Inaka Lifestyle

Free Houses in Japan? A Dream-Come-True in the Japanese Countryside.

Table of Contents

How I Found a Free House in Japan

If you’ve been interested in cheap or free houses in Japan, you’ve probably heard about akiya banks and government programs. While those options exist, they often come with restrictive requirements. However, there is an alternative way to get a house for free. In this blog post, I’ll share my own story and reveal my secret to obtaining a free house in Japan.

(Want to explore the akiya banks yourself? Here is a list of akiya banks by region. You might just want to install a Google Translate browser plug-in first.) 😉

Check out the video on YouTube!

The Backstory

Misconceptions

After my first video about getting a free house went viral, I received numerous comments and messages with wild assumptions and extreme backstories. However, none of those were true. The house wasn’t haunted, burdened by debt, or part of a government initiative. In reality, I had never met the previous owners, and there was nothing majorly wrong with the property.

My Journey to Happiness in Japan

When the pandemic hit New York City, I decided to make a major lifestyle change. I quit my job, packed my bags, and eventually ended up moving to the most remote part of Shikoku, Japan in November 2021. I had been living in cities where I couldn’t afford to buy and could barely afford to rent a home. In New York, I shared a hot, roach-filled apartment that required a minimum hour-plus subway commute from work for $1400/month.

I wanted to live a simple life where people care about each other. Somewhere that communities practice generosity every day. I thought that was just a wild dream until I moved to Ehime. I thought I would just be here for a year or two as a sort of work sabbatical. But now that I’ve experienced life here, I feel like I will never be able to go back to my old ways.

I’ve been criticized of romanticizing life here. It can be challenging and upsetting for many people. Culture shock is real and every situation is different. But the core values that attracted me to this place are the ones that keep me here, despite the challenges.

Challenges of Living in Expensive Cities

Prior to my move, I lived in cities like New York, where housing was expensive and often inaccessible. I shared a small, costly apartment in Brooklyn and contributed to gentrification, which displaced locals and led to the demolition of existing buildings. The competitive nature of the city felt suffocating, and I longed for a simple life where I could connect with others and pursue my passions.

See also → The Challenges of Living in Rural Japan

On Being Present

To find a free house in Japan, being physically present is crucial. Online listings might involve properties that owners want to profit from or have some financial liability. The houses you desire, in good condition and available for free, are owned by individuals who aren’t motivated to list them online. To become a beneficiary of such opportunities, you need to immerse yourself in the community, invest in relationships, and contribute positively to Japan.

Freedom Without Owning

Owning a free house shouldn’t be the sole focus if you are longing for freedom. Renting at a low price can provide even more freedom without the financial burden of ownership. In Japan, rental houses can often be renovated according to personal preferences, offering a sense of ownership but with flexibility.

Reevaluating Values

While the idea of a free house might seem enticing, it’s important not to prioritize surface values. Japan shouldn’t be viewed solely as a place to find a house, but rather, as a country with a unique culture and opportunities to grow as a global citizen. It’s essential to value cultural harmony, be a good neighbor, and prioritize community well-being.

Freedom in the Countryside

The low price of shelter and healthcare has been a truly freeing feeling. Having lived in large American cities, I felt limited in pursuing independent work because of the challenges when stepping out from employer-offered healthcare. Here in the Japan countryside, the low-low housing price and more easily accessible healthcare have given me the ability to imagine my wildest dreams for the future.

I can build my own trajectory and take my time to design my own future. There are some “strings attached” (though not the kind you might expect). Simple? Yes. Easy? Not always. Being a recipient of a free house, and a relaxed and freeing lifestyle like this does require that I give back and maintain positive community relations. That being said, living a life where I can practice generosity every day is a lifestyle I’m more than happy to develop and strengthen.

How I Did It

I was happily living in my very affordable apartment. I wasn’t looking for a house, but I was interested in making new friends and learning about traditional Japanese craftwork. Through the pursuit of this interest, I found my house through word-of-mouth. While I was hesitant to take on the project at first, I was able to negotiate some ways to address my concerns. I wanted to share my skills with my new community by maintaining the house and was especially drawn to the property based on the untold history of its previous resident, a sweet neighborhood Grandma who left behind evidence of her life, travels, and family story.

Are There Free Houses in Japan?

Yes, there are free houses to be found in Japan. Free houses are usually in the Japanese Countryside, which could be a positive or negative point depending on the audience. If you find a free house online, the owner might be motivated to get rid of it due to liability or ongoing maintenance obligations.

There are some free houses in good shape that are either move-in ready or nearly move-in ready. As these houses still hold some practical value to the owners, they might not list them online or in newspapers because they don’t have much motivation to get rid of them. In this kind of case, you would hear about the house by word of mouth.

Can I Search Free Houses in Japan Online?

Yes. There is a sort-of property matchmaking organization called Minna no Zero-en Bukken that lists 0 yen properties available. These properties often need renovation, high amounts of maintenance, or demolition.

Why Are There Free Houses in Japan?

  • Japan is experiencing depopulation. It’s a simple equation. When there are fewer and fewer people every year, there are more and more vacant houses.
  • Young people often prefer to live in urban areas, or maybe they left their hometown to go to college and never moved back. Japanese culture sometimes involves a high level of obligation, especially in rural areas. This may contribute to resistance to move back to one’s hometown. This means there are more and more vacant houses in the Japanese Countryside every year.
  • Countryside living demands a certain level of labor and involvement. This means house maintenance, working land, community engagement, volunteer time, and satisfying social obligations. Some people would rather keep their time for themselves. Even though urban living has higher population density, you can expect a higher degree of autonomy and privacy versus rural areas.

Can a Foreigner Get a Free House in Japan?

Yes, theoretically anyone can get a free house in Japan. There are no citizenship or resident status requirements to own property in Japan.

There are government sponsored programs that facilitate low rent over a certain number of years, then the participant can assume ownership of the home. From my experience living in rural Japan (where you would most likely find this kind of opportunity), this scenario is actually a good idea for potential homeowners. It allows you to get a true feeling for the dynamics of a neighborhood before committing to ownership of a property.

After a year in, you might find that foreign people are treated kindly but aren’t understood or supported. It is best to understand what your life will be like before owning a home. Homes aren’t so easy to hand off, especially if it’s a property that is being offered for free.

The True Cost of a Free House

Every situation is different, but it is important to remember that there will be additional costs associated with assuming ownership of a house, even if it has a zero yen price tag. These costs might include:

  • Transfer taxes, registration, duties, lawyers, scrivener and other fees. Depending on the location, you may be able to pro-rate taxes across multiple years.
  • Renovation costs such as disposal fees of any leftover personal belongings, termite damage repair and prevention, roof repair, tatami floor replacement, cosmetic changes, addressing mold or water damage, and accommodating foreign preferences such as updated air conditioning or insulation for cold winters.
  • The personal challenges associated with adapting to a new culture. Yes, even native Japanese people may face challenges if they are moving from an urban area to the countryside.
  • Volunteer labor expectations from the local neighborhood. For example, local residents may work together to cut weeds and grass in public places, near roads, and on mountain paths.

See also → Akiya House Journal 1: My First Akiya in Japan

The Best Way to Find Free Houses in Japan

It is rare that you would stumble upon a house in akiya banks that have a zero yen price tag (I’ve never seen it before). But free houses exist. I’m sorry to say you might not be able to recreate my situation, but if you could, here is how you would do it.

Be Present

  • Spend time in Japan with the intention of learning, participating, and understanding the culture.
  • Learn the language and immerse yourself in the local way of thinking.

Explore Japan

  • Travel and familiarize yourself with different regions.
  • Look for places that are remote, less convenient, and have limited local amenities, as they usually offer cheaper housing options.

Get Engaged in a Community

  • Assess your skills and find ways to contribute to the community.
  • Join clubs, take classes, volunteer, and build genuine friendships.

Embrace Flexibility

  • Understand that your ideal vision may not align with the reality of the situation.
  • Be open to alternative possibilities and different ways of living.

Practice Patience

  • Express your house dream but don’t rush or force it.
  • Focus on living your best life, even if the free house aspiration isn’t immediately realized.

Conclusion

Obtaining a free house in Japan is possible. If attempting to locate a free house through word-of-mouth, it requires a shift in mindset and a willingness to immerse oneself in the community. The key is to prioritize genuine connections, personal growth, and cultural appreciation over the concept of a free house. Remember, happiness is not solely defined by the possession of a free house, but by the quality of the life you lead.

See also → The Hardest Part About Moving to the Japanese Countryside

Glossary

Akiya

(空き家) In Japanese, meaning vacant house or unoccupied house.

Akiya Bank

Online database of vacant house listings. These may be for rent or for sale.

Ehime

(愛媛) Prefecture in the western part of Shikoku, Japan.

Ghost House

Stigmatized term for an abandoned house; implying haunting or an empty village.

Inaka

(田舎) The Japanese countryside; rural Japan.

Kominka

(古民家) Old-style Japanese house; old folk house.

Machiya

(町家) Traditional Japanese wooden construction house; traditional merchant house.