Though we still look at condos, it’s mostly for academic purposes. We have nothing against condos aesthetically or practically, but collective living automatically brings with it certain restrictions that we don’t really want to buy into. That may sound strange coming from people who still rent, but the responsibilities inherent in owning a property are more pronounced when the property is collective. For one thing, the condominiums we tend to like in terms of layout and design are actually those that were built by the housing authority, now called UR, and most of those still don’t allow pets. (We plan to cover the pet problem in more detail in a later article.) This small but significant restriction is indicative of the condo experience: people who own are understandably more caught up in the collective enterprise and thus pay closer attention to their neighbors. Renters are relatively forgiving, maybe because they tend to think they won’t be staying here forever. Owners have more of a stake and thus there are more rules and the rules are enforced. We’re not against rules, but it seems less stressful to own a house, where you can pretty much do whatever you want, than a condo, where you may not be sure what you can do until you move in. Read More
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
It’s tempting to wonder what Akabanedai would have turned into had various government bodies not decided to turn it into an almost exclusive zone for danchi, meaning public housing complexes, back in the 1960s. It was the first major danchi complex within the 23 wards of Tokyo, located on a hill that steeply overlooks Akabane Station in Kita-ku, not far from the Saitama border, and it was considered cutting edge by danchi standards when it opened in 1962, on a par with Matsudo. When I lived near Ukima-Funado Station on the Saikyo Line during the latter half of the 90s, I often walked to Akabane Station, which meant climbing the hill from the north side and walking through the danchi, which was huge, a veritable mini-state with its own complement of retailers that, at the time, appeared to languish in a commerical funk. Akabane, which teemed with restaurants and funky little drinking establishments; a large and well-used Ito-Yokado; and even a fair-sized bawdy district with Philippine hostess clubs and “cabarets,” was just a few minutes away, down a steep flight of steps at the edge of the tunnel that ran below the housing complex. Though the danchi was still the home to thousands of families, the dissipated atmosphere characterized by the sad retail component gave it a cast of desperation. I don’t remember ever seeing anyone patronizing these establishments.
But had it not been developed as a danchi, Akabanedai might have attracted a richer sort of homeowner. (It was a factory district on nationally controlled land before the danchi was built) There are lots of trees and vegetation up there and a fairly extensive park system; and the view, when it isn’t blocked by another public apartment building, can be breathtaking. Read More