UR 2010

We took in the new Heart Island Shinden public housing complex a few weeks ago, which is scheduled to start accepting residents sometime in November. Heart Island Shinden is essentially a strip of land between the Arakawa and Sumida Rivers where they come the closest to each other, and though the closest stations are Oji on the Keihin Tohoku Line and Oji Shinya on the Namboku subway line, both of which are in Kita Ward, Heart Island Shinden is in Adachi Ward. It’s more than a 20-minute walk from either station, even if you move fast, so most people take a bus.

Even before the new complex was built, the area was already home to a number of apartment complexes, both private and public. In fact, it’s a veritable forest of mini-skyscrapers. The one we visited is operated by UR (Urban Renaissance), the main semi-public housing corporation in Japan. We live in a UR building that was completed in 2000, and in the decade since then we’ve often visited newer UR buildings to see what improvements they’ve made. What we’ve found is that which each new project ameninites get added but the basic problem with Japanese apartment living–namely, impractical layouts–remains, due to a habit of prioritizing 3-dimensional efficiency over baseic livability. In other words, floor plans are dictated by box-like patterns that allow developers to maximize space and fit as many units as possible given the land area and height of the building. The two wings of the HIS complex are 9 stories and 14 stories, which is about the same as the other buildings in the area, thus indicating that there is a height limit. (The building we live in is 38 stories) Read More

Name game

Eight of Japan’s biggest real estate companies have joined forces to run a website called Major 7 (why 7 and not 8 I have no idea), which features articles about condominiums. Last summer the group conducted its annual survey to find which urban location is the one where people would most like to buy a condo if they could. For the sixth year in a row the number one answer in the Kansai region was Ashiya, which isn’t surprising. Ashiya, in Hyogo prefecture, has always had a high class reputation owing to the simple fact that rich people tend to live there and most of the city is located on a hill.

The most popular place in the Tokyo Metro area was Kichijoji, for the third year in a row. (For the record, the next nine preferences in descending order are Jiyugaoka, Yokohama, Futago Tamagawa, Ebisu, Hiroo, Kamakura, Meguro, Kagurazaka and Naka Meguro) The website doesn’t explain why Kichijoji is popular, but it isn’t difficult to guess. Tokyoites see it as youth haven filled with trendy retailers and which is close to a famous park. The preference is aspirational rather than practical, however, especially if you look at what’s available. Most available units for sale near Kichijoji station are small, cramped and expensive. You have to go at least 15 minutes from the station before you find something that might be habitable for a family: ¥31 million for a 60 square meter 2LDK, which is also a bit old and probably run down. If you want something new, you’ll pay through the teeth. A new 70 square meter apartment will put you back a whopping ¥75 million. The prices are, on average, much higher than comparable units in areas closer to the center of Tokyo.

It’s completely a name thing, and realtors know that. Kichijoji is in Musashino City, and when advertising condos or even rental apartments, many real estate agents list the nearest station to a Musashino property as being Kichijoji, even if it’s much closer to, say, Mitaka. Of course, if you live in Mitaka you can always get off at Kichijoji station and take a bus home. That way you can tell your friends you live in Kichijoji, but sooner or later they’re going to catch on.