The land ministry has decided to monitor real estate transactions in the disaster-affected areas of the Tohoku region. As evacuees start moving out of temporary shelters and rebuilding their lives, many will likely seek new properties on higher ground, thus causing steep appreciation in land prices on elevations considered out of the reach of future tsunami. The ministry, along with the prefectural governments of Iwate, Miyage, and Fukushima, is afraid that real estate companies will try to corner the market on these tracts of land.
The ministry has already asked local governments to gather information about land transactions. The idea is for the local authorities to designate certain choice areas for monitoring purposes based on the Land-use Planning Law, which regulates the buying and selling of properties. Any transactions that take place within the monitored areas will have to be approved by the pertinent prefectural governor before any contracts are concluded in order to preempt deals deemed “improper” by the law. If the governor does not approve the transaction he can have it voided or ask that the terms be changed.
It’s obviously a necessary policy, but it may be difficult to carry out. Local governments are still hashing out whether or not to allow people who own certain low-lying properties to rebuild on the same land. Until they decide, those families are in limbo. Meanwhile, families who have already decided to move to higher ground may be in the process of looking for land and will thus get a jump on everyone else. The competition could end up being fierce, so it will be difficult to judge what constitutes an “improper” deal in some cases if the buyer and the agent come to an agreement. Also, if the local government decides that certain plots of land on lower elevations should be left clear, they will probably have to compensate the owners, something that could take time. And until those families receive their compensation they won’t be able to move. This will be particularly difficult for fishermen and other people in the seafood business, who want to live as close to the sea as possible.
According to the Tokyo Shimbun smaller, more isolated coastal communities aren’t waiting for the government. Some have already started rebuilding. Since tsunamis have been a fact of life in those villages for many centuries, a kind of lore has developed that instructs the villagers where it is safe to build and where it isn’t. After a tsunami, everybody moves to higher ground, and then over the course of decades they slowly work their way closer to the sea, since they’re all fishermen, until the next tsunami hits. It’s an inevitable, tragic cycle.