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‘Ghost Towns’ Plague Japan’s Countryside

‘Ghost Towns’ Plague Japan’s Countryside

Japan is going through a unique housing crisis. There are tons of houses available yet nobody’s buying them.

The housing excess is so extreme that the government is offering $500 houses to get people out to the countryside where these places are. However, not many people are biting and the reasons behind this calamity could speak to greater issues Japan is currently facing.

Limited Opportunities

One big reason these houses aren’t being sold (despite the price tag being $500) is that there are limited job opportunities in these rural areas. Apart from tourism, rural areas in Japan have been largely abandoned, as, over the years, people have left to go find jobs and better economic opportunities typically found in cities. It’s gotten to the point where the country has a 14% vacancy rate overall.

Politicians are trying to get people out, thereby providing economic support to those communities; in fact, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga made it an important point for his campaign platform. However, progress has been slow.

Plummeting Birth Rates

The Japanese birth rate decline over the past several decades has been a well-known issue and has been talked about ad nauseam, but there’s no end in sight. The birth rate has been falling since the 1970s and it fell to another low in 2020 as it went down 2.8%. This translates to just 840,832 babies being born last year. The country has taken to new measures to solve this birth rate problem, but the problem persists.

Rural communities in Japan tend to be populated by senior citizens and when these people pass on, new people must replace them. However, there are not nearly enough.

Lack of Convenience

These rural areas in Japan, like Wakayama for example, lack a lot of the basic amenities that people are used to in major cities. This includes the basic hospital to convenience stores. Also, the infrastructure in these places is lacking as well which makes remote work difficult, to say the least.

While the pandemic was successful in bringing new life to teleworking, this is something that is difficult to do in a place without the proper infrastructure to support it.

Having a good Internet connection is vital for the modern worker, and if programming is a career a Japanese person wants, then they’re better off living in Tokyo, Kyoto, or any of the major cities.

Alienation

One particular solution that politicians have put forth is using immigrants to solve the population crisis, and given how popular Japan is as a place to live, it makes sense. In fact, 2.3% of the Japanese population is foreign-born, but it isn’t that simple.

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Japan is notorious for difficult assimilation. Richard Koo, the chief economist at Japan’s Nomura Research Institute, mentions the difficulties by saying, “The countryside of Japan is a very, very closed society… if you’re a foreigner or just not from that area… it takes a long time – years, even decades before they’ll accept you as one of them.”

The future isn’t bright for most of these rural communities. The pandemic dealt a pretty heavy blow to Japan and multiple prefectures are vying for people to live in their communities. But there are only so many people around.

What are your thoughts on Japan’s housing crisis and troubles?

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