Akiya, or vacant and dilapidated homes, are becoming a common sight in some of Japan’s largest cities, and it’s not for the reasons you might suspect.

Japan had as many as 8.48 million homes that were not permanently occupied, according to a survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in 2018. This number had doubled over the past three decades. It is important to note that half of the homes included in this figure are those that are temporarily vacant because they were being advertised for rent. A further 300,000 homes were vacant because they were listed for sale, and 380,000 homes were vacant because they were used as holiday homes. The popular summer resort town of Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture has a vacancy rate of 68.2% due to the fact that most homeowners live elsewhere and own homes in the town for weekenders or summer vacations. These vacant homes are not the ones of concern to local authorities – it’s the dilapidated and abandoned ones that are close to collapse that need urgent attention.

In Osaka City, there were 874 of these ‘designated akiya’ houses that were close to collapse as of September 2022. This number has more than doubled over the past five years. The homes may be left to rot for a variety of reasons, sometimes due to inheritance disputes, and other times due to the owner not having or wanting to spend the money to demolish the old house. 

The introduction of the Vacant Houses Special Measures Act in 2015 gives local governments the authority to carry out demolitions by proxy and then charge the property owner for the cost of doing so. However, it is a lengthy process to carry out a demolition by proxy and local governments are often worried that it could be difficult to recoup the cost from the owner. In Osaka City, only one demolition under this Act has been carried out to date. There are also strict criteria pertaining to which houses can qualify under this Act, with potentially only 25 of the 874 abandoned homes in Osaka meeting the guidelines. 

Inheritance disputes or a lack of funds aren’t the only reasons a house in the city center may be left to fall into ruin. Property taxes are typically lower when there is a house on the land, regardless of the condition or occupancy of the structure itself. Demolishing the house could result in a higher annual property tax bill. Some of these property owners are simply waiting for the best time to sell and have no desire to repair or demolish the house in the meantime. Unless the land is in a great location where it could make sense to convert it into a parking lot, there often aren’t any incentives to demolish an old house.

The Sankei News, October 22, 2022.
Nikkei Business Daily, October 12, 2022.