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Houses in Japan are going for as little as $500 (travelpirates.com)
224 points by prostoalex 3 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 201 comments

These don't have "minor" loopholes to renovation or occupation.

Typically these will require the use of licensed craftsmen who can restore the building if they are the older style, and almost all will require 5-10 year occupation agreements and/or agreements to productively farm the land it comes with.

Further, there are strict restrictions on ownership by foreigners, and most of the akiya bank properties aren't eligible last I looked. Those that are will have little to no internet, you will be an hour or more away from a decent sized city, and you'd better be fluent in Japanese because noone in these communities will be fluent in anything else. Even signage in many of these places is lacking the English foreigners that have traveled there will be used to.

For reference I've lived in Japan, have a Japanese spouse, and my children are dual citizens. We have investigated this going on 15 years now and it's just not something you'd want to take on, if you were able to, most of the time.

Reminds me of an economics joke:

Two economists are walking down the street. One spots a $20 bill on the sidewalk. He bends to pick it up, but his companion stops him. "If there really were free money in the street," the companion says, "then somebody else would've picked it up before now."

If you get to the point where the $20 bills on the ground are being advertised online in other countries after being on the ground for years, then there is probably a massive catch.

Substitute $20 bills on the ground with $500 house in Japan and it’s obvious why this joke analogy doesn’t apply.

Russian and Ukrainian are walking down the street. They both spots $100 bill. Russian picks it up and says: "Let's split like brothers!" and Ukrainian says: "No! Let's split 50:50"

Ah, another branch of the "Q: Which countries does Russia border? A: Whichever countries it wants to." jokes, I see :-D

I'm not Russian or Ukrainian, but I suspect this stems from the Stalin's treatment of occupied Ukraine in the early 1930's, where so much of their grain was shipped out of the country that 25% of Ukraine's population had died by 1933.

I don't know why you're getting downvoted. Often the core of comedy is pain. Knowing this puts the GP's joke in a darker, more grounded context.

Dark humor is like food. Not everyone gets it.

Meta humor

I suspect the reason is that in many western nations, it's becoming politically incorrect to paint socialism/communism in a negative light, despite the realities of the 20th century (and present atrocities being committed by the current mainland Chinese government).

You’re not referring to North America, which has spent the past century propagandizing against socialism, I presume?

Ha, classic. Works with pretty much any two nationalities.

Any two nationalities where one is typically bullying the other.

After laboriously explaining the logical errors in his companion's warning the first economist bends over the pick up the $20 bill again, only to find it quickly pulled away down the street on a fishing line being pulled by a couple of pranksters hidden around a corner.

    The first economist picks up the bill anyway. It was a fake, and on the other side there's an ad for a strip club.
    Visit the strip club? (Y/N): _

And yet somehow hedge funds exist to look for $20 bills in streets.

I don't like the joke, tbh.


- In somewhat professional bussiness areas there is in general no free mony, but not because no one picked it up but because no one would place the money down/accidentally let it fall down without noticing.

- But in specific contexts there is "free money" it's just that "in general" this context doesn't apply to you, e.g. there if you are Japanese person who wants to spend the next decade farming in the country side this might be a awesome deal for you.

- But the "mony on the ground" analogy represents a "general but rare" situation, not a "very specific context", but you can find money on the ground and it's always worth picking it up, BUT you should check if there is a string attached to it (in that case literally ;=)).

So for me the joke sounds like what someone would try to argue in self defense when doing a bad deal to reason that all is fine because they are not "blind sighted economists".

In my environment (or more precise that of my dad) I have seen people going in that direction of "picking up free money" and making exactly this kind of jokes only to lose all the money they had maneuvering themself into a situation of basically falling into poverty not long before they normally could have gone into a nice reasonable wealthy retirement...

The humor in the joke comes from the mismatch between economic theory and reality.

Elaborate, because it sounds like a strawman.

Perfect markets have no time lag, everything happens instantaneously. Thus it is always in the perfect state. The real world is not that convenient.

And? What does that have to do with the GP?

It’s a joke.

I can agree with him the mismatch is what makes me dislike the joke as it can spawn bad ideas but also what can make it funny in a "dark humorous" way.

Me not liking the joke doesn't necessary mean it's not funny :=/ Like a joke which makes you both laugh and feel bad at the same time...

There is no strict laws on foreign ownership, most of the time this falls under the idea that people/foreigners think owning land gives you a right to reside in the country. It does not.

Then not knowing procedures or having a Hanko is extremely detrimental to doing any paperwork in Japan.

Internet is not an issue, NTT will give you internet within 3 months, and there is always unlimited 4g/5g subscriptions.

Being in the Inaka is an experience itself, and you need to know the language. I agree.

Parent comment said "restrictions" on ownership by foreigners, not "laws". The "restrictions" are semi-informal, barriers put in place as needed, in the form of a bunch of extra costly-to-satisfy red tape that isn't usually insisted upon, but which becomes a "must have" if you're someone the local Japanese-nationalist NIMBYs don't want living there.

(I would note that white people aren't likely to be hardest-hit by these "restrictions." Consider which ethnic groups an elderly Japanese person would remember directly fighting against in a previous war. Those same elderly Japanese people now form the inaka's governments, so AFAICT those same ethnic groups are most resisted.)

The second world war ended 75 years ago. There aren't that many people still alive who actually _fought directly_ in that war. Not even in notoriously long-lived Japan.

To clarify, by "directly fighting against" I meant "there were battles in which Japanese forces actually engaged [other country]'s forces" rather than just "Japan was in one big alliance and [other country] was in an opposed big alliance." That's the specific set of countries Japan holds higher levels of lingering xenophobia toward.

You're right, in that the people holding grudges today aren't likely to have directly experienced these events, but more likely are those who saw their fathers/brothers shipped to the front and never return, and so who hold a vague-but-strong grudge against whatever nebulous enemy the Japanese propaganda machine represented as being on the other side of those particular battles.

(Sadly, this can be a stronger foundation for xenophobia than actually having fought an enemy corps-a-corps, as these folks have never actually been exposed to the experience of seeing enemy soldiers hurting/dying, grieving, wishing they weren't at the front, and just generally being human.)


You were saying? 2+ million 90 year olds in Japan. Maybe not old enough to have fought in the war, but definitely old enough to remember the bombings, for example.

> Those same elderly Japanese people now form the inaka's governments.

Not impossible, but quite unlikely.

As clarification, do you mean as Americans (a la WW2), or Chinese/Korean (a la Second Sino-Japanese War), or both?

The latter IIRC - up until recently, if you had 1/128th Korean ancestry or more, you were disenfranchised.

> up until recently, if you had 1/128th Korean ancestry or more, you were disenfranchised.

Do you have a reference for this?

Not specifically about 1/128, but there's plenty of reading about discrimination against masses of Koreans abducted and pressed into labor by Japan during WW2, basically ever since WW2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koreans_in_Japan#Integration_i...

My anecdata isn’t so specific, and supports the bias of the claim:

In the early 2000s I spent a cumulative ten months out so bicycling along Japan, attending graduate school, and being well-cared-for by strangers (I’m a male from the US with Western European ancestors). Several hosts who had ancestors from the mainland (Korea, China) said life in Japan was the more difficult for it.


They don't speak to the particular law, but they are speaking of the patrilinear transmission of Japanese-ness. I'll keep digging - my source was a Zainichi family in Japan in 2004.

Given that these require residency, there is a defacto restriction on ownership for those without the means to get a long term visa or residency permit.

I was not aware of NTT getting you internet; thanks for that info!

I seem to recall the wireless unlimited plans being rather expensive, but it's been a while.

Yes, Japanese government is it's own special issue. Hanko being an always fun issue for people!

I absolutely LOVE being in the Inaka. When my in-laws shut down their business they moved a little ways out, and we regularly visit their family friends in the mountains at their Onsen, which is a solid 40 minutes from anyone else at all.

Yep, as long as you have utilities, then you can get NTT Fiber.

It is much easier if it has a pre-existing phone line active, or sometime per-existing. Considering these properties were most likely occupied during the 1970's-1990's, a phone line most likely is present so it is on the "books" as serviceable.

If not, you get the phone line service first if you must.

Alternatively you can also look in TOWNPAGE for the address and see if it shows up.

NTT Flets coverage is really good since they'll replace PSTN by FTTH. Wireless unlimited (*with speed limit for heavy users) internet is now affordable thanks to 5G plan.

All I know for sure is in America anyone from any country can buy our land, and homes.

Absolutely no requirements besides an email, and money.

(I don't understand why their isn't more of an uproar, especially when the stock is so low to begin with, and housing is our biggest expense.)

> I don't understand why their isn't more of an uproar, especially when the stock is so low to begin with, and housing is our biggest expense.

When in doubt, think money.

It's always money.

We could do with some strict rules on foreign ownership here in the US. Seems questionable when all the housing in a neighborhood is owned by Chinese investment firms.

Probably the occupancy requirement would take care of the issue better.

In my neighborhood, many are occupied by a non-english speaking person, or small family.

(I'm not saying anything racist. I just know a few individuals whom shop at Safeway whom live in million plus homes that don't speak English. I feel we need more that a occupancy requirement. We need some hard requirements, a long with not allowing hedge funds to buy homes. This goes for American corporations too.)

Some hard requirements that go beyond occupancy rules and forbidding hedge funds from buying houses.

What are your suggestions?

So only US persons and companies can buy in the US right? That means Chinese investment firms can still buy but dude who is on some long-term visa can't.

Either way, real estate should be a free market. In the same vein you can buy any real estate you like, a seller should be able to sell to any entity that's giving him the better price.

I think real estate has proven to be somewhat of a market failure when so much is taken up by landlords and investment firms driving up prices without providing much or any value. The pandemic has only made this worse as big firms ride out the storms and buy even more land on the cheap to rent back out at an obscene profit.

My parents used to pay $1000 a month in rent for a property that I know the taxes on amounted to maybe $3000 a year, and the landlord rarely did anything else than pay that tax. Sent a bargain basement repair guy out a few times to fix the heater maybe. That's 300% profit for nothing, pure rent seeking behavior. That's not good for society.

More needs to be done to encourage individual home ownership and discourage people having no choice but to send a third to half of their income into a black hole every month.

> That's 300% profit for nothing, pure rent seeking behavior.

The landlord suddenly woke up with a house in his name? He might be in the red as house prices / interest rates varies from person to person. No one knows.

> That's not good for society.

Let's create laws to transfer wealth from certain individuals to other individuals that fits our profile. That's good for "society".

> The landlord suddenly woke up with a house in his name? He might be in the red as house prices / interest rates varies from person to person. No one knows.

Well, have you heard of that old fashioned thing called feudalism? You know, with a certain land owning class?

Now, the US didn't have feudalism, but let's say that due to family, someone in your distant past managed to get lucky and buy a ton of very valuable land. Or buy very cheap properties. At this point, your family is practically a lighter version of landed gentry.

You'd be making each year a ton more than the property cost to build 60-80-whatever years ago, property taxes generally aren't that high, if the location is good people will live there even if the living conditions are crap (for example from lack of maintenance), etc.

> Let's create laws to transfer wealth from certain individuals to other individuals that fits our profile. That's good for "society".

Ummm... that's how taxes work. We generally transfer wealth from "certain individuals" (generally the well off, that can afford to have some of their wealth transferred), to "other individuals that fit our profile" (generally poor people, those without housing, etc.).

And yeah, in case that was not a rhetorical comment, yes, it's good for society. It's literally how modern societies are built.

Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.

No, taxes were to be paid for war, then infrastructure. It's only recently that taxes have been diverted to social welfare. I think the jury is still early on whether that will build civilization or result in its demise.

Capitalism combined with the current money system creates a class of humans that cannot work and receive a living wage even if they wanted. It's the failures of capitalism and zero lower bound fiat that created the need of social welfare. The idea that social welfare is the cause of problems is completely absurd. It's just one of the hundreds of symptoms of a handful of core problems.

For example, Germany is conducting an import deficit policy, meaning it is exporting more to Greece than it is importing from Greece leading to money flowing out of Greece. The capitalist answer is that the entire Greek population should move to Germany because that is where the jobs are. It's not just Greece, it also applies to every country that is poorer than Greece. We then get to enjoy the benefit of blaming the other nation for committing band aid policies like social welfare. Haha, they are so stupid, right?

I can list more second or third order effects of a broken monetary system but you will probably think that the demise will stem from the symptoms.

> The capitalist answer is that the entire Greek population should move to Germany because that is where the jobs are.

No, the capitalist answer would be to lower wages and costs by devaluing the currency and thus bringing in investment and jobs but that is impossible because Greece joined the EU and Euro. Greece's elite benefits from the EU slush fund and their money's value protected by the Euro but it's not so good for the country as a whole.

138 is too short. It’s only a few generations.

The average duration counted for a generation is about 20, maximum 30 years. So that would make it 6-8 generations.

If you consider the average lifespan during this period as being 60 years, it's more 2-3 generations.

By this logic, everything is experimental. Heck, we've had PCs for just 40 years, they're all just a big experiment, they might fail us soon.

You mean land owners extorting the productive work out of the people that live near or on the land of that land owner? He did nothing to create the earth and he did nothing to conquer it.

He can keep the building and usage rights to the land, but he should never own the land.

We need a progressive land tax. Meaning people with a single property receive a low tax bill and large corporations with lots of land receive a much higher tax. I personally do not think this is optimal but it's politically impossible to do the correct thing of charging everyone the fair amount.

At least this watered down version of a land value tax will hit large corporations. Property taxes apply to corporations and individuals equally, but there are more home owners so they will vote for a tax policy that benefits corporations.

Without associated rules around buying/selling then land tax becomes a way for the state to control the populace by threatening to kick them off their own land. It's why I favour Georgism[1] but I do have doubts as I don't know it's ever been put into practice anywhere.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgism

1. If I had it my way yes. We will revisit ownership laws in a few decades when most American citizens own their own homes, or at least the ones that want ownership.)

2. I would ban US corporations from buying homes as assets yesterday.

3. I would even put a limit on how many homes an individual could buy. Five sounds reasonable?

Yeah, messing with free markets. That has proved to work really well.

Yeah, not messing with free markets. That has proved to work really well.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Japan does not allow dual citizenship ... rather your children are young enough that they have not had to declare their ultimate citizenship?

My wife and I are naturalized US citizens. My country of origin allows me to retain dual citizenship, as does the US, but my wife was obliged to renounce her Japanese citizenship when she became a US citizen. It's annoying and unfortunate that she had to do so.

Japan does not consider someone an adult capable of making that decision until they are 20. Further, they won't force the decision (nor will the US) even after that point.

This leads to interesting issues. One such individual was in training with me but had to sit and wait 6 months until he turned 20 to renounce his Japanese citizenship so that he could obtain a clearance. This was 20 years ago, so things may have changed.

Anytime something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

A side topic: I also find English translation of Japanese locations and names often loses much meaning. It's almost unbearable to live in Japan and uses only English translation. For instance, Miyamasou does not mean a thing for English-speaking foreigners, but the corresponding Kanji or Chinese translation, 美山庄,means a ton.

I'm curious as to what the rules on foreign ownership are. Is it an outright ban, or can it be circumnavigated by having a Japanese lawyer draw up some sort of agreement where they are the owner, but the foreigner pays them $X a month, or something like that?

These require residence at the property, and if you can't get a residency permit (rather difficult for the amount of time needed by this agreement) then it's a defacto no foreigners rule for these homes.

Some estate agencies, who don't want to sell estate to a foreigner but would not openly say it, just let some other Japanese customer (who appeared suddenly) take the precedence and buy instead of you.

Source: unfortunately I can relate...

It doesn't even have to be that underhanded. Many rental agencies will ask house owners if they want foreigners or not, it's a simple tick box.

Yes but in this case it's to sell it not to rent it.

I can (almost) understand that you don't want foreigners in the apartment that you own, but in this case they don't even want to receive money -- the same amount -- from foreign buyers, and in this case it's clearly because they want to protect their village from "being invaded". Yes pretty ridiculous, but unfortunately very common.

There are anti-dummy laws in Japan.

Thanks. Out of curiosity, do you still live in Japan? Or, if not, what do you miss it the most?

I moved back last year in the middle of the pandemic.

Honestly, life in Japan is much more relaxed for me. I’m not as competitive, not as wrapped up in being successful. That’s a very individual thing, but that disconnect was my favorite thing. I know I was an outsider and I was fine with that.

Thanks. Were you in Tokyo, or elsewhere? I spent 3 months in Kyoto in 2020 (just at the beginning of the pandemic) and really liked it there. Would love to go back for a few more months in 2022, and possibly study some basic Japanese (I only learned some Hiragana so far)

How much have things changed in these 15 years? Are prices and regulation rising or falling?

It's been pretty static, honestly.

Shouldn't be a problem with Starlink, $100/month for 50-100Mbps.

You mean except for the part where isn't not available in Japan right now.

By now before Starlink becomes available and a flood of people jump on the opportunity - happening soon.

Arriving 2022 for Japan.

I know this is off-topic and not your fault in any way, but I'm tired of the "spousal perspective" on this site when it comes to East Asia. Somehow most of the East Asian perspectives we get here are partners of East Asian folks, despite East Asia having lots and lots of engineers.

I understand your perspective. However the solution is for those native to East Asia to post, not non natives to post less. I agree that more viewpoints is better, just wanted to point that

Has it occurred to you that on an English-speaking board, posters in non-English speaking countries might be more likely to be spouses/expats? Just as the same would be true for Japanese speaking spouses on a Japanese board?

Does that make my perspective as someone who lived there invalid?

In this case the "spousal perspective" is that we aren't subject to many of these barriers and we STILL aren't purchasing one due to the remaining barriers and issues.

It most definitely does not, and as I said it's not your fault in any way. I would just appreciate more non-spousal perspectives, especially when it comes to things like Japanese nationalism where it helps to have a Japanese perspective.

Speak Japanese then.


You're going to have to take what you can get on an English-speaking forum. Move to a Japanese forum and you can find all the Japanese perspectives you want.

HN tends to be US-centric, and there are not a ton of Japanese immigrant engineers in the US last I checked. Some but not all that many. Most of the immigration from Japan to the US occurred generations ago. Plenty of Chinese people who chime in on these threads though.

The level of English in Japan is very low generally. Among engineers it is higher but mainly for reading and writing, and even then it's generally not fluency or anywhere near good enough to read or write comments on HN and (probably) not attract downvotes, more of the level to be able to get just enough from technical documentation so that you can get on with your day.

That's not true for all but the vast majority. I don't mean any of that as a slight - my Japanese is terrible, you wouldn't find me on whatever Japan's version of HN is. (That the level is so low is perhaps a valid criticism of the education system or society in general but certainly not valid against any individual).

Source: I'm a partner of an East Asian folkperson, living in Japan, giving a spousal perspective whilst reading a site in my native language. I save struggling with a foreign language for study and finding the login button on Japanese websites (harder than it should be[1]), I can understand why a Japanese engineer would be doing similar.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25148942

Being a Japanese resident (PR) now, I did look up this option for a summer home in the woods (Akita, Aichi-ken etc). This is what I learnt, which this article fails to mention:

* Akiya houses come with an agreement to reside. Not just be a summer home. Their goal is to repopulate the countryside.

* You have to cultivate any farmland that comes with the deed. You cannot sell it without special permission. There is a whole lot of paperwork to deal with such situations.

* Most old Akiya will have strong regulation not to change the frontage. It isn't permitted. Architecturally these have to be consistent. Building permits are very stringent.

* Land tax is levied the day from purchase - not from the day of moving in.

* Residents have to contribute to local development funds which take care of Matsuris etc. You like it or not, local government will knock on your door with a bill.

* Connectivity is poor. Cell reception outside NTT can be spotty. Internet is even harder.

* Language proficiency is a must. No one speaks English. Not even the local government officials.

* House will need a significant amount of renovation. With the stringent restrictions - anywhere between 100 & 200 grand (depending on the disrepair)

I eventually vetoed my SO's plan. For a little more (and lesser space obviously), we can live in Tokyo suburbs.

While all these things are true, I've squatted in one of these houses, slept on the floor, tilled and made rows in the adjacent plot, got to know the neighbors, a mix of locals and hippies. It was my only experience in Japan, and it was one of the happiest times in my life. Now I'm not sure those hippies want me back, but damn if it wasn't a fucking dream.

Could you share more about this experience? How did this happen!?

Were you fluent in Japanese when you moved there?

Also, were these hippies young Japanese people, or young people from all over the world, or were they older Japanese/gaijin hippies?

How did this come about?? Seems super random but awesome.

That sounds amazing (though the mukade alone make it a big nope for me), did you write about it anywhere else?

If the goal was really to repopulate the countryside some quick changes might make this much more appealing.

Manor house model.

If you want an old time feel, allow for full fudel style living. This would mean.

* Allow frontpage / living space be expanded keeping same style - so main home could add some outbuildings.

* Allow owner to hire out labor for the farming using outbuildings.

* Allow owner to use this as a summar house as long as at least 4 other people lived on property full time (farming / caretakers etc)

* Explicitly allow (screened) sat dishes / 4G LTE extenders for internet access if needed or get fiber to property.

Modern digital nomad modal.

* Go big on connectivity. Allow easy renovations behind existing look (ie, upgrade to modern comfort).

* Make it VERY easy to live in these including quick visas etc for folks with means and only a 1 year residence requirement etc.

* Allow digital nomads to easily bring partners / kids etc.

Commercial development model.

* Remove building / zoning restrictions. Ie, ugly modern houses OK. Tear down and replace OK. Etc. Let creativity flourish (including some horrible / weird / crazy houses or tiny shacks etc).

There is a reason folks are moving out of these areas - the tradeoffs are not worth it (currently). Maybe tweak those tradeoffs?

Japan is an INCREDIBLY safe country.

They will never do this because yes, they want to repopulate the countryside, but they don't want to have any change in terms of culture and tradition.

200 grand USD or Yen? If USD then you shd really consider Tokyo suburbs.

200,000 USD.

¥200,000 is ~$2000. If it was that low, I will drop that money in without missing a beat.

I see repopulation of the rural areas in japan has precisely the same problems as "repopulation" of US rural areas has.

What they need is immigration. Badly. Those are the most willing people to come and economically rural areas are cheaper and thus more affordable for immigrants.

But the population that remains in rural areas is inflexible and strongly tied to ethnic identities.

Is there really huge influx of immigrants wanting to be farmers or living in rural villages with little connection to their own culture? What I have understood is that even refugees prefer bigger cities, with more modern work and communities from their own culture...

Out driving in North Carolina in what are seemingly "traditional rural" settings in the middle of nowhere I'll often come across signs reading "llanteria" (tire shop) or "Iglesia Evangélica" (Evangelical Church) in Spanish. At this point immigrants have reached most parts of the southeast U.S., rural and urban. BTW if you're ever in Hickory, NC there's a great Hmong restaurant with the hilarious name Duck 'n' Good Food.

EDIT: spelling

Man immigrants risk their lives on rafts and die by the thousands every year, just to have hope. Not a good life, just hope. They would be willing to work their ass of for a house and a farm.

> Residents have to contribute to local development funds which take care of Matsuris etc. You like it or not, local government will knock on your door with a bill.

I own a home in a large Japanese city and we have to pay that to our neighborhood association. It’s not that much and the festival is good fun

Most of these sound reasonable to me. The appeal of the Japanese countryside is tied up in all of these requirements.

I would not be keen to drop half of my life savings into living somewhere I don't remotely have control over. I am owning something to benefit my life & comfort, not contribute towards public charity.

Having a charming weekend getaway is nice in rural Japan. Relocation & living full time with such restrictions in place? No thank you.

If Japan had a more western investment and speculative mindset when it came to property/housing, maybe anything decent would cost much more and you'd be priced out anyway.

It’s not just a difference in mindset that prevents the homes from being valuable. The demographic pyramid and immigration rates mean these homes won’t be in-demand in the future. So investors speculate that the value will stay low.

"If Japan had more Western investment [...] "

That's a big 'if' buddy. I am sure if free market capitalism worked its way, I would also have much more flexibility, which I may be possibly willing to put my dime in.

Especially considering you're not free to sell your property if you get tired of it.

The restrictions you've mentioned are pretty significant. How many people are taking advantage of this program?

Not many. The biggest bummer is having to permanently reside. There is no way out or fudging it. Since all residents (including citizens) have to register their resident card (which ties your insurance, taxes, legal residence etc), there isn't much of a way out. (You can't be in two places of course! And you can forfeit your acquisition or penalized if discovered, although I haven't heard any such case yet.).

Think of zairyu (resident permit) as SSN with all personal details locked in.

Honestly, all of this can be summed up as:

"trying to have your cake and eat it too".

Nothing more than stubborn/incompetent administration of a dying village refusing to let go of the ways of thinking and lifestyle that existed 50 years ago.

That's not to say the lifestyle is bad or obsolete. It may exist again 50, or 100, or 1000 years in the future. But it doesn't exist now, and if you want to actually attract people there and not do pointless virtue signaling, you have to change these conditions. Most of them are terrible disincentives.

Having outsiders settle in with their ways seems a threat to their heritage. Believe it or not, locals are dead serious about it.

The Japanese society functions with a purpose of blending in, not standing out. If you play strictly by their rules, perhaps life is easy. Else you are always the outsider gaikokujin, who is looked at suspiciously very instinctively.

That's fine and I understand that these rules are aimed mostly at insiders, who are more willing to comply and have skin in the game of cultural heritage.

And perhaps life really is easy. But as someone mentioned in the thread, spending $100-200k USD to renovate a property AND to basically change your career to a farmer is completely out of the question for 99.9% of the population.

At beast you would get some incredibly wealthy hobbyists who adore Japanese cultural heritage, but judging their success realistically, it doesn't look like there's many takers, so my point still stands.

Maybe the downvoters should put their money where their mouth is and go spend a few million on restoration of these properties.

Time will only continue to reveal how unreasonable that mindset is.

The population will continue to age and shrink, so cultural norms will have to make way for that to ever change.

I have a friend of mixed Taiwanese/Japanese descent, fluent in Japanese. Living in Japan for over 10 years, striving to fit in, still an outsider.

Maybe it's harder for them because they look Japanese and don't get the leeway given to foreigners.

I agree... I'm shocked at how onerous the rules are.

I wonder what the true market price of these places would be, without all these restrictions.

There's a great little video log following someone doing exactly this, acquiring an akiya house and renovating it (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBQ3TEq5SrUuTJuMl1S_4ig).

He starts from how they bought a house, to the state it was in when they started (spoilers, no one had ever emptied the fridge when the last occupant died), to the work done by a local carpenter and the work he did himself.

I second this. I have followed the series of videos and its really well done.

It should be noted that if you are up for renovating an old home in a small town, there are no lack of cheap, abandoned homes in the USA either. Or, just buy land and build the home from the ground up. At the end of the day, your money and energy are going to go into the renovation or construction, not initial purchase prices.

This reminds me of discussion I've been in some months ago on HN.

My point was that "building more houses" is not cure for homelessness.

Because people don't want to live where abandoned homes are - because there are no jobs, no amenities and probably none of family members or friends.

Getting to hospital nowadays in the city might be hard, can't imagine how hard could it be if you are in some far away village.

I was thinking about living in some remote area if I just could get 3G internet or starlink but then as I got middle age having pharmacy or a doctor close by gets more priority than getting cheap land/getting away from people.

Building more flats in area where everyone wants to live leads to bad outcomes as well - just google Hong Kong flats. I would definitely would not like to live there as it looks like not much better than just being homeless.

It all is really complex topic.

No one is talking about building houses in the middle of nowhere, where there are no jobs, and bo lack of supply.

When I lived in Japan I would visit friends of my host families and even up in Sapporo (a relatively new city of only ~200 years) I would see these "old" houses and be fascinated by them (maybe this was down south in Hokkaido in Hakodate, I don't recall). One time my host mother explained that some of those houses are designated at the second tier of "important cultural property" (the first tier is even more restrictive) which meant they could not do modern style improvements to them by order of the government. It was really fascinating to see these houses falling apart and the people that owned and lived in them being unable to repair them to preserve the cultural heritage of Japan. I shudder to think how my fellow Americans would react to such laws.

> I shudder to think how my fellow Americans would react to such laws.

You don't have to imagine it, similar rules exist here in America too. They're called "historical districts" here; the only difference is usually it's done for the benefit of the rich owners to protect their generational wealth, rather than at the cost of poorer owners who cannot afford the high cost of historically accurate maintenance.

Here in Ontario, Canada in a medium-sized city, the downtown core is littered with heritage properties. My friends own a home built around 1900 and they cannot alter the front in any significant way, and the interior woodwork of the front room is deemed heritage-signicant and has to be preserved as well. They got permission from the city to rebuild the front deck (a later addition anyway) as long as they literally just rebuilt it as-is. They knew that going in, and it is a beautiful majestic old building. I believe there are laws like that throughout Canada and the USA, though our town may be more aggressive than some places. It does sometimes lead to the kind of disrepair you speak of.

I think this is the same everywhere there is some history. In Italy if they find art during renovation, like a mosaic from a roman bathroom that was hidden beneath the floor, they have to stop work and call specialists. Then there are 1500s villas that are UNESCO assets that you can live in, but have to go through a lot of pricey work to maintain.

If the government / city specifies the architectural style, it should provide helping funds?

I know this happens in many places, but it's insane to mandate this, but expect 100% of funding to come from the property owner.

Maintaining a consistent / historical style is a benefit to the community, and so the community should help pay for its own good.

Hahaha funny joke.

There are many of these unfunded mandates all around. Usually there is a small fund but it runs out instantly.

I don't think they provide funds directly in the US, but often you can get tax breaks and incentives from federal and state governments. This often applies to annual taxes as well as money used to restore the property.

I've looked at the specifics of some of the tax breaks (roughly: no taxes on the increased value of the property for some number of years), but they mostly seem oriented towards speculators or commercial, rather than residental.

The primary impediment to residential renovation is typically cash on hand to initiate the project.

Which, if true, seems like something like providing a loan facility, borrowed against the future tax credit, maybe with the tax credit packaged for resale on the open market to offset the cost?

Presumably nobody (the homeowner, the neighborhood, the city) wants a house that's falling apart to stay that way.

I'm not too familiar with the situation in the US, but aren't there areas with HOAs that pose similarly strict laws on the exterior of your house? Like length of grass etc. Doesn't seem to be too different.

Germany, for what it's worth, has a lot of the same laws protecting old buildings, where it is very hard to impossible to legally modify the front.

HOAs are different, and not trying to protect any historical anything.

They are literally a bunch of assholes that bunch together and patrol the streets to annoy people because they believe bullying others will keep their own property values high.

It's sad the the law even allows this.

> HOAs are different, and not trying to protect any historical anything.

Sure, but they pose similarly strict laws on your buildings - that's what I was going at.

There are certainly horror stories about HOAs. But sometimes, for example, there is shared property like a private road that has to be maintained and plowed. How do you handle that without some sort of group decision-making?

That's fine.

They should not be able to have say over what happens on non-common property, including peoples' houses and yards, and financials around maintainence of that private road should be disclosed to all people who live on it.

Older buildings in the US can absolutely come with a lot of restrictions especially related to changing exteriors. You're more likely to run into this in urban areas than rural though.

Japan isn't alone in having a problem with rural depopulation. Much of Europe as well. These cheap houses are not always going to be move-in ready, and there may be limitations on foreign ownership. So due diligence is in order.

The small roads of Poland and the Czech Republic are flanked by abandoned houses. Parts of France and Germany are the same.

Most jobs are in the city, as are schools and interesting places. Village life isn't for everyone.

I'm considering those all the time when I drive by them, but the price likely isn't low enough to get me to live there, away from everything I enjoy.

There are places in the US where you can buy houses for a tiny fraction of what a condo would cost in a major city, but the problem are the same--you will have to invest in rehab, the local economy is probably not good, etc. On the other hand, if you can still do remote work and get money that way, you could make a go of it. But it wouldn't be easy.

And broadband Internet may well be an issue. 5G may help in some cases although my dad's house which doesn't have broadband also has almost non-existent cellular service. (There's a hot spot but it's limited in both speed and amount of data. Basically no streaming.)

Starlink should help in this regard. You don't really have good alternatives to landline broadband today in the US generally.

In theory, you could also invest into laying a local fiber cable. It's not cheap (think 4 to 5 digits), but depending on the location, it might be worth it.

It's a ways down a private road so it would certainly cost a lot. For now, it's just a vacation/summer place. It means I can't really work remotely from there unless I can mostly work offline (which I can't really in general) but I'm fine without things like streaming.

If you are or know the owner of the road, it would probably not be that big of a problem - fiber and equipment is quite cheap and you could do the digging yourself (it would not be perfect, but it does not matter for private use). Usually, the real problem is getting the permits from the government and/or the owners in between; in your case, you might just need to get the ISP to meet you at the border of the premise.

Setting up a wireless ISP (posted quite often on HN) might be another solution. But, if it works for you, it's probably not worth the investment.

The road is maintained by the homeowner's association that we're a part of.

If I were going to be living there full-time, better Internet is something I would probably have to look into. My brother did look into options (as have others along the same road) and he concluded that a hot-spot with limited data now with hopefully Starlink in the future made the most sense.

For occasional use, limited Internet is fine. I don't depend on streaming for myself and I don't expect to work from there to any major degree. (And can always go into the town library or wherever.)

Aside from the cited internet, I would be worried about the other types of infrastructure around me if I was living in such a place. If it keeps depopulating, who's going to pay for roads, water and electricity plants? What's safety gonna be like? Closest ER? There's a lot of things that we are provided with every day and expect to be there, that we don't really think about.

We had originally planned on moving to Portugal on a Golden Visa (real estate investment) but through a stoke of luck my partner is able to obtain Italian citizenship, so now we’ve shifted to looking for a rural Italian property to fully renovate (“1 Euro houses”). Similar benefits to rural American living (less congestion and density, more open spaces) but in a country with a functioning healthcare system and short flights to most of Europe.

>with a functioning healthcare system and short flights to most of Europe.

In rural Italy ? You are deluding yourself ... Expect to go private for a lot of stuff that isn't life threatening (source: we have a growing medical tourism sector in Croatia that caters in large part to Italy, especially for dental and physical rehab)

Have to concur unfortunately, if we're talking about the South of Italy. Their infrastructure is nowhere close to the one in the North. And I can imagine rural will have even less.

Unless you have inspected your local hospital emergency room you are deluding yourself. I used to have a high opinion of free EU healthcare until I was neglected for 12 hours in the emergency room from 4 PM till 4 AM begging for assistance every time the ONE doctor (no nurses) on duty overnight walked by. She was working 30 patients by herself. If it was something more serious than dehydration I would have died on the ER waiting room floor where I sat for more than six hours because all 10 chairs along the wall were taken, and one bum reeked of stale feces and urine so badly my clothes smelled for hours after leaving the area just from being near him.

I have waited 12+ hours in a US emergency department to be seen, and my current health insurance company is actively attempting to implement policy where they can deny ER claims retroactively if they don’t believe it was an emergency. I pay for this privilege.

Everyone has their anecdotes. The data is clear Americans pay orders of magnitude more worse care and outcomes than other OECD countries.

In general, if you're not going to die in the next 3 hours, don't go to an ER.

Because of the laws surrounding ER care [0] and the fact that most hospitals with ERs are Trauma I & last resort, almost all operate in triage all the time.

The end result is that if you're not critical, you get care once they have enough time. And they never have enough time. Because they never have enough people.

Recommendations: only consider ERs in wealthy suburbs (where they'll be less overloaded with last-resort patients), go to an urgent care center (and expect to be screwed on price), or a walk-in doctor's office (best option).

[0] EMTALA, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_Medical_Treatment_...

Also, it seems the norm in the US to take Uber to hospitals now because the shits driving ambulances will charge you $2000+ for the ride. They will literally take advantage of your life-threatening situation to make a quick buck off you.

Welcome to what thinks they are a developed country.

What insurance company and what state?

My worst experience with US healthcare has been with billing of anesthesiologists.

They are out of network usually, you can't find out ahead of time, and they charge a thousand dollars per hour

> What insurance company and what state?

You didn't tell us where in the EU, so why does it suddenly matter where in the US?

UHC, Florida and Illinois, similar experiences.

If the response is, “Get a better insurance company.” I agree! Hence seeking EU citizenship.

UHC is very standard in the US. Most people won't have a choice. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it to save up cash and litigate after ER visits than to pay for health insurance.

A family friend’s daughter broker her arm in Mexico on vacation. Total cost to be seen and casted? $73 cash.

To your point, one should not have to optimize to be judgment proof in order to exist in their country, and that’s why (at least for myself) I’m optimizing to get out. There are so many other welcoming countries to expats, there’s no reason to stay if you have means and a network of colleagues that can ensure you can work remotely in perpetuity.


> A family friend’s daughter broker her arm in Mexico on vacation. Total cost to be seen and casted? $73 cash.

One of the issue is that a most of the healthcare issues that young, healthy people run into are surprisingly cheap. But the big costs come from chronic and elderly care. Who are the people who can't afford it. So it always seems like young, healthy people can get a better deal, but then who will pay for them when they're old?

I'm in the US, suburbs of a large city, and I have very good insurance. I waited 4 hours in the emergency room after getting rushed there in an ambulance for chest pain. After an initial EKG, which showed abnormalities, they just left for 4 hours before doing blood work that would definitively determine if it was a heart attack. Then they woke me up at 3:00am to tell me it wasn't a heart attack. They discharged me the next day with no referral, no follow-up plans, didn't even do an echo cardiogram. They did do a 15 minute stress test but had to stop after 7 minutes because my heart rate went too high, and yet still discharged me. But I did hear someone talking about how they really wanted to push everyone out that day since it was a Friday and didn't want to have to deal with a bunch of patients in the weekend.

On my own accord I went to a cardiologist who immediately did an echo and found a very serious problem.

Maybe places in the EU don't have great healthcare, but that's not much different than the US except that in the US you can still go bankrupt paying for bad healthcare, even if you have insurance.

I have noticed similar issues but I don't think you would have "died on the ER waiting room floor": if you were in for dehydration then you were treated as such, i.e. low priority. That's really all there is to it. Sometimes people are misdiagnosed and that's when there really is a problem, but that's independent of the country, and Doctors do everything they can to make sure this does not happen. In most of Europe you go to the hospital to be treated, your comfort is really considered secondary unless you are in very bad health. The stinky guy next to you had the same rights that you do, but the system is such that you both should be treated equally and given proper care. The system is not perfect but it does its best to follow these principles.

I've also spent nights waiting for attention in emergency rooms. Being made to wait in an emergency room is usually a good sign. If you had something that would've killed you in 12h, I believe the doctor on duty would have been more likely to prioritize you.

>>functioning healthcare system

Where are you now?

United States.

If you can throw money at a country to get citizenship, you can get "functioning health care" in the United States.

The trick is not having a rural landscape at all. The most depopulated parts of my country would be considered urban in the US lol. Industrial estates, railways, highways...

I see opposite in EU. Renta in city centers are very cheap now.

There was a small rent price drop during Covid in some hot property markets that were popular as being the country's cultural / tourist capital (e.g. New York or Amsterdam). When the lockdowns it's hard to sell a $200 a night hotel or a $2000 a month rent to people who can't even go to a restaurant or museum.

But even with the modest drops, rental prices in such cities are still waaaaaay above anywhere else, and the prices are already on the rise again.

Apart from that I have no clue what you're referring to.

It depends a lot of on the city and whether it's east or west Germany. Growing centers like Munich, Frankfurt and Berlin will cost you a lot of money (1-2k€ and up for ~60qm² w/o parking), while in Dresden or Leipzig you can find apartments in comparable locations for 300-500€.

Where in the EU? From my perspective it's consistently getting crazier and crazier in the capitals. I also see a lot of cheap rural property in Germany, Estonia, Portugal, Poland etc.

Ah yes, "in Japan". Mind you, in very specific parts of Japan where there might be a very good reason for houses to cost nothing. We're talking about abandoned properties that you then have to pay all the "reclaim and rebuild" costs on, and you can't even legally DIY, you have to hire licensed craftsmen to fix it in the traditional style. And you're stuck with it for years and years, too. Not just "ownership": you have to live in it. In a place that everyone else is leaving, so instead of moving into a community, you're moving into progressive isolation and depression, while going bankrupt.

Hey, did you know houses in the US are going for as little as $1? That's an even better deal than $500!

Past related threads:

Japan is trying to lure people into rural areas by selling $500 homes - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27654817 - June 2021 (3 comments)

Japan Is Giving Away 8M Abandoned Houses - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18548742 - Nov 2018 (381 comments)

Marginally related:

Raze, rebuild, repeat: why Japan knocks down its houses after 30 years - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15736734 - Nov 2017 (43 comments)

I don't think this influx of Japan-related posts on the HN front page is a positive thing. The overexposure of Japan in nerd circles is understandable and well-researched, but it feels like a cheapening of this forum and descend into Reddit territory.

All true, but HN has always had those and I think it's within the normal fluctuations of the site.

I would be cautious.

In the Japanese construction industry, Keynes' general theory of paying people to dig holes is understood literally.


This is not unheard of in the US as well. When you go into deteriorated urban neighborhoods, one of the reasons for the many vacant homes is that the accumulated property taxes on a particular home are far more that the value of the home. If you sell the home, the taxes go with it, so a new owner would have to pay those accumulated back taxes. In my state, after three years of unpaid property taxes, the property can be auctioned, but that assumes there is someone who is willing to pay for it, and then there is a period where the original owner can refund the buyer and take possession of property again. That makes it a long and fraught process to buy one of these auctioned properties.

So instead, they negotiate with the property owner to have them donate the property in return for forgiveness of the back taxes. This happened with a number of neighborhoods in Philadelphia, when I lived there. After the city took possession of the property, they would then setup a neighborhood group to give or sell the properties to people or businesses that they thought would help "gentrify" the neighborhood. The people requesting properties would fill out an application detailing how they would use the property, and the neighborhood council would select "deserving" applications (I put that in scare quotes because the process would sometimes be corrupted by people favoring friends.) I knew someone on one of these councils, and considered applying for a home, but decided I wasn't that committed to living there, and a year later moved west.

Very clickbait-y title; it's more like "rural abandoned houses in need of repair [...]", def not the central Kyoto depicted in the header image.

Yet three decades ago, thanks to insane fiscal policies that heavily incentivized land speculation, a few square km in Tokyo were worth as much as all of California.


To be honest 80s Japan doesn't seem too far off from current California tax law so maybe I'll be able to afford a house here in 30 years

Same goes for Sicilian real estate. Houses require a major restoration, but they cost just 1 euro.

If youre willing to live in a high crime area with no jobs and no kichen or bathroom, you can get a house for £1 in the uk.


You can get castles (_châteaux_) cheap in France.

But then you realize that you have to renovate them according to the local architecture regulations, often with artisanal materials (the roof for instance).

I know a couple friends from Germany who inherited a castle and did not refuse the inheritage when they could . They were desperate when they realized how expensive this is.

Italy still has a similar programme, anyone remember the "$1 house" articles?


If there are no strings attached, which I doubt (in Italy it's the mafia and lack of infrastructure), that'd be a chance to pick up cheap urban land.

In Italy they're going for 1 euro: https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/italy-one-euro-homes-cast...

Same deal as Japan; you have to pay to renovate them and live in the middle of nowhere.

Numerous youtube videos on the trials and tribulations. Watch a few before even considering this rash move.

What about the visa/residency though? Isn't Japan ultra strict about that?

Correct, Gaijin would need not apply. Getting a regular apartment in Japan as a foreigner is hard as it is.

Purcashing or renting? Because for me it was literally just going to a rental store and signing a stack of documents.

I guess it depends on the location, property, etc. It seems like a lot of foreigners need to jump through more hoops than citizens. More rent up front, higher signing gift to the land lord, etc.

This hasn't been true in my experience. There's gaijin friendly housing that has higher rent, but usually no key fee, no deposit, and a month-to-month or yearly lease. It was very, very easy to get a gaijin apartment.

You're only able to really rent other places if you have a long-term visa, because the standard lease term-length in Japan is 2 years. If your visa is less than 2 years, you don't qualify.

If you do, then everything is the same as Japanese citizens. Most apartments have a deposit, a key fee (a bribe to the landlord), and a lease renewal fee (a bribe to the agent). Lease period will be 2 years. A lot of companies will pay these bribes for their employees, which I'm sure is one of the reasons they exist (and also one of the reasons gaijin apartments don't charge them).

Yes, I don't see a point of this program at all because in case of Japan there is double trouble of non-urban and overall population decline. Thus, logically, they should aim this kind of program specifically to foreigners, to attract foreign money and people themselves.

I would love to retire to the Japanese country and fix up an old house. It is probably not as idealic as in my minds eye but would love to hear some experiences people have had doing this.

Japan is really good about land use, and thus speculative land ownership without development is more often a bad idea. This is a funny case where dealing with the externalities lowers the price, as the thing being sold becomes less attractive by other means.

Good job, Japan.

I'd recommend you read "Dogs & Demons" by Alex Kerr, which is specifically about land use in modern Japan.

It looks like one of its criticism is too much construction. 20 years ago, was an overbuilt shrinking countryside an issue yet?

Yes, because the economic slump started in the early 90s and was in full swing in the early 2000s. The book is really worthwhile, not dry at all. But it's very disillusioning, I've had very severe reactions from "Japanophiles" when I recommended it to them.

I'll take a look.

With certain pre and post conditions.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/interactive/2021/peori... - Real estate investors from across the U.S. are buying homes in Peoria, Ill., sight unseen - Washington Post

tldr: if a deal seems to good to be true ...

Long term I see housing collapsing and going negative maybe around 2030 (ie countries like Japan/Spain/South Korea) paying foreigners to move into akiya, it's a compelling case for young remote workers in the US who have been priced out of the real estate market in nice cities en masse to abandon their landlords in favor of something like this.

The anti-foreign NIMBY reaction is going to be curious.

From a national, demographic, and budget perspective, this has to happen for many countries (quickly, at large scale).

From a local, cultural perspective, I see people being very resistant (relatively speaking wealthy, culturally-ignorant foreigners moving in in large numbers?).

In democracies... that's going to be an interesting mix. Especially when current residents are the primary voters.

I expect we'll see more successful countries form political alliances between immigrants and parties pushing for more skilled worker immigration.

I think it will stay multimodal market. Some places will continue going up, that is the most desirable and most supply limited cities. Some will follow inflation, that is smaller well planned towns that can support themselves, but aren't in massive growth. And then in some places will or already have negative value. Like some "HOA" in Finland being unable to get loans for basic renovation and having to demolish house. With owners being left with debt...

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