Okinawa or London? Hongkongers see Japan as an option in their emigration plans

·4-min read

Homes in Okinawa, the smallest and least populated of five main islands of Japan, have emerged as an option for Hongkongers, with some deciding to emigrate there rather than the United Kingdom and Europe.

One popular route is via the Japan Investor/Business Manager Visa programme, through which foreigners can propose to establish a business such as a homestay because of the island’s appeal as an international tourist haven.

The process typically takes three to six months and successful applicants can get on the path to citizenship after establishing a five-year operating track record, sitting a test and renouncing their original nationality. This can attract Hongkongers who do not own British National (Overseas) passports. Japan, however, does not allow immigration based on property investment or so-called cash-for-passport schemes.

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“[We get] at least three people inquiring about moving to Japan every day, of which Okinawa may account for one or two,” said Anvy Cheung, chief executive of Sakura Japan Property, an agency specialising in Japanese real estate. “If [one] wants to move to Japan by operating a homestay, we will tend to recommend Okinawa.”

Okinawa’s homestay business tends to face less competition from big hotels that compete for tourist dollars in Tokyo or Osaka, she added. If the property is good, the operation can be sustainable, or alternatively, it can also be repurposed for personal use or resale.

The asking price for a new fully furnished, two-storey house in the southern part of the island, measuring 1,128 sq ft and capable of accommodating 12 people, is about 45 million yen (US$410,000), according to the property agency.

Okinawa is about 2 hours and 20 minutes from Hong Kong by air. House prices have held up well despite the pandemic, Cheung said, even as rents have suffered a 10 per cent decline because of the fall in tourism due to Covid-19.

Okinawa prefecture’s economy, heavily reliant on tourism, took a major blow in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic with a record drop in domestic and foreign visitors.

Okinawa’s homes have emerged as an option for emigrating Hongkongers. Photo: Handout
Okinawa’s homes have emerged as an option for emigrating Hongkongers. Photo: Handout

Bhakta Ng, a part-time lecturer and psychotherapist in her mid-30s, and her husband bought a property for 41 million yen in southern Naha, located about 15 minutes from a nearby beach. They gained the right to move to Japan in January this year after preparing a business immigration proposal for a year. But the couple is still stuck in Hong Kong as Japan has temporarily suspended issuing visas because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are preparing to have a baby. I do not want to become a [terrible] parent and have my kid study under Hong Kong’s pressure-cooker education system,” she said. “We find life in Okinawa is less stressful and we like visiting Japan as well.”

She and her husband, who is fluent in Japanese, found their property through online research and completed most aspects of the purchase from the developer remotely.

The supply of new flats is “very small” with a low turnover of pre-owned units, according to Takeshi Ide, senior-chief analyst at Tokyo Kantei, a Japanese real estate research firm. Apartment prices are almost flat, though Ide expected them to drop slightly in future.

Currently, the number of buyers is limited by travel restrictions, he noted, as there are not many people in Asia who commit without looking at the property on site.

Okinawa could also benefit from the rise of work-from-home arrangements amid Covid-19 as people can work remotely from the island for companies in big cities, said Tetsuya Kaneko, who is the managing director and head of research and consultancy at Savills Japan.

Okinawa’s homes have emerged as an option for Hongkongers with some deciding to emigrate there despite the coronavirus pandemic.

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