The why of buy

The information magazine publisher Recruit just released the results of its annual condominium purchase survey, which sampled 2,431 respondents who bought condos in the Tokyo metropolitan area in 2008. The two largest age groups represented were 30-34 year olds and 35-39 year olds. The latter demographic was unchanged from 2007, but the former group, which are known in Japan as “post-boomer juniors,” increased by several percentage points, which makes sense since that’s a prime age to buy a first home. However, this figure will likely drop since fewer young people are securing stable employment these days. Read More

Silver linings

After it was revealed in 2005 that many structures built by Huser Construction used false earthquake-proofing data to save on building costs, the company agreed to rebuild the affected structures. Eleven condominiums were rebuilt with subsidies from the central government. Nine have so far been completed, and this month, residents of one of them, the Grand Stage Rivage (formerly the Grand Stage Sumiyoshi) in Koto Ward, Tokyo, will move in. It will be a bittersweet move, to say the least. Read More

Don’t be dense

The government’s disaster prevention commission recently came up with guidelines and measures that it said it would work on in response to major earthquakes that are projected to strike the Chubu and Kinki regions sometimes in the next 70 years. The commission estimated that if an earthquake the magnitude of the one that struck Kobe in 1995 (7.3 magnitude) happened in these two areas, about 42,000 people would die in the Kinki region and about 11,000 in the Chubu region. The Kobe earthquake–or, the Great Hanshin Earthquake, as it’s officially called–claimed 6,434 lives. Read More

Recession proved?

According to a leading real estate research organization, 40,166 new condominiums were put on sale in the Kanto region (Tokyo + the surrounding five prefectures) in 2008, which is about 30% less than the number put on sale in 2007. It was the first time in 16 years that the number of new condominiums dropped below 50,000 units. In addition, the portion of those actually sold was 64.1%, which is about 2.2 percentage points less than the contract rate in 2007. The analysis of this trend isn’t difficult to understand: the recession has put the bite not only on consumers’ buying habits, but also on developers’ ability to build new buildings. However, anyone who has been watching the condo market closely for the last ten years or so has to wonder if some other aspect isn’t being overlooked. Read More

Guest workers with guns

On Apr. 14, about 2,000 residents of Iwakuni, a city in northern Japan that hosts an U.S. Air Force base, demonstrated against a proposed new housing development for American soldiers. In line with a major shift of military personnel, Iwakuni would be receiving about 4,000 soldiers and their families from other bases in Japan, mainly Atsugi. Iwakuni City wants to build about 10,000 new units for these arrivals on Atago mountain, which is mainly why the citizens protested. Atago has cultural and even sacred significance for local people. However, the reasons for choosing Atago go back further than the base issue. Read More

The gift that keeps on

Prime Minister Taro Aso has promised the rest of the world that he will do his best to stimulate Japan’s economy, and one of the ways he plans to do so in the next supplemental budget (¥15 trillion, the highest on record) is to provide a tax exemption for monetary gifts from parents to their children.

Of course, there’s a catch. In order to qualify for the tax exemption, the gift has to be used to either purchase a home or remodel a home. Basically, the idea is that there is some ¥1,400 quadrillion that is not circulating in Japan, but rather just sitting in people’s back accounts or in their mattresses (or, to put in Japanese terms, in the tansu, or wardrobe). About half of this dormant money is in the possession of Japan’s elderly. Normally, when these people die, the money goes to their offspring, who, in turn, just put it into their own back accounts or in their own wardrobes. Since people live quite long in Japan, their children usually are already settled with their own homes when they die. Aso’s scheme is to persuade these older people to give some of their money to their kids (or grandkids) earlier, at the time when they are thinking of buying a home.

The budget has to be passed before this goes into law, and the opposition says it basically subsidizes the rich. But it is sort of half-assed anyway, since the maximum gift that can be tax exempt is ¥6.1 million, and it costs at least ¥20 million to build a halfway decent house in Japan.

Death by city planning

Though this incident isn’t directly related to housing, it has much to do with city planning related to housing and residential areas. On Apr. 8, two 6-year-old girls were run over by a city bus in Kure, Hiroshima prefecture after they had disembarked from the vehicle. One of the girls died and the other remains in serious condition. The 60-year-old driver of the bus has been arrested. Read More

Lowered ceilings

Some basic stats as of 2003: There were 47 million housing units in Japan, of which 28 million (61%) were owned and 17 million (37%) were rented. Twelve percent of the rental units, or about 2.89 million, were public housing. The amount of rent charged in these public housing units is determined by income. As mentioned below several times, the recession has forced local governments to reassess the criteria for public housing applications in order to make it “fairer.” According to an Asahi Shimbun survey, 40% of local governments are planning to lower the maximum income ceiling for being accepted into public housing from ¥200,000 a month to ¥158,000 a month.

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Staying alive

According to the 2005 Japanese census, there are 14.5 million single-person households, twice as many as there were twenty years earlier. What’s more, 30 percent are seniors. Almost five times as many men in their 50s and 60s live by themselves now than lived by themselves twenty years ago. The same goes for women in their 40s and 50s. Of these, slightly more than 10 percent have incomes of less than ¥1.5 million a year.

Obviously, most of these single householders fear for their futures, since Japan has no real safety net for such people. However, according to Asahi Shimbun, there is a network that was established in 1998 called SSS, which stands for Single Smile Senriors. Basically, it is a support service for older women who live by themselves. It has grown from 20 members to its present 900. These women take care of one another as they grow older because they have no families to do so and they know they cannot count on the government. The Asahi provides an example of one member who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in her 60s and who was comforted by other members of the network until she passed away. Of course, the obvious question is: Why isn’t there an equivalent network for men?

Rotten apple patrol

Last month, eight local governments in Fukuoka Prefecture signed an agreement with the two police stations that cover their area to basically ban known members of organized crime organizations from renting public housing units. The agreement went into effect on April 1, and apparently it’s no April Fool’s joke. Read More