Short stories

A self-contained community in the town of Nisshin in Aichi Prefecture is taking one of its residents to court, along with his father-in-law, who owns the land, and Sumitomo Real Estate. When the neighborhood was established in 1974, the developer stipulated that no structure would be more than two stories, and everyone who moved in had to sign a pledge to that effect. The defendant in the suit wants to build a three-story house on land owned by his father-in-law, who signed a similar pledge some years ago, after it was incorporated into the neighborhood’s own rules. The community wants to stop him.

Such cases will probably increase in coming years owing to the paucity of land in older housing developments. Plots are much smaller than they tend to be in the West, and come right up to the fronting street. A garage, for instance, can take up half of the first floor of many residences. There is nowhere to go but up, and more and more people who are tearing down older structures and replacing them with new ones that often add an extra floor. In Tokyo, where height rules for houses are pretty loose (those for condos and commercial buildings are stricter, but developers tend to find loopholes), this isn’t a problem, and one can easily find strange, skinny structures all over the capital. But in the suburbs the rules can be strict. Because of the way land was divvied up in the past, it’s usually impossible to build houses of more than a certain size. In the end, you’ll always be stuck with a small house.

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