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It’s no secret that Japan’s elderly population is on the rise while the younger population is on decline. Though everyone from the government to economists is trying to figure out what the ramifications of such a top-heavy population will be, Japan is already feeling some of the consequences.

No place is this more apparent than in Japan’s northern prefecture of Aomori. What was once a thriving area a few decades ago is now by all accounts a snowy ghost town.

The most recent event to highlight just how bad things have become is Aomori City practically give away prime real estate. Why has this happened and just how bad are things in Aomori? Read on to find out!

First let’s talk about the real estate in question: the abandoned Sun Friend building next to Aomori Station in Aomori City. It’s an eight-story hotel that was built in 1988, but has been abandoned for the past several years. The only activity that goes on inside of it consists of the movements of an apple salesman, who uses part of the first floor.

▼ The building itself. Note the station just around the corner and the utter lack of people anywhere. Doesn’t even look like apple-guy showed up today.

sun friend buildingGoogle Maps

But still, with a fairly new building in a great location (about five seconds from Aomori Station), and over 1,000 square meters of space (10,764 square ft), the building was expected to sell for a decent price to new investors. It was originally appraised at 171 million yen (US$1,416,853) and went up for auction starting at that price.

And no one bid on it. This wasn’t a quick auction either; it was a week long. When no one made any sort of offer they lowered the price again but still there was no interest.

So now the Sun Friend building is up for auction again, this time starting at 54 million yen ($447,427), less than a third of the original price. If it doesn’t work out again, so far the only thing we’ve heard from those in charge is “third time’s the charm!”

You can’t buy any sort of building in most cities around the world for that low of a price. You can’t even buy a house outside of the city in many places for that price either. So why exactly is this prime real estate in Aomori going for so little?

To find the answer, I turned to a friend, whom we’ll call G-san, who recently lived in Aomori for a year and a half. He just happened to work at a school nearby the Sun Friend building and was quite familiar with it and the rest of the city. Here’s what he had to say:

“I lived and worked a few blocks from that building. I always wondered what was up with it; it looked like it had been deserted the whole time I was there.

“Actually, Aomori has a big problem with depopulation. And while I was there a huge hotel near the station closed down and just remained empty. And when I left Japan it was still just sitting there, collecting dust.

“The building is so cheap because Aomori is full of dying elderly people. There were a lot of consistently abandoned buildings. I would always get lunch with my coworker, and one time we counted how many shops between the school and restaurant were closed—it was a good percentage. Even the CoCo Ichi curry restaurant closed after I left. I think I was literally keeping them in business.

“I remember my manager saying that 20 or 30 years ago the streets downtown were always packed with people, and that now there is nobody left. Also, from the station one of the closest, largest buildings is an assisted living community. So take that for what you will.”

Here’s what G-san had to say about possible factors leading to Aomori’s barrenness:

“If you walk around Aomori you see lots of stuff that must have been super cool and exciting in the 80s, built to accommodate a rising city. But now the only thing I can really say for sure about Aomori is that there are tons of old people, lots of abandoned buildings, and nothing happens except the summer Nebuta Festival.

“For Nebuta, Aomori is completely mobbed with tourists. It’s funny to see the population boom for one week. It’s too bad Aomori can’t really hold its own outside of that.

“I think high school students want to go to Tokyo for college. I don’t know though. There are so many old people if you just look around, compared to young people. There is a university in Hirosaki (southwest Aomori), but there is a serious lack of college kids.

“Also everyone I talked to in Aomori hates the snow. I think a lot of people like warmer places. I know my students did lol.”

It seems to be a vicious cycle: young people wanting to leave as soon as possible, leading to a higher elderly population, leading to abandoned buildings, leading to more young people leaving. Something needs to happen to put a stopper in the endless cycle before it’s too late.

Maybe prime-location buildings being sold for cheap will attract new, enthusiastic entrepreneurs to pump some life back into the city? Hopefully, because as G-san made clear during our chat, Aomori is a prefecture worth saving:

“I love Aomori. It’s a wonderful place if you like quiet life. There’s good, cheap food, beautiful nature; what more do you need?”

Well, people. But hey, they’re working on it!

Source: Yomiuri Online via 2ch Blog
Featured/top image: new0.net