This is a sequel to Tōkyō rondaringu (Tokyo Laundering), author Hika Harada’s 2011 novel that won acclaim for its compelling treatment of how real-estate agents “launder” properties tainted by unnatural deaths or other stigmatizing incidents. Thanks to an informal rule that requires landlords provide disclosure only to the first tenant following such an event, rental agents have developed a system whereby they hire contractors, known as “shadows,” to live in the affected properties as short-term tenants before they are put back on the open rental market.
The story centers on the Aiba real estate agency in Tokyo’s Kōenji district, run by owner Aiba and his assistant Masako Yoshida. The agency specializes in rental unit laundering and has cultivated a ready supply of “shadows” to meet its demand. With preparations for the 2020 Summer Olympics underway, the rental sector has become a seller’s market with a diminishing number of affordable properties. At the same time, the generally improved economy is eroding Aiba’s supply of “shadows” while also producing few candidates to replace them.
The story begins with Yasue, 38, a disgruntled housewife who has been saddled with the management of an old wood-frame apartment house that her salaryman husband inherited from his father. One of the units becomes stigmatized when the man who lives there alone is found dead inside it quite some time after he expired. Though urged to “launder” the property, Yasue decides instead to leave her husband and move into the place herself, taking their son and daughter with her. In Chapter 2 the story shifts to Yasushi Tanaka, newly employed at a major corporation in Tokyo. When he visits the apartment of Minagawa, a colleague who joined the company at the same time, he learns that his new friend is a “shadow” and the apartment is stigmatized. Soon after, Minagawa goes missing. Curiously, it appears that the previous tenant of the apartment, who had hung himself, had attended the same high school as Tanaka one year ahead of him. Subplots include the story of a woman on welfare and in need of an affordable apartment who becomes a “shadow,” as well as Masako’s backstory and details of the hardships she encountered while working low-paying part-time jobs as a fresh-out-of-high-school transplant to the big city from the northern Tohoku region.
Gradually emerging in a central role as the story progresses is the character of Keita Sendō, the founder of missing.com, an agency that specializes in finding people who have disappeared. In the course of investigating Minagawa’s disappearance, Sendō visits the agency that had hired him to be a “shadow” and gets to know the proprietor Aiba. Puzzled by some changes he’s noticed in the laundering business, Aiba asks Sendō to investigate, and soon learns that a major real estate firm named Japan Land Inc. has been interfering with his business. In fact, the firm has also been lobbying members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly for repeal of the disclosure laws in order to pull the rug entirely out from under the laundering business.
Shining a bright light on some of the lesser-known effects of Tokyo’s perennial housing crisis, the story portrays a variety of characters who must find new housing after separating from their spouses or cutting themselves off from family for other reasons. To them, the astronomical rents being demanded in Tokyo are far more terrifying than any ghosts that might haunt a property.