An abandoned property in downtown Arakawa, Tokyo
lifestyle

Want to live in an abandoned house in Japan? Here’s why it’s not really ‘free’

15 Comments
By GaijinPot

You may have seen some viral headlines over the years about “free” or cheap abandoned properties available in Japan. 

Everyone from CNBC to CNN has talked about it. While Japan’s government is trying to entice new residents with cheap or even free property, it’s not as simple as walking up to an abandoned home and claiming it for yourself. 

Realistically speaking, these homes aren’t 100% free. They require renovation, investment and come with strict terms and conditions to make the home livable—the kinds of T&Cs that should make any potential buyer reconsider before affixing their seal or signature.

What are akiya?

Kaminegori-Obama-Fuk.jpg
Obama’s largely abandoned village of Kaminegori is now a hiker’s retreat. Photo: Heartland JAPAN

In Japanese, 空あき家や  (akiya) are houses that are abandoned or unoccupied. Thanks partly to Japan’s aging population and preference for new homes over old ones, there are now simply too many disused homes in the country. 

There are 62.4 million homes in Japan. In 2018, Japan’s Housing and Land Survey, which conducts a survey every five years, found a record-high 8.49 million homes to be unoccupied. Even in Tokyo, one in every ten homes is abandoned.

And it’s only going to get worse. According to the Nomura Research Institute, it’s estimated that one-third of all homes in Japan will be vacant or abandoned by 2030.

It’s thought that 900 small towns will no longer exist by 2040, so the government hopes that the akiya (or the Special Measures Act on Promotion of Measures on Vacant Houses—more on that later) will revive these threatened areas.

Why are there so many abandoned houses?

There are numerous and complicated reasons why Japanese homes became vacant. The most obvious is the declining birthrate and an aging population, but another reason is location.

Click here to read more.

© GaijinPot

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

15 Comments
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Abandoned houses come with too many problems

Most need a complete refit which is equal to the cost of a new house.

If living in a house with gaps in the window frames, no insulation, insects aplenty and doors that don’t shut is bearable then you may have a bargain on your hands

5 ( +7 / -2 )

You could also pick up a really "cheap" car at a breaker's yard. The reason for its bargain price is the same reason these houses are cheap. They are scrap!

6 ( +8 / -2 )

You don't see even Japanese rushing out to try and snag one of these houses. That alone should tell you there's a lot wrong with that endeavor.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Man I have seen worse homes in the hood. They need to really make an effort to keep these homes up by changing the laws around homes that are abandoned.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Another potential drawback to note is that a lot of akiya are located in rural communities which are collapsing due to their demographics, a problem that will only get worse. So you might find yourself surrounded by 80 year old neighbors who need help with everything and have no qualms about knocking on your door at 6AM on a Sunday morning to let you know all the community work you’ll be spending your day off tending to because you are the only able bodied person left.

This is one reason Japan has so many separate Besso developments in rural areas - city dwellers who want a second home in the country won’t buy used places in existing communities because of all those social demands that go with them.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Fixing up a property. Needs to have at least a weatherproof roof. Water, electric and gas supplies. Some kind of working toilets (often not connected to main sewers. tanks and septic tanks requiring emptying by the honeypot wagon every month). Working bathroom. Sound walls.

Then the cost of reforming if you are doing the work, ¥500,000 to ¥1,000,000.

Total reform of a traditional house, about ¥20,000,000.

You can buy good houses for less.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

I lived in a semi-rural area once. It has good points, but beware if you live near rice fields. There was regular large-scale spraying of a white pesticide that came into my apartment for hours from about 20 meters away, there was a shotgun sounding noise machine blasting in early early morning to keep away bird pests from crops, then there were neighbors who picked through my garbage. Perhaps try out a community by homestay or Airbnb first and make sure it is a place you would want to live.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Spooky, kowai… There are even still photos of all the family deads all over in those houses. You will be married with a cubed ‘grave’.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

@Zichi, and if you are purchasing it for the land parcel, the cost of tearing down and removing the old dwelling in an environmentally sound fashion is also far more than purchasing a ready-to-build lot would be.

Other than the abandoned houses in the Tokyo area, most of the akiya houses in the countryside are in areas with crumbling infrastructure and no ambulance service and no viable rail or bus service. No person raised in a first-world country would be accepting of the limits of these properties.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

There are good properties that can be bought for less than ¥5 million in good enough condition to move in.

Demolition costs are more than ¥1 million. Cleared plots are best for new build.

Get out of Tokyo if you can.

Most cities/prefectures now have house banks, properties for sale/rent.

This is the one for our Tatsuno City

https://www.city.tatsuno.lg.jp/machimiraisozo/akiyatouroku.html

3 ( +4 / -1 )

The issue is less about these houses than it is about the state of rural communities, and prefectures. Unless something is done to revive and revitalize rural areas, they will fall into disrepair, be taken over by feral animals, and agricultural land will be lost. Japan already imports 70% of its food on a calorie basis, and no country any significant size without sustainable agriculture can survive. We are not talking about Monaco. HK or Singapore.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

all wooden structures that flop apart during rain floods earthquakes and any other disasters!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Who wants to live in the boonies anyways? Too many creep crawlies all up in your house and totally dead with no nightlife.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I live in an older home and the benefits are that I can have a large garden and cheap rent, but its hot in the summer and cold in the winter. But even in modern homes or apartments, you still need A/C or a gas heater. I get cockroaches in the summer and a few other creepy crawlers, but since I grew up in rural Canada, its just like home.

"Who wants to live in the boonies anyways"

As a single guy, I must admit, its not easy meeting women or getting dates in the countryside. Even though I'm only about an hour away from Ikebukuro Station, its still too far for women that live and work in Tokyo. They want a guy that lives maybe 30 mins away max. But its funny, they never seem to have a problem dating guys from the Yokota or Yokosuka bases.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The last house we lived in was 100 years old and survived the Kobe earthquake when many others collapsed. Spent 28 years living in traditional houses. Wonderful, but hard work keeping them clean, free of insects and stopping the wind.

We now, for our first time in Japan, live in a modern house. Wonderful. Many great traditional houses in our locations, like 10k but now we just want to look at them from the outside.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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