Updated: Nov 7, 2019
By: Abbey Kruska
Published date: September 20, 2019
Japan's history of superstition and belief in the supernatural now coincide with a rising death rate, making way for a new housing market: selling homes of the recently deceased. If you've got a weak stomach, these low-cost apartments may not be for you, but for those with a fascination with the macabre and a need for cheap housing, jiko bukken might just be an option.
My contract is ending in just a few weeks, money is short, and I need a cheap place to live in central Tokyo, ASAP. Share houses and dormitories abound, even a shared bunk in a closet of a room located 20 minutes from the nearest station can cost upwards of ¥60,000 a month, not including utilities. Searching the depths of the Japanese internet, I come upon a potential light in the darkness--or perhaps a darkness in the light? Cheap, spacious housing, newly renovated, located 5 minutes from a central station, no deposit, no extra fees.
Just one catch; the previous owner was found dead there last month.
I wasn't brave enough to do it, are you?
事故物件 or Jiko Bukken can be directly translated as “Accident Property”, and refers to a special type of property in which some sort of death, accident, safety violation, or criminal/cultist activity has occurred. They may also be referred to as 心理的瑕疵物件 or "psychologically harmful property"--I suppose psychological is better than physical, right?
This includes but is not limited to:
A property where an unnatural death has occurred (suicide, fire, murder, or a “lonely death” in which the tenant died alone and the body was not found for some time);
A property with a history of accidents (flooding, fires, gas leaks, etc.);
A property previously used as a base for/is located near cultist and/or other illegal activities including yakuza;
A property pertaining some sort of superstitious stigma(ie. Overlooking a graveyard/crematorium, constructed on top of a well, etc.)
In a rush to sell the stigmatized properties, Japanese real estate firms give huge discounts on jiko bukken, typically including a 20-30% cut on the rent, as well as 敷金 (security deposit) or 礼金 (“key money”). Furthermore, Japanese law offers jiko bukken sellers a huge loophole; only the first new tenant moving in following the death is required by law to be informed about the incident. Using this loophole, sellers have reportedly paid tenants to move in for a short period of time in order to virtually “erase” the history of the property.
Japan is a deeply superstitious country, with a rich history of ghost stories leading back centuries. Some of these 幽霊 or yuurei are kind spirits, who look after their living family members and return to the living once a year during the summer festival of Obon to enjoy dancing, food, and fireworks.
However, those who die more unfortunate and improper deaths are condemned to roam the Earth, searching for satisfaction.
They have been depicted in art and novels dating back to the Heian Period (794 AD – 1185), appearing as anything from the tangled long haired female spirits popularized by hit movies like “The Ring”, to “umbrella ghosts”(kasa-obake), which began appearing in the Edo Period (1603-1868).
I, an American living in Japan, have also experienced the strength of Japanese superstition first-hand. On a hot and humid afternoon in late summer, my 23-year-old Japanese boyfriend complains to me that he hasn’t fully enjoyed his summer, because he hasn’t yet gone to the beach. I tell him there’s still time; It’s only early August, and he has the week off. To this he shakes his head. It’s Obon, and the ocean is full of spirits returning to the living--he’s afraid to go swimming.
Mental Health + Aging crisis = Increase in Haunted Houses?
In 2018, the Japanese Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry reported a shocking 1.36 million deaths, a postwar record. In 2016, the average age in Japan was 46, and rising. Some rural area populations are expected to lose hundreds of thousands in the next few decades. And with a lack of young people willing to work in the demanding and low paying nursing home industry, more and more elderly die lonely deaths, their bodies not discovered until a neighbor detects a bad smell.
Meanwhile, According to data by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development the suicide rate in Japan continues to be one of the highest in the modern world, following only South Korea and Russia, at a rate of 16.6 per 100,000 people. The majority of suicides are committed by men, propelled by economic hardship, mental health issues, or loneliness. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men ages 20-44, and for women ages 15-34.
With these two factors, there’s no shortage of recently vacated apartment rooms and houses, offered at sometimes almost a quarter of their less-ghostly counterparts.
So, What Does an Accident Home Really Look Like?
For those who love a good ghost story, you may be disappointed by the reality of jiko bukken. Many sellers put as much effort in as possible to eliminate the “creepy” factor of their property through renovation, cleaning, and sometimes even tearing down the previous property and simply selling the land. For those interested in living a jiko bukken, or for those weary about that dream house they’ve been looking into in central Tokyo that is just a little too cheap to be true, you can visit the website oshimaland to check to see if the property has been listed as a jiko bukken.
At one glance at Japan’s map on oshimaland.com we see a total of over 52,000 stigmatized properties spanning from the tip of Hokkaido to the scattered islands off Okinawa. Taking a closer look, we can even see the exact location of each individual property, the address, and even the occasional photograph of the property.