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An abandoned property in downtown Arakawa, Tokyo

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

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?

Obama’s largely abandoned village of Kaminegori is now a hiker’s retreat. Image: 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

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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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 )

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 )

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 )

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