Japan has a large supply of abandoned rural homes

Looking for affordable housing in the developed world? Japan has millions of homes available:

Photo by Eva Bronzini on Pexels.com

As Japan’s population shrinks and more properties go unclaimed, an emerging segment of buyers, feeling less tethered to overcrowded cities, is seeking out rural architecture in need of some love. The most recent government data, from the 2018 Housing and Land survey, reported about 8.5 million akiya across the country — roughly 14% of the country’s housing stock — but observers say there are many more today. The Nomura Research Institute puts the number at more than 11 million, and predicts that akiya could exceed 30% of all houses in Japan by 2033…

“Poorly maintained akiya can mar the scenery as well as endanger residents’ lives and property if they collapse,” said Kazuhiro Nagao, a city official in Sakata, along the west coast, where heavy snowfall can damage unattended structures. “We’re partly subsidizing demolitions, collecting neighborhood association reports on akiya, and trying to make owners aware of the problem by holding briefings.”

Although the akiya problem has not had a direct impact on sales in urban markets, where high-rises continue to go up, the potential hazards to communities posed by empty houses are growing along with their numbers, according to Akira Daido, chief consultant at the Nomura Research Institute’s Consulting Division…

Akiya are increasingly seen not just as a threat to suburban and rural markets but to the emotional health of the country, sparking family disputes over inherited properties. That, in turn, has led to a cottage industry of akiya consultants like Takamitsu Wada, CEO of Akiya Katsuyo, who acts as a counselor for squabbling relatives, often urging them to act before their properties become a lost cause.

This seems to come as the result of two significant patterns in Japan (and also present in much of the developing world):

  1. An urbanizing population. For decades, people have flocked to cities and metropolitan areas. What happens to older homes and properties? Some may become popular in resort areas but many are less desirable. Rural areas have emptied out.
  2. An aging population. What if populations age, requiring access to medical care and other needs, and a society needs fewer houses or different kinds of housing?

In one example from the story, an akiya is just 45 minutes from central Tokyo. In the United States, that would a suburban community that could be desirable to many.

What happens, ultimately, to all of these older homes? Homes do not have to last forever or house new residents.

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