Over the past decade, there has been a marked rise in interest from international buyers looking to purchase akiya — Japan’s abandoned or empty houses. Though many believe that the only way to live in an akiya is to purchase it outright, there is, in some cases, another option: renting.

Since 2021, that’s been the case for Canadians Jesse Cunningham and Mika (who prefers not to share her last name for privacy reasons related to her YouTube channel, Maigomika). In 2018, Jesse and Mika moved to Oita Prefecture after securing work through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme and a local eikaiwa (English language school), respectively. Three years later, Jesse found his dream job as a blacksmith, which meant relocating to Kochi Prefecture, and thanks to a connection through Jesse’s new boss, they were able to move in as renters to a local akiya.

“He knew the person who owns this house, as a lot of akiya are only quasi-abandoned, meaning they’re still owned by somebody,” Jesse says. “The person who owned this place is still alive and in assisted living. She couldn’t look after herself in this house anymore, so she had to leave.”