Japan has millions of cheap abandoned homes. Here's what to know before you buy one.

Japan has millions of cheap abandoned homes. Here's what to know before you buy one.
Buying an akiya can provide a great opportunity, but buyers should be aware of possible downsides.Maigo Mika

Japan has millions of abandoned houses in the countryside, and the country is struggling to fill them. With the population in Japan shrinking and Japanese buyers vastly preferring new over used homes, older homes are often abandoned when owners die or younger generations refuse to inherit them. Sitting empty, these homes can fall into disrepair.

In an effort to revitalize rural areas and attract buyers, some regional governments are subsidizing renovations and offering these akiya — the Japanese term for "empty house" — for around $25,000 for sale or auction, and sometimes for as little as $500.

These houses can be found listed in "akiya banks," pages operated by local governments as part of a program launched by Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT). The Japanese government estimated in 2018 that there were nearly 8.5 million abandoned homes in the country. Akiyabanks.com, a website with information in both English and Japanese, provides a collective directory of all known municipal akiya banks in Japan.

These incentives and low prices have attracted some Japanese urbanites looking for a change of pace, and have also increasingly attracted the attention of foreign buyers.

Jaya Thursfield and his wife, Chihiro, moved from London to Japan after buying an abandoned Japanese farmhouse in Ibaraki, a Japanese prefecture about an hour's drive northeast from Tokyo. The couple said they bought their house for around $30,000 at auction in 2019 and have spent about $150,000 on extensive renovations, documenting the process of turning it into their dream home on their YouTube channel.


They cleaned out the previous owner's belongings, which included two cars, a tractor, and farm equipment, redid all the plumbing and electrical wiring, installed new flooring across the house, and completely renovated the kitchen and bathrooms.

Japan has millions of cheap abandoned homes. Here's what to know before you buy one.
The Thursfields' kitchen needed a complete renovation, but first it had to be cleaned out.Jaya Thursfield

Extensive cleaning and renovations may be necessary to make an akiya livable. Many older akiya are considered structurally fragile according to the Building Standard Law in Japan, which was first introduced in 1950, and has since been amended to improve the sturdiness of older buildings.

With many Japanese buyers preferring newly built houses, some homes are demolished after only 20-30 years. And while houses in the US typically appreciate in value, houses in Japan tend to gradually depreciate in value over time.

Richard Koo, the chief economist at Japan's Nomura Research Institute, previously told Insider that in Japan, once a home is more than 10 or 15 years old, its value is "worse than nothing" because of the cost of demolishing it.

"Land without anything on it has a higher value than land with a pre-owned house on it," Koo said.


Bethany Nakamura moved from the US to Japan to teach English in 2021. In 2022, she found an opportunity to live in an akiya for free, only paying utilities. Although the house was in good condition, she said she chose not to buy it.

"I personally don't think that it's a good idea for foreign people to jump into homeownership in the Japanese countryside right away," Nakamura previously told Insider for an as-told-to essay about her experience. "Moving from America to Japan presents a very different culture. It's a different real-estate market. People may not know right away if it's a good fit for the long term. And once you own a home, it's very difficult to get rid of it."

The low costs of these houses create buzz, but Nakamura said that it's not necessarily a step towards financial freedom or long-term stability, and that cultural differences can be difficult to adapt to.

"It might take two or three years for someone to really have a solid understanding of how they interact in the community, what their expectations are, and how the community will react when they do things that they don't understand," she said.