There are more than 8 million empty homes in rural Japan, and local governments are selling them for as little as $500 in a bid to lure residents

·4 min read
akiya tochigi
This empty property in Tochigi, a prefecture north of Tokyo, is one of 8 million vacant houses that need occupants. Tochigi Akiya
  • 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.

  • Some provinces even have "akiya banks," which are listings of vacant houses available for sale.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

There are millions of vacant homes in Japan, and some of them are being given away nearly for free. 

To find occupants for its millions of "akiya," or unoccupied homes, the Japanese government is enticing would-be homeowners with financial incentives like free properties and sizable renovation subsidies.

Japan's Housing and Land Survey, conducted every five years, logged a record high of 8.49 million akiya in Japan in 2018. Many of these homes were left empty after relatives died or when people moved away, the survey found. The 2018 survey found a 3.2% increase in the number of akiya compared to 2013.

akiya japan
A property manager opens the window of a vacant traditional Japanese house in the city of Kamakura outside Tokyo Thomas Peter/Reuters

The report also found 13.6% of Japan's 62.42 million homes were unoccupied. This was particularly pronounced in the prefectures of Wakayama, Tokushima, Kagoshima, and Kochi, all of which recorded home vacancy rates of more than 18%.

The push to revitalize Japan's rural areas is a key part of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's socioeconomic plans for the country. Suga made rural revitalization a cornerstone of his policy when he took office in September, pledging in a November speech to stimulate the rural economy by boosting tourism and encouraging agricultural reform.

Free houses, anyone?

akiya Nagano
An unoccupied property in Nagano, Japan. Nagano Akiya Bank

Japan is making it easy for interested parties to find these vacant homes.

Cities like Tochigi and Nagano have "akiya banks." These websites, developed by the city or municipal governments, list abandoned homes. Some of them are available for as little as 50,000 yen ($455).

The town of Okutama in western Tokyo even hands over aging and vacant buildings for free, per Nikkei. Some new residents have found creative ways to repurpose them, turning them into workshops and eateries.

"The program not only helps the old owners, who were struggling to utilize the properties and pay taxes, but also for the town by reducing the number of abandoned buildings that could collapse or otherwise pose risks in the future," a spokesman for the Okutama government office told Nikkei.

Some provincial governments have found that offering cash is one of the best ways to draw in remote workers.

Nikkei reported that Mikasa in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido recorded an 11% decrease in its number of empty homes when the city rolled out subsidies for child care and home purchases. Similarly, the town of Daisen in Tottori Prefecture saw a 7.9% drop in the number of empty properties when the local government offered 2 million yen ($18,229) grants to those who were renovating certain houses listed in its database.

In September, Nikkei reported on a program through which remote workers who maintain employment in Tokyo while working from the countryside will be given a 1 million yen ($9,114) cash grant. Meanwhile, those who set up IT businesses in rural Japan can apply for a grant of 3 million yen ($27,343).

A trend seen around the globe

cinquefrondi
The southern Italian town of Cinquefrondi started selling off houses for 1 euro in an attempt to repopulate. Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

The problem of empty houses in rural areas is not unique to Japan.

As Insider's Taylor Borden and Libertina Brandt recently reported, cities and towns across the US are offering people thousands of dollars - and in some cases, free land - to relocate.

In Italy, the southern village of Cinquefrondi made the news when it started selling homes for 1 euro ($1.14) to increase the town's population. And the town of Locana in northern Italy offered the same deal but sweetened it by giving remote workers who have children a cash incentive of 9,000 euros ($10,971) to move there to fill its deserted homes.

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