would be cheaper than the three of us paying for train tickets. Make sure you get full insurance, snow tires, and an ETC device (and card if you don’t already have one). You’ll be taking toll ways most of the way. You can borrow an ETC card that automatically pays the tolls for you, allowing easy passage; you will of course have to reimburse the card owner/supplier. However, we almost had a crash because of the ETC toll system. The final toll into Yudanaka does not use ETC, but requires an actual ¥100 coin. As we approached the barrier, I slowed the car, but didn’t hear the electronic beep to confirm a payment/connection. I slowed a little more, but when the barrier failed to rise I had to slam on the brakes. My friends and I lost years off of our life expectancies. After a closer inspection of the unmanned toll booth we realised actual money was needed, and a quick scramble we found a ¥100 coin and were in.


If going by car, you’ll pass literally through some mountains, and some of the longest tunnels you’ll experience in your life. I think the longest we went through was perhaps 11km! This makes for a game of guessing how long the next one is; the winner has dinner paid for them.


Thanks to @godwhale (Instagram) for taking this for me, while I was driving.

How to get there

The actual place is called Jigokudani Monkey Park (in English). There are only two ways that we know of, one is by public bus, and foot (it’s a 1hr 25min walk from Yudanaka Station). In both cases, perhaps the most stress-free way to move about in Japan is to use Google Maps. Please rent a portable WiFi device (now easily available from some AirBnB hosts, and WiFi rental companies), and connect your smart phone or iPad to it. When travelling with friends, we’ve never had a problem or argument when following Google Maps. All your batteries should be fully charged in the morning (think also smart devices, camera batteries, everything), as the cold tends to run them down quickly. Keep your portable WiFi in an inside jacket pocket, so your body heat can help keep it warm and keep the batteries good for the whole day.


It is possible to walk or drive up to the park entrance. Once in, the walk is mostly flat, and very picturesque. At the entrance you will see big signage telling you you must have certain safety gear, which I recommend anyway, and they rent and sell for people who forgot or didn’t know. Make sure you have gloves, sturdy water-repellent footwear, and special grippy-things (crampons) for walking on ice. On my first trip there, my boots caused such blisters and agony, that I went back to my hotel, put on my regular shoes with the grippy-things, and had zero problem. However, because of the cold and risk of twisting your ankle on uneven ground hidden by snow, I’d still recommend snow boots or hiking boots.


From the park entrance, you will need to walk a long the trail to the hot spring area. There’s an initial easy climb, but most of it looks like this:


At the Hot Spring Area

There are more warning signs. Don’t take in open or unpackaged food. The monkeys will smell it and attack for it. They also don’t want you giving monkeys human food. Also, never look a monkey in the eye; they will perceive it as a threat and a challenge. There are other warnings, but these are the main ones. There are lockers there that you can use to store your food and other valuables in. Also there’s a ticket office that charges for entry.


Once you’re in, don’t be rude or pushy; everyone there just wants to relax and enjoy the spectacle of the monkey culture. The monkeys seem to be on edge, always aware of what other monkeys are doing, and they seem to be alert for sudden tensions. Once a certain monkey enters the bath, other ones immediately leave; it seems like there are monkey factions. If you can figure it out, let me know. For the most part, the monkeys are oblivious to the human tourists. If you or your camera get too close, they will push you out of the way; not rudely, but in the same way you’d open and close a door.


There are two ways to photograph this place. One is to take a few photos, and leave; like many regular tourists. The other is to stay as long as you can (may be an hour or so, at least), and really get to understand the monkeys, how they move, what they do, and so you can predict their movements, so you can take better photos. You’ve spent a lot of time, effort, and money to get there, so why not leave with a huge cache of photos, of which you would be guaranteed a handful of great ones. Make sure you take a telephoto lens. On my first trip, I used mostly a wide lens, because we were allowed to be right up at the edge of the bath, but not anymore. You’ll be behind a barrier, so you’ll need a long lens to zoom in and isolate your subject; I’d recommend a 70-300mm lens, with a hood. The hood should help keep the snow off the front element.


The kind of cameras you see there are as astounding as the wildlife.


There is of course good reason for many people bringing the best cameras. Look at what you get:




Food at the Monkey Park

There are lunch opportunities there. Within a hundred meters of the monkey hot spring ticket office is a Japanese style hostel, so you can wake up and be the first photographing at the hot spring in your pyjamas, if you insist. However, anyone can dine for lunch there. There’s also a souvenir shop at the ticket office with very limited food options. However, the best places to eat are back at the park entrance near the bus stop and car park. Be there before 11.30am to be sure of a seat. Otherwise, pack a bunch of snacks and have those on the trail back to the park entrance as you leave, before having a warm bite back at the township.

Accommodation

Book your hotel early. Most of them fill up in the month before you plan to go. Most hotels are Japanese style resort hotels, which means they’ll have their own hot springs, luxury Japanese style menu options (which are often not to my liking). The rooms will be simple tatami types, which means you’ll have basic mattresses on the floor. The rooms are warm. The first hotel I stayed in had small seats, but the second didn’t. So, when my friends and I played a card game, it was a bit taxing on the back to be sitting without a backrest.


A view of Yudanaka township from my hotel window.

Dining

There aren’t many options, but fortunately there are two good points. Firstly, most restaurants are quite ok. Secondly, there are restaurants near the hotel part of town. There are many hotels, and they seem to be clumped together near the train station. Your hotel will have its own dinner menu, but probably not to your liking. The breakfast menu will not please you with its range of salads and lunch meats, but it will still be edible; you won’t go hungry.

 

For these images and lots more, see the Yudanaka gallery in my portfolio.


Model Call & Assistant Wanted in Nagoya in May/June

This is only for people in Japan, especially in or near Nagoya.

Part 1: Model call;  Part 2: Assistant needed

Hot new products for summer 2018

Hot new products for summer 2018

Part 1, Model Call

Who:  Women, preferably expats or travelling models visiting Japan. Basic English skills will help.

What:  Summer themed clothing & fashion shoot, including swimwear

When:  TBC (probably 31st May, 6th, 13th, or 20th June), and again in July and/or August.

Where:  Possibly Utsumi Beach (Aichi) https://goo.gl/maps/eTx9hwq7A4F2, or similar place. If the model is based in another city like Tokyo, Osaka, or other, we may meet near there instead.

Transport:  Public transport will be reimbursed (paid back, please keep receipts or photos of tickets)

Benefits:  Usually ¥2,500/hour (depending on model) for four or five hours, transport time not included. Plus receive at least five key photos from the shoot. Model may keep the clothing for social media promotion purposes. More information about social media product placement and brand promotion provided when you contact me.

Collaboration projects, you of course won’t get paid, unless we can make sales. I’m considering 1. An Instagram project (portraits in the city), and 2. making a photo book and calendar. Let me know if you’re interested, or if you have your own idea.

MUST:  Provide information about your clothing sizes as soon as possible, including type of mobile phone you have (especially if you have an iPhone or Samsung). Have own medical insurance.

Generally modelling information:  Here.

Contact:  Please contact me as soon as possible.

Views of Utsumi Beach, Aichi, Japan.

Views of Utsumi Beach, Aichi, Japan.

Part 2, Assistant Wanted

Who:  A bilingual (English / Japanese) speaker needed; some Chinese abilities may also help. Since most models are women, a female assistant is preferred, but a male assistant will be hired if no one else suitable can be found.

What:  Assist with photography shoots.

Benefits:  Pay is usually ¥1,000/hour; usually for three to five hours each job, plus an hour of preparation before. Transport time not included.

When:  For the job above, plus occasionally through the year. May involve travel to other cities.

Transport:  Will be provided or reimbursed.

Description:  To assist the photographer with basic tasks on a photo-shoot, including holding flashes/lights, reflectors, replacing batteries, and other basic tasks. Also to assist the model(s) when required.

Requirements:  Bilingual or have good-enough abilities in English & Japanese. Driver’s license may sometimes help. Some social media skills (especially Twitter and Instagram). Have own medical insurance.

ABlyth Product Banner March 2018

ABlyth Product Banner March 2018

Tree Nation, us, and you!

We’re so, so excited to announce this. We hope you can get as excited as we are. Now, we at ablyth-shop.com we have a tree added to our forest, and we hope that you can join us in becoming carbon neutral. On our scale of economy for now, we will invest €10/month for a monthly commitment. In the future, we hope to offset carbon on a monthly basis at a greater scale, so that as a community we are all contributing. Details of the project so far: https://tree-nation.com/profile/ablyth.

For each tree that is planted, two things happen. One, it converts harmful CO2 into oxygen for us to breathe. Two, it locks carbon in the body of the tree as well, thus removing it from the atmosphere. In fact, there are many other benefits to having trees. These act as a home for animals, cool the ambient temperature (especially important in summer), provide resources to support local and global economies, hold the structure of the soil together to prevent erosion and other major problems; and there are many, many more important functions trees perform.

ABlyth Social Responsibility Series: Make Trees. Products on sale now at ablyth-shop.com

ABlyth Social Responsibility Series: Make Trees. Products on sale now at ablyth-shop.com

What does carbon neutral mean? We need to offset about 9 tonnes of carbon a year, which on average means about two trees per month, per person. Until we build up enough members of our community, we suggest that you also create your own Tree Nation account, do help out directly.


Fall of Nature: Pulp. Available as high quality art prints
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Not many people know this about me, but I trained as a biologist in my undergrad years. I learnt so much about how our planet was on a course of doom, even back in the 1990’s. Protecting our natural world became an important thing for me, especially since it is where every human gets food and water from. Without food, water, and shelter, we have nothing, and will ourselves go like the dinosaur: extinct. There simply is no priority higher than taking care of our natural world. I’ve had some involvement with community ecological organisations, but have always wanted to step up my game. Some of my art projects have tried to focus on the loss of the natural environment, including Nuclear Spring and Fall of Nature. I simply cannot do it alone, so I need partners in this; that is you, me, and Tree Nation.


Fall of Nature: Collision. Available as high quality art prints
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Winners Announced & other big news

We’re so happy about these three announcements, including about our recent giveaway competition.

Firstly, a HUGE thanks to everyone who entered. We really appreciate your interest in us. There will be more competitions in the future, and there are discount coupons for everyone too. We will email you about that soon.

A foreign model posing for tourist theme photos

A foreign model posing for tourist theme photos

Secondly, a HUGE congratulations to Noam W of Tel Aviv, and Sarah W of New Berlin who both won the $150 worth of ABlyth items. We’ve already sent you emails, please check your inbox and spam boxes.

Finally, we ask a big favour. Now the winners have been drawn, please don’t abandon us. There are two big reasons why. Firstly, we want to host more giveaway competitions like this again, but we need your support to make it possible. Members get free shipping and other discounts for sharing photos of ABlyth products on social media.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, we are partnering with an environmental organisation, because we want to contribute to having a sustainable future for our children, and children’s children; and we’ll need your help. We’ll be announcing more on this in the coming weeks.

Watch this space.

UPDATE 2nd May: We’ve contacted the winners directly. Regarding contacting all the other entrants, we’ve broke our email system, so we’re working on that.

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