The shocking number of Japan’s empty, and in this case collapsing, homes

Due to Japan’s ageing population and the continuing migration to the country’s large cities, it’s not really surprising that an increasing amount of houses are now left empty, or in many cases, completely abandoned. Yet the actual number of homes in such a state perhaps is. In 2008 — the last time such statistics were calculated — the figure stood at 7.57 million dwellings, or 13% of the total number of houses. A tally that is now estimated at somewhere in the region of 18%, and is expected to rise to a staggering 24% by 2028.

But such places aren’t merely restricted to less populated areas. Far from it. A combination of land/property tax incentives, plus a change in building regulations after the post-war period when many ageing wooden homes were constructed, means it’s financially beneficial to leave a property standing, regardless of its condition. Something that probably explains the number of crumbling, ramshackle houses one can regularly see in Tokyo — particularly in the city’s older neighbourhoods. None of the many I’ve seen, however, come close to the shocking state of this semi-collapsed monstrosity. A truly awful eyesore for the neighbours, not to mention a structural concern, as it’s clearly only the modern building that is keeping the old one (sort of) upright.

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A Tokyo ‘no nukes’, anti-government, protestor

Japan’s current regime may be against her. The same also goes for the likely winner of Sunday’s Tokyo gubernatorial election. Plus, with the country’s supposedly impartial public broadcaster, NHK, now unapologetically backing the government, there’s scant hope of her getting any coverage, too.

But still she fights for what she believes in: battling away against the powers that be. And with Japan shifting ever more worryingly to the right, this woman, and thankfully many more like her — whether they be anti-nuclear or pro-democracy protestors — will become increasingly important.

Japanese anti-nuclear protestor

Or at least that’s what one hopes.

Secrecy, Santa and Abe

Japan’s Prime Minister has seen his name attain worldwide recognition due to his trend-bucking Abenomics. Yet regardless of whether his policies prove in any way successful or not, his legacy almost certainly won’t be in the arena of economics, but in the clamping down of freedom, investigative reporting and whistleblowing.

With his government’s hugely controversial secrecy bill rammed through parliament this month, citizens will now cease to know — indefinitely if desired — what those in charge deem unnecessary, dangerous, or simply damaging. So anything that did and may happen at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant will doubtless be put through the censorship filter, as will any unflattering scandals, human rights issues and regional squabbles. The latter of which the increasingly hawkish Abe is preparing for with a hefty increase in Japan’s already substantial military spending. The move couched in a very unsettling form of doublespeak — proactive pacifism.

But as worrying as the situation is, reassuringly people are still out there protesting. Both in large groups, or like this artist, alone.

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The question is though, for how long?

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Yoshiro Nakamatsu (Dr. NakaMats) on the campaign trail in Tokyo

Japan’s upper house election on July 21st means more noise pollution, and more repetition of potential candidates names. Now and again maybe even the odd nod towards policy too.

Plus it also means Yoshiro Nakamatsu (Dr. NakaMats). Serial inventor. Some would say serial liar. And something that’s not disputable, serial political candidate — this time for the Happiness Realization Party. A wish that certainly won’t be realised, but if the faces of those watching him were anything to go by, it will at least bring about a bit of happiness.

Yoshiro Nakamatsu (Dr. NakaMats)

Japanese voters turning their backs on politicians?

Just like Japan’s other attempts at democracy, last weekend’s Tokyo assembly election saw the capital hit by the usual campaign tactics; namely, the familiar sound of vested interests echoing round train stations and local neighbourhoods, as prospective candidates repeatedly bellow their names and not much else through ear-splitting sound systems.

However, with a voter turnout of only 43.5% — 11% down from 2009 and the second lowest figure on record — there’s a suggestion that after years of economic stagnation, bureaucratic waste and the ongoing problems of Fukushima, some people are finally turning their backs on politicians who did the same to the electorate a long time ago.

Japanese politician speech

Japan, where will you go?

Territorial disputes and a hawkish new government have undoubtedly played their part in the recent rise of nationalism in Japan. Or if not nationalism itself, then certainly the rise in nationalist marches. A worrying trend that has understandably left many people wondering where Japan is heading.

Then throw in the faltering economy, tsunami reconstruction, an ageing population etc., plus of course Japan’s nuclear problems, and it’s a decidedly heady mix indeed. One that needless to say is perfectly suited to all manner of manipulation and scaremongering.

But despite all this, modern Japan is a very different beast than it was a century ago. And while nobody really knows where the country will eventually go, a cursory glance at the average Tokyoite makes it reassuringly hard to imagine that it’ll be back down those dark paths of old.

traditional Japan, where will you go

Or is that just hope taking an equally cursory glance at reality?