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Reuters/Toru Hanai
Rice ball with my keys, thanks.
HOW CONVENIENT

Staying in an Airbnb in Japan? Pick up your keys at a convenience store

By Isabella Steger

If you’re visiting Japan, consider checking in for your Airbnb at one of the country’s omnipresent convenience stores as you pick up some fried chicken and beer.

Airbnb is increasingly teaming up with Japan’s biggest convenience-store operators to ease the experience for foreign visitors in Japan, as the country undergoes an unprecedented tourism boom in the lead-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. FamilyMart, which operates over 17,000 convenience stores in Japan, said today (May 21) it would partner with the accommodation listings site to allow visitors to check in for their Airbnb bookings in some stores using a tablet by verifying information such as their passport details. Landlords can leave their keys at special lock boxes in Family Mart stores. Family Mart in turn gets the business of these tourists.

7-Eleven, the largest convenience-store operator in Japan, announced a similar service in partnership with the country’s biggest travel agency JTB in April, to be launched in June. It said it also plans to launch (link in Japanese) a multilingual, 24-hour call center for any rental guests who run into trouble. Lawson, another major convenience-store chain, launched a key-exchange service (link in Japanese) for short-term rental properties in January in Tokyo.

FamilyMart and 7-Eleven’s new offerings will be implemented starting in mid-June, when Japan’s new home-sharing laws governing homestays, known as minpaku in Japanese, will take effect. Confirming the identities of the guests is also a security measure that’s in line with the new laws.

Japan is grappling with a shortage of accommodation to meet the huge spike in foreign tourists, but lobbying by interest groups such as hotel owners and a general aversion among homeowners to allowing strangers to come in and out of private properties is stymying the development of Airbnb-like businesses there—the recent murder of a Japanese woman at a minpaku short-term rental property only served to further worsen the reputation of such offerings. The new law would, for example, limit the number of days properties can be rented out for home-sharing to 180 days a year.