A Guide to Akiya: Vacant Houses in the Japanese Countryside for a Steal | Tokyo Cheapo (2023)

Do you yearn for a home in the Japanese countryside, far from the hustle and bustle of big city life? An akiya (abandoned house) may be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for.

What is an akiya?

Quite simply, akiya (空き家) means “empty house”. What it really means is a vacant home in a small town (possibly in the middle of nowhere) that no one wants to move into and which real estate agents have basically given up on trying to sell. Akiya are both a symptom of Japan’s rapidly falling population and of the overwhelming preference of Japanese home buyers for newly built houses over older buildings. When seniors move to smaller houses or care facilities, or pass away, there are no younger generations around to move into their big, old houses and keep small towns going. In addition, some akiya may be stigmatized properties.

A Guide to Akiya: Vacant Houses in the Japanese Countryside for a Steal | Tokyo Cheapo (1)

According to an article on Japanese real estate information site Lifull Homes, in 2013 there were an estimated 7.57 million akiya, making up 13.1% of Japan’s total housing stock. With the “population problem”, as it is referred to within Japan, the number of vacant homes is set to explode with projections of a fall of Japan’s population from the current 126 million to 88 million by 2065.

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Akiya are often quite large. For example, most of the houses on the akiya bank for Usuki City in Oita Prefecture in Kyushu are enormous compared to modern Japanese homes. Looking for a nine-bedroom house? They got you covered. Don’t expect real space though. An examination of the floor plans shows that most rooms (as you would expect with old Japanese houses) conform to the 4 1/2 to 6 tatami mat standard, usually with one larger room of 8 to 10 mats. The kitchens in particular can most generously be described as rudimentary. For toilets, you might need to squat!

A Guide to Akiya: Vacant Houses in the Japanese Countryside for a Steal | Tokyo Cheapo (2)

What to be aware of with akiya

These houses are often old, unwanted and have sometimes been left empty for an extended period of time. So straight off the bat, making your akiya livable may require an investment to bring the house up to scratch. Depending on the age and construction method of the house, repairs to the existing structure could run into the millions of yen. If your plan is to bring the house up to a modern standard with things like insulation, soundproofing and new wiring, then you can add another zero to that cost. There may be subsidies available from the local municipal government for renovating akiya, so make sure you ask at the akiya bank (see below) about this.

A Guide to Akiya: Vacant Houses in the Japanese Countryside for a Steal | Tokyo Cheapo (3)

Additionally, you should forget about akiya as an investment. Unless there is something special about your akiya (for example, if it’s a traditional farmhouse with lots of historical character) and you spend a large amount on renovation, you will also have trouble finding a buyer.

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Are akiya “free” houses?

No, but they can be very cheap. Some are as low as JPY50,000 to buy. Prices this low are the exception rather than the rule though. Large houses on a substantial lot of land are often listed for JPY2million, with the potential to negotiate a lower price. Let’s face it, if the place has been empty for a few years with no interest from buyers, then the seller probably has unrealistic price expectations due to sentimentality or the sunk cost fallacy.

(Video) How We Bought Our Abandoned House in Japan | Process, Costs, Risks, Finance, How to Find One

It’s also worth noting that not all akiya are for sale. Some are for rent. These rents can also be extremely low—sometimes under ¥10,000/month. All the same drawbacks of buying an akiya apply: If you want to make a ¥10,000/month house livable, you will need to spend a small pile of cash on fixes.

A Guide to Akiya: Vacant Houses in the Japanese Countryside for a Steal | Tokyo Cheapo (4)

Recently some municipalities have started to get more creative with their approaches to dealing with akiya, even offering to help cover some of the extra costs involved, and a small number of municipalities in rural areas do offer free houses. But in both cases they come with strict conditions attached. One condition could be that you agree to live in the town for a certain number of years before you obtain the title to your house. The preference for those is young families.

The other thing to be aware of with free or very cheap houses are the taxes that you have to pay in addition to the purchase price.

Taxes and acquisition costs

When buying any existing house and land in Japan, there are five different taxes to be paid. From most expensive to least expensive, they are:

  • Registration tax (登録免許税) – 2% of estimated value
  • Property acquisition tax (不動産取得税) – 3% of purchase price
  • Fixed asset tax (固定資産税) – 1.4% of purchase price
  • City planning tax (都市計画税) – 0.3% of purchase price
  • Stamp duty (印紙税) – 0 to 20,000yen depending on purchase price

The big variable is the first tax, which is on the government estimated value rather than the purchase price. As property prices outside the big cities have been falling for more than 20 years, and the government estimate was likely done in the past, this is likely to be much higher than the purchase price.

Sample costs breakdown for taxes and fees

If you were to purchase an akiya for JPY 2,000,000 but with a government estimated book value of JPY 4,000,000, the additional tax costs would be:

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  • Registration tax: JPY 80,000
  • Property acquisition tax: JPY 60,000
  • Fixed asset tax: JPY 28,000
  • City planning tax: JPY 6,000
  • Stamp duty: 0 (stamp duty is zero up to 5 million yen)
  • TOTAL: JPY 174,000
  • Additionally, you should budget about another JPY100,000 for lawyers fees. The cost of the “judicial scrivener” (司法書士) who will draw up the contract and carry out the changes in registration is usually borne by the buyer.

    Unless you are using an akiya bank, or buying a foreclosed property, you will also need to pay the real estate agent. Although it would be illegal in many Western countries, Japanese real estate agents can collect a commission from both the seller and the buyer. This is limited by law to 3% of the sale price+ JPY60,000+ consumption tax. On our hypothetical JPY2,000,000 purchase, this would be a maximum of JPY132,000.

    To total this up, on your JPY2,000,000 purchase you can expect to pay another JPY400,000 or so in taxes and fees.

    Akiya banks

    Akiya are not just an issue of falling demand and collapsing buildings, unoccupied homes also bring down the value of the surrounding houses and the lack of new residents is a threat to the survival of whole villages and towns. Without a stabilization of the population, services like supermarkets, medical centers, care homes, schools, shops and restaurants aren’t viable. When these services disappear, the decline of the village accelerates. To address this, local governments throughout the country created akiya banks—offices specialized in looking for new owners for akiya. Their aim is not just to find buyers for the akiya, but to revitalize the village. The word “bank” is a little misleading and reflects Japanese usage of the English loan word. It’s more akin to a blood bank than a financial bank.

    Where to start

    Although there are plenty of websites like this one that collect listings from throughout Japan, they tend to present the more average-priced houses. They’re still after a commission, so it’s in their own self-interest to highlight higher-priced, easier-to-sell homes. For the real bargains, you need to check the sites set up by the municipalities—and there are hundreds. Not surprisingly, there is no accommodation for English speakers with these sites, although anecdotally, most are receptive to approaches from foreigners. Not unusual for Japan, plenty of akiya banks don’t have websites, or the website is just a place to put their address and phone number. If you are interested in the area, you can call/email and request information.

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    The way that each Akiya Bank operates can vary a lot. Most ask that you register so that you can receive information updates on new akiya that come on the market, or when there is a price drop. However, this registration can be as simple as filling out an online form, right through to having to fill out multiple paper forms with your personal seal affixed and writing a letter to the mayor!

    For more information on akiya banks, including advice on how to deal with them, see our guide to akiya banks.

    This post was originally published in October 2020. Last updated in August 2022 by Maria Danuco.

    Written by:Greg Lane

    Greg's Tokyo favorites are:Shinshu Osake Mura, Kiyosumi Teien Garden, The American Craft Beer Experience 2022

    Filed under:Living

    (Video) How NOT to buy an Akiya in Japan. Let's analyze where people like Tomomi get it horribly wrong.

    FAQs

    Can foreigners buy akiya homes in Japan? ›

    And while a foreigner can buy one of these homes, there are restrictions to keep in mind. For example, some contracts to purchase an akiya require the buyer to live in the house permanently. You must make sure this clause is not in your contract because it could go against restrictions on your current visa.

    Can Americans buy akiya? ›

    *Restrictions: Can only be purchased by temporary visitor visa holders not already in Japan. ... Akiya are often quite large. For example, most of the houses on the akiya bank for Usuki City in Oita Prefecture in Kyushu are enormous compared to modern Japanese homes.

    How much does an akiya cost in Japan? ›

    The cost is usually between 50,000 and 100,000 yen, and they will point out important things that you might not know without specialized knowledge. It's certainly not all bad news though. Owning the house (rather than renting) gives you incredible freedom to do exactly what you want with the property.

    How do I get akiya home in Japan? ›

    How do I buy an abandoned house or Akiya in Japan? Since most Akiya properties are handled directly by each municipal in Japan, you need to first contact the municipals through their Akiya bank pages and register yourself on their system before you can officially inquiry about a certain Akiya property.

    How much does it cost to renovate an akiya? ›

    New wallpaper, replacing old, warped drywall, new light installations, minor bathroom updates, etc. Budgets can be as low as ¥500,000, and go up to about ¥3,000,000. This, of course, all depends on your preferences and circumstances.

    Can foreigners live in akiya? ›

    You don't need the permanent residence to buy a property here. You could buy akiya while you are traveling in Japan for vacation with the tourist visa. Ownership rights to land and building in Japan by a foreigner is also permitted just like Japanese citizens.

    How do I buy an abandoned house? ›

    Guide To Buying: Derelict Properties For Sale
    1. Take A Planned Approach To Your Property Search.
    2. Choose An Area You'd Like To Buy A Derelict Property.
    3. Have A Drive Around To Find Derelict Properties With Potential.
    4. Set Yourself A Buying & Renovating Budget & Don't Go Over It.

    Why are houses in Japan so cheap? ›

    Housing in Japan is cheap because of the country's almost deregulated housing policies. This has allowed the number of housing to grow, meaning there are a lot of houses. This ensured the housing demand did not overtake the housing supply, which then kept the prices low compared to other countries.

    How can I legally live in Japan? ›

    To live in Japan, you'll need to acquire a Certificate of Eligibility by showing that you plan to work in Japan, enroll as a student, or live there as the spouse or dependent of a permanent resident. You'll also need to provide evidence that you can financially support yourself.

    Why are there so many abandoned houses in Japan? ›

    There are numerous and complicated reasons why Japanese homes became vacant. The most obvious is the declining birthrate and an aging population, but another reason is location.

    How much is a house in Japan in US dollar? ›

    Japan's house prices start around 25,000,000 JPY (230,000 USD) and go up from there. The overall national average for buying a house is 35,760,000 JPY (337,000 USD).

    What is an Akiya bank? ›

    Akiya banks are databases of vacant or abandoned homes in Japan where owners and local governments can list properties for sale and buyers can search for vacant homes to buy.

    Can a foreigner buy a house in Japan? ›

    In Japan, unlike other countries, there are no restrictions for foreigners based on whether or not they have permanent resident status, Japanese nationality, or based on their visa type. This means that foreigners are allowed to own both land and buildings in Japan as real estate properties.

    How many houses are empty in Japan? ›

    In 2018, these structures — the result of unsustainable growth for several decades followed by sharp demographic decline — totaled 8.5 million units, or 14% of Japan's overall housing stock, according to government figures. The Nomura Research Institute has estimated that this figure could exceed 30% by 2033.

    Why are homes abandoned? ›

    Water contamination, air pollution, or other plagues can cause people to leave their homes and commercial property and abandon their properties for good.

    How much does it cost to demolish a house in Japan? ›

    It costs about one million yen to demolish and clean up a typical home, according to the environment ministry.

    How much does it cost to renovate a house in Japan? ›

    How much do renovations cost? While the cost of renovating an apartment vastly depends on the unit size, scope, and quality, people spend on average around JPY 7 million, according to Property Central Japan. However, on average, a second-hand apartment plus the renovation cost is still 10–20% cheaper than a new unit.

    Can foreigners buy property in Okinawa? ›

    The short answer is: YES! Foreigners have (almost) exactly the same rights as Japanese citizens when it comes to purchasing property or land in Japan, whether you have a permanent resident status or not, or even based on your visa type. There's no extra requirements for foreigners and no extra taxes either.

    How do you become a citizen in Japan? ›

    The person must have been domiciled in Japan for five years or more consecutively and must have had a valid status of residence throughout the prescribed period of time. The person must be 20 years of age or more, and of full capacity to act according to the law of his/her home country.

    Can you buy a town? ›

    When Bruce Krall, a commercial mortgage broker from Orange County, Calif., bought the 83-acre town of Bridgeville, California, for $700,000 in 2004, he garnered a good bit of attention. Although he bought it from an agent, he was ultimately the owner of the first town that was sold on Ebay.

    How can I buy a house in Japan? ›

    1. Step-by-step Process to Buying a House in Japan.
    2. Step 1: Find a Japanese real estate agent.
    3. Step 2: View and compare properties.
    4. Step 3: Express property purchase intent.
    5. Step 5: Get a pre-approval of your property loan.
    6. Step 6: Review the Explanation of Important Matters.
    7. Step 8: Final settlement.
    19 Aug 2020

    What does it mean when a house sells for $1? ›

    HUD's Dollar Homes initiative helps local governments to foster housing opportunities for low to moderate income families and address specific community needs by offering them the opportunity to purchase qualified HUD-owned homes for $1 each.

    How do I find abandoned houses in my area? ›

    Check with Local Authorities

    Make an appointment with the county clerk. You might be able to identify abandoned homes by going to the county clerk's office because the government keeps property ownership data. Inquire with banks to see if they have an inventory of houses under foreclosure.

    What is a derelict house? ›

    Structures which are in a ruinous, derelict or dangerous condition, or. The neglected, unsightly or objectionable condition of the land or of structures on it, or. The presence, deposit or collection of litter, rubbish, debris or waste.

    Why do houses in Japan only last 30 years? ›

    Besides cultural, there are obvious natural reasons with Japan short housing life spans: the country coexists with the constant threat of earthquakes and tsunamis and has mitigated this risk – somewhat – with a housing culture of quickly and cheaply built wooden homes.

    Is buying a house in Japan a good idea? ›

    Advantages to buying:

    With Japan's low interest rates and relatively high property yields, your mortgage repayments will typically be less than the rent you would pay for the same apartment, even when you add in property taxes and monthly maintenance.

    Can you live in Japan without a job? ›

    There are a few ways to move to Japan without a job. First, you could marry a Japanese citizen. You can also apply for a student visa. Alternatively, you can use a tourist visa to explore the country and find a place to work.

    Can you live in Japan without citizenship? ›

    Foreign residents, who have shown good conduct and have sufficient assets or ability to make an independent living, can be granted permanent residence if they reside in Japan for a certain number of consecutive years.

    How much money do I need to move to Japan? ›

    Average costs of moving to Japan:

    1-bedroom takes about 8-11 weeks and cost between $3,400 – $4,800. 2-bedrooms take about 5-8 weeks and cost between $4,700 – $6,300. 3-bedrooms take about 5-8 weeks and cost between $8,200 – $11,000. 4-bedrooms take about 5-8 weeks and cost between $8,700 – $11,800.

    Why Japan is giving away houses for free? ›

    Many Japanese people are superstitious, and moving in such houses or even rebuilding on the same land, is considered bad luck, making these properties even harder to sell.

    Can you get a job in Japan without speaking Japanese? ›

    Can I Really Work in Japan Without Knowing Any Japanese? The short answer is yes, but it's not that simple. You can get a job without needing Japanese, and that job doesn't have to be only an English teacher. You have more limited options, and they depend largely on your skills and the current job market trend.

    Are Japan houses cheap? ›

    It's a well-kept secret. Japan is one of the best, underrated places in the world to own a vacation home for a few reasons: it's incredibly cheap to buy a house; property taxes are low; and maybe most important: it's such a lovely place to spend your vacation time! See the FAQ for more information.

    Is it cheaper to live in Japan or America? ›

    The average cost of living in Japan ($1171) is 45% less expensive than in the United States ($2112). Japan ranked 43rd vs 6th for the United States in the list of the most expensive countries in the world.
    ...
    Japan vs United States - Cost of Living Comparison.
    JapanUnited States
    🏙️ Population126M331M
    14 more rows

    What is the cheapest city to live in Japan? ›

    Kyoto and Kawasaki are among the cheapest places to rent in Japan, and Tsushima city and Fukuoka boast some of the lowest living costs for utilities, groceries, and eating out.

    What's a good salary in Japan? ›

    A.

    The average monthly salary for employees in Japan can range from approximately 130,000 JPY (1,128 USD) to 2,300,000 JPY (19,963 USD). Note: The upper range of salaries is the highest average and not the maximum salary Japanese people earn.

    Is there social housing in Japan? ›

    Publicly-Operated Housing is constructed and managed by local governments, with a subsidy from the national government. They account for 4% of the total housing stock in Japan.

    Are there houses in Japan? ›

    Traditional Japanese homes are made of wood and supported by wooden pillars, but today's homes usually have Western-style rooms with wooden flooring and are often constructed with steel pillars. More and more families in urban areas, moreover, live in large, ferroconcrete apartment buildings.

    How can I legally live in Japan? ›

    To live in Japan, you'll need to acquire a Certificate of Eligibility by showing that you plan to work in Japan, enroll as a student, or live there as the spouse or dependent of a permanent resident. You'll also need to provide evidence that you can financially support yourself.

    What does a traditional Japanese house look like? ›

    Minka, or traditional Japanese houses, are characterized by tatami mat flooring, sliding doors, and wooden engawa verandas. Another aspect that persists even in Western-style homes in Japan is the genkan, an entrance hall where people remove footwear.

    Can you live in Japan without a job? ›

    There are a few ways to move to Japan without a job. First, you could marry a Japanese citizen. You can also apply for a student visa. Alternatively, you can use a tourist visa to explore the country and find a place to work.

    Can you live in Japan without citizenship? ›

    Foreign residents, who have shown good conduct and have sufficient assets or ability to make an independent living, can be granted permanent residence if they reside in Japan for a certain number of consecutive years.

    How much money do I need to move to Japan? ›

    Average costs of moving to Japan:

    1-bedroom takes about 8-11 weeks and cost between $3,400 – $4,800. 2-bedrooms take about 5-8 weeks and cost between $4,700 – $6,300. 3-bedrooms take about 5-8 weeks and cost between $8,200 – $11,000. 4-bedrooms take about 5-8 weeks and cost between $8,700 – $11,800.

    How do Japanese homes stay warm with paper walls? ›

    How do Japanese homes stay warm with paper walls? In the winter, traditional Japanese homes had a warm fireplace known as an irori. People would gather around it and be warmed by hot coals from wood burning on top of them, allowing them to stay toasty despite the outside temperatures!

    Why do houses in Japan only last 30 years? ›

    Besides cultural, there are obvious natural reasons with Japan short housing life spans: the country coexists with the constant threat of earthquakes and tsunamis and has mitigated this risk – somewhat – with a housing culture of quickly and cheaply built wooden homes.

    Why do Japanese homes have sliding doors? ›

    In traditional Japanese houses, large spaces are separated for various purposes, depending on the time and occasion. At times large rooms are used for parties and at others, the room is separated and used as smaller private rooms. In order to create a separation between rooms, sliding doors called fusuma are used.

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