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Crumbling houses are more than a blight on Japan

Monday, October 30, 2023

A Japanese house long abandoned, with the roof collapsing and plastic sheeting covering a window.

At some point, Japan must deal with its crumbling housing problem.

You see them from time to time in the cities. Houses (mostly) where the owner has died and either hasn't passed it on or the heir doesn't claim it. Around where I live, they're not empty for long. They get snapped up, flattened and redeveloped. Then young, professional families move in.

I guess I'm lucky.

Out in the rural areas, people aren't so lucky. Some towns are all but abandoned. Others are in terminal decline. All of this is well-known and documented.

What we see are the crumbling remains of someone's home or business. They're fascinating in their own way but also a hazard. Many of the ones I see overlap their neighbors or are part of the same structure. Always threatening calamity when the solidity of the building fails, and wind or earthquake brings it down.

Detail of a collapsed roof on a Japanese house showing the rotting joists and missing tiles

My local city will contribute to the cost of demolition. Down the house comes and a patch of land is left for nature to reclaim. Or "borrowed" to become an allotment.

Attempts to lure in families and foreigners with promises of "cheap" houses will only go so far. Some towns will have to manage their decline to oblivion. A painful process.

Yet I see hope in this. Nature reclaiming land is a good thing. It brings life back into spaces so often concreted over. Restores a sense of balance. It just needs to be done sensibly.

Until then, I'm afraid we'll continue to witness the slow, unmanaged, sad decline of Japan's towns.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction.

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