“Akiya” abandoned, cheap/free* houses in Japan / annotations and resources

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 + 

Notes & Riffs

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 (grainery), naya (garage) 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 don’t really do this (cause there’s no commissions on cheap houses) and often also because there’s no one to sign a 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.

Links/Resources (your mileage may vary)

Japan Simple Life (forum)

Akiya-Now (yet another directory)

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

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 Japan”) Carry on.

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

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 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)

Super Enjoyable Resource: 

“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.

More of my Story (from a comment…)

Regarding “Free” Houses in Japan in Vice

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).

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 – also 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!