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In this Friday, Nov. 7, 2014 photo, a pair of slippers sits ready to be worn outside an abandoned home in Kawamata in Tokushima Prefecture, southern Japan, one of many thousands of empty houses in rural Japan. Japan’s dwindling population is perhaps the country’s biggest challenge, with thousands of communities depopulated, empty homes and infrastructure crumbling as the countryside empties thanks to a low birthrate and rapid aging.
AP Photo/Elaine Kurtenbach
Anybody home?
GHOSTLY

Over 13% of the homes in Japan are abandoned

By Steve Mollman

Japan’s population is shrinking. Last year it fell by nearly 450,000 people. Not since records began in 1899 had so few babies been born (921,000). Before that, 2017 had also set a record. Meanwhile the number of people passing away last year set a post-war record. The figures are part of a larger pattern in which births have declined and deaths increased steadily for decades.

Less noticed is another alarming figure that’s been growing. According to the latest government statistics, the number of abandoned homes in Japan reached a record high of 8.5 million as of Oct. 1, 2018, up by 260,000 from five years earlier. As a proportion of total housing stock, abandoned homes reached 13.6%.

Some areas have been hit harder than others. Saitama, north of Tokyo, and tropical Okinawa had the lowest proportions of vacant homes. But the rate topped 20% in the Yamanashi and Wakayama prefectures.

Japan’s education ministry, meanwhile, has struggled with how to repurpose vacant school buildings. One became a building for curing meats, another an onsen (hot springs spa).

Little wonder Japan, long averse to immigration, is preparing to open its doors wider to foreigners to tackle a worker shortage. But even on that front, the numbers are coming up short: There simply aren’t enough educators to teach the newcomers Japanese.

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