NYT on free land in Hokkaido (yes, you read that right)–but in one place only for citizens and NJ with Permanent Residency

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Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan

Hi Blog.  Today’s entry is a tangent.  Time for the world to do a major update on their view of Japan’s economy, with it’s famous land-price bellwether (land was once used as the ultimate collateral–since once upon a time land prices in Japan were seen as something that never went down, and it fueled the Bubble Economy).

From the country where, less than twenty years ago, the Imperial Palace Grounds were once rumored to be worth more than all of Canada, now we have land so cheap it’s free!  As long as you build and live on it.  

This is apparently the first time this has happened here since the Oklahoma-style Hokkaido land grab during colonization about 150 years ago.  Pretty impressive, and a sea-change in attitude.  Especially as the exodus from the countryside continues, the ruralities empty, and entire communities die out.  However, it turns out, Shibetsu is being oddly fussy–refusing NJ who do not have PR.  Can it afford to be picky like this?  

Arudou Debito in Sapporo (where the land is definitely not free)

Related article:
“Where have all the young men gone?”  The Economist, Aug. 24, 2006.
http://www.economist.com/world/asia/displaystory.cfm?story_id=7830634

========================
SHIBETSU JOURNAL

Despite Land for the Taking, No Cry of Northward Ho

Published: June 3, 2008

SHIBETSU, Japan — “If you build a home and move here, the land is yours free,” read a billboard on the side of a quiet two-lane highway that disappeared straight into the horizon here, under northern Japan’s big sky.

Norimitsu Onishi
    

A roadside billboard in Shibetsu, Japan, which is trying to stem population loss, reads: “If you build a home and move here, the land is yours for free.”

An orange hand atop the billboard pointed to a large, empty tract of flat land on which three new houses stood, surrounded by nothing.

Yellow stake signs dotted the land. Some displayed the name of a future settler, like a certain Inehara-san from Hyogo prefecture on lot B-9; others, only the details of a piece still up for grabs, including the 4,300 square feet on B-11.

Desperate to stanch a decline in population, this town and another on Hokkaido, the northernmost island in Japan, are trying to lure newcomers with free land. It was a back-to-the-future policy since Hokkaido was settled by Japanese drawn here by the promise of free land in the late 19th century, a time when Japan was growing and modernizing rapidly.

Since 1998, Hokkaido, like the rest of rural Japan, has been losing its residents to cities and old age. Significantly, just as Hokkaido’s earlier development resulted from Japan’s expansion, the decline in its population presaged the new era of a shrinking Japan, whose overall population started sliding in 2005.

Towns like Shibetsu — on Hokkaido’s eastern coast, so far east of Tokyo that the sun rises at 3:30 a.m. this time of the year because of Japan’s single time zone — have been hardest hit. Outside the small town center, few cars could be seen on the roads the other day. The open, flat land characteristic of Hokkaido, in sharp contrast to the densely packed mountains elsewhere in Japan, merely emphasized the area’s emptiness.

“If you think of it in American terms, this is like a Wild West town you see in movies or on television,” said Hiroaki Matsui, 50, a truck driver born here. “But even in America’s Wild West, this would be the remotest of all towns.”

Mr. Matsui supported the policy of giving away land but wondered whether newcomers, used to the comforts of modern Japan, were ready to move to an isolated town where winter temperatures drop to minus 4 Fahrenheit. “Will they really come here?” he asked incredulously.

In the United States, depopulated communities in the Great Plains have been giving away land in recent years. But in Japan, where a population more than 40 percent the size of the United States’ is squeezed into a country the size of California, offering free land seemed like an extreme measure.

“Land is cheap in Hokkaido,” said Akira Kanazawa, the mayor of Shibetsu, adding that many communities on the island were trying to attract new residents by offering rebates on land. “But free? That’s highly unusual.”

Because of a hollowing out of Shibetsu’s main industries, dairy farming and fishing, the town’s population has fallen by more than 10 percent in the last decade, to 5,889 today. So in late 2006, the town announced that it would give away 28 parcels of land ranging from 4,300 square feet to 5,230 square feet each, very generous by Japanese standards. A third of the lots were reserved for locals, with the rest going to outsiders.

The only stipulation was that the newcomers build a house on the lot within three years and move there officially.

Town officials had expected a big response. “But it wasn’t as simple as that,” the mayor said. “After all, it’s a huge commitment to migrate here.”

So far, only 11 families or couples, five from outside Hokkaido and six from within, have taken up Shibetsu’s offer, leaving 17 unclaimed lots. Locals now live in two finished houses; a third, to be occupied by a couple from Osaka, is under construction.

For centuries, the island was inhabited only by Ainu, an indigenous group, and was too cold to grow rice. But in the decades following Japan’s forced opening by the United States in the mid-19th century, Tokyo pressed to expand north, especially to counter growing Russian influence in the region.

The Hokkaido Colonization Board was established in 1869, guiding the migration of Japanese who displaced the Ainu and leading to the island’s acquisition by Japan. That migration was the first step in a movement that would send Japanese migrants to Hawaii, North and South America, and, with the growth of Japanese militarism, to Manchuria and other corners of Asia. As land grew scarce on the other Japanese islands, mostly second- or third-born sons who would not inherit any land back home arrived on Hokkaido with a frontier spirit, heeding the government’s call to develop the new land.

“That’s because back then Hokkaido was the only place in Japan with available land,” said Koichi Miura, a local historian in Yakumo, a town in southern Hokkaido that is also offering newcomers free land. He said that each settler then was given about 30 acres.

The lots being handed out this time in Yakumo are far smaller, roughly the size of those being given away in Shibetsu. In addition, unlike the earlier settlers, today’s tend to be older, with many deciding to move here for retirement. Town officials said that even if the newcomers were retirees, the economic benefits to the towns would outweigh the costs.

Toshiaki Nakamura, 48, who is scheduled to move here from Tokyo in the fall with his wife and daughter, said he wanted to escape the stress of Tokyo and was drawn by the nature on Hokkaido. Over the years, he and his wife, Toyomi, 52, had come to Hokkaido many times on vacation and decided to move here last fall after looking at three other locations on the island.

The land giveaway was also a factor. “It made me think how much those local governments are hurting as Japan’s population declines,” Mr. Nakamura said.

The couple planned to sell their Tokyo home, built on 1,200 square feet, and were making plans for a new house on their 5,000-square-foot lot here.

“I feel bad, receiving free land in this day and age,” Mrs. Nakamura said. “That’s unimaginable in Tokyo.”

ENDS

13 comments on “NYT on free land in Hokkaido (yes, you read that right)–but in one place only for citizens and NJ with Permanent Residency

  • This is a link to the town’s page.
    http://www.shibetsutown.jp/ijyuu/kurasu.html

    It says the applicant must be
    “日本国籍の方又は、永住許可を受けている外国人の方。”
    “a Japanese citizen or a foreigner who has permanent residency permit.”

    –Well, well. I stand corrected. Thanks very much HO.

    Pity about that. If the person is willing to buy and live there, shouldn’t matter if they have been cleared for PR by Immigration. Can Shibetsu afford to be picky here?

    Track down Yakumo for us, HO? Got a lot on my plate these days with the approaching G8 Summit. Thanks. Debito

  • Here’s a perfect opportunity for freelancers! If you can get an internet connection, it really doesn’t matter where you live. Somehow I think the Mrs. will have something to say about this idea…

  • Andrew Smallacombe says:

    My map shows Yakumo as being across Uchiura Bay from Muroran, with Shamambe and Mori being the next major towns along the coast. Does this help?

    –Thanks, but I know where Yakumo is–cycled through it last summer. (And the other city is Oshamanbe). Not sure how this came up as a question, sorry. Thanks for researching.

  • John K., a foreigner can own land in Japan. What I wrote in #2 is that land give away in Shibetsu Town is limited to Japanese citizens and PRs.

    By the way, there is an old law called 外国人土地法 “Law on Foreigner’s Land”, law number 42 of 1925, in Japan. I am not sure if it is valid today because it was enacted before today’s constitution was enacted.
    It says that Japanese government can list the countries that prohibits possession of land by Japanese, and as reciprocity, may prohibit possession of land in Japan by such foreign nationals. As of today, there is no country in the list.
    The law also says that the government can designate areas necessary for defense and prohibit possession of land by foreigners in such areas. Again, there is no area so designated, as of today.

  • Free lands in Hokkaido attracted elderly most, but how about the medical service there? Aren’t Japan worrying about declining medical staff?

  • it looks like the hokkaido government is trying to sell off some unwanted swamp land, theres a sucker born everyday. theres also a very good chance that its located near a land-fill, or contamination area..remember the japanese never give something for free,,and the old saying goes if its too good to be true, then it is too good to be true……..NOT!

    –Jim, your comments are getting unwarrantedly nasty towards Japan. If you want to say that nothing good comes for free, that’s fine. But avoid making this Japan-specific. It’s not. And don’t speculate on the quality of the land without evidence.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Jim, if you look at the details of the Shibetsu offer, you’ll see that it’s not a case of the government looking to dump unwanted land on unsuspecting people. Rather, they need tax revenue and are looking to use this land to attract new residents.

    They expect families with children to move there permanently (thus the desire for people who are guaranteed to be able to live there permanently without visa problems; single people are only welcome if they’re going to start families within three years), and then to build new houses (these plots don’t already have houses on them) there. You can’t be behind on residential taxes, either. Basically they want financially-solvent people who will help keep their coffers from going dry. I think it’s a great idea — lots of other towns in Hokkaido are in financial trouble and I’d rather see unclaimed land available free than see government attempt to sell it for quick money, leaving their established residents in the lurch when tax time comes again.

  • This is an idea that is in use in a number of places thoughout the world. As the article stated, places in the United States are doing this as well. In Canada, it is possible to get land in eastern provinces such as Nova Scotia and Newfoundland through government programmes designed to encourage homesteading of un/underdeveloped areas. Homesteading is not for the faint of heart though. I knew a couple of neo-bohemians awhile back that took on the task in rural N.S. and lasted less than a year. Unserviced land — no Internet, no plumbing, no eletricity, no phone service, etc., — that needs to be cleared can really take one back to life as it was in early pioneering days.

  • my comment was taken out of content, and maybe misunderstood. im not attacking japan but i am attacking the policy. so dont focus entirely on my words but try to look at the end result, again nothing is for free. they want a steady tax revenue but how can they have the steady tax revenue when they dont have the jobs, that will provide the salary to pay for the steady tax revenue…its a vicious cycle…

  • Very interesting! But it’s hard to read the article when it’s in italics and bold text!

    –Sorry about that, but you’re the first person to say as such in the two years this blog has been up and operating. Anyone else out there find the formatting hard to read?

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