Millions of houses in rural Japan are being advertised for sale. According to the latest data from the 2018 real estate and housing report, there are currently over 8.5 million akiya – the name for abandoned houses in rural areas of Japan.

Behind this reality is a major shift in Japanese culture. Economic and demographic factors, including population decline and rural-to-urban migration, are creating “ghost towns” in the country.

For decades, the Japanese have been gradually moving from villages to cities. According to NRI’s chief economist Richard Koo, rural Japan has been empty since the mid-1990s. The declining population is also a major challenge. Japan’s birth rate has dropped for the seventh consecutive year in 2022, down to 1.26 births per woman compared to 1.3 in 2021.

An abandoned house in the rural village of Okawachiyama, Saga Prefecture, Japan.

Local residents now prefer newer buildings over renovated homes. Younger generations in Japan don’t want to live outside the city, making akiyas less attractive. Additionally, many akiyas were built before the 1981 Building Standards Act amendments, which did not ensure safety requirements related to earthquake resistance.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government has no authority to demolish these abandoned houses. If houses are left vacant for a long time, even finding the previous owners can be extremely difficult. Therefore, akiyas have become a challenge for Japan for many years.

However, for foreigners looking to change their living environment, akiyas present an opportunity to buy affordable real estate overseas. Some even turn them into a source of income by renting them out for short periods.

In December 2023, Eric MacAskill from Canada bought a 5-bedroom apartment in Nagano prefecture for $23,600 and spent an additional $7,400 on repairs and maintenance. MacAskill said, “The cost could be cheaper if I could do some of the work myself or ask friends for help.”

However, buying and renovating akiyas is still much cheaper than buying a house back home. According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, the average home price in the Greater Vancouver urban area is $866,600.

In 2019, Jaya Thursfield and his wife Chihiro moved from England to Japan and bought an akiya in Ibaraki prefecture for $30,000. They spent more money on renovations than MacAskill – about $150,000 – but believed it was still cheap compared to buying a house in London.

Meanwhile, two friends Taki Kurosawa and Joey Stockermans didn’t have the means to buy a house in their home country of North America.

In June 2023, they bought an akiya in a city on Kyushu Island for $42,000. They plan to renovate it and rent it out, as well as enjoy vacations there. Seeing a business opportunity, they started Akiyamart, an online platform that helps foreigners find akiyas more easily.

Ha Thao (Source: RB)

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