About thirty years. That’s the average lifespan of a house in Japan. The day a new home is finished is the day it begins depreciating. Within twenty years or so, the value of the structure will be zero1.
Houses are essentially viewed as disposable2, and the market for used houses is virtually nonexistent.
In cities, where demand for housing is high, there is a pattern of demolition and rebuilding. Property prices can be extremely high, and people also want to minimize their tax liability, so a site formerly occupied by a single house is commonly divided into three or four plots, on each of which will be built a tall, narrow house.
Within three blocks of my apartment, I can think of at least twenty houses that have been demolished in the three years that I’ve lived here. Every house that’s disappeared has been in perfectly good condition. Every one of them was replaced with multiple new houses crowded into the same lot.
Outside the cities, though, huge numbers of houses sit vacant. Some are simply abandoned, while others are still owned by the families of deceased relatives who are unsure what to do with them. Others still are owned by municipalities and are available for sale, but would-be home buyers are largely uninterested.
A few months back, we spent a weekend in Yokosuka, a city on the Miura Peninsula in Kanagawa Prefecture. There, the hills were littered with empty houses. We met a local photographer who had bought one of these houses from the city for about a million yen3 and restored it himself. He was kind enough to give us a tour. It was the most comfortable and charming home I’ve ever entered in Japan.
For us, it was an inspiration. We are planning our exodus.
Perhaps to Yokosuka, or maybe to Hanno, Sayama, or Chichibu. Maybe to somewhere near Kawagoe or to Komoro.
If I changed jobs and worked myself nearly to death, it’s possible we could eventually buy a house in or near to Tokyo. One of those bland new structures on a postage-stamp lot with a forty-year mortgage.
Or, we could start our own small businesses, buy one of these older houses in the relative countryside for next to nothing, and build our lives there.
I find this to be a simple choice to make.