Workers prepare to dismantle an abandoned home. Many families forget to register the new owner when properties are passed down. © Kyodo
TOKYO -- Around 11% of Japan's land is "unclaimed" -- plots that cannot be traced back to their owners. The figure is expected to jump to 19% by 2040, according to an expert study group.
To put that into perspective, currently 41,000 sq km of land, equivalent to the Japanese island of Kyushu, or slightly smaller than Taiwan, is unclaimed. That will expand to 72,000 sq km, equivalent to the bigger Japanese island of Hokkaido, or larger than Sri Lanka.
As the younger generation moves from rural areas to cities, the hometown family plot is often left unattended when the parents die. Many forget to re-register the land in the next generation's name. Some avoid registering to avoid taxes. This mass neglect of land is yet another side of the shrinking population, along with businesses unable to find successors and piles of cash left at garbage collection points as elderly people die alone with nobody to pass the money to.
Accumulated economic losses due to unclaimed land will reach 6 trillion yen ($52.5 billion) by 2040, according to the private-sector study group. Chaired by former Internal Affairs Minister Hiroya Masuda, the group predicts that the amount of unclaimed land will only grow as Japan enters an era of higher death rates.
In 2016, economic losses resulting from unknown ownership of land came to about 180 billion yen. If no measures are taken, the losses will reach 310 billion yen per year by 2040. Total accumulated economic losses between 2017 and 2040 will reach an estimated total of a staggering 6 trillion yen.
The estimate is based on a survey conducted by the study group of people expected to inherit land from their parents in the coming years.
Some 27-29% of land expected to be inherited between the years of 2020 and 2040 could go unregistered, the survey results showed.
The presence of unclaimed land could hinder development projects. Many smaller municipalities with dwindling populations are taking steps to improve administrative efficiency by concentrating residents in urban areas. However, as such land use requires the consent of all land owners, unclaimed land often stands in the way.
In one example, it took nearly three years to acquire land to build a new national road in Ibaraki Prefecture, north of Tokyo. The plot -- which was first registered by a woman born in the Meiji era (1868-1912) -- had at least 148 legal heirs as ownership passed down through successive generations, including some who died after moving overseas.
The developers managed to acquire consent from around 130 of the successors, but could not reach the rest. In the end, the government used a special measure for expropriation to acquire the unclaimed land.