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To live (alone) and die (alone) in Japan

It is estimated that one-third of all Japanese houses will be empty “witch-houses” by 2038 as marriage and birth rates plunge.

A subway in Nara, Japan. (Image: Victoriano Izquierdo/

Fifty thousand ghost houses in one neighborhood in Tokyo. The Japanese call them “witch-houses,” abandoned houses with no hope of either sale or teardown. There is something on the order of 8.5 million of them across Japan, and estimates are this number will increase to one-third of all Japanese houses by 2038.

Writing in the London Times, Richard Lloyd Parry says there are three abandoned homes “in the little cul-de-sac in which I live in western Tokyo.” He says,” there are streets in which almost every house has been abandoned.

Parry writes, “You stumble across them everywhere, in villages and cities, in the smartest neighborhoods and the most run-down. They lurk behind overgrown gardens, decaying beneath veils of moss and ivy. Crows and raccoon dogs make their homes in them….” Scary, right?

These houses have been abandoned by dying oldsters whose children have zero interest in taking them over. Their children are likely unmarried and, if married, not interested in having children.

This is all part of the death spiral in Japan that social scientists and policymakers don’t know how to stop or even pause.

The death flush started rotating more than 50 years ago with the drop in fertility. Japan set a record more than 25 years ago: it became the first country in the world—the first country in history—to have more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 15.

The upside-down demographic pyramid is a warning sign of impending societal death.

The Times of London calls these millions of empty houses “mysterious tokens of social decay in one of the wealthiest societies in the world.”

The immediate cause is that the old folks are dying, and the kids who have moved away do not want or need the houses, so they stay empty. The real cause is that the Japanese seem to have a death wish. They have largely stopped reproducing. The replacement level in Japan is now 1.3 children per woman, and you need at least 2.1 children per woman to maintain population size.

Prospects for change are bleak. The kids are not getting married.

Economist Nicholas Eberstadt calls this “the global flight from marriage.” And they are certainly running from it in Japan. An annual report from a Japanese government think-tank reveals that 17 percent of men and 15 percent of women between 18-34 never intend on getting married.

Another report demonstrates that the lifetime unmarried rate stands at 26 percent for men and 16 percent for women. In 1947 almost a million Japanese got married. By 2021 that was down to 500,000. And this leads inexorably to fewer children. Japanese have fewer children today than at the end of the 19th century. The total Japanese population dropped last year by 726,000, about the size of the city of Seattle. By 2048 it is expected the population will drop below 100 million. Forty million people gone, poof.

And so, we see people living longer and lonelier. A decade ago, it was reported that the Japanese were on the cusp of buying more adult diapers than baby diapers. There is now an entire industry dedicated to cleaning up after Japanese elderly die alone. The smell is the tell that someone died alone.

Older adults need help. But they never had the kids that might have helped them. And they have houses that their only child probably doesn’t want. The son may be “busy” hiding out in his house, living the life of a social recluse, what’s known in Japan as hikikomori. Yes, that is a thing in Japan. The hermit is already set up perfectly to be one of the lonely elderly, whose death smell alerts the cleaners forty years hence.

What is causing this death wish? Selfishness, for one. Many people have somehow come to see children as a burden, which they are, a beautiful burden. Much of this can be laid at the feet of the sexual left, those ghouls at the academy, in government ministries, the UN and EU, and billionaires such as John Rockefeller and now Bill Gates, who have preached for decades against population.

Interestingly it is reported that the incidence of virginity is on the rise in Japan, causing a diminution of sexual interest among the Japanese. What’s not widely reported is the incidence of open pornography use. A friend of mine who married a Japanese man and who has spent time there says men openly consume pornography on public transportation. They watch porn movies on their smartphones while they ride the subway. We know from social science that heavy porn use results in a diminished sex drive and a lack of interest in human connection.

Here is a simple, proven path to human happiness and to filling all those empty houses: Marry young. Have lots of kids. Worship the Almighty. Live for others. You will not die alone. Instead, you’ll die with your family all around you. Mary and Joseph will be there, along with your Guardian Angel. Isn’t that better than the current Japanese model?

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About Austin Ruse 6 Articles
Austin Ruse is the author of four books including Under Siege: No Finer Time to be a Faithful Catholic (Crisis Publications, 2021). He is president of C-Fam, a New York and Washington DC research institute in Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council and with the Organization of American States.


  1. Yup. One of my children works as a demographer & they say without immigration we will be in the same situation as Japan. That goes for much of the developed world as well.
    God bless Japan. I sure hope they can figure something out.

  2. (1) I would like to see a deeper dive into the causes of the motives which are blocking marriage and family life.

    (2) The image of a dying and lonely civilization plugged into 6th commandment violating technology is quite dark and depressing. While I don’t deny the realities here I also don’t believe that this is the full reality because millions, even in the global and developed north, are still marrying and having children. Yes, some populations are shrinking and this will have bring with it a host of problems for those socieities and perhaps the world. And there is nothing wrong with issuing warnings about this and seeking to motivate people to overcome their objections to marrying and forming a family to perhaps mitigate some of the troubles. But just as the ‘population bomb’ was not a reality, neither is the ‘depopulation bomb’. The world will go on somehow, almost certainly with all sorts of problems, until the Second Coming.

    • The motives behind the decline are very simple. I live those motives every day. Truth, and facts, are unpopular. But they do not change. Not in my lifetime anyway. Perhaps the next generation will fix it?

      Japan’s decline, and the West for that matter, can be traced back to the rise of one event – 4th wave feminism. Over the last 60 years, equal rights have morphed into special privileges. There has to be cooperation in any relationship, any culture, for that society to succeed. In the current society, as a man, I see there is no longer that give and take, it is all moving one direction now – away from me.

      So I moved away from ‘you’.

      I no longer care about what happens to ‘you’. I no longer have a stake in society as a whole. I work, have hobbies, invest, take care of myself. Just. Myself. Interacting with the population in general is risky; interacting with women in particular, is just too dangerous to my continued well-being. Socially, legally, the risk / reward equation is now always, always, always, negative. I am simply not going to risk everything I’ve built, everything I continue to work for, on ‘maybe’.

      Demographic declines are the inevitable result of such separation. And I do not see a way out. I learned the lessons the hard way. What should scare you, scare everyone, is that young children are learning too. Up until the last 20 years or so, such information could be characterized as rare, or city/country differences, perhaps even bad luck. Nowadays there is too much evidence out in the wild to be ignored. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, co-workers, family friends; the children are exposed, and are absorbing the information like a dry sponge absorbs water.

      Perhaps the next generation will figure a way out of this doomed downward spiral.

      I certainly hope so.

  3. I saw a report on TV a few years back (possibly “60 minutes”) about children in Japan with no siblings. Parents enlisted the companionship of either a robotic child or a robotic dog to engage their child’s social needs. Under such conditions, it’s no wonder that children raised in such a family would not want to marry or have children – relationships are just too painful.

  4. End times? Some will say indeed! How will we stay calm if not anchored in Christ? If we don’t know what the Lord has said regarding what is to come, how are we able to be of help to our families, friends and others in the world?

    Is the Gospel message being offered to those in distress? Not all matters should fall on the shoulders of the priests and deacons. Those who know that Christ died so that we may live, have a duty to help according to the talents that God has given to each person.

    Signs of the times to reckon:

    Matthew 24:6 And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.

    Luke 21:11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.

    Matthew 24:21-22 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

    Matthew 24:12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.

    Matthew 24:7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.

    Revelation 3:10-11 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.

    Acts 14:27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

    To know what God says and to believe it, gives the peace that passes all understanding. Let us learn from Him so that we may bless others!

  5. Root cause- selfishness at first perhaps, but ultimately despair and their sense of nothingness and nothing matters. A true pandemic that is spreading in the Godless mind. If they feared God, they would acknowledge God, if they acknowledged God, they would find purpose.

  6. The diagnosis and the remedy – from the discerning heart of the Holy Father – how essential it is to have the capacity to desire desire for God , to desire to enter into a relationship with God ..

    Words that warn about the lukewarmness among the believres too .

    The Buddist philosophy that contradicts the above acting as a ? generational spirit even ..
    Hope China and other such nations too are taking notice and come to desire earnestly what Christianity has to offer ..

  7. Yo, Austin, let’s take it easy on Seattle! We read “The total Japanese population dropped last year by 726,000, about the size of the city of Seattle.”

    In Seattle one finds more dogs (not mere robots!) than children, about 150k compared to 100k. It is true, demographically, that some school closures are now on the agenda. But, hey, Seattle is the city of innovation, everything from the 1962 World’s Fair and Space Needle, to Microsoft, to…what?

    Well, at the Museum of History and Industry one can find, side-by-side, one display headlining Washington State as the first population in human history to legalize abortion (1970, three years ahead of foot-dragging Roe v Wade), and a second display showing Seattle as the birthplace of ultrasound as a “life-saving” invention. And, one can take note of culturally anesthetized middle-school students ogling both displays at once—and not even suspecting the contradiction. “Cool, neat…where’s the concession stand?”

    Seattle, under recent governance, also has become the capital of other “needles,” tents, and graffiti for the Western hemisphere. Cleanup slowly underway, but the end-to-end freeway markings can be painted over and repainted as many as six times in fewer weeks.

    As for the elderly, the very blue Washington state was the first place in the world to legally approve human composting (2019). Another start-up! Plant a tree! And, rumor has it that the divorced celebrity, global hotshot Bill Gates might be still living in his 66,000 square foot mansion in a nearby gated suburb on the Lake. Neighborhood stability!

    So, who says that techy modernity in the U.S. is anything less than an inspiring, full service, uncradle-to-ungrave enterprise?

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