SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

XIE Zhihai “Vacant House Situation in Japan and China”

I have “Problem Based Training Class” at my university. Students raise various social questions in English and try to find solutions. The vacant house situation is one of the issues which were taken up recently and I found this issue is not only for students who live in the provincial area, but mass media has taken up recently very often also.


Financial Times (electronic edition) reports in their “Japan’s Empty Villages Are a Warning for China” (October 30, 2022) that the number of vacant houses in Japan is increasing, and Chinese people are afraid that their real estate bubble would “Japanize”. However, I think there is no similarity in the vacant house situation in Japan and China. Then, how does China study from Japan? I did not have any special awareness of this article at that time. But the vacant house problems in both countries have made me uneasy now.  


The reasons why it became vacant in Japan, are: There is no person to live with after old residents passed, away and being almost untouched condition. Now I notice such houses between my house and the nearest station in the same situation. I can say such an area is a vacant zone.


In China, an image of vacant houses is the one that has no residents despite being built for speculative investment purposes in high-rise building areas. There is no difference in the meaning of the words “vacant house” in Japan and China. But the origins of the words “vacant house” are quite different. I have distinguished these the words “vacant house” in Japan and China in this way. 


There are so many “no occupancy” high-rise apartments in China and such areas are called “鬼城”(ghost town). Many people in Japan know these words. However, in Japan, the words “ghost town” mean a trace of the place where people have lived, and residents have disappeared. Of course, some residential areas have a few vacant houses, and some areas are called ghost towns when all residents disappear. The number of statics (every five years) by the Ministry of Public Affairs for vacant houses shows 13.6% in 2018 and this figure reached a record high in these 20 years.


I realized now that vacant houses mean just the same for non-Japanese and non-Chinese. A vacant house is a vacant house. According to Financial Times, the Japanese economy are keeping continue without any economic recovery after the collapse of the real estate bubble in the 1980s, and the FT worries about the present excessive investment in housing projects in China. Yes, if we will go back to the Japanese Bubble Period, we might be able to find similarities in the vacant house situations in China.


The FT warns further that if the real estate market in China would continue in such a present situation, they may repeat the same failure as the collapse of the real estate bubble in Japan. The reason why the population of China began to decrease. In Japan, the population has begun to decrease already and there are a lot of elderly. The increase in vacant houses is one of the reasons and there exists an inheritance problem also. If they cannot clean up their inheritance problems, they must keep their houses to be vacant. Such vacant houses cause the deterioration of public security and delay in urban development.


Now real estate problems include a wide range of issues both in China and Japan. Then, what does China learn from Japan? The excessive debt problem of China Evergrande Group (CEG) is still fresh in our minds. And excessive financing to real estate prices and soaring prices of real estate became distinct. Those situations are very similar to the collapse of the real estate bubble in Japan. After the regulation of CEG, we saw a lot of companies suffer from cash flow or are burdened with their debts. People who purchased real estate from CEG began to distrust CEG and cancel their contracts. Social confusion spread among ordinal citizens. Mr. Shin-ichi Seki, Head Researcher of JRI (The Japan Research Institute, Ltd.) says “China has already learned from Japan”. Weekly Magazine “Economist,” says also “China has made interest rate reduction and deregulation of financing to real estate companies already”. (September 13, 2022) I hope matters would not become worse.


Real estate is considered precious property both in Japan and China. (Of course, such thinking is not limited to Japan and China only.) As I feel strongly that people in both countries believe building houses revitalize their economy. In Japan, we see the news about depopulation, declining birthrate, or aging society almost every day. However, in such a situation, houses are being built new every day. It is not an exaggeration. According to the data from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, the number of housings starting in 2022 increased by 0.4% from the previous year. We can say China is not an aging society. But the population began to decrease last year for the first time.  I hope both countries should reconsider comprehensively the balance between the population forecast and the supply of new housings.



SGRA Kawaraban 736 in Japanese (Original)



XIE Zhihai / Professor, KYOAI GAKUEN University


Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Sabina Koirala