Open Doors in Kanazawa
Foreign tourists are putting the squeeze on accommodation choices at a popular rural destination. Since the Hokuriku Shinkansen line opened in March, Kanazawa has been inundated with visitors taking advantage of the two-and-a-half-hour travel time from Tokyo.
The tourists need places to stay, but hotels are often fully booked. Some inns and hostels have been renovated to cater to the influx, and the situation has also led to local people opening up their homes.
Some people are letting out vacant rooms, or entire houses, in a system called "Minpaku" that operates in a similar fashion to Airbnb. One Kanazawa resident, Fumiyo Ueno, inherited her mother's house and lets rooms to visitors, including many foreigners. She says reservations are pouring in and her overseas guests enjoy the Japanese domestic experience.
Ueno even cooks for her guests, serving up local delicacies. She charges about $35 a night per person, meals included. "I am happy if my guests enjoy their stay," she says.
"I think to live this experience from inside, in a house with local people, I think it brings a lot when you travel," says one contented traveler.
Reservation websites are driving a sharp rise in "Minpaku" and one site alone has 10,000 listings.
But despite the growing popularity of home-stay accommodation, many homeowners are said to be breaking the law by offering rooms. Under hotel business regulations, homeowners need a permit from their local municipal government if they charge for accommodation.
Strict safety requirements must be met to obtain a permit, including fire alarm equipment, nonflammable wallpaper, and other measures that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Japan's health and welfare ministry has asked local governments to enforce the law and Ueno says she received a call from a Kanazawa city official, asking her to stop accepting guests.
"I want to continue the service. I hope a new system will be introduced allowing me to do so," she says. As tourist numbers grow, so will the demand for safe and comfortable and safe places for them to stay across Japan.