Many of our readers want to know if Airbnb in Japan is legal.
This is due to the often high prices for hotel rooms in Japan.
First-time visitors to Japan are often surprised by how hard it is to find affordable accommodation. For families traveling together, it turns into a real challenge.
Not only are the rooms small and usually only sized to fit a single double bed, but the prices also go through the roof in peak season, making it very pricey to book two rooms if you’re traveling with children.
Airbnb is a great alternative to a hotel room.
Appartements in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto are still not oversized but unlike a hotel room, you will at least be able to spend some quality time together in the evenings.
This led to an increasing number of questions regarding Airbnb in Japan in our mailbox and in our Japan Facebook group. (which is a great place to ask questions regarding your Japan trip)
Let’s get these questions out of the way once and for all. Here’s all you need to know about the legality and safety of Airbnb in Japan. We cover all you need to know to book your Airbnb with a clear conscience.
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Having a Japan Rail Pass is often the cheapest way to travel around Japan.
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Need help with your Japan trip planning? Check out this post on how to plan your trip to Japan.
Is Airbnb legal in Japan
Yes, Airbnb is totally legal in Japan. The government has embraced the new sharing economy but has imposed some regulations. These new rules were enforced in 2018.
All Airbnb hosts are required to register their listing and display a license number on their listing page. A few months after these rules were implemented Airbnb did a major cleanup and removed all unregistered properties.
Each property that is showing up today is playing by the rules.
Or isn’t it? We heard rumors and saw news items that some of the hosts are using illicit license numbers.
While this may be true it is not something to worry too much about.
It is not something that you or I could verify and if you would unknowingly be staying at such property this will not result in any problems for you, only the host if he gets caught.
One of the rules is that hosts can only rent out their properties for a certain number of days. Some of them try to circumvent this rule. They contact renters and ask them to book only part of their stay through Airbnb and the rest directly with them.
This is something we definitely advise against, arrangements made directly with the host fall outside Airbnb’s guarantees and you risk to end up on the street if the host decides to cancel on you.
It’s very important to never make any direct appointments with your host outside of Airbnb. As long as you don’t do this you should have a carefree stay.
Staying in an Airbnb vs staying in a hotel
Staying in an Airbnb will not be exactly the same as staying in a hotel.
They both have their pros and cons.
Below we give you an idea about what to expect.
Staying in a hotel
- Highly regulated with trained staff and management.
- The check-in process in a hotel is often easier than that in an Airbnb. You can walk into the lobby at any time. An Airbnb often requires you to make an appointment at a specific time.
- Early check-in and late check-out are possible upon simple request (sometimes free, sometimes for an extra charge).
- Better customer service: a 24/7 front desk is available if you have questions or problems.
- If something isn’t working in your room they have technical staff that can fix this right away or you can change rooms.
- Hotels are very recognizable and this makes them easy to find.
- The hotel can keep your luggage before checking in or after you’ve checked out.
- Depending on the rate booked you have the possibility to change your reservation on short notice.
- Hotels don’t usually cancel on you with short notice. We never had this happen to us.
- Almost all hotels serve breakfast and full-service hotels also offer lunch and dinner.
- Less personal.
- You don’t get to feel like a local.
Staying in Airbnb
- It helps experience life like a local: more possibilities to meet locals.
- It offers more charming, unusual, and non-traditional places as opposed to more standard hotel rooms.
- Cheaper if you’re traveling with a big family.
- Airbnb accommodations are more likely to accept pets than hotels.
- Having your own living room and kitchen gives you more freedom to relax after a long day of exploring.
- Airbnb offers weekly and monthly discounts which make it cheaper for longer stays
- If things go wrong you don’t have a manager to talk too.
- Although Airbnb penalizes hosts who cancel reservations, it can happen. In addition, the platform’s cancellation policies for guests often aren’t that flexible.
- You often need to make an appointment with the host to check-in or out. This sometimes makes it more difficult if you want to check-in or out late at night or early in the morning.
- No reception also means often no place to leave your luggage after checking out.
- No possibility to change rooms when you aren’t happy with your room or if something is broken.
- More and more Airbnb’s are managed by companies. These companies are not necessarily located close to the properties they’re managing. This takes away the personal touch and some of the charm of staying in an Airbnb.
- No loyalty program.
- Fewer amenities.
- Sometimes it’s illegal.
You can’t tar all hotels or all Airbnb’s with the same brush. Not all hotels are boring and businesslike.
Boutique hotels can offer experiences that are very much like Airbnb.
The same goes for Airbnb. The original concept of Airbnb was to stay with a local and the personal touch set it apart from stays in hotels.
But the success of the platform didn’t go unnoticed and it attracted several larger companies that manage anything from 2 to dozens of apartments.
These large companies are usually very professional and because they can’t be everywhere at the same time they often offer self-check-in and check-out procedures.
This has its advantages but it also takes away a lot of the charm that some people are looking for when they think of Airbnb.
I guess much depends on the purpose of your trip, your style, and your personal preferences.
Apart from the above, there’s also the price.
This may often be the deciding factor in Japan.
If you are traveling during the peak seasons, such as the cherry blossom period, the golden week, or the fall foliage you will notice how the prices go through the roof.
Read also: The best sakura spots in Tokyo.
During these periods staying in an Airbnb might be cheaper than staying in a hotel.
Airbnb can also be cheaper if you are traveling with a large group or a family. It is often cheaper to rent an apartment with several bedrooms than to pay for multiple hotel rooms.
Is it safe to book an Airbnb in Japan
Japan is one of the safest places in the world and in recent years Airbnb has done a tremendous job in improving its safety checks.
You may have heard various horror stories about Airbnb.
This is because they have mainly focused on growth at the start.
Everybody, both guests as well as hosts, would only require an email account to create an account.
Great for those who fancied a wild raving party at someone else’s place but it was a double-edged sword.
It also meant that hosts could list properties without being verified. That meant that nobody verified the condition of the property and you couldn’t even be sure that the property shown was owned by the host.
The good news is that Airbnb has grown up in the meantime. They now require more personal details and will look at various aspects of the criminal record of their hosts.
This has stopped the horror stories that used to pop up every once in awhile in the past and it has made the platform much more reliable.
Today 6 people are checking into an Airbnb every second on average. A number that shocked me. Clearly, many people have confidence in the platform.
Here are some other things you can do to ensure a safe and relaxed stay.
Check the reviews
We went through a tremendous amount of reviews to select the Airbnb’s we suggest in Tokyo.
The reviews can tell you a lot about the accommodation and its host.
Pick those properties that have many excellent reviews.
If a property has only limited reviews make sure that they are from real travelers and not just family or friends (you should be able to get a feeling of this by checking if those reviewers also reviewed other properties)
Go for Superhosts
It is one of the criteria we also use when making our selections. Superhosts are very responsive, have good ratings and most importantly, they don’t cancel on guests. More on Superhosts further down.
Contact the host
Contact the host when in doubt about something.
If anything about the pictures, the amenities, or the description of the property is not 100% clear it is better to ask the question than to assume that you think it will be ok.
It’s always a good idea to get in touch with the owner because it will also show how helpful, accommodating, and responsive this person is and how well he speaks English.
Verify that you’re on the legit Airbnb website
This won’t be a problem if you started your search on the company’s website but you need to pay attention if you’re looking at a listing that you found through an ad or if somebody sent you the details of his apartment in an e-mail.
Airbnb’s website is completely safe & secure but there are also FAKE versions of the site. They are almost identical copies.
You can verify that you’re on the correct website by looking at the URL.
If this does not start with “airbnb.com/” then something is wrong.
If you’re in doubt that the website you’re looking at is legit you can always surf to airbnb.com and start a search for the exact same property there.
If you don’t find the property something is fishy.
Rent an entire place
If a host rents out his property to multiple guests at the same time you will need to share public spaces and maybe also the bathroom.
Renting an entire place guarantees more privacy and is also safer.
What should you know before booking an Airbnb in Japan
Your host will need a copy of your passport
Under Japanese law, all guests who are staying in an Airbnb and aren’t living in Japan need to provide a copy of their passport.
If you’re living in Japan, regardless of your nationality, you can use your residential card, alien registration card, driver’s license, or any other kind of ID issued in Japan.
If you will not be meeting your host in person you can mail him or her a picture of the document.
Pay attention to the number of bedrooms when you are traveling in a group
Airbnb lists both the number of bedrooms and the number of beds. Pay close attention to both when making your selection.
Here are 2 reasons why.
- Chances are you may not want to share bedrooms if you are traveling with your family or with friends. However, this is how many of the properties in Japan are set up. We found properties that could accommodate 5 or 7 people but only had 1 bedroom.
- Some of the extra beds are air mattresses or floor mattresses and not everyone might be comfortable sleeping on those.
An alternative to sharing the bedroom is to have some guests sleep in the living room. As apartments tend to be small this would mean reorganizing the room twice daily.
In general, it is always better to look for apartments with multiple bedrooms but if you’re not 100% sure how the apartment is arranged and how your party can be accommodated we advise contacting the host.
What to look for when choosing an Airbnb in Japan
When you are looking for an Airbnb is popular cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka you will find more than 300 properties.
Finding a property in such a long list would be a hell of a job.
Here are some criteria to narrow this list and to help you choose the perfect Airbnb in Japan.
Popular tourist areas
To begin with we advise you to only look for Airbnb’s in popular tourist areas.
You can find cheaper Airbnb’s in more remote areas of the cities but these have the disadvantage that you will lose (a lot of) time to get to the tourist sights.
When staying in popular tourist areas you will be closer to restaurants, bars, and entertainment.
These properties will also have more reviews giving you a better idea of the quality of the place you will be staying at.
Limit your search to Superhosts.
Superhosts are experienced hosts that are recognized by Airbnb for their exceptional quality. They respond quickly to guests’ requests, at least 80% of their reviews are 5-star (with an overall average of 4.8 or higher) and they rarely cancel reservations.
Especially the latter is important as this gives you peace of mind.
Nothing is more annoying than having to look for new accommodation at the very last minute but this is what you might need to do when your reservation is canceled a few months or weeks before your planned travel date.
English speaking host
If you’re looking for a 24/7 concierge to give tips about restaurants and to book tickets for attractions you’re in the wrong place. This kind of service is only offered at a hotel.
Still, several hosts are very accommodating and will be more than happy to share their favorite places around town. There is, of course, one requirement, you need to be able to understand each other.
Unlike hotels where you more or less can assume that the property is run by multi-lingual staff, this is not a certainty if you select an Airbnb.
We stayed in a house in South Korea where the owner did only speak Korean.
Although we managed to understand each other with a combination of sign language and Google translate, our conversations were kept to a minimum. We were shown around the place and confirmed the payment.
If you’re not able to communicate with your host you lose a lot of the charm of what Airbnb is all about.
How to find out if your host speaks English (or any other language).
When searching for properties you can apply a filter on the host language. There’s a list of 30 languages you can choose from.
Hosts indicate themselves which languages they master.
If it’s really important to you that they have a good knowledge of the language you can do two more checks.
- You can see if the property has got many reviews in your preferred language. The more the better and these reviews might as well contain a clue about the language capabilities of your host.
- You can also message the host beforehand with a question. His answer will give a good indication of how capable he is in your preferred language.
Not everybody is keen on sharing a bathroom and toilet. We aren’t either. That’s why we always look for properties with a private bathroom.
It’s a matter of privacy but also safety, you don’t want someone accidentally roaming into the bathroom when you are in the shower or on the toilet.
This criteria very much depends on your personal preferences. Some people might care less about this than others.
Some more tips for using Airbnb in Japan
Print and/or Map the Address
Once you booked an Airbnb, print or map the address. The Japanese addressing system is rather complex and full of exceptions, it is definitely recommended to ask your host for directions.
Once you have the address, the directions, and an image from the outside of the property (which is usually already available on Airbnb), you can look it up on Google Maps and Google Street view.
Japan’s train and metro system is very convenient to get to most locations.
It’s also much cheaper than taxis who are, contrary to what you would expect, also not familiar with the city’s complex structure.
If you plan on taking a taxi it’s best to have the address, phone number (it can be used in most GPS systems), as well as the directions given by your host available for the taxi driver.
If you don’t you risk paying an awful lot more than you should if your driver gets lost or needs to stop to study his map or ask for directions.
Traditional houses often have futons instead of beds
Staying in a traditional house or apartment can be a very special and unique experience. It is something that we absolutely recommend.
Just know that part of the experience will be saying goodbye to your traditional bed. For the duration of your stay, you will be spending the night on a ( thin ) futon ( floor mattress).
Some are thin, others can be more comfortable, but they all have one thing in common. You will be sleeping on the floor.
Sleeping on a futon may be less suitable for you if you’ve problems getting up or if you suffer back problems.
Shoes inside are a big no
It is considered very impolite not to take off your shoes before entering a house.
You can usually tell where the “shoe-free zone” of a house or an apartment starts because it will be one step up from the entryway.
Many Airbnb hosts will provide slippers.
You can wear these slippers in places with a hardwood floor but you should remove them when you are walking on tatami mats or carpets.
There will usually be a different pair of slippers for the toilet.
Here are more useful tips about traveling to Japan for the first time.
Most Airbnb’s have free Wifi and some will also offer a pocket wifi device that you can use for free during your stay.
Such a Wifi device is really handy and almost unmissable if you’re planning to travel independently throughout Japan.
We installed several local apps on our phones to see the train schedules and to use the metro efficiently. We also used our phones to translate Japanese menu items (not perfect but at least you get a clue about what you’re ordering) and used Google Maps to walk from one sight to the next in the urban jungle.
If your host does not provide such a WiFi device, or if you do not have access to it for the complete duration of your trip it is a good idea to rent one yourself. It is really cheap and you get a lot of comfort in return for the small investment.
An alternative to a WiFi device is a tourist SIM card. Below are 2 posts that cover both options and that show the pros and cons of each option:
Airbnb is both legal and safe in Japan.
Many travelers have stayed in Airbnb properties in Japan and most of them say they will do so again if they ever go back because they were so happy with their stay.
Most hosts are very accommodating and want you to return home with a great impression of their country.
There have been cases where the host tried to bend the rules in their favor but as long as you follow the above tips you should have an excellent worry-free stay.
We use these strict criteria when we select Airbnb’s for our stays and we also used them to create this list of Airbnb properties in Tokyo.
Have you ever stayed in an Airbnb in Japan? How was your experience?