$500 Houses in Japan – Fact or Fiction?

Mt Fuji akiya

Akiya Trek – The Next Generation

The akiya news cycle isn’t perfectly reliable, but reliable enough that you should expect a reboot once every year or so. I honestly can’t remember exactly when the last one was, but the phenomenon itself came into existence around 2015.

In that time, it has done a good job of establishing itself in the minds of readers. With tales of suits to ploughshares, haunted mansions transmogrified into majestic estates, and mind-blowing deals waiting just under your nose, what’s not to love?

Just like clockwork, in July of 2021, we find ourselves in the midst of the newest iteration of the ongoing Akiya Saga. This time, its honed in on $500 houses in rural Japan. Previous versions have heavily focused on government programs incentivizing moves to the countryside, and this outing expands on that by shifting the focus to personal-ish experiences going through with it.

It goes without saying that Akiya & Inaka loves that story. Our clients have successfully done it, and so have we (in Yugawara and Ogawamachi). Speaking from that experience, we can categorically say that taking advantage of Japan’s abandoned houses and rural regions is very doable.

But with our experience also comes critique. We inspect a lot of akiya, have a fair sized clientele each with unique requirements, and often speak with municipal offices and rural agents. We know when something is off, and there are things that don’t sit right with us about this $500 houses in Japan narrative.

What are those things? Well, read on and find out!

Cutting to the Chase

Let’s get it out of the way: there are indeed $500 houses in Japan for you to buy. Here’s one in rural Niigata. Mie Prefecture has some, though it looks like they’ve halted sales due to Coronavirus. Want a free one in Akita? Here you go.

Make no mistake. $500 houses in Japan exist, but do me a few favors before you let your imagination run wild.

  1. Click through those links and consider the building.
  2. Try to find the precise address.
  3. Set a route between Tokyo and the property in question via Google Maps.
  4. Try a search for yourself using variations of the following query in both English and Japanese.
    • Prefecture name + city name + 50,000 + akiya
  5. If one grabs your attention, repeat steps 2 and 3

The above exercise is to realistically set your expectations about akiya, $500 or no.

We also talk to countless regular people just like yourself about akiya. 90% of the time no one has done their homework, and just spout ungrounded heresy. So I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you, lovely reader, didn’t bother to follow my instructions above. No matter, here’s what you’ll find: a complete mess.

But that’s not necessarily a critique of the akiya themselves, though you’ll find that often enough, too. Rather, it’s a critique of the methodology behind akiya sales. From Sothebys through Century 21 down to lowly akiya, they all operate based on a 3% sales commission. This is fine if you’re handling properties worth above, say, $750,000 regularly, but multiply that by 10 and convert it to yen and you’ll start to understand why akiya are governed by such shit systems. There’s no incentive, or resources, to do the job right.

Which is to say, you’ll be hard pressed to actually locate an akiya that meets your standards, much less purchase it, not because it doesn’t exist but because its lost in a nest of analogue and digital gibberish.

This is one of our main issues with standard fare akiya articles: they focus on the spectacular outliers, and not the granular details of the metered processes.

$500 Houses in Japan Articles – A Timeline

Speaking of akiya articles, which ones are we referring to? Great question! This current news cycle is still developing, so we can’t authoritatively list everything, but check out the timeline below for a roundup of activity over the last 6 weeks.

A Generalist Approach

Being so general is a bit of a double-edged sword. Japan does need to deal with the akiya problem, and the first step to rectifying any problem is awareness. So these articles are positive in the sense that they keep the akiya narrative relatively top of mind.

However, fixing all but the simplest of problems involves multiple steps. It is an evolving process, and this is where the articles fall short. Minus the subtly perceivable shift towards relatable individual experiences with akiya, the conversation has stalled at enticing headlines followed by hollow, formulaic stories. Binary comparisons of extreme examples of Abandoned Houses in Rural Japan and Tokyo’s accepted image of modern technological megacity abound, but this doesn’t do the actual situation justice.

There must be meaningful discourse on the dynamics of the akiya ecosystem, not just tall tales, if the situation is to improve. Anything else is just hot air.

Non-Binary Narratives

Of course, there are a lot of really rural regions of Japan. Similarly, Tokyo easily takes the title of Japan’s Most Advanced City. No argument there. What is conspicuous, though, is the lack of any talk of in-between. Moving from Minato-ku in Tokyo to Irokawa Village in Wakayama (as mentioned in the Insider article) is one helluva jump that we would honestly never recommend at this stage. Going from Shinjuku-ku to Oamishirasato City in Chiba? Totally reasonable with the right akiya.

And yet, the conversation revolving around extreme outliers persists. I can only speculate as to why, but regardless, this is problematic as it perpetuates only a very specific fraction of reality. It’s not that you’d have to be crazy to buy an akiya and move out of Tokyo; its that very few outlets provide potential buyers with adequate tools to discover and pursue options.

In short, it is very easy for these articles to present readers with a fascinating, exciting story that is nevertheless a largely unachievable fantasy for your average home buyer. If you’re looking for escapism and clicks, that’s cool – I consume all sorts of pragmatically useless things with alarming frequency. But that this sort of content has caught on to the point that it placates curiosity and passes as universal truth is worrying, if only because it precludes development in Non-Tokyo regions that are otherwise desirable.

$500 Houses in Japan wordcloud

Wordcloud of the 10 listed akiya articles’ body content, generated via Wordclouds and modified to feature only words that occur 3 or more times throughout the set.

Affordable Luxury

If $500 houses in Japan are your thing, we can get you one as far out as you like. And make no mistake, they will be very far out. We’ll probably question your sanity, but if the money’s there, sure why not. Just know that on top of the $500 you’ll probably end up paying at least an additional $20,000 to bring the thing back into the very lower echelons of acceptability. And that’s for residents of Japan. Non-residents of Japan are also allowed to purchase property in Japan, but you’ll be paying even more if you want to go down that path.

Which begs the question, why bother? To which we respond, don’t. Or, at least, not with them.

You see, what these articles don’t highlight are the akiya that occur outside of the very specific, bottom-of-the-barrel definition that is being pushed. In other words, there are diamonds in the rough out there, too. Sure, they come in at a higher price, but if you’re scoffing at, say, $40,000 for a perfectly operational 110 square meter, 2 story house on 122 square meters of land overlooking the ocean, 5 minutes from the beach, and a direct 45 minute train ride from Tokyo, maybe akiya aren’t the problem.

Which is to say, these $500 houses in Japan are an exercise in futility. But if you know how to dig, you can find very affordable and damn-near luxurious akiya.

Actual Akiya

Note: We rarely list akiya because there’s far too much variety to reasonably judge what’ll sell. Instead, we work directly with clients to produce portfolios suited to their unique needs.

Get in touch if you’d like to explore.

On the Front Lines

We’ve had probably 10 or so inquiries about $500 houses in Japan, and they never convert. Rarely do they even follow up, such is their skittishness and uncertainty.

You know what we get way more of? Motivated buyers with budgets between $30,000 and $800,000 who do convert and work with us extensively throughout the entire akiya acquisition process.

And yes, there are expensive akiya, just as much as there are dirt cheap ones. What do those higher prices get you? It all depends on circumstances, but usually its pretty jaw-dropping. For example, for $590,000, we can get you a 2-story renovated ryokan with 579.66 square meters of floor space sitting on 5,697.55 square meters of land which is a 10 minute drive from the station and a 90 minute train ride from Shinjuku.

This is what our clients come to us with. Not with outlandish dreams of living off the grid as a mountain hermit, but with reasonable goals of finding a property that fits their needs, has a good balance of urban and rural, and which is orders of magnitude cheaper than building it from scratch.

Where Our Clients Buy

This is also a point of contention we have with akiya articles. None of them reflect the action we see on the ground as real estate consultants specialized in the subject matter.

Most of what we work with is within 2 hours of Tokyo, either by car, local train, or shinkansen, depending on the client. Specifically, they’re activating the areas along the Takasaki, Chuo, and Tokaido train lines.

We were a bit surprised by the amount of interest across Shikoku, though make no mistake – it’s an outlier.

Fukuoka pops up occasionally, but it’s not really much more than a blip on the radar.

While our activities don’t reflect the entirety of the akiya environment, the Southern half of Honshu (including Wakayama) as well as Tohoku are completely absent.

This is another subject for another day, but there’s a reason for that. Tokyo represents fully 1/3 of Japan’s population and 1/3 of the GDP. Like it or not, movement will start there, but not all at once. This is the first stage of an expansion, and it’s reasonable to expect people approach it cautiously – they will opt for 90 mins to Yamanashi over 9 hours to Wakayama any day. But if the narrative behind this expansion is responsibly administered – which is to say, written about in a way that reflects the action on the ground – and supports piecemeal developments of the migration out of Tokyo, it is possible to imagine a later stage when Wakayama, too, has it’s day to shine.

So again, affordable luxury in the form of akiya is 100% out there, regardless of your budget so long as it’s within reason. It’s by and large the case that while the reports being regularly published about $500 houses in Japan are fun, marginally insightful, and keep the spark of interest alive, they also do you no favors in actually accessing these viable assets.

Begin the Akiya Journey

We’re serious about akiya, and have one helluva track record to prove it. If you want to start exploring, the starting line is only a click away.