A tale of two properties

Dark floor, dark room

Across and further down the Sumida River from our apartment is a large condominium complex that has intrigued us ever since we moved here. Legend has it that the late rocker Yutaka Ozaki had just moved into it when he was found not far away in an alleyway one night, dying. It’s a good legend, and like many legends it’s not true. At the time Ozaki was renting a much more commonplace sort of “mansion” in the same neighborhood. But it’s easy to understand why this particular complex has attracted that sort of speculation. Every so often somebody moves out and you see a flier in the mailbox advertising the unit, which tends to fetch a price comparable to new condos even though it was built in 1991. The layouts are more imaginative and seem more livable than those of most condos. Rather than cut a box into rectangles, the designers staggered the position of the rooms along corridors and shaped the building in such a way that every unit looks out on at least two views, meaning there’s more sunlight; or that’s the impression one gets looking at the layout and then at the building’s exterior.

Last week, we finally visited the complex after we saw a flier announcing that two adjacent units on the 14th floor were on sale: a 67-square-meter 2LDK for ¥28 million and a 94-square-meter 3LDK for ¥38 million. Though both of these prices were out of our league we wanted to see what was really there, and were quite shocked at what we found. Read More

UR Ogikubo

Unfinished courtyard

Japanese apartment complexes often have pretentious, unwieldy names that are meant to add a touch of cosmopolitanism to otherwise nondescript residences; something you might expect from an industry that managed to convince people to adopt the English word “mansion” for condominiums. Earlier this week when we went over to Ogikubo in Tokyo’s western Suginami Ward to inspect the new UR apartments that are starting to accept applications for tenants I couldn’t quite make out the name, which sounded French, and I neglected to write down the romaji iteration after we got there, though I do remember is started with a “C” and had an “X” and some consecutive combination of “E” and “I.” Maybe a “U,” too; but whatever it was I couldn’t pronounce it on sight. Having returned home I see it rendered in katakana as シャレール. So let’s just drop the whole thing and call them the Ogikubo UR apartments. Read More

Insulate it


Recently, there was a conversation on Twitter about insulation, which outside of Hokkaido has only caught on recently in Japan. I’ve heard more than once that Japanese homes are built for summer, but older, traditional Japanese houses did a fair job of conserving heat, since most were designed with roka (hallways) around the perimeter of the house, which meant there was a space between the walls of the inner rooms and the exterior walls and windows. But since the war and even before, Japanese houses have become boxier in order to accommodate smaller parcels of land near large cities so that middle class families could afford them. Since insulation per se wasn’t an integral consideration of traditional homes, no one really thought to incorporate it in the new style. People just bought more kerosene. Read More

Taking shopping arcades seriously

Shotengai in Sanya, Tokyo

Shotengai, or shopping arcades, have been moving toward extinction for several decades now, the victim of increased motorization, new laws favoring large chain retailers, and the economic slump in general. Composed of small, family-run stores that invariably coalesced into merchant associations, shotengai were the social and commercial hearts of communities in both rural towns and huge cities. The death of the shotengai in the countryside has given rise to a new phenomenon called shopping refugees (kaimono nanmin): residents, most of them elderly, who are effectively cut off from retail areas because local family merchants have closed down and they have no easy access (i.e., driver’s licenses, vehicles) to shopping malls. Some local governments and chain retailers are addressing this problem by helping the refugees reach retailers, but there are also communities that refuse to let their shopping arcades fade into memory. Read More