In Japan, an area of land larger than Taiwan is unable to find a home and the problem is making it difficult for disaster recovery programs.
At the height of the Japanese real estate bubble in the 1980s, the land around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo was estimated to be more valuable than all real estate in California.
It’s hard to imagine now that there are millions of hectares of land and millions of houses in Japan where owners are found, uninhabited or even unnoticed by those who have inherited them.
The combination of a declining population, falling land values, heterogeneous records, and an incompatible tax system have created 4.1 million hectares of land in Japan, an area larger than Taiwan, with no clear ownership clear.
In addition, there are about 3.5 million uninhabited houses not sold, leased or developed. This is more than the current number of houses in Hong Kong. The government and non-profit organizations (NPOs) are trying to solve this problem, but given Japan’s demographic situation, it will get worse in the coming decades.
According to a survey by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Tourism and the Ministry of Justice, 20% of private land in Japan was registered more than 50 years ago. This figure is 26.6% in rural areas and 6.6% in urban areas.
Shoko Yoshihara, a member of the Tokyo Policy Research Foundation and a leading expert on the matter, points out that despite the many long-standing applications, some lands may still have owners.
“Few people register land ownership because of the reduced value, but that does not necessarily mean that the land has no owner. Records can remain with the same owner for more than 50 years. Despite the increased life expectancy, the owner may still be alive, ”Yoshihara told the South China Morning Post.
However, not determining land ownership is a very real problem. This is also a problem that hinders reconstruction after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The construction of sea defenses, relocation of people to higher land and redevelopment is delayed in some areas because land owners cannot be identified.
“This is an invisible problem,” said Mr. Yoshihara. “However, it is important to find a solution to this problem before the next major earthquake or natural disaster occurs.”
This problem exists even in places where the land is extremely valuable. The town of Niseko, Hokkaido, attracts winter sports enthusiasts and investors – from Australia to China – thanks to its famous white snow.
“At Niseko, many small lots have been purchased for investment before and during the bubble era. Often investors do not come to see the land. Those landowners are in their 70s or 80s and some people have forgotten they have the land and their children don’t know about it, ”said Mr. Yoshihara.
“There is no simple and comprehensive solution to this problem because it is structural and has many causes,” Mr. Yoshihara added. “The tax system is another matter. The Japanese government is implementing tax policies that are conducive to building houses during the decade of economic development. ”
Under Japanese tax law, keeping a dilapidated house on a piece of land is much cheaper than paying for demolition. Annually, the tax rate for land with houses or structures on it is 0.23%. That’s sixfold if it’s vacant land, said Toshikazu Suto, a professor of real estate science at Meikai University.
“I do not expect the government’s reforms to achieve much success because this is a problem of too much supply but no demand,” Mr. Suto said.
Suto added that the establishment of a “land bank,” the agency that identifies vacant land, housing and trying to find buyers, is a small solution. But this is the solution he is taking, in Kaminoyama, northeastern Japan.
This picturesque town boasts a preserved castle and a row of samurai houses. This is also a famous hot spring resort. But the place also cannot avoid population decline, said Hidetakan Watanabe, the temporary head of the land bank Kaminoyama.
Places like Kaminoyama need to attract young families to help rebalance their demographics. However, finance is a barrier even if they can find local employment.
“For young people and young families, even though empty houses seem cheap, it costs money to repair the place. After that, if they renovate their houses, they must follow the fire and building regulations, ”Mr. Watanabe explained.
Japanese construction regulations are very strict, largely due to earthquakes and other natural disasters that the country often suffers.
The non-profit organization “Kaminoyama Land Bank” has been working closely with local authorities and real estate agents since June 2019 to build a database of 75 properties and lots, About half of these are in use.
The fact that the land law does not provide regulations for cities to receive unwanted plots from their owners and restrict their use is a major barrier, Watanabe said.
“And of course, finding the land owners is also a problem. There are Japanese people living in Hong Kong who also own land here, ”Mr. Wantanabe added.