Japan’s ghost town problem, a pressing issue stemming from an ageing and declining population, has led to inventive solutions that are as effective as they are unique. A standout example is the town of Kamiichi, which has pioneered the Zero Yen Vacant Home Bank initiative. This fascinating venture involves giving away abandoned homes for free, effectively enabling buyers to strike it rich in the real estate lottery.
Initially, thirteen properties were earmarked for this programme, and they were claimed at an astonishing pace. This innovative approach, augmented with cash bonuses for relocation, renovation, and childcare, has been a resounding success. It not only allows sellers to offload near-worthless assets but also brings joy to recipients like Yasuyuki Fuke, a former Kyoto resident, who compared receiving a zero-yen home to winning the lottery. Due to this initiative, Kamiichi has recorded its first population increase in over a decade.
Parallel to this unorthodox housing policy, another extraordinary solution has emerged on the remote island of Shikoku. In the small village of Nagoro, life-size dolls populate the streets, outnumbering the human residents tenfold. These unique creations are the brainchild of 74-year-old Tsukimi Ayano, who initially made them to scare birds from her seedlings but ended up filling the village with these scarecrow-like doppelgängers. This oddity has not only piqued tourist interest but also instilled an unexpected and uncanny life into Nagoro.
For now, both the free homes and the dolls, each addressing Japan’s depopulation in their own way, are here to stay.