What is an Akiya? Japan's Abandoned Houses

  • First published: 2024-06-07
  • Last updated: 2024-06-07

Akiya (空き家) is a term used in Japan to refer to abandoned or vacant houses. These properties have become increasingly prevalent in rural and suburban areas due to a combination of demographic shifts, urban migration, and economic factors. The rise of akiya presents both challenges and opportunities for Japan, particularly in terms of real estate, cultural preservation, and community revitalization. What is an Akiya?

Akiya literally translates to "empty house" in Japanese. These are residential properties that are unoccupied for extended periods, often due to the following reasons:

  • Aging Population: Japan has one of the oldest populations in the world. As older generations pass away or move into care facilities, their homes are frequently left uninhabited.
  • Urban Migration: Many young people move to urban centers like Tokyo and Osaka in search of better job opportunities, leaving behind homes in rural or suburban areas.
  • Inheritance Issues: In some cases, heirs may not want to take on the responsibilities of maintaining an inherited property, especially if they already live in cities.

The Scale of the Problem

According to government statistics, Japan had over 8 million akiya as of the latest counts, a number expected to rise significantly in the coming decades. This trend poses various problems, including the degradation of local communities, a decline in property values, and potential safety hazards. Economic and Cultural Impact

  • Economic Impact: Property Devaluation: Akiya can lead to a decrease in property values in surrounding areas, as neglected homes often fall into disrepair. Maintenance Costs: Local governments and communities may bear the burden of maintaining or demolishing these properties.
  • Cultural Impact: Loss of Heritage: Many akiya are traditional Japanese homes (kominka) with historical and cultural significance. Their abandonment can lead to the loss of architectural heritage. Community Decline: The presence of akiya can contribute to the decline of once-vibrant communities, as fewer residents lead to fewer local services and amenities.

Solutions and Opportunities

The issue of akiya has prompted various responses from the government, private sector, and individuals, aiming to address the challenges and realise the potential benefits of these abandoned properties.

Government Initiatives:

  • Subsidies and Incentives: Local governments offer subsidies to encourage the purchase and renovation of akiya.
  • Akiya Banks: Online databases, known as "akiya banks," list vacant properties available for sale or rent, making it easier for potential buyers to find and acquire these homes.

Private Sector Involvement:

  • Real Estate Investment: Some real estate companies specialize in buying and renovating akiya, turning them into profitable ventures, such as vacation rentals or guest houses.
  • Community Projects: Non-profit organizations and community groups sometimes step in to restore akiya, using them for community centers, artist residences, or other public uses.

Individual Efforts:

Some individuals, both Japanese and foreigners, are drawn to the idea of relocating to the countryside and renovating an akiya as a personal project. This can be a more affordable way to own property in Japan while contributing to rural revitalization.

Buying an Akiya

Purchasing and renovating an akiya can be a complex process, involving various legal and financial challenges. Prospective buyers should be aware of potential issues such as unpaid property taxes, inheritance disputes, and the need for significant renovations. Many akiya are located in rural areas, which may not suit those who prefer urban living. Despite these hurdles, the Japanese government actively promotes akiya revitalization projects to encourage investment in these properties and help address the country's housing shortage.

Foreigners can buy property in Japan, even without a visa, which makes investing in an akiya an accessible option for international buyers. However, if non-residents wish to purchase a property for residential purposes, they must first obtain a Certificate of Eligibility (COE). This requires submitting an application to the Japanese embassy or consulate in their home country, along with various supporting documents. The process can take several weeks or even months.

For those interested in exploring these opportunities, Akiyahopper provides a comprehensive database of properties exclusively listed on akiya banks, making it easier to find and invest in these unique homes.


Akiya represent a significant aspect of Japan's current real estate landscape, reflecting broader demographic and economic trends. While they pose challenges, they also offer unique opportunities for revitalization and cultural preservation.