“Akiya” abandoned, cheap/free* houses in Japan / annotations, resources, riffs, musings, stories

an Akiya (abandoned) building (former post office?) with a splendid postbox – taken from one of many sites i’ve dug around, sorry can’t remember which one… so many! if this is your photo, please tell me and i’ll add credit.

+ Cheap Houses Abound in Japan + 

memo: have resources to add/ recommend? please drop a comment or contact – of course there are loads, this will get ya started.

Background Riff

So many vacant houses in Japan – millions! “Akiya” houses (free/cheap abandoned houses)Sometimes the owner is unknown – sometimes there are mysteries, sometimes houses have businesses attached, sometimes from way back in Meiji or Edo period! Sometimes someone died in odd circumstances within, sometimes just died.

Often very very messy, always requiring work, a lot sometimes.

Materials, labor and disposal can be really expensive in Japan so good to remember (speaking generally for anyone else who is reading along, not just you :-)). But hey, you are crafty right? Ha, its a whole other style of construction than “western” places. Tile roof! Foundations, plumbing, electric all different, Sometimes need boundary surveyed.

Importantly: Also, just cause you own a house, doesn’t mean you get a visa.

The situation in brief: The big cities are growing and the countryside is shrinking, fast. Young folks move away to the big city to work, old folks stay in country, working til they grow old and in Japan, folks grow very old. They die, the heirs are unknown or simply refuse the “inheritance” or they try to think they will go back and fix it up and enjoy the legacy but year after year paying property tax, they finally realize they won’t ever fix it up. Property/houses is generally/always a depreciating asset in Japan.

Anyway, the laws of changed significantly in the last year allowing local governments to appropriate more easily so there’s loads and loads of these available, does definitely take some hunting around though. Indeed! It’s definitely a scavenger hunt…

Also worth noting that often country properties have a couple buildings, kura (granary / storehouse / barn), naya (garage / tool shed) various shacks and barns and sometimes an extra house. These can be used for materials to scavenge sometimes, or other times revitalized or other times are just another thing that needs torn down and gracefully disposed.

Also noting that some properties come with legacy hotel licenses which can be very valuable to make some kind of Guest House project. Note that short term rentals like Airbnb require licenses from last year.

Regular real estate agents generally don’t really do this (cause there’s little/no commissions on cheap houses) and often also because there’s (oddly) no one to sign an agent contract with.

Some areas have incentive to provide information as they are looking for new residents to revitalize the communities, but in other jurisdictions, they have no motivation to publicize the information. Sometimes city governments have directories too or even sometimes local governments help (because they want to get folks living there) but probably don’t help you because you don’t have a visa.

Tax offices often sell these by auction since folks don’t pay, tax office seizes house and sell. Sometimes someone is still living within.

The nature of abandoned houses is such that the families who *technically own* the properties, are either generally unclear, are avoiding the issue, or the status is completely uncertain (which of the grandchildren inherited the responsibility?).

There’s no “central clearinghouse“ for all these kinds of listings, a few sort of grassroots online operations compiling listings, even a few instagram accounts flowing snaps…

But anyhow… those things notwithstanding and since people ask about this (and send me hyped up links), here’s a list of no-nonsense DIY property selling bulletin boards and directories and whatnot – use Chrome or whatever for dodgy but passable translation and let daydreaming begin.

Pleasing Stories / Overviews:

(some may be paywalled, govern yourself accordingly)

A race against time to save Japan’s traditional homes
These homes are packed with charm, full of history and quickly disappearing by Joy Jarman-Walsh (more below) via Japan Times, June 4, 2022

In April, more than 300 people gathered for a weekend north of Kyoto to share their love for Japan's vanishing traditional homes. | MITSUE NAGASEIn April, more than 300 people gathered for a weekend north of Kyoto to share their love for Japan’s vanishing traditional homes. | MITSUE NAGASE

Fueled by pandemic, Japan rediscovers allure of old houses
Wooden ‘kominka’ are beautiful and cheap, but restoration costs can be high by Alex Kerr (more below) via Nikkei Asia, June 15, 2022

Kominka: Discover the Enduring Beauty of Traditional Japanese Houses via tusnagu Japan

Alternative paths in Wakayama: Foreigners making homes in rural Japan by Alena Eckelmannvia via Japan Today, Feb 6, 2022

Giving back: Recycling abandoned homes in rural Japan by Alena Eckelmann, via Japan Today, Dec. 29, 2021


“Your mileage may vary” – please drop a comment with errors and omissions (will open in new tab/page)

Kominka Facebook group (private with application) and Kominka Japan website – a load of folks sharing their stories and tips about finding and reno-ing houses (also grew into host of Minka Summit Japan)

A Reddit AMA “I just bought a used house in rural Japan after a five year search. AMA about house/land hunting, abandoned homes, the real estate process, or the reform process (which starts soon!).”

smart snippet from AMA about searching: “Individual towns tend to keep track of their empty houses via their homepages. Search the town name in Japanese, plus “空き家バンク” and if they have something it will pop up. As far as I know, Akiya banks are locally managed.” + This person’s house/project

Japan Simple Life (forum)

A real estate company with some useful advice (in English): WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE BUYING A VACANT HOUSE IN JAPAN

Lifull’s Home (another listing directory, pre-set for Okayama where i live)

Akiya-Now (yet another directory)

Related… pre-fab houses to put on your cheap land instead of renovating: BESS

Land Value look up tool Vill.co (choose by prefecture)

City of Okayama (where i live!) List of unoccupied houses + info about abandoned houses

Setouchi City (Okayama-ken) subsidies for moving there and they help you (you prob don’t qualify but whatevs)

Another Akiya listing “bank” – note Chugoku (the area with Okayama and surrounding prefectures, sometimes translates as China, it is not China, it is “Middle Area of Japan”) Carry on.

Setouchi City (Okayama-ken) subsidies for moving there and they help you (you prob don’t qualify but whatevs)

Another Akiya listing “bank” – note Chugoku (the area with Okayama and surrounding prefectures, sometimes translates as China, it is not China, it is “Middle Area of Japan”) Carry on.

Akiya at home (yet another directory)

Public Real Estate portal  / directory

Ie Ichiba (directory, set for Okayama)

Akiya Kanrishi (association of owners of unoccupied homes…)

Inaka Seikatsu (yet another directory)

Inakanet (yet another directory)

Koryoya (Kansai area specific directory)

Koryoya (Hokuriku area specific directory)

Bousou.net (yet another directory) {translated blurb}:

“Full of real estate information such as Boso’s rural living properties, old folk houses and land! Updated daily on our site!
Enjoy rich content such as interviews with migrants and how to choose a property for living in the countryside.”

Ijurikkoku Ayabe (Japanese resource for living in rural areas, with practical cultural info and stories) hattip to <insert name here>

(Related to above) Ijurikkou Ayabe (directory mostly about Kyoto area currently for sale) they are really encouraging people to move to the area, ergo:

Japan is a country with an extremely poor urban and rural population balance. In particular, the degree of population concentration in the metropolitan area is unprecedented in the world. Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate is less than 40%, the lowest among developed countries, but the declining population in rural areas makes this even more serious. Leaving unbalanced population imbalances is a risk to the country. Japan was able to recover at an astonishing speed after World War II because of the power of the regions!

A migration-oriented country is a project that encourages migration and energizes Ayabe City. At the same time, it is in line with national policies that encourage migration from large cities to rural areas. That’s why it’s an immigrant country!

The population of Ayabe City will increase to 40,000 in the next 30 years!

The goal of the Migrant Nation Project is to “populate 40,000 in the next 30 years.” Even if Japan’s population declines, it should be possible to correct the population imbalance.

Grant program in Daisen Town (Japan’s *best* mountain :)) in Japan’s least famous prefecture (and my old home) Tottori

Through the Daisen-cho vacant house / vacant lot information utilization system, a young person who purchased the vacant house registered in the utilization system will remodel the vacant house, dispose of household goods, or dismantle the vacant house and then build a new house on the same site. By issuing a subsidy for the purchase of vacant homes for young people in Daisen Town within the budget, we will promote settlement in Honmachi, utilize vacant homes, and revitalize the local economy.

Videos etc:

Watch this first: Tokyo Llama and Alex Kerr (more on both below) riff about and explore topics and places in Last Glimpse of Japan’s Beautiful Old Houses? More about this video in post: Llama & Legend discuss Kominka & Akiya

JJ Walsh (a sustainability advocate in Hiroshima) series about Sustainability in Japan does frequent video streams with folks doing interesting lifestyles in Japan including home reno/creation. + these gems with builder Jon Stollenmeyer in Okayama (Jon’s company is Somakosha)

“Buying an Abandoned House in Japan” (video series) by Tokyo Llama + also Facebook page + Instagram

Plus he has huge list of resources on his video posts including tax offices doing auctions and help to find about all the taxes and requirements:

My annotation in full (pardon repetition to above):

Following on with topic of Akiya (abandoned) – free/cheap houses in Japan… this Australian gent, along with Japanese wife and twin kids (plus help from mother in law and her pals) are documenting their process of buying a house in Ibaraki (1 hr north of Tokyo) at a tax auction for about 30K USD with a big main house, 5 various guest houses / sheds / barns, plus 1 tractor, 2 cars, and loads and loads of junk.

Anyhow, his videos are no-nonsense, not-fancy, just solid documentation and enjoyable to follow his process (also noting he joined YT earlier in 2019 and racking up subs, views and comments – cheap and cheerful and useful).

Anyhow, dig in with this overview of the process:

PS We are not planning on doing this per se (we have a cute little classic house next to Ryoko’s awesome parents) but enjoy the topic and process for friends and community builders.

Mitate (old into new):  Long time Japan resident and writer etc Alex Kerr’s TEDx Talk from Chiang Mai about his noted Iya project as well as projects re-sparking traditional foods and art to bring sustainable tourism to rural communities.

Think will provide some interesting ideas for helping rural areas find new life – ergo: sure being remote and calm is great and no one wants bus tours, as such finding a balance of promoting economy while protecting environment is key. Another similar at TEDx Kyoto 2013.

More videos

Karl Bengs: Keeping Memories Alive “German architectural designer Karl Bengs has emerged as a leading voice in the effort to save Japan’s traditional homes and depopulated mountain villages from extinction. Nippon.com recently visited him at his home in the rural Taketokoro district of Niigata Prefecture.” via Nippon.com, Dec. 11, 2017

Kinda hesitate to share this as its sorta hypes the hypes its talking about not hyping but… Japan is giving out free homes in 2022! Will you get one?

Even more stories

More riffs for your “cheap house in Japan” file (note: visas for foreigners aren’t easy but hey, where is? anyhow some pleasing reads about a notable demographic and geographic shift)

Rescuing the minka by Susan Essoyan, Dec. 20, 2007 BY SUSAN ESSOYAN via LA Times

Insider.com “Japan is trying to lure people into rural areas by selling $500 homes, but it’s not enough to fix the country’s ‘ghost town’ problem

CNN (sponsored by Japan Government apparently?) Expats buy Japanese country house for a song and get way more than they bargained for (maybe in Nagano, Niigata? Answer: Tochigi) – they did a lovely job!

Lessons in Sustainable Living From My 100-Year-Old Japanese Farmhouse – great long form sustainability focused story about a build in Ishikawa

Minka: A Farmhouse in Japan (article introducing a film via NYTimes (paywall)

European architect Karl Bengs and Assoc “Kominka Revival

An ongoing project in Okayama (Japanese, FB page)

(yet another) rather sensationalized article from “The Insider” – Yeah these articles are such click bait as don’t mention the challenges of visas, community fit, renovation costs, scarce labour, rubbish removal etc. just “free houses, near Tokyo, all you can eat sushi  ” but folks love em. Anyhow: The Japanese government is looking for people to occupy some 8 million empty homes. Local authorities are giving away free houses and renovation subsidies to incentivize move-ins.

More DaveO riffs

Regarding “Free” Houses in Japan in Vice” (from a comment…)

“Someone sends me one of various articles about the abandoned/free/cheap house situation in Japan weekly – which is fun and fine… but the articles gloss over so much truth and nuance of the situation.

Here are a few notes (rapidly written and unedited) about this topic – curious to hear other opinions (and yes i do know several people who have taken advantage of such deals but they are either Japanese/married to Japanese – so NO you can’t just show up from another country and claim your house and ping uber-eats for sushi delivery). Let’s go:

When i was in Japan in early 1990s, i found renegades who were already re-populating remote areas… while the ageing population situation is MUCH more pronounced now, a de-rural-ification began after WW2 when so many never returned home and villages were populated only by old folks who were moved into bigger towns by US-led occupation government initiatives. As such, many remote rural area were unsettled for decades – increasingly so in the “bubble years” of late 1980s early 1990s when there was a gold rush of great jobs etc. Anyhow, i stayed in remote areas and learned many old ways of Japan (harvesting mushrooms and mountain vegetables and rice etc).

Being back now, i recently visited the village where i farmed enoki mushrooms (Saji, Yazu-gun) and while it was a calm mountain village in those days, there was “life” – now it and many other villages are amalgamated into the larger city and seemed almost empty. The basic shops and gas stations etc are closed and despite improved roads, didn’t see another car for :30 mins.

Realize the article is trying to be “cute” but its much more complicated than they make out. As for Akiya abandoned property directory, there are loads of places available but what Vice neglects to say is:

  • immigration to Japan is *extremely* difficult, so the pithy “Millennials, you are going to Japan” is very overstated to say the least
  • these places are usually quite remote and require a lot of work. “No big deal, right? I’m handy!” is first hunch but keep in mind, the cost of upgrading can be verrry high (gotta have cash since no mortgage or home improvement loans for you) and building skills are very different than “western” houses.
  • in snowy areas (where most of these houses are, not beach front or modern/urban), keep in mind the houses are uninsulated and literally made of sticks, mud and paper
  • also worth noting that we western North Americans look at Japan like we could fit the whole country in our “back pocket” without realizing most of the population lives in the megaopolises between Tokyo > Nagoya > Osaka and 90% of the country is blissfully rural and mountainous (a lot of it quite like Cascades really) and can require long drives on twisty roads to get to services.

One more thought about immigration, there is a big move to open up immigration to bring in workers for “rough work” on a temp basis (mostly targeting lower-wage-expectation Asian countries) as well as easing requirements for “unique skill” workers (including some creative industries and high-skill – international law/business etc) but still a loooong way to go as the pinch of the ageing population is just starting to be felt and there is a lot of denial about the impact (esp by the elder-dominated political class). There is no chance but to open up more, or let the country wither – Either way, i’m along for the ride.

Personally, i hope things open up and diligent respectful foreigners come to re-populate rural areas and keep culture and interestingness alive and growing. Come visit for starters!”


Have something to add to the resource list? Especially links to your projects and experience… drop a comment below or get in touch

4 thoughts on ““Akiya” abandoned, cheap/free* houses in Japan / annotations, resources, riffs, musings, stories”

  1. These resources are great! Thank you! I lived in Tokyo for a couple of years and am thinking of looking for something as a vacation home while exploring visa options. Japanese bureaucracy terrifies me, unfortunately.

    1. So glad you find my round up helpful, I try to keep adding new resources so keep checking back if you’re looking around for a perfect place.

Whatcha think?