I love real estate.
I'm that person who sees an "Open House" sign in front of a lovely victorian or rambling ranch house and will wonder if it's the next dream house to add to my mental list of "Houses I'll Buy When I'm Rich and Bored."
Since my mom is a real estate agent and has mentioned multiple times that she can't stand it when "fake buyers" take up her time at a busy open house, I try to keep my "browsing" to a minimum, but sometimes I can't resist.
Having moved over 13 times in my life (not counting dorm rooms), I've seen the inside of more than my fair share of houses and apartments. While taking a peak into the lives of the people who lived in a place before me, once in a while I've stepped foot in a home where something just feels . . . off.
Often it's the layout. When I was a teenager, my family looked at a house in Texas that had three giant, well-lit bedrooms just beyond the living area, and one dark, tiny "bedroom" off the kitchen that had what I could only call a "prison slot" for a window. It was definitely the room where you put the kid you liked least.
But sometimes your spooky senses tingle and you wonder, "What went on here?"
Depending where you are in the U.S., realtors have a certain span of time they have to tell a potential buyer if something tragic, like a murder, violent death, or suicide, happened on a property. From what I understand from my mom, there are various loopholes, and if a property really needs to go, the realtor can conveniently leave out such details — unless directly asked.
Some buyers or renters don't care, some really do. Such details can potentially make or break a sale, so I'm told.
In Japan, such tragedies are something many people are very concerned with. Such is the issue with wake-ari bukken, or "stigmatized property." Not only are Japanese home buyers or renters avoiding such properties, but some are actively LOOKING for them.
Why? Because they're cheap.
More and more Japanese building and property owners are finding that once a place has been labeled "stigmatized," they cannot sell or rent it for its full value. Some are willing to rent or sell properties "where previous occupants were found dead" for up to a 50 percent discount.
Japan may be a modern society, obsessed with trends and technology, but religion, superstition, and folklore still rule much of how the Japanese conduct their lives. Some of it, like the Western connection to Santa or the boogeyman, is just ingrained, no matter how much it defies modern logic.
If a property — houses, apartments, office buildings, hotels — in Japan has been the site of a potentially "psychologically harmful" event, it may be subject to one of the laws Japan has written concerning wake-ari bukken properties.
A location near a known criminal organization; a location built by, or on ground once owned by, a cult; a location built on top of a well, whether filled in or still open (wells feature heavily in Japanese folklore); a location near a waste or sewerage treatment facility, or a crematorium; a location with a history of fires or flooding that caused death or injury; a location where a suicide, murder or “lonely death” have occurred.
Seems pretty straightforward. If a property has a kashi or "flaw" mentioned above, the real estate agent has to disclose, right? Wrong.
A Japanese real estate agent has the authority to decide what stigma is worth mentioning to a potential buyer or renter. So if something truly terrible happened on a property 15 years ago, but someone else has inhabited the space since, they don't have to disclose the kashi.
Basically, they only have to tell what has happened in a place since the last occupant — even if the previous tenant was only there for a short time and vacated in the dark of night because the freaky, vengeful ghost maiden JUST WOULDN'T TAKE A CHILL PILL.
So what's a Japanese homebuyer to do?
Enter Oshimaland.com for all your stigmatized property needs.
Teru Oshima has built, and continues to build a website (and now Google app!), that attempts to show where all the stigmatized properties in Tokyo are. Oshima even hopes to map all the stigmatized properties IN THE WORLD, and his site has expanded to New York, London, and Paris, among other major cities.
I had a little trouble navigating the Japanese on the Oshimaland website, but from what I can tell, each stigmatized site is marked with a flame symbol. Click on the flame and the general address will pop up and a brief description of the kashi will pop up.
For example: (not a real residence)
Creepy Corner Blvd. 3-3, 7th floor, kodokushi
What's kodokushi? That would be a "lonely death," or a death in which the body of a person was not found immediately. If there are any "stains left behind on the floor," they could be a portal for an upset spirit to come and go.
It's easy to write off movies like The Grudge as merely creeptastic storytelling, but many Japanese people, especially of a certain generation, believe that homes where violent, passionate deaths have taken place will be forever haunted, if not dangerous.
Beyond the fear of what might be going bump in the night in your stigmatized pad, there's the belief that it's bad luck or bad karma to live in a place where human suffering or death took place.
But there are people who are jumping at the benefits of a stigmatized property. Primarily, as I mentioned before, because of the lowered cost.
Japanese writer Fuminosuke Mori told the Wall Street Journal how he decided to rent a stigmatized apartment where a man had committed suicide in the bathroom. After he was evicted from his old apartment and was low on funds, he was able to rent the Yokohama apartment for only $240 USD a month — "half the usual price." Despite the fact that some friends "began avoiding him" after he took the apartment and, "My ex-wife thinks it’s creepy," Mori is very happy.
Think you could be like Mori? Websites like SUUMO have got you covered.
Not only do they tell you about stigmatized properties in Japan, but they do it so gosh-darn gleefully! Here's a listing:
Stigmatized Property♪Popular stigmatized property♪ Low initial cost♪ Near Tokyo Disneyland♪ Private bath and toilet♪ It’s a stigmatized property, which means low initial cost! You’ll be living alone, but you’ll never really feel like it. This room is perfect for lonely singles♪
Hear that? You'll live alone but never feel like it! You'll have that enthusiastic little ghost friend to stay up late and stream Real Housewives with! ♪ Plus, it's near Tokyo Disney. ♪
What do you think of these stigmatized properties? Too creepy for your blood? A great deal? Is the fascination with such properties tasteless and disrespectful?
I myself am on the fence. On one hand, with housing, especially affordable housing, being harder and harder to come by in major Japanese cities, I'm all for any excuse to lower real estate prices. Especially if it means giving someone the chance at a perfectly good home that nobody else wants.
However, as most of you Creepy Corneristas know, I'm also in favor of respecting the dead. I do think a house, building, hotel, or apartment is meant to be inhabited. But if it comes at the cost of exploiting the dead or families of the dead by pointing out or sensationalizing tragedies that have occurred at a location, I find it disrespectful. I'm not saying that's what sites like SUUMO or Oshimaland are necessarily doing (yet), but I see the potential. I suppose it's always a question of balance.
Would you seek out a stigmatized property? Have you? Do you, or would you live in one?