Morihiro Oguma's phone rang every day with calls from brokers representing foreign investors who wanted to buy his Japan Mineral water bottling business.

"In many cases, I was told I could name my price," Oguma said in an interview, adding he had no interest in selling the Hokkaido-based company. "It seems what they really wanted was our rights to groundwater."

A two-decade slump in real estate prices, an incomplete land registry and lax rules on buying forest with water rights are attracting overseas investors led by China and come amid a fraying of ties between the two countries over the Senkaku isle row. Some areas of remote woodland in Japan, the only country in the Asia-Pacific region that doesn't regulate property investment by foreigners, can be bought for some ¥55 per sq. meter — including the groundwater.