Why are there millions of empty houses in Japan?
Official figures report that there are more than eight million houses standing empty across Japan, the reality could be even higher. One of the highest concentrations of empty houses or ‘Akiya’ as they are known, is in the Prefecture of Akita, in Northern Japan, where in the past five years, houses have been abandoned at a rate of 13.6 percent.
The problem is being put down to a number of factors. The lack of employment or education opportunities in rural economies means more migration into the cities. An ageing population combined with a low birth rate is upending traditional living arrangements. The land on which property sits benefits from tax relief, and if a property disappears so does the preferential measure. Building codes are strict. Religious reasons are cited as another factor - it’s believed that the spirits of ancestors still dwell in the home.
The Government has invested heavily in the housing sector, from financial incentives to occupy older empty houses, to focusing on building preferred new and expensive homes in Japan’s cities in order to boost the economy. But as the population demographics continue to shift and shrink, unless the balance of supply and demand is addressed soon, then the suggestion is that empty Akiya will be an ongoing issue for Japan.
This week on the Inquiry we’re asking: Why are there millions of empty houses in Japan?
Ayumi Sugimoto, Associate Professor, Rural Studies, Akita International University, Japan
Misa Izuhara, Professor of Social Policy, University of Bristol, UK
Kazuki Morimoto, Associate Professor in Japanese, University of Leeds, UK
Jiro Yoshida, Associate Professor of Business, Pennsylvania State University, USA; Guest Professor of Economics, University of Tokyo, Japan
Presented: Charmaine Cozier
Produced: Jill Collins
Researcher: Bisi Adebayo
Editor: Tara McDermott
Technical producer: Richard Hannaford
Production co-ordinator: Brenda Brown
(Photo: Abandoned wooden house in Tambasasayama, Japan,5 April, 2023 Credit: Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)