Bamboo Forest Encroaching on the Neighborhood: The Dilemma of the Impoverished 80-year-old Heir
-May 4, 2018
"Bamboo stalks are falling down from the cliff behind my house. It's so bad that I even feel that my life is in danger, but no one is taking notice." This plea for help was sent to the Special Mission News Crew by Ms. Nakajima (aged 67), who lives in Fukuoka City. We indeed felt the danger of the situation upon visiting the location. However, our investigation led us to the dilemma of land ownership, of not being allowed to abandon a property even if one wanted to.
According to Ms. Nakajima, it all began during a typhoon on a summer day in 2016. She discovered that a bamboo stalk about 7 meters long had dropped into her yard, and its branches were scattered over her roof as well. Since then, more bamboo stalks have been falling onto her property on days when the wind is strong.
Once, she found a bamboo stalk stuck right in her roof drain pipe when she stepped out to hang out her laundry in her yard. But it was not until last November that she became truly frightened about the situation; a bamboo stalk snapped and fell from above while she was cleaning her yard. "It was like some weapon," she says as she recollects the thump she heard that day. Even now, about 20 stalks around 5 meters long are stacked in a heap in front of her home.
Ms. Nakajima initially sought help from the local government. For the first 3 times, the fire department personnel came to cut bamboo, but they did not come for the 4th time. "Our response was a mistake. The government should not have intervened because it is a privately-owned property," said an official at the Nishi Ward Office. As timber can be a resource, the employee said apologetically that they "should have responded more carefully."
The green roof is Ms. Nakajima’s house. The bamboo stretches out from above the cliff behind. Location: Fukuoka (photographed from a helicopter).
We flew over the land in question with our helicopter to confirm the situation. Homes are built right up to the slope of the dense thicket of trees. Bamboo stalks were left to grow freely and were spilling over sideways. It looked as though they are about to jump over to Ms. Nakajima's house that stands on the other side of a narrow path.
The owner of the bamboo-covered land is a woman in her 80s who also lives in the same ward. When we finally located her home and went to visit her, she told us, "I have lost track of how much I've already spent on that piece of land. I just don't have any more money." She showed us a wad of receipts for constructions, surveys, and so forth.
The woman says that she received the land as an inheritance from her deceased husband in 1970. She had requested real estate agencies and the Nishi Ward Office to take ownership but was turned down because "they had no use" for it.
The slope crumbled in 2001. The city and fire department removed the debris, but she was informed that safety management was her responsibility. The fee to spray concrete on the hillside was 3,675,000 yen, which she paid for by taking out loans from relatives, among others.
Then the bamboo had begun to fall. The Nishi Ward Office, having received complaints from the neighborhood, sent her a document urging her to deal with the situation. She says that her mind blanked out when she realized that someone could die if an accident occurred.
The problem is that she has weak legs and cannot possibly cut down the bamboo on her own. Neither can she afford to hire a company on her pension. "I've already given up. If something happens, just throw me into jail." Her eyes teared up as she spoke.
The Fukuoka City Finance Bureau says that the city can only accept a transfer of property if it can be utilized.
But is land truly something that one cannot relinquish? Professor Katsumi Yoshida of Waseda Law School informed us that the Japanese Civil Code does not stipulate whether it is possible to abandon land ownership. A clause states that "Ownership of real estate without an owner shall vest in the National Treasury," but Yoshida explains that it is generally not permitted to abandon a property that is a financial burden to maintain.
In a trial seeking registration of the transfer of ownership with the purpose of renunciation of land inheritance, the Matsue District Court determined in May 2016 that it is contrary to society's ethical sense to force the state to bear the burden and responsibility for a property, thereby invalidating the right to abandon land ownership. The Matsue Branch of the Hiroshima High Court held up this decision as well.
Bamboo stalks that fell onto Ms. Nakajima’s property. “I throw away small branches in garbage bags, but I can’t dispose longer stalks on my own,” she sighed. Location: Fukuoka.
On the other hand, a non-profit organization in Fukuoka that assists with inheritances says that consultation requests from people who seek to relinquish their properties have been increasing this past year. "Mountains and forests are particularly in dire conditions because there are no practical ways to utilize them. This government policy must cause some people not to register their land to avoid being with management fees. Consequently, this results in the owner-less properties," he analyzes.
Is there no solution to this problem? Professor Yoshida points out that, from the perspective of national land conservation, the state and municipals must take on these properties and consider ways to utilize them. "A framework is necessary to establish a baseline and receive transfers of land ownership, as a strategy to prevent regional deterioration," he states.
近隣襲う竹林…管理限界 相続の８０代、資金が底 放棄は法で認められず