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Editorial: Enhance 'minpaku' system to provide diverse opportunities

A new law regulating "minpaku," or privately owned homes offering short-term stays for a fee, came into force in Japan on June 15, allowing ordinary citizens to rent out their vacant rooms to travelers. Under the law, anyone can lease their rooms to travelers for up to 180 nights a year if they notify their local prefectural government in advance that they will begin a minpaku business. It is hoped the law will contribute to the spread of such accommodations.

However, things have not been going as well as initially expected. Since the law sets out rules to clarify various issues, its implementation has given the public the impression that minpaku have come under new regulations, as opposed to being promoted.

Some local governments have enforced ordinances on minpaku whose rules are stricter than those in the law. As of June 8, only 2,707 individuals and businesses had notified prefectural governments that they would start such lodgings. Numerous owners of minpaku who had been operating under the Inns and Hotels Act appear to have decided to discontinue their businesses in those areas.

Shortly before the law went into effect, an online private lodging introduction website created mass confusion with a slew of cancellations of bookings at minpaku not meeting the requirements under the new law, throwing cold water on the burgeoning minpaku business. The company did so at the instruction of the Japan Tourism Agency, and was required to foot the costs of rebooking fees for customers affected by the cancellations.

Conflicting positions on the new law between those involved in the minpaku business have no doubt cast its launch in a negative light.

The central government, which is striving to attract more inbound tourists, expected private lodgings to easily make up for a shortage of accommodation facilities in Japan.

Business operators have entered the market for profits, while individuals wanting to rent out their vacant rooms as minpaku desire to contribute to cross-cultural communication. Some local governments aim to use the new law to utilize vacant houses and expect such lodgings to vitalize their local economies. Others are worried about potential declines in public safety in local communities and possible disputes between minpaku users or hosts and local residents.

Some local bodies have stiffened regulations by enacting local ordinances, complicating the procedure for opening minpaku lodgings. Uniform rules introduced under such ordinances have discouraged individual home owners, who attach importance to hospitality for travelers, from renting out their vacant rooms.

In one administrative district, if the owner of a minpaku leaves his or her home for at least an hour a day while renting out a property to visitors, the owner is regarded as being absent, and such a minpaku is treated in the same way as a business borrowing an apartment complex from its owner for profit. Stricter rules apply to such minpaku.

Some local bodies have ordinances that restrict minpaku rent-outs by the owners of properties in areas exclusively for housing and near schools to weekends.

If tourists stay under the same roof with minpaku owners, it will certainly be a good opportunity for guests to interact with members of the local community.

While learning lessons from the experience of running minpaku, the system should be improved and offer diverse opportunities for inbound tourists to experience various aspects of Japan.

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