A Minor AirBnB Horror Story

I've used AirBnB multiple times in the past with great success. In Kyoto, Osaka, Seoul, Okinawa, and even Iowa, never has AirBnB failed me like it did during this winter break in Tokyo. The listing was for a shared space which could  accomodate up to three people in an apartment in the Shinagawa area of Tokyo. The pictures included showed a couple of bunk beds and several images of people enjoying themselves with the man who appeared to be the host of the place. It all seemed quite standard at first. Needless to say, it was not.

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I arrived in Tokyo on December 29th in the morning, and although the agreed upon check in time wasn't until that afternoon, I had arranged with the AirBnb host to drop off my bags early. The place was relatively easy to find from the station, but immediately there were some red flags. Normally, when checking into an AirBnB, the host will tell you a lockbox combination or a code for a mailbox that has the key, but the instructions I was given simply said to open the door and go up the stairs. The apartment was tucked away down a tiny alley surrounded by a number of bars, and sure enough, when I found the right door and tried the knob, it was unlocked and opened to reveal a narrow staircase with an overflowing shoe shelf near the top. The host was perched at the top of the stairs and brought my bags up for me, so I didn't really have to go inside - not that I would have been able to had I tried, but I didn't know that yet.

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For the rest of the day while I explored the city on my own, I didn't think much of it. It seemed small, but doable. And it wasn't until my sister arrived that evening and we went back together that I realized just how bad it really was. 

We arrived back at the place just as a couple was going in the door. The staircase was so narrow that we were forced to wait for a couple minutes as they maneuvered to take off their shoes and make some room for us. I went up first, thinking that I could help my sister to lift her luggage and immediately saw how much of a struggle it was going to be. At the top of the staircase was a mini kitchen overflowing with cutlery and spices. The room it was attached to, about 10'x10' in size, was completely taken up by two bunkbeds, leaving about two feet of floor space between the beds, the toilet, and the stairs to the next level.  

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The first floor. The toilet room was directly to the right. Each bed was given "privacy" by thin sheets hung up with laundry pins.

The first floor. The toilet room was directly to the right. Each bed was given "privacy" by thin sheets hung up with laundry pins.

Our assigned space was on the second level, so after hauling the luggage up the first flight of stairs, we had another set to contend with as well, which was significantly more difficult than the first. On the landing of the second floor, instead of space to stand, you know, like a normal set of stairs, there was immediately a lofted bunk bed, forcing anyone who wanted to go up or down the stairs to crawl beneath it in order to get through. This level was equally as packed as the first floor, which meant all we could do with our luggage was tuck it between one of the beds and the wall and pull out the clothes we'd need for the next couple days to avoid having to maneuver them out of their positions within the tetris-like stack. 

A quick survey of the room showed that the only space we'd have to sleep, change, relax, or do anything really was our single, shared bunk.

I took this picture from our bunk. The shower room is to the left. Notice the stairwell cut off by the triple bunk.

I took this picture from our bunk. The shower room is to the left. Notice the stairwell cut off by the triple bunk.

I think it goes without saying that our four days there were a pretty miserable existence. We shared our second floor room with a couple in the bunk below us and two (or three, I'm not even sure) other travelers in the other bunk bed. In the room below us were five others, putting the total head count to twelve people housed in two 10'x10' rooms on four bunk beds. Perhaps 'head count' is too kind a term. 'Body count' may be more appropriate - this place was a literal death trap. I imagine that this is what tenement housing must have been like. 

It looked like the place had been in operation for a while. There was a small collection of books and cooking utensils that appeared to have been left by previous travelers. And while I'm sure AirBnb wouldn't allow a place like this to remain on its site for very long, I have a theory about its continued existence. 

When I booked it, the listing had no reviews. I know, I know, red flag. But,  I went through his other listings, and they all had one or two reviews, all good. So what I think is that he probably deletes his listings with bad reviews and just re-uploads them and waits for unsuspecting tourists to fall for his cheap pricing and smiling selfies with tenants past. 

Because it was the holiday season, by the time we realized how bad it was, it was too late to really find a reasonably priced replacement. I booked this place because it was cheap, yeah, but even at $20/night, this place was definitely not worth the stay. In fact, I wouldn't stay here again even if someone paid me. 

Jackie Oshiro1 Comment