Japanese millennials have never known their country to be stable, at least not compared to previous generations. Economic crises, political scandals and natural disasters have shaken the foundations of society. The traditional Japanese dream of lifetime employment, marriage, a car and a home is rapidly losing its appeal. Instead of being bound to these strict social structures, some millennials are embracing chaos.
While many Japanese young people would traditionally live with their parents or try “cockpit living” in tiny one-room apartments, for example, an influential minority now lives in shared accommodation. “I think it’s a lot trendier now,” explains one such person. “The world has opened up. I don’t think my grandparents would have ever considered living with complete strangers. In their day, everything was so rule-based.” The implication is that breaking the rules of “who to live with and how”, to paraphrase the tagline of shared house service Colish, is a path to personal freedom.
This narrative is by no means uniquely Japanese, of course. In fact, the concept of fun and free shared living has been gradually introduced to Japan, first through TV shows such as Friends and Beverly Hills, 90210, and then in local dramas and comics such as Cookie, Nana and Last Friends.
Although the idea has been slow to catch on in Japan, the market has increased fivefold since 2007, and several companies have emerged to take advantage.
Tokyo Share House was founded in 2010 by Tetsuro Moriyama. Inspired by a life-changing sharing experience in Australia, and sensing an opportunity to add a “plus alpha” to a housing market dogged by depopulation, Moriyama preaches the benefit of embracing complexity. “For me, a shared house is a place where anyone can encounter more possibilities,” he says. Tokyo Share House facilitates those encounters.
It does that by organising information clearly through a portal site, where you can browse through and apply for shared properties. Though not as stylish as competitors Colish or Hitsuji Fudosan, users claim that it is particularly easy to navigate, something Moriyama prioritised in development. A telling feature is that you can search by concept, such as shared houses for food lovers, music lovers, creators, and so on.
|This article is part of the Cultural Radar series|
Another important feature that distinguishes Tokyo Share House from its competitors is its international ambitions. Recognising that shared houses appeal to foreigners, Moriyama established an English version of the site shortly after launch, as well as a global portal, Sharehouse.in, which lists shared properties around the world.
And Moriyama’s endgame is further revealed by two additional services. Firstly, there’s an embedded social networking service called Sharelog, where users share stories about their houses and private lives with the world. A second service on the site is Shareticket, where people advertise experiences in their city ranging from market tours to massages. Having already copyrighted the word “Sharehouse”, Moriyama seems to be turning the sub-culture of sharing into a lifestyle brand.
Although Tokyo Share House is hardly a major player in the housing market, it represents an important trend. Even traditional real estate agents are taking notice. In the words of one of them, who is approaching the end of his career, “A house is just a box. It’s what happens inside that counts.”
Nick Ashley is strategy director at Flamingo Tokyo