TOKYO -- Land equivalent to the size of Kyushu, one of the four main islands that constitutes Japan, is currently unclaimed, an expert study group said in a report, after reviewing several government surveys on property registrations across the nation.
In the report, released on June 26, the group defined "unclaimed land" as plots that could not be traced back to their owners. Roughly 4.1 million hectares of land in Japan fits the definition, according to the group led by former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Hiroya Masuda. That is roughly 11% of Japan's total area and larger than Kyushu's land area of 3.7 million hectares or Taiwan's 3.6 million hectares.
Some property registers date back so far that the address of the owner is listed in Manchukuo, a region in northeast China and Inner Mongolia that was a Japanese puppet state from 1932 to 1945, the study said.
In many cases the owners have died and the plots have been left abandoned for generations, making it nearly impossible for authorities to track down the eligible heirs.
The phenomenon can be traced to several underlying trends, including a demographic shift from rural areas to big cities, as well as a falling birthrate and aging population that has led to a decrease in both demand for and value of land.
The financial burdens associated with ownership, including property taxes and other maintenance fees, are other reasons why people may be abandoning ancestral estates, it said.
The study found that the older the register, the more difficult it is to specify its owner. Some 80% of owners of registered properties that have not been updated for 90 years or more could not be identified, compared to 21% for those that have registered ownership in the last 30 years, it said.
The group has been conducting research since January this year. It said around 2,000 real estate tax notices are returned each year from the mailed address, and the figure is growing.
Japan's shrinking population is aggravating rural depopulation and threatening the existence of regional communities. The trend has led to an alarming proliferation of abandoned homes and fields in Japan's countryside, raising safety issues as many homes become dilapidated over the years.
The Nomura Research Institute estimates that the number of abandoned homes, which stood at around 8.2 million in 2013, will grow to 21.5 million by 2033.