Aging Population, Abandoned Houses

Japans population has been falling since the peak in 2008. There are now about a million people less than at that time. If current trends continue the population will have fallen by one third by 2050. This will affect every aspect of the country’s society, economy, culture and polity.

Millions of young Japanese are putting off marriage and childbirth until their thirties and very few have more than one child.

The population of Tokyo is still growing, as young people from the countryside are attracted by its higher salaries and exciting nightlife, but that has meant that many towns and villages in the countryside are rapidly depopulating. Some schools in the countryside have only a have dozen students.

Another problem related to this is that there are many abandoned houses, even within the capital. In many cases the original owner had died, and their offspring lived elsewhere. As of 2008 there were 7.57 million vacant homes, or 13.1 percent of all houses in Japan, up from 3.94 million in 1988. The rate is expected to rise to 23.7 percent in 2028. This figure includes houses waiting to be sold or rented out, though that can be difficult in a country where most prefer new housing.

The present tax system encourages people to build new homes and keep whatever structures they have on their land, no matter how unsightly and dangerous it has become. At present, homeowners pay a mere one-sixth of the standard property tax. However, this tax shoots up six fold when a home is demolished.

This is the main reason why those who inherit old houses are loath to demolish them. Japan is stuck with this problem until the tax law is changed.

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All photos and text copyright © Tony Smyth