Got $500 to Spare? You Can Buy a House in Japan

In Nagano, $460 can get you seven rooms, a spacious garden, and a view of rice fields.
June 3, 2021, 10:52am
akiya, Japan, abandoned home
Homes in Nagano City go for as low as $460. Photo: Courtesy of Nagano City Akiya Bank

Sick of the city life? Resent your fourth floor walk-up? Share a washing machine with a neighbor who keeps leaving socks behind? Japan may have a solution for you.

In the Japanese countryside, bargain homes are going for as little as $460, prices made possible in part by local governments eager to fill empty buildings as the country’s population rapidly shrinks.

To attract residents to their dwindling communities, local authorities have in recent years spent millions in renovation grants, as well as relaxing zoning restrictions and sometimes even giving away old buildings for free. And as the coronavirus pandemic has created more remote jobs and prompted many to relocate, spacious country homes could look even more attractive than tiny apartments in the city.

“We’ve actually had a few interested foreigners buying akiya (abandoned homes),” said Kenji Nishimaki, an emigration and settlement counselor at Nagano city hall, one of the city governments offering subsidies for people buying an akiya.

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A traditional Japanese home selling for 65,000 yen ($592) in Nagano city. Photo: Courtesy of Nagano City Akiya Bank

According to government statistics, 361,091 Japanese people left the greater Tokyo area for the suburbs last year, a 2.56 percent rise compared to 2019.

Nishimaki said that Nagano’s relative proximity to Tokyo makes it a great place to live. 

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“It’s both the city and the countryside. There’s a shinkansen (bullet train) that runs through the city, and it takes about an hour and a half to get to Tokyo,” Nishimaki told VICE World News. “We also have beautiful nature.”

According to 2018 data from the Japan Housing and Land Survey, there were over 8 million akiya in the country, a 3.2 percent increase since 2013.

Most of these homes were abandoned after their owners died, or when residents moved away. With Japan’s declining population and continuing urban migration, more homes in rural areas are being left deserted. 

To help sell the glut of empty homes, the Nagano city government has even created an “akiya bank” website, with the catchphrase “Let’s live in Nagano!”

Launched five years ago, the website lists abandoned homes and different financial support offered by the government to encourage potential buyers to make their move. The city government can provide up to 500,000 yen ($4,555) for renovating homes in the metropolitan part of town, or up to 1 million yen ($9,110) to fix up a house in the suburbs. 

One home listed for 80,000 yen ($729) on Nagano city’s “akiya bank” is a spacious traditional Japanese-style home, with eight rooms, a recently renovated bathroom, and a balcony view of Nagano’s luscious mountains.

akiya, Japan, abandoned house

The view from one of Nagoya's akiyas. Photo: Courtesy of Nagano City Akiya Bank

A 50,000 yen ($455) home with seven rooms comes with a spacious garden. The home is situated near rice fields, a view that can be enjoyed from its sunny southern-facing rooms, completed with a spacious Japanese-style bathroom.

Selling empty homes in rural towns has been a growing trend in nations with aging populations. 

In 2008, the Italian town of Salemi in Sicily started selling dilapidated homes for 1 euro ($1.22). The mayor at the time, Vittorio Sgarbi, thought cheap real estate could be a way to revive the emptying town.

Earlier this year, the southeastern Italian city of Biccari joined the 1 euro homes trend to combat dwindling populations. It’s also selling fully-renovated homes for as low as 7,500 euros. According to the city mayor Gianfilippo Mignogna, the city has fewer than 2,000 residents and “depopulation is an open wound,” he told CNN.

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