The awful truth

We often go out in the field to do research, but it’s always a two-pronged activity. On the one hand we study the housing situation and the market in an up close and personal manner. On the other hand, we’re still thinking about buying property ourselves someday, and though after more than fifteen years of searching off-and-on we haven’t bought anything, it doesn’t mean we never will. Still, the longer this goes on and the more we learn, the more frustrated we become, especially as our income situation remains precarious owing to the ongoing recession. Having a permanent abode that we can’t be kicked out of, regardless of our job circumstances, is a vital consideration, but looking at what we can afford we invariably fall into a funk wondering why we have to settle for such places. Inevitably, you prevaricate: This may be livable.

Our latest subject is old danchi/kodan for sale, which have become semi-popular due to media coverage of “danchi moe,” or fans of old public housing. We’ve written before about enterprising people who’ve bought old apartments in buildings constructed during the 50s-70s and remodeled them as attractive modern spaces, which they often sell for a profit. Because they only cost a few million yen to buy and a few million yen to fix up, they can be had quite cheap in the end, but most of the units that have been covered on TV and in magazines are small; fine for a single person but still a bit cramped for a couple and certainly not big enough for a family, though in all likelihood they were occupied by a family when they were new.

When you get out of the main cities, these danchi and kodan get bigger and even cheaper. And in most cases they’re also newer, which means more amenities. However, they still look like danchi, meaning they’re usually contained in dull concrete buildings of three to five stories without elevators. The fact that they are designed with these parameters in mind means that the apartment layouts tend to be more sensible than those in newer buildings. The classic kodan design has a staircase and apartment entrances on each side of the landings, which means you usually enter at ninety degrees to the length of the apartment. That allows for windows on both ends of the apartment, which means there is not only more sunlight, but cross-ventilation, an important consideration until the 1980s, when air conditioning started to become a fixture of apartment life. It also means the rooms are more practically positioned, unlike modern apartments where the entrances open up to a common outside hallway or light well, which means all the light and air comes from only one direction. In order to maximize space for commercial purposes, the rooms are basically carved out of a boxy shape, thus creating what is often referred to as “kamaboko” living spaces. Kamaboko are those rectangular fish paste loaves that you divide into smaller rectangular pieces.

So discounting the unappetizing exteriors, older danchi, especially when they’ve been fixed up, can be quite desirable, and in this spirit we called a few real estate agents and had them show us some in northern Chiba. Read More