The government's ongoing review of its basic policy on housing should take into account the decline in the nation's population, whose pace is forecast to accelerate in the 2020s as the fertility rate remains low. Unless supply of new houses is restrained in view of the demographic trends, the already serious problem of vacant houses across the country will only grow more severe, posing security and disaster hazards to local communities and possibly putting financial strains on municipalities. Policy steps to encourage greater use of secondhand properties will also be essential.

A panel at the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry is working to revise the Basic Housing Plan — which sets the direction of housing policies for the next 10 years — in March. The current plan, adopted in 2011 for the policy through 2020, set targets for energy-saving standards covering newly built houses, barrier-free features of houses inhabited by elderly residents, as well as quake-proof features of houses.

The total number of houses in Japan has continued to increase, topping 60 million in 2013. However, the number of households stood at 52.45 million. One out of seven houses — or roughly 8.2 million, 1.8 times more than 20 years ago — is estimated to be uninhabited. While that figure includes houses up for sale or rent as well as vacation homes, nearly 3.2 million houses are estimated to be deserted. Such properties have increased rapidly in recent years, particularly in depopulated regions with the death of aging occupants whose offspring have moved to urban areas.