Living in Japan

Housing Discrimination Against Foreigners in Japan: Ministry of Justice Survey

In recognition of discrimination faced in daily life by the growing number of foreign residents in Japan, at the end of 2016,  the Ministry of Justice commissioned the first ever nationwide survey on housing, employment, and other forms of discrimination faced by foreigners here.

Purpose and Target Group

The purpose of the wide-ranging survey was to gather key basic data in order for the government to implement policies to protect the human rights of resident foreign nationals.

The number of foreign residents in Japan reached a historic high of 2.31 million in June 2016 (an increase of 135,000 from a year earlier). In the survey overview, the Ministry recognized that “various human rights problems have arisen over foreigners due to differences in languages, cultures, and other factors.”

The survey was mailed to 18,500 foreigners, aged 18 or above, in 37 major municipalities throughout Japan and was conducted from November 14 to December 5, 2016. Survey forms allowed for responses in fourteen different languages. Valid responses were received from 4,252 people (23.0%).

The survey found that things such as racist taunts, rental application denials, and discrimination in hiring due to nationality or race were widely reported by foreign nationals across demographic and national lines. The full survey (in Japanese) can be accessed here: Survey Report on Foreign Residents (Ministry of Japan, 2017)

Housing Discrimination

Below we summarize and analyze the key results relating to the section on housing discrimination.

In this section, people were asked the following questions:

Have you looked for rental housing in Japan in the past five years?

Just under half of respondents have looked for rental housing in Japan in the past five years.

Responses to the question: “Have you looked for rental housing in Japan in the past five years?” Source: Source: Japan Ministry of Justice, “Foreign Resident Survey Report” (March 2017)

If you answered “Yes” to the previous question, did you have any of the following experiences?

About 40% of respondents indicated that they had been rejected for rental housing because they were not Japanese and about the same percentage reported that their application was rejected because they did not have a Japanese guarantor. About a quarter of respondents said they just gave up looking for a place to live because they saw signage saying “No Foreigners” (gaikokujin okotowari, 外国人お断り).

Responses to the question, “If you have looked for rental housing in the past five years, did you have any of the following experiences?”. Source: Japan Ministry of Justice, “Foreign Resident Survey Report” (March 2017)

How Japanese Language Ability Affected Rental Application

The survey also asked respondents to rank their own Japanese language ability.

Here we breakdown the answers to the previous question, based on respondents’ language ability.

The key takeaway from this data is that language ability did not directly correlate with whether people were being rejected for rental housing.

This seems to go against the advice sometimes given that agents and landlords are more willing to deal with foreign applicants who have at least “conversational Japanese”.

Of the group of respondents who said they could barely speak Japanese, about 8% said they had experienced being rejected for housing because they are not Japanese. In contrast, almost a quarter of respondents who claimed native-level Japanese said they had been rejected because they are foreign nationals.

Source: Japan Ministry of Justice, “Foreign Resident Survey Report” (March 2017)

In response to: “If you have looked for rental housing in the last five years, have you experienced any of the following?” Source: Japan Ministry of Justice, “Foreign Resident Survey Report” (March 2017)

Relationship of Nationality to Discrimination in Housing Application

The survey also broke down respondents’ answers based on their nationality.

Top three countries by percentage, where respondents said they had experienced the following: “I was told that my application was rejected based on the fact that I am a foreigner.”

  1. Thailand
  2. China
  3. North Korea

Top three countries by percentage, where respondents answered “No” to whether they had experienced: “I was told that my application was rejected based on the fact that I am a foreigner.”

  1. England
  2. Peru
  3. South Korea

Top three countries by percentage, where respondents said they had experienced the following: “My application was rejected because I did not have a Japanese guarantor.”

  1. China
  2. Nepal
  3. Taiwan

Top three countries by percentage, where respondents answered “No” to whether they had experienced: “My application was rejected because I did not have a Japanese guarantor.”

  1. England
  2. Peru
  3. South Korea

Top three countries by percentage, where respondents said they had experienced the following: “I gave up looking for an apartment because I saw signage saying, “No Foreigners” on a property (I was interested in).”

  1. Myanmar
  2. Thailand
  3. India

Top three countries by percentage, where respondents answered “No” to whether they had experienced: “I gave up looking for an apartment because I saw signage saying, “No Foreigners” on a property (I was interested in).”

  1. Nepal
  2. Indonesia
  3. England

Here is the full breakdown of the data:

Breakdown by nationality, in answer to the question: “Have you ever experienced any of the following in your housing search?” Source: Japan Ministry of Justice, “Foreign Resident Survey Report” (March 2017)

Length of Time in Japan in Relation to Discrimination in Housing Application

The answers were also broken down in the report by respondents’  length of residence in Japan.

One clear takeaway from this data is that even people who were born in Japan and have lived here their whole lives have faced discrimination when looking for housing (22.9% of users who have lived in Japan since birth indicated that they have had their rental application rejected because they are not Japanese.)

Breakdown by length of residence in Japan, in answer to: “Have you experienced any of the following in your housing search?” Source: Japan Ministry of Justice, “Foreign Resident Survey Report” (March 2017)

Individual Examples

The survey also invited respondents to share examples of discrimination they faced in the housing market.

  • “This is something that happened when I went by myself to look for a rental property at a real estate agent’s office. First, when the agent found out that I am a foreigner, their attitude completely changed. Then when I told them my husband is also Flilpino, their attitude got even harsher. They said that the landlord would not rent the apartment to a foreigner. Then I went with my husband to another real estate agent, but we were told that if we didn’t have a Japanese guarantor, we wouldn’t be able to rent an apartment. Then I tried to tell them that my husband and I both have permanent resident status, but they still refused to help us. They said that it was impossible since we didn’t meet the conditions (for renting a property).” — 40-something Filipina
  • “This is something that happened to a friend of mine when they tried to buy an apartment recently. After the price negotiation was settled, my friend heard from the agent that the owner would not sell the property to a foreigner. Even though my friend was prepared to pay the full amount in a lump sum, (the owner) wouldn’t do the deal.” — 40-something Korean woman
  • “I’ve had a lot of experiences where I was not treated sincerely by real estate agents once they found out that I am a foreigner. They suddenly became really cold towards me. I think a system and policies should be established so that people can rent an apartment within if they don’t have a Japanese guarantor.” — 20-something Korean woman
  • “I’ve had some unpleasant memories thinking that it’s really strange that even though I was born and raised in Japan, I can’t rent an apartment in this country because of my nationality. I was born and raised in Japan and I can’t speak any language other than Japanese, but I still experience a lot of discrimination and prejudice here.” — 50-something Korean woman

Source: Japan Ministry of Justice, “Foreign Resident Survey Report” (March 2017)

You may also be interested in: Why is it so hard to rent an apartment in Japan?

Photo Credit: m-louis .® via Flickr