“Around the end of the 1990s, the sharing trend began, when people began posting notices for places to live on Internet bulletin boards,” Hiroyuki Kubota tells Sapio (March). A researcher at the Osaka University graduate school, Kubota has authored a book on the subject titled “Tanin to Kurasu Wakamono-tachi” (Young people who live with strangers).
“Then from around the beginning of the new century, realtors began offering space in unoccupied houses or refurbished company dormitories,” he continues. “One reason for the rapid increase is that people are getting married from a later age, or not marrying at all. After graduation from school, the time from which they start to make a family has been extended, and rather than spend a long period living alone, more young people are showing a preference to live with others.”
The trend is borne out by figures from Hitsuji Fudosan, a realtor that carries the largest number of “share houses” on its site. From 25 in 2000, the number of listed houses rose to 982 in 2011.
“In addition, above all else is the cost factor,” Kubota adds. “There’s an appeal to having more space at an inexpensive price by splitting up the rent. So the resistance by the younger generation to living with strangers has been declining.”
While it’s been common for those not wishing to live alone to marry at a younger age or cohabit with a lover, Kubota has observed that there are a certain number of people who feel it’s more comfortable to share with strangers than to live with a fiance or lover.
“If you’re living with a lover, you can’t be alone at times when you want, or you might feel bothered by having to remember things like a birthday,” he says. “With communal living, you get the best of both: you don’t lack company, but you don’t have to bother with the fine details of relationships.”
Of course, not everything can be expected to go smoothly all the time. A 25-year-old company worker gives one example of an awkward situation.
“I’m in a share house with two men and two women,” he relates. “One of the previous women, a university student, borrowed some money from the other guy. She got behind on repayment, and finally he demanded, ‘Start paying me back with your body.’ The girl immediately moved out, and I only found out why sometime afterward, but the story left a bad taste in my mouth.”
A 20-year-old female employee at a worker dispatch firm living in a share house in Yamanashi tells this story.
“I was sitting with my feet under the ‘kotatsu’ (a low table with a heating element) watching TV together with one of the guys in our house. Suddenly I felt his foot sliding up my inner thigh. Well it turned me on, so we got up and went to his room and had sex. Everybody’s doing it. I remember one night I was sleeping in the living room when a noise woke me up, and I was surprised to see two of my housemates getting it on. (Giggle).”
Another 20-year-old male resident told the reporter, “When I went to take a bath one evening, I heard moans from inside the bathroom. I couldn’t sleep that night and wasn’t in the mood to take a shower in there the next morning.”
Experimentation is leading to new variations on the theme. In Shibuya, Tokyo, an artists’ colony called “Shibu House,” accommodates more than 20 individuals—about one third of who are female—in a 150 square meter 4LDK house. The mostly 20-ish residents have no private space at all and at night people just flop in the living room and elsewhere.
“Some people don’t come home from work at night so there’s always enough room to sleep,” a 29-year-old resident relates. “Anyway the total cost for rent and utilities comes to about 800,000 yen per month, so split 20 ways, that’s only 40,000 yen per person. We’re planning to boost the number of residents to 32 from April, and that will bring the rent down to even less.”
Shibu House house has only three ironclad rules for its residents: 1) Smoking is prohibited; 2) The laws must be obeyed; and 3) Use contraceptives.