Japan Today
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Countryside living is cozy and affordable for residents willing to buy abandoned houses

By Luke Mahoney, grape Japan

When you think of home, what comes to mind? An apartment in the city? A sofa and a TV? Children playing in the garden or front lawn? Certainly, ideas differ across cultures and generations. Traditionally, in my home country, house ownership is an integral part of the notion of “home.”

The same appears to be true of Japan. The postwar society encouraged a “homeowner society," which was meant to provide social stability and maintain welfare. Citizens agreed, and the rate of owned dwellings rose throughout the period to a peak of 62.4 percent before the economic crash of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

However, since the 1990s the possibility of home-ownership has been progressively challenged in the island nation. In recent history, younger residents have struggled to keep up with the spoils of older generations. Increasing wealth inequality is hampering the economic mobility of young people perhaps influencing their declining aspiration of home ownership.

Furthermore, owning a house in Japan comes with notable risks not necessarily familiar to Westerner property owners. Houses in the country depreciate over time, netting smaller and smaller valuations every year. Frequent natural disasters threaten property damage, and insurance coverage can be spotty. Finally, mortgage owners are liable to pay back the entire loan, even after bank foreclosures.

Country Living

Yet, there may be a silver lining to homeownership in Japan for those willing to make a few compromises. Take, for example, American expat immigrants Kimberely and Paul Fridale, who detailed their experience purchasing a countryside house in Japan to CNN. After a few years of looking, the couple was able to find a house that suited their preferences—although some landscaping work was required. Their isolated home, they say, has also been particularly comforting during the outbreak.

The Fridales are not alone. Other would-be homeowners are looking to the countryside for a good deal and a comfortable house to call home. Recently, Tokyo Llama detailed his experience buying a similarly abandoned rural house for himself and his family.

Deep dive: Buying an Abandoned House

Tokyo Llama recently bought an abandoned house in Ibaraki, about an hour outside of Tokyo. Since then he has decided to share his experience for others interested in the potentially affordable living arrangement. Most importantly, the vlogger made the considerable move to the countryside to enjoy a better lifestyle. He wanted a lawn for his children to play in, a garden to grow fresh vegetables, and space for BBQs. Towards this end, he decided to purchase a moderately-priced farm house.

Tokyo Llama began his search using an akiya bank, a government program for matching vacant properties with tenants. While there are certain benefits to this program, the YouTuber could not find a property that suited him and his family. Nevertheless, he eventually depended on word-of-mouth, relying on friends and acquaintances to spread the word he was in the market. His family finally acquired a house from the local tax authorities.

Some Things to Consider

While akiya, abandoned houses, can be surprisingly cheap, there are naturally some risks involved in bargain hunting of this sort. Sure enough, maintenance may be required. And depending on the former occupants and the age of the house, this may mean a lot of work.

Fortunately, Tokyo Llama has a few pointers for what to keep in mind when shopping. Many properties likely need to have plumbing and electricity updated. It is also essential to consider structural damage, perhaps caused by termites, as it could be exceptionally costly. Would-be homeowners should keep earthquake resistance in mind as well. Also, some properties may not have a clear border, something a professional is required to delineate.

Tokyo Llama admits that there are indeed numerous expenses like taxes involved. The vlogger was required to pay a hefty registration tax, a one-time payment applied to any property in Japan. This tax is based upon the government's evaluation records and can be surprisingly expensive. He furthermore paid a property acquisition tax, which can be comparably sizeable, as well as ordinary annual property taxes.


Despite property taxes and the like, Tokyo Llama still acquired his property for, in my mind, a very reasonable price, around 3.6 million yen. Yet, there were still other renovation and moving-in expenses required.

According to Tokyo Llama, these can be considerable. For example, before purchasing his home, the vlogger was warned that renovations alone could cost as much as a new house. However, after asking around, he feels that something closer to 6 million yen is doable, although it is possible to pay much more.

Overall, there is a lot to consider when purchasing an abandoned house: numerous regulations, expenses, and financing requirements. Moreover, the purchase could be more difficult for foreign residents who have various visa statuses. That said, Tokyo Llama feels that this option is not for everyone. However, for residents who desire a specific type of lifestyle, it could be a reasonable, and even ideal, living arrangement.

Read more stories from grape Japan.

-- Exhibition of drawings by masterly Yoshio Yoshimura opens at Sogo Museum of Art in Yokohama

-- Who is Miyazaki Prefecture’s favorite Pokemon?

-- Tarantula discovered stalking the streets of Hitachi City, Ibaraki

© grape Japan

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Countryside life is pretty miserable without a car and commuting into town on a regular basis in the winter can mean holdups due to weather.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Koka and Iga are old ninja towns, at the other end of Biwako, and on the east side, closer to Kusatsu.

I've been there TONS of times. Have a lot of friends living there.

Not likely to find too many deals on property w/in commuting distance of Osaka, I suspect

Actually, Nabari does have TONS of people from Osaka living there who commute daily. Nabari borders Iga and actually used to be a part of the Iga province. It was home to Sandayu Momochi and Goemon Ishikawa (Akame region) Both Iga and Nabari are a treasure trove of Akiya.

Although Nabari now is separate from Iga, it is still historically a part of the ninja town. They also are considered a bed town of Osaka. I doubt most people in Koka will be commuting to Osaka.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Bought a twenty year-old house and an acre of land for less than $13,000 in the Japanese countryside. Needs some TLC due to the previous owner doing zero maintenance, but it has been worth it. The new builds I see around here going for $300-400,000 are a rip-off, with their plywood construction and zero insulation; and built on tiny, tiny plots of land to boot. No thanks!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Like second-hand cars, I reckon houses in the countryside are so cheap that you gain little to nothing by buying one in poor condition. You should buy one in the best possible condition, if its a car, the top of the line model with the best options and engine. The best possible condition for a house usually means people looking after them, not akiya.

The headline uses the word "cozy" but both the house in the photo and the house in the video will be very cold. Much colder than poorly built Showa-era houses even. If you can live like the locals traditionally did, that's fine, but they were very tough people.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Children playing in the garden or front lawn? 

Children playing in the garden while the wife relaxes in a hammock and I BBQ

We are looking for an Akiya now.

Northern Shiga?

a mountain village near Takashima.

Are you in Koka?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You can buy property in Japan on any visa, there are no restrictions.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@expat - Northern Shiga?

a mountain village near Takashima.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

12 years or so ago we bought a kayabuki farmhouse in Shiga for 3.4m yen and only had to spend 1.5m on reform.

There are many more empty houses in the village but many are not for sale and end up collapsing because of lack of maintenance ... very sad.

8.3 million empty houses in Japan and still they are tearing up good farmland for cheap plastic looking houses and apartment blocks.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I bought an old house out in the countryside, not an abandoned one, but a 40+ year old house nonetheless. Pretty big and got it for less than 10,000,000 (100,000 USD).

The renovations got me for about 5,000,000 (50,000 USD), so the article is pretty right about that. It's nice and in a quaint neighborhood surrounded by people, who are old as sticks, but who pretty much know each other.

Countryside living has me close to the beaches, mountains and rivers and wouldn't trade it for the world. With teleworking on the rise, for those who can manage it, I'd recommend getting out of the megalothic cities.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

That's a pretty good video given the usual standard of Japan bloggers. The house is beautiful and the guy has got it for a low price. You can get great deals in the bankrupcy/tax office auctions. The huge factor in his favour is that he already has an established life in that town with family nearby, jobs and kids in the local school. He's not moved to some random place in the countryside and is trying to make a life for his family from scratch as many viewers would be. That situation would be completely different.

Of the information presented, the biggest alarm bell is where he dismisses the earthquake risk to the house. The guy should point out what work has been done in the past and why that house in particular is safe based on expert opinion. The house could be quite resilient if the right work has been done. No viewer should assume, like he does, that the house standing for a long time means it must have been amply tested. As an amateur, the only thing you should assume is that a big earthquake could happen at any time and fatally damage that thing you're pouring 20 million yen into on non-structural upgrading.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

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