In the hustle and bustle of big cities like Tokyo, you’d never guess that vacant homes are an issue across Japan. But walk through the quiet streets of rural towns, and you’ll come across empty, abandoned houses – known as akiya homes.
According to a 2018 report by Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, approximately 8.48 million homes—making up 13.6% of all residences—are vacant. This number has surged by 1.5 times compared to two decades ago. In fact, in Japan today, one in every ten homes is vacant.
In this article, we’ll share what akiya homes are, and the causes, risks, and potential solutions to the Akiya crisis in Japan. We’ll also look at different initiatives currently being undertaken by the government and local authorities to tackle this growing problem.
Let’s get started…
What Are Akiya Houses?
In Japan, the term “Akiya” refers to homes that are empty or unoccupied.
While the reasons for these vacancies vary, they are generally classified into four categories: secondary residences, rental properties, homes for sale, and other vacant homes for reasons like job transfers or hospitalization.
The last category is particularly problematic, accounting for about 41% of all vacant homes in Japan.
The Root Causes of the Akiya Problem
The Akiya issue is complex and multi-faceted, but five key factors contribute to the rise of vacant homes in Japan.
1. Aging Population and Low Birth Rates
Japan’s declining population due to low birth rates and an aging society has led to an increase in vacant homes. The total number of residences now surpasses the number of households, exacerbating the Akiya problem.
Additionally, as people age, they often move from their homes to elderly care facilities, leaving behind empty houses.
2. Inheritance Issues
Many inherited homes are left unoccupied because the heirs have no intention of living in them. When these properties are not maintained or repaired, they gradually deteriorate.
3. High Demolition Costs
The cost of demolishing a vacant home can be a significant barrier. Depending on the structure and size of the building, the cost per square meter can vary.
For example, demolishing a 100 square meter steel-framed house could cost between ¥350,000 to ¥700,000 (approximately $3,000 to $6,000 USD).
4. Increased Property Taxes for Vacant Land
Demolishing a building to leave an empty plot of land can result in higher property and urban planning taxes.
This is because tax reduction measures, such as those for “small-scale residential land” and “general residential land,” apply only to plots with existing structures.
5. Preference for New Homes
In Japan, there is a higher demand for new homes compared to existing or second-hand homes. According to a 2019 report by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, about 980,000 new homes were built, whereas only around 170,000 existing homes were sold.
This preference for new construction over existing homes further contributes to the Akiya issue.
Solutions to the Akiya Crisis
The Akiya issue is a complex problem deeply rooted in Japan’s social, economic, and demographic landscape. National and local government initiatives and private sector involvement offer a glimmer of hope to solve this growing concern.
The Japanese government supports various community and housing development projects to tackle the Akiya issue. This includes offering various grants and subsidies, which we’ll discuss below.
1. Relocation and Housing Support Organizations
Organizations supported by the government aim to promote the circulation of vacant homes. These organizations lease homes from seniors and sublease them to younger generations.
However, there are age and property condition requirements for this program.
2. Grants and Subsidies
Local governments, spurred by national initiatives, offer grants and subsidies for the removal, renovation, or remodeling of vacant homes.
The requirements and amounts vary by locality, so it’s crucial to research the specific programs in your area.
3. Akiya Banks
Akiya Banks are services operated by local governments that list vacant homes for sale.
These platforms match interested buyers with sellers, facilitating the transfer of these properties.
4. Utilizing Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding involves collecting small amounts of money from a large number of people online.
Local governments are increasingly using crowdfunding to finance projects that convert vacant homes into guest houses or traditional Japanese homes, for example.
5. Vacant Home Management Services
Some private real estate companies offer services to manage vacant homes on behalf of the owners. This is particularly useful for those who cannot dedicate time to managing their vacant properties.
Get Involved: Turn an Akiya into a Profitable Airbnb Property
If you’re considering buying and renovating an Akiya to rent out as an Airbnb property, we can help.
At Tokyo Portfolio, we offer assistance in finding and renovating Akiya homes in Tokyo, turning them into profitable investment opportunities. Contact us today to learn more about how you can contribute to solving the Akiya issue while making a smart investment.