Live in Rural Japan?


screenshot from Barakamon

If you’ve got a taste for Japan and want to buy a house, maybe you shouldn’t be looking over here in Australia.

Within commuting distance from Tokyo in Yokosuka, Japan there’s an increasing number of vacant, abandoned homes as young workers move into modern urban areas, reluctant to occupy or even maintain these old family homes from the post-World War II boom. Even though the Japanese are obsessed with the concept of mottainai, many new houses are being built each year with the older ones being abandoned, the focus being on construction, not reuse.

Land prices are apparently down by 70 percent in this area, and we can assume the ballpark figure for houses is 660,000JPY or $5,400 ($7649.74AUD?) based on the recently only sale. But even with these cheap prices, doesn’t seem like many are biting and Japan’s birthrate has been too low since the 1970s. Something I’ve heard Singapore has been keen to match, by the way.

Raw numbers suggest there is a limit to how many homes can be rescued through reuse, however. Japan’s population of 127 million is expected to drop by a million a year in the coming decades. Efforts to increase its low birthrate have been only modestly successful, and the public has shown no appetite for mass immigration.

But unlike Singapore which I can fairly confidently say has welcomed a massive influx of foreigners to swell their population, the curious thing here is how hostile Japanese people can be to foreigners. To a visitor, a tourist, they are perfectly friendly, polite and helpful and these tourists generally won’t notice the discrimination.

But for a longer term visitor it can be difficult. First off, anyone who doesn’t look Japanese is automatically a foreigner, and while there sometimes seems to be a tendency to favour Americans/Australians/British people over Malaysians or Indonesians (for example), even these favoured groups can feel as though they’re the ethnic minority - which would be a first for some ‘Muricans/Aussies/Brits I assume.

In some remote rural areas, someone who doesn't look Japanese can still sometimes be stared at as if they just stepped out of a UFO!

You can read some more here.

While polite on the surface, I’ve read on various sites like Gaijinpot that some foreigners who choose to stay in Japan and marry Japanese people have difficulties finding jobs other than English teaching jobs that don’t pay that well, have trouble with some aspects of Japanese culture (especially the fact that loving wives suddenly turn into dedicated mothers once children are born and are completely different), difficulties making local friends, and difficulty getting recognition from the government, such as being added to their partner’s jyuminhyou. Their partners are effectively considered not married and considered single parents if I remember correctly. I could be remembering wrong. More about attitudes to foreigners here though.

Facing such difficulties maintaining their population, dealing with an overexcess of empty houses and handling too much infrastructure in underpopulated areas is already difficult, but the situation isn’t made any easier by this. Japanese workers are also working themselves to the bone - doing more overtime as their culture expects it - so I can’t see the birthrate improving massively any time soon. I think many foreigners would be interested in these rural sites for various reasons, but Japan needs to work harder to change some of its attitude to foreigners to make it happen.