Why people are buying cheap, abandoned homes in Japan

Angle down icon An icon in the shape of an angle pointing down. Take Kurosawa and Joey Stockermans working on their akiya renovation in Japan. Courtesy of Take Kurosawa. Japan has more than 8 million abandoned homes, with no restrictions on foreign buyers.Foreigners have bought and renovated them cheaply, freeing them from pricey real estate elsewhere.But homeownership in Japan isn’t always seen as a path to financial freedom like in other countries.

Take Kurosawa spent summers in Japan as a kid and always dreamed of owning property there. He found a kindred spirit in Joey Stockermans.

They spent $42,000 on a rural, abandoned home — known in Japan as an akiya — with plans to renovate the space and use it as an Airbnb and personal getaway.

Kurosawa, 33, and Stockermans, 35, pooled their money and bought the roughly 1,000-square-foot abandoned house in Beppu, a city of 113,000 people on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s main islands, this past June.

Some renovations in Kurosawa and Stockermans’ home. Courtesy of Take Kurosawa.

Kurosawa lives in a mobile home in Santa Cruz, California, and Stockermans lives with his parents in Nova Scotia.

Many people are turning to markets worldwide, such as Italy and Portugal, where less expensive homes are bountiful, as buying properties in pricier places — especially California — can be unrealistic for many. Plus, there’s a growing desire among some people to lead a more adventurous life — or escape the problems that plague their home countries.

In Japan, the country’s shrinking population led to a record 8.49 million akiya in 2018, according to Japan’s Housing and Land Survey. Akiya are creating a “ghost village” problem, but they present an opportunity to those who are eager to buy. Plus, unlike in other countries, Japan has no restrictions on foreigners purchasing property.

Stockermans in the akiya. Courtesy of Take Kurosawa.

“It’s a perfect storm,” Kurosawa said.

In January, Kurosawa and Stockermans launched Akiyamart, a website to help foreigners find and purchase abandoned homes in Japan. It’s the newest tool to help folks navigate a foreign market, though many have made the leap without it.

Eric McAskill, a 38-year-old from Canada who formerly lived with his family in Bali, bought an akiya in Nagano Prefecture in 2021 for $23,600. The purchase was in pursuit of a lifelong dream to restore a house in the Japanese countryside, he told BI in September. McAskill said he and his family planned to move into the home full time after renovating.

Jaya Thursfield, 46, and his wife, Chihiro, bought an abandoned farmhouse in Ibaraki Prefecture in 2019 for $30,000, with plans to renovate it into their dream family home. They wanted a large plot of land for an affordable price, something they didn’t think they could get in London, they told BI in 2021.

The renovated exterior of the akiya that McAskill bought. Eric McAskill

Anton Wormann, a 30-year-old Swedish model, took buying and renovating property in Japan a step further by flipping homes solely for the purpose of Airbnb, a process he started in 2022. It’s a money-maker that has worked in the US but isn’t necessarily a surefire way to generate income in Japan.

“Moving from America to Japan presents a very different culture. It’s a different real-estate market,” Bethany “Bitsii” Nakamura, who left the US to live in an akiya in Japan she acquired for free, told BI this past July. She said homeownership in Japan was “not necessarily the way toward financial freedom.”

She added, “In America, homeownership is seen as the ticket toward long-term stability, and here it’s not.”

The exterior of Nakamura’s home. Bethany Nakamura

For Kurosawa and Stockermans, making money from their property would be nice, but that’s not why they bought it or started Akiyamart. Their goal was to spend more time in Japan and show foreigners that homeownership could be achieved with a lower barrier of entry.

“I have so many friends my age who are frustrated that they can’t buy a house,” Kurosawa said. “It’s kind of waving to my generation like, ‘Hey, there’s another alternative.’ It’s not in America, unfortunately, but it’s a really comfortable place that you could live and raise a family and live a very high quality of life without the financial stresses of living in the US.”

Have you bought a cheap home in Japan — or anywhere abroad? Business Insider wants to hear from you. Reach out to this reporter, Jordan Pandy, at jpandy@businessinsider.com.

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