Tokyo Poor Live In Squalid ‘Warehouses’, Reports Newspaper

Sign in sumida ward

A billboard in the shopping district near JR Kinshicho station. The words “OK For Residential Use” draw in those searching for work: Sumida Ward, Tokyo.
(Part of the image has been altered). [Image source]

The thought of cramped, unhygienic and illegal housing usually conjures up pictures of Hong Kong’s cage homes or Beijing basement dwellers, but it’s also easy to forget that behind all the glitz, some of the world’s chicest cities also have a high numbers of urban working poor.

Tokyo is one of the world’s most expensive cities but as the economic heart of Japan, it also attracts thousands of workers and employees who would struggle to find a job elsewhere but can’t afford the astronomical prices of Tokyo life. The Mainichi Shimbun recently shocked netizens with a story on an agency renting cramped and un-safe housing in a warehouse to such residents.

From Mainichi Shimbun:

Illegal housing: 116-Room “Warehouse”, But More Than Half Of Residents Registered At Ward Office

◇ “Essential For Work So We Could Not Refuse”, Sumida Ward, Tokyo

It’s come to light that a so called “warehouse” where residents lived in cramped rooms in Sumida ward, Tokyo, was registered as a “residential building” by the authorities in the very same ward and of the people using the warehouse, thought to number over 100, a total of 69 — more than half — were registered as separate households. The building does not comply with either the Building Standards Act or Tokyo laws but the authorities explained that they “could not refuse applications from the poor people who were trying their best to work”. These dangerous “illegal houses” are gradually becoming reservoirs for the poor and these conditions which can’t be solved by laws alone are only perpetuating themselves.

Converted from an old office space, 116 rooms that were 1 1/2 jō large [about 2 x 1.5 meters] and most had no windows. The advertisement said “OK for residential use” but the fine print claimed that “This means that you can get mail delivered here. It is not a living space but a warehouse.” Despite this, the Tokyo Fire and Disaster Management Agency recognized it as a residential complex which is in violation of the Fire Services Act.

An example of a tiny Tokyo residence.

An example of a tiny Tokyo residence.

There were 69 registered households among the residents, and almost all the households were made up of only one person. On the authorities acknowledged the residents, a manager at the office involved explained that they had “surveyed the building before and ascertained the conditions of the residents”. They said with a heavy heart that: “There’s no rule against registering residents in a building which is against the law. We can’t turn away hard working tax-paying people. It’s painful for us to accept residents once the illegal building has already been approved. It’s a new problem.”

Because the residents were accepted as officially registered ward residents, the letting agency said that “it was under local government jurisdiction and is not a matter for our concern”. They also claimed the building was a “warehouse” to the ward office and the ward’s building office could not just assume that it was a “residential building”.

A manager at another of the capital’s wards explained one of their procedures for registering residents: “(if we have doubts about the residents’ living conditions), we confirm if people are actually living there with the owner of letting company”. Each independent locality has different rules on the specifics of registering residents and Sumida ward does not recognize internet cafes as registered place of residency since they’re “not a permanent living places”.

Comments from Twitter:

谷口硝子 さん:

There are steps they can take to move.


Please definitely discuss this. It’s crazy to chase them away, but places like this don’t fit in with the basic hygienic living promised by this country. They definitely can’t cry unless there is a vacant space no one would ever try to crash.

徳武 聡子さん:

A government like this one acknowledges this but illegal housing and squat houses are linked with earthquake prevention. They don’t recognize the rights of the residents. That’s all.


Windowless “3 1/2 tatami mat” room you share with a total stranger in a bunk-bed…


“There is always the fear of fires. But I can’t afford to go anywhere else”. They work as hard as they can but their salaries are still low and they don’t have the money to pay for a move. Illegal houses without windows, 3 1/2 tatami mats for two people: thoroughly against the law and without any address


You could also call “kite houses” [i.e. minuscule houses] or “illegal housing” a “shared house”.


Pasela [karaoke and resort chain] could turn this into a capsule hotel. When you say Illegal Housing, some of the entertainment facilities today offer bigger rooms.

Eisuke Sato(IDIOT) ‏さん:

If your house was a toy you could play in 10 years ago, calling it Illegal Housing is pretty correct.


Illegal Housing is definitely a problem, but there is also the issue of serviced retirement homes which charge a lot for use but where you don’t know if they’re actually offering services. There are also places where people on welfare or low income individuals can go and are then ripped off of their money. Aaa what a horrible world…

後閑一博 ‏さん:

This is what I think every time there is a story about illegal housing or free/low cost housing. It’s a big problem. It’s such an evil poor business. But, then there’s also the institutions like care homes in Shin-Okubo or on the Yamanote which officials with their golden parachutes get into. I don’t get the essential issue of why the Welfare office which pointed out illegal housing doesn’t say there is a problem if we don’t get rid of institutions like those.


Illegal housing – Kokuta from the House of Representatives Internal Relations Committee asks for better protection of citizen’s livelihoods


Seems like I was living in an Illegal House before it became an issue.


I went to go see then actual place, and 55,000 Yen a month [about 560 USD, 365 pounds] is way too much for that.


Putting together the timeline of things related to “Illegal Housing”. It’s a big problem. What can be behind the “Illegal Housing” problem?


Oi, are there any of the people who got duped out there?


Maybe illegal housing is a unsolvable problem. The reason people who can’t get a guarantor resort to illegal housing is that they have no other option. This is because the UR is not a kind system to people in illegal houses or the vast reserves of people looking for a place to live. (inspections of income receipts and savings are also part of this)


Illegal Housing made me remember volume 8 of a novel called Ikebukuro West Gate Park. It’s about people living in an internet cafe.


This is a really important theme. As many people as possible should definitely know about this story. Squat houses and illegal housing….”living in extreme poverty” is an intense reality now a days.

河添 誠 ‏さん:

A business for a fresh supply of poor people?! “Illegal housing”, the underbelly in the shadow of the popularity of shared houses


Can’t politicians see this?

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