Number of hochi akiya continues to rise.

So let’s start things off with a quick little Japanese vocabulary lesson about the word akiya. A combination of aki, (“empty”) and ya (“house”) akiya refers to a home with no regular resident.

Despite having some very high population densities in its biggest cities, Japan also has a lot of akiya. This week, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications released the results of its Housing and Land Statistical Survey, which it conducts every five years, and determined that there are currently about 9 million akiya in Japan. Those nine million akiya represent an increase of roughly 510,000 since the last survey five years ago, and are double the amount from 30 years ago.

The more startling statistic from the report, though, is that 3.85 million of those akiya are hochi akiya, or “abandoned homes,” which account for 5.9 percent of housing units in Japan. While akiya can include things like vacation houses which don’t have anyone staying there for most of the year, or completed homes that are on the market but haven’t been sold yet, hochi akiya are specifically homes that have no resident and aren’t available for sale or any other use. The number of abandoned homes in Japan increased by 36 million since the last survey in 2018, and has more than doubled since 1998.

● Number of abandoned homes in Japan
1978: 980,000
1983: 1,250,000
1988: 1,310,000
1993: 1,490,000
1998: 1,820,000
2003: 2,120,000
2008: 2,680,000
2013: 3,180,000
2018: 3,490,000
2023: 3,850,000

▼ Graph showing number of akiya in Japan, composed of abandoned houses (pink), homes for rent (white with dots), homes for sale (black with dots), and secondary-use/vacation homes (striped). For each category, the number of homes, in units of 10,000, is written in its section of the by-year bar

So how did this situation come about? The most obvious answer is Japan’s aging population and declining birthrate. Fewer people mean less total demand for housing, and smaller families mean less demand for homes from generations back that were sized for parents, multiple kids, and maybe even grandparents living together under the same roof.

The last few generations in Japan have also seen a continuing migration of the population away from rural areas and towards large cities. The prefectures with the largest percentages of abandoned homes, all over 10 percent, are all mostly rural, and it’s likely that many members of the last few generations born there moved away to pursue educational and professional opportunities not available in their hometowns. For example, three of the top eight are prefectures on Shikoku, the only one of Japan’s four main islands without a single Shinkansen station.

Highest percentage of abandoned homes/hochi akiya (compared to total housing units)
● Kagoshima: 13.6 percent
● Kochi: 12.9 percent
● Tokushima: 12.2 percent
● Ehime: 12.2 percent
● Wakayama: 12 percent
● Shimane: 11.4 percent
● Yamaguchi: 11.1 percent
● Akita: 10 percent

Meanwhile, Tokyo has the lowest percentage of abandoned homes, 2.6 percent. Other prefectures with major urban population centers are also low on the hochi akiya ranking, such as Kanagawa (including Yokohama) at 3.2 percent), Aichi (Nagoya) at 4.3 percent, and Osaka, Fukuoka, and Miyagi (Sendai) all at 4.6 percent. Tokyo’s non-Kanagawa neighbors, Saitama and Chiba, also had low abandoned house figures, at 3.9 and 5 percent respectively.

Given these migration patterns, it’s not hard to envision scenarios where someone born in the countryside moves to the big city for school or work and settles down there. Then, when a parent or elderly relative back home passes away, or when the relative themself moves into a newer home now that the kids are grown up and they don’t need as much space, the house sits idle. Maybe the kid who moved away wants to move back to the countryside once they quit the rat race and retire, but that daydream never pans out. Maybe the difficulties of coordinating the sale of an inherited home from halfway across the country means they keep putting the process off until years and years go by, maybe so many that it gets hard to determine who actually legally owns the home anymore. The result? Another abandoned home to add to the total.

With the number of abandoned homes rising, some towns are becoming concerned about potential safety risks such as collapsing during earthquakes, typhoons, or landslides. There isn’t a quick and simple solution to the issue, however. Not only are may abandoned homes in locations where residential demand is low, years of being unoccupied and unmaintained has, according to the report, left an estimated 20 percent of them damaged or decayed to an extent that they’re not for for human habitation without significant restoration work (having recently purchased a hochi akiya of our own here at SoraNews24, we know first-hand how tough that can be), so it’s likely the number of abandoned houses in Japan is going to continue to increase for at least a while.

Source: Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Pakutaso
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