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Retiree migration spurs Okinawa building boom

Date Posted: 2006-11-02

Housing construction is on the rise on Okinawa, thanks to a strong trend of mainland Japanese moving to the island.

Retirees are viewing Okinawa as a perfect place to spend their leisure years, seizing on the local lifestyle and a less expensive living environment. More than 50,000 mainland Japanese have migrated to Okinawa over the past five years, and Prefecture officials are predicting that number will continue to soar.

Okinawa’s population has jumped from 1,320,000 in 2000 to 1,370,000 today. Officials attribute the interest in this sub-tropical paradise to the now-retiring ‘baby boomers’ born in 1945~1949. Japanese refer to this group as the ‘Dankai Generation’, individuals projected to begin retiring in large numbers over the next several years.

Real estate developers are scrambling to accommodate the often deep-pocketed mainlanders, creating marketing campaigns to lure them to Okinawa. The migration from mainland Japan to Okinawa is expected to generate market revenues of ¥80 billion each year. Real estate companies are now offering Okinawa tours for Dankai Generation retirees, calling them ‘house checking tours’. The realtors are showing the visitors the entire prefecture, looking at lands, houses and apartment buildings.

A real estate association survey showed that 40% of mainland Japanese want to move to a new retirement location, often establishing a second home. Realtors smile as they point out that these retirees typically have ¥50,000,000 ($434,785) in available retirement money. The survey shows at least 40,000 retirees interested in future moves to Okinawa.

The building boom is most prevalent in Yonabaru, where reclaimed land is now being offered for sale to Dankai Generation citizens. Omoromachi area is another reaching out for the new residents. Construction companies say they’re doing a landslide business, with luxury condos ranging from ¥50,000,000 to ¥160,000,000 ($434,785~$1,350,000). The goals established by realtors, and endorsed by construction contractors, are to cater to the wealthy segment of the population. Already, they say, all construction now in progress is fully reserved or sold out, and Okinawa Bank is offering home loans to the Dankai Generation.

Iriomote Island is a popular retirement destination, thanks in part to its natural, uninhabited environment. Taketomi Town, with a population of 3,500 only five years ago, has jumped to 4,200. It’s already proving a mixed blessing, as the Taketomi Town Office says it’s having headaches caused by shortages of landfill plots, doctors and water. “We need to prepare the infrastructure and environment, as well as environment,” says a town official. “We also need to worry about the relationships these new people will have with our local people. Do they know about local islanders’ customs, foods, language and habits? Our culture is so different.”

Still, Iriomote is greeting the new residents with open arms, saying “we know there are many questions and calls from these retirees, and we’ll answer all of them.”

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