One shrinking Japanese town’s plan: Give away houses for free

Produced by Lucy Craft and Chris Laible. © 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved


In the hillsides outside of Tokyo is the quaint village of Okutama, Japan … and Masahiro Yamada has what is probably the most important job in town: giving away homes.

His binder lists all of the empty and abandoned house in Okutama. If someone wants to come and live in the town, they potentially could get one for free. “Yes, if you live in the house for 15 years, we will give it to you for free,” Yamada said. 

“That’s a really good deal,” said correspondent Ben Tracy.

“Yes. We want people to settle here,” he replied.

Okutama isn’t generous; it’s desperate. In recent decades it’s lost half of its population. The main street is lined with closed storefronts; most of the people who still live here have what you might call senior status; and at the local school the entire third grade has just six kids (not so long ago there were dozens).

So, the race is on to find new residents.

Yamada has even resorted to playing Cupid, fixing up a couple and then gifting them with a home. “Yes,” he said. “We also gave them the house. We do it all!”

Nearly 1,000 other Japanese towns and villages face extinction because the country is simply running out of people. Japan’s population peaked several years ago, at 128 million in 2011. And if the dire forecasts come true, Japan will have as few as 59 million people by 2100. That means for every two Japanese residents today, there would be less than one left by the end of the century.

So, is this really a demographic time bomb?

“The bomb is going off,” said John Mock, an expert on population issues at Temple University Japan. He told Tracy what’s happening in Japan is a preview of what many Western countries, including the United States, will soon face.

“Take out immigration from the United States, you’re going to have basically a decreasing population or very close it,” Monk said. “There’s lots of yelling and screaming about immigration, but there’s very little discussion in the United States about birthrates, and what population do you want the United States to be.”

In Japan, which has historically opposed immigration, immigrants now make up less than 2% of the population. That’s led to an extreme labor shortage, and it is also why you see countless old Japanese men driving taxis in Tokyo rather than young new arrivals.

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Publicado por Annika Maya Rivero

Fundadora del blog para personas mayores: Mayores de Hoy. Diseñadora e instructora de karate do. Escribo sobre envejecimiento, gerontodiseño, diseño y demencia, prospectiva, vejez. Las artes marciales, el deporte y la vida saludable y sostenible me apasionan.

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