On April 27, the Ministry of Justice enacted a nationwide unwanted land donation system in order to reduce the burden of rural, idle land on heirs. However, there are some strings attached that may limit how effective this system will be at reducing the number of vacant ‘akiya’ properties across Japan.

Under the new system, landowners can pay a fee to the MoJ and donate their unwanted land. But, the main requirement is that any buildings on top of the land must be demolished before the MoJ will accept it. Local municipalities welcome this new system as they expect it will eliminate the dilapidated and hazardous buildings that have been left to rot by owners and heirs. The obvious hindrance is that these rotting homes and buildings are often in locations with little-to-no land values and are owned by people who are already hesitant to spend any money to clear the dangerous structures. A system that asks the property owner to pay to demolish the building and pay additional fees in order to hand over their land to the national government might lack some incentives, but is promoted more as a means of ensuring the property owner will not have to worry about passing on that burden to their heirs down the line.

The MoJ refuses to accept land with any of the following conditions:

  1. Land with any buildings
  2. Land with any liens
  3. Land with any paths or planned access by third parties
  4. Land with soil pollution
  5. Land with unclear boundaries
  6. Cliffside land
  7. Land with any other structures, vehicles, trees
  8. Land with any underground structures or objects that should be excavated
  9. Land with any neighbor disputes
  10. Land that will require excessive maintenance or disposal costs or any type of effort or labor

If the property owner has land that does not meet any of the disqualifying conditions above, they can pay a non-refundable assessment fee of 14,000 Yen per lot to the MoJ to determine if the land will be acceptable for donation. There may be occasions where the donation is rejected. If it is accepted, the landowner must pay a ‘burden fee’ to the MoJ to donate the land. This burden fee varies depending on the type of land, zoning, and size. It may start from 200,000 Yen. For 10 hectares of mountainside forest, the burden fee can exceed 900,000 Yen (US$6,600). For a small 100m2 of building land in a zoned, urban promotion area, the burden fee may be as high as 550,000 Yen (US$4,000). 

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 13.8% of Japan’s housing stock was unoccupied as of 2018 (this number includes homes that are temporarily vacant, such as holiday homes and homes that are between tenants or listed for sale). Not all of those homes are in habitable condition. Many have completely rotted or are in remote locations with a rapidly declining population.

The Asahi Shimbun, April 29, 2023.
The Ministry of Finance.