Ageing Japan is offering abandoned houses for free

Hokkaido's old-style houses are stand in Yubari city. Photograph:( AFP )

WION Web Team Tokyo, Japan Dec 06, 2018, 11.01 AM (IST)

Japan, the land of rising sun, is facing a peculiar problem: Abandoned houses that have been left vacant as the nation's population grays and its growth shrinks.

So, the Shinzo Abe government has come up with a novel idea to make use of the pieces of property: Give them away at discounted price, or even better, for free.

Reports in many publications in Japan say that many such homes - known as 'akiya' - have been listed for sale on online databases. Some of these properties are even listed as "gratis transfer" (or free).

Most of these houses are in the countryside and belong to families which have moved to urban centres and have no use for such properties. According to a 2013 government report, more than 8 million properties across Japan are unoccupied.

Japan already faces a huge demographic problem in the form of ageing population. In 1980 in Japan, only one in 50 men had never been married by the age of 50 and one in 22 women. That ratio is now one in four and one in seven respectively.

The country's population, excluding resident foreigners, fell last year at its fastest pace since comparable figures were kept in 1968, highlighting the demographic challenge to economic growth. As of January 1, 2017, the number of Japanese people fell by a record 308,084 from a year earlier to 125,583,658, marking the eighth consecutive year of declines, according to government data.

The number of births fell 2.9 per cent from the previous year ago to 981,202, the lowest since comparable data became available in 1974.

People aged 65 or older accounted for 27.2 per cent of the total population, the highest ratio on record, while the ratio of those aged 14 or younger fell to a record low of 12.7 per cent, the data showed.

Ageing Japan is reluctantly attempting to prise open its doors to migrant workers as it battles serious labour shortages, raising the hackles of conservatives worried about mass immigration.

Although Japan has long acknowledged the need to bolster its shrinking workforce, it has so far made only grudging efforts to open up its labour market which have failed to meet its needs.

Now premier Shinzo Abe's government wants to open the door to foreign blue-collar workers as early as April 2019, granting visas for up to five years to those employed in industries facing chronic shortages such as agriculture, nursing and construction.

Workers armed with more advanced skills and Japanese language proficiency would be able to extend their visas and bring over family members - an unprecedented relaxation of immigration rules that has sparked alarm among conservatives, including some within Abe's own party.

(With inputs from agencies)