As Japan’s elderly population slowly grows and the general population creeps down, the number of empty houses across the country increases. With no one to inhabit them, many older homes are left unattended for years, slowly rotting and breaking down.
These empty houses are called “akiya”, literally “empty room”. Most of these houses are old, wooden, and located in the countryside. More and more of the Japanese population is moving to the city in search of work, leaving behind their family homes. As some family lines die out, the property that has been kept for generations is left ownerless.
In 2013, there was an estimated 8.3 million vacant homes across Japan, and today the number is now estimated to have exceeded 10 million. The Japanese government is desperate to get owners for these homes, as renting them or even inhabiting them becomes more and more difficult with the passage of time. Aging structures are vulnerable to becoming uglier, vandalism, and collapsing. They occupy land that can be better used, but the cost of renovations or tearing those houses down can be too much for the government to shoulder.
To combat the akiya housing crisis, the government and other organizations have created online akiya banks: lists of all abandoned properties for sale that offer the homes at low rates and with a simplified buying and selling process to move things along fast. These properties are often very cheap and spacious, and they sit on large plots of land in the Japanese countryside. They can be perfect places for people looking to run away from bustling city life. While renovation costs may become extremely high, looking into buying one of these places is not such a bad idea, and it may be one of this century’s last opportunities to own and admire a real piece of historical Japanese architecture.