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Japan Has 8.5 Million Empty Homes That Airbnb Wants to Use for Tourism

  • Airbnb wants to use a growing glut of abandoned homes in Japan to boost its business.
  • It told Nikkei that it wants to partner with local governments to encourage home owners to renovate.
  • Japan has around 8.5 million akiya, or empty homes, as its population shrinks and ages.

Airbnb is looking to capitalize on a growing swathe of empty houses in Japan, hoping to convince owners to remodel the vacant homes into tourist attractions.

“It can be a good source of income after people retire as our lifetime gets longer. If the owners of idle assets refurbish them and convert them into lodgings, that would be a solution,” Airbnb’s head of Japan, Yasuyuki Tanabe, told Nikkei.

Airbnb hopes to partner with businesses and local governments to encourage homeowners to invest in renovations, Tanabe told Nikkei.

“The number of akiya is increasing and expected to increase further. Many of them are too good to be abandoned. There are also safety risks if they are left unkept,” Tanabe added.

Japan has close to 8.5 million abandoned homes

Japan has some 8.49 million akiya, or unoccupied homes, according to the government’s Housing and Land Survey in 2018. The survey is conducted every five years.

Many of these homes have been abandoned as Japan’s population shrinks and ages, and are typically spread out across rural areas.

Some villages have turned into ghost towns of houses covered in overgrowth as residents leave for major urban hubs.

With no one living in these homes, there’s little incentive for owners to maintain them, since the buildings themselves typically don’t retain much value.

The government has offered incentives for people to purchase the land and move in, such as tax breaks and dirt-cheap homes that cost as little as $500. Foreigners from countries with soaring housing prices have also arrived in Japan looking to buy and restore akiya to live in.

But the number of akiya is still expected to surge, with the Nomura Research Institute predicting that at least 30% of homes in Japan will be abandoned by 2033.

And so Airbnb hopes to convince owners that they can turn their derelict assets into a source of income.

It’s especially interested in kominka, or wooden traditional houses, which it thinks will attract foreign tourists interested in Japan’s history and culture, per Nikkei.

Tanabe said the company is “deepening ties” with an association that preserves these homes, and has donated around $1 million to the organization, according to the outlet.

Tourism is starting to pick up once more in Japan, with visitor arrivals in October hitting 2.51 million, compared to 2.49 million in October 2019, before the pandemic, per the Japan National Tourism Organization.

That’s just 0.8% more, but it was the first month this year when arrivals finally eclipsed figures from 2019.

January saw 44.3% fewer arrivals in Japan than in January 2019, but the gap has narrowed every month after that.

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