Chuou
I live in a small village in Chiba. Our village has no city water, city gas or city sewage. In other words, we have a well for water, have a big propane tank for our gas and have a septic tank that gets emptied twice a year or so. Our town has agricultural roots, but mostly these days it is a sort of sleepy town where about half of the people work for the local government in one way or another. I think we were the first "new family" to move in in decades.

About 10 minutes away by car there is an area of Chiba called "Chiba New Town". The train I take to work stops there after my stop at a station called "Chiba New Town Chuo". Chuo basically means "center". Recently, the trains and stations and other media have been plastered with a huge branding campaign which involves the invention of a new word called 中央ism or Chuoism. I'm not sure exactly what's so "ism" about living in Chuo, but they boast that it is "close" (1 hr) to Tokyo and only one train to Haneda airport (will take you longer than an hour) and by 2010 will have a direct train to Narita airport.

There are huge condos and big malls and shopping centers. I'm not sure how successful this campaign is, but it's really odd to me. People are moving 1 hour away to buy condos in high rises in the middle of a rather beautiful rural area. This "Chuoism" seems like some sort of knockoff of American suburbia with all of the favorite fast food and shop chains in convenient malls. I've eaten there a few times and none of the restaurants are as good as the wonderful small restaurants scattered around the villages nearby.

For the convenience of having city water (probably not as tasty as my well water) and city sewage, you pay approximately 40 times the price per square meter of condo floor space as I did for land at my current house. It is a pretty high premium considering you're sharing the land with everyone you're stacked with and the bulk of the value is the condo which depreciates in value over time.

I guess that they probably had to invent a whole new "ism" to justify the rather illogical behavior (to me) that this sort of satellite suburbia represents. Thanks but no thanks.

Obligatory disclaimer : I visit but don't live there so I don't know all of the perks. I am just not convinced by what I have seen or by the advertising. I apologize if you live in one of these condos and are enjoying your life. Maybe you can chime in and let me know what the appeal is and why it deserves a whole new "ism".

16 Comments

I've seen this happen in other parts of Japan... I'm visiting Toyama Prefecture right now (used to live here, back seeing my wife's family) and some old friends were telling me the "downtown" is becoming a bit of a ghost town as they build new areas out in what used to be agricultural areas.

The urban sprawl here actually reminds me a lot of what it's like where I grew up in Canada -- I have to question the wisdom of creating a lifestyle that almost 100% requires people to own a car in this day and age. (Granted, this New Town Chuo thing seems to have an OK train connection, but it's not so in other suburban parts of Japan -- extremely expensive local trains often mean that it's cheaper to drive in a lot of areas.)

Cam beat me to it....we both live in downtown Vancouver, where condo living is both an established fact of life and one of the main draws of the area, for at least a certain set of people.

But you see a lot of mixed-use complexes cropping up in the suburbs as well, and only some of them are based at or near our (woeful compared to Tokyo, or Japan generally) rapid transit line. Vancouver's geography doesn't allow for a lot of urban sprawl, unlike my home town of Edmonton, where the economy is booming and they keep building out, out, out on almost endless Prairie land. But in both cases a car is pretty much a fact of life, which is an unfortunate way to live for the individual, community and the environment.

After living downtown and not in any way needing a vehicle for my everyday existence, the only way I'll ever move to a different city is if it's got a good enough transit system that again, i don't need a car to survive. So in that sense the "densification" of condos and mixed-use is a smart move, but if it's an island connected to the ouside world by motorized vehicles...not so much.

I should add that condos are big, big business here in Vancouver, and though it's tapered off a little recently, the marketing push is still pretty odious. Just replace "chuoism" with a mix of the words "urban," "lifestyle," "modern," "cosmopolitan," and "your best life," and you've pretty much got it. And that applies not only to downtown but to all the outlying suburbs, resulting in some ridiculous shots in brochures of young urban up-and-comers enjoying all that Surrey or New Westminster have to offer. (Surrey and New West being the bridge-and-tunnel suburbs of Vancover.)

What was it like getting planning permission on your land? In Ireland, getting permission for what we call 'one-off' housing (i.e., housing that is not part of a larger estate development) is difficult, to put it mildly.

Just for reference, what would a 中央ist be paying per square meter for their condo, and what would be the comparable price in Tokyo?

It is difficult to get permission to build on my land because it is not "residential" but rather farming/forest. It's not impossible though.

It's about 370,000 yen/sq meter for a Chuoist. I think it was approximately 10,000 yen/sq meter where I live. You also have to factor in the fact that a Chuoist is sharing the actual land that their condo is on with the dozens of people stacked above and below their condo. I think 1000 yen is about 7 Euros right now.

That's not bad though. Comparisons are always odious but it's in line with an apartment in the outer 'burbs of Dublin, for example. London would be more expensive.

It does actually cost quite a bit to build one of these multi-storey buildings! There is a lot involved, not just within the building but also the infrastructure to connect it all up with the roads and the services.

It is pretty meaningless to compare the cost of agricultural land to the price of apartments. It's all very well to compare, but living in the country is just not an option for a lot of people who are absolutely wedded to commuting to a desk job.

The thing about property is that it's all about location, not size.

When you buy an apartment, you aren't buying land with future development potential (as you are when you buy a house), you're really buying a share in a community. The amount of land when you divide the square footage of your apartment by the number of floors, is really tiny as you say. The economics are completely different.

Joi,

This looks like the classic 1-2 sucker punch that the banks & construction companies deliver to the locals who dont understand thing 1 about personal finance. It simply amazes me that anyone would take out a 30 year mortgage on a condo when buildings are designed to last 30 years max. At the end of it you "own" a welcome mat sized piece of land which you dont even have clear title to. Also lots of those condo mortages are incredibly rigged with back loaded interest, closing costs, monthly "maintenance" costs and usually at least one life insurance policy tacked on for good measure. As I understand it a fair number of these contracts are also designed so as you cant sell your condo within the first 10 years of the life of the loan. After that its worthless anyways so this is a great tool for keeping property markets il-liquid.

Sheeple-ism is more like it.

Presumably it is people with growing familiemoving from Tokyo who buy this stuff, no? Rather than locals? Are the buildings really designed only to last for 30 years?

Yeah... I pretty sure the buildings aren't for locals.

Having said that, I can't imagine they have much value 30 years from now. I think there are very few buildings in Tokyo that retain value that long, but I'm not an expert.

Also, as Chris says, in addition to the purchase price, there are a bunch of maintenance fees associated with a condo. On the other hand, there are also maintenance fees associated with a home of course. BTW, my land came with a home that took 10 years to build made of all local wood which I think will easily outlast these condos. The price of the house was not factored into the price. (It came with the land.) Pictures of home.

But I agree that transportation is probably the main value of these condos. They are walking distance to the station and shops whereas I have to drive. However, my drive is 10 minutes out of the 1.5 hours to get to work.

Maybe I wasnt clear, with condos here the "mainenance fee" is manditory but the maintenance itself is optional. It does not cover the interior of the condo or manufacturing defects of the building (cracks in balcony walls, railings falling off of stairwells, etc) it is supposed to cover the public spaces such as hallways, elevators, lobby, etc.

I don't live in a condo m'self, but I have to say, it looks pretty convenient. You don't (or shouldn't) have to do anything except pay the fee and participate in the community.

I think the key is the 'community' aspect. The maintenance and the condition of the public areas is going to be as good as the community. It's a bit like buying an island in a video game ...

9- Joi Ito

Good show, Joi!

Your new - old - house is a piece of art.

Congratulations. :o)

time for a 田舎ism? ;)

Its the music that disturbs me. Marketing excess around overpriced new developments is sadly only too familiar, but over here Stock, Aitken & Waterman style bubblegum would be a definite "pain point"!!

Joi's situation, despite the rural location, sounds like the typical American suburban residential development situation that my family members live in, in the U.S.: he has to drive to do anything.

More typical in Japan, in urban areas at least, is living near a station, so that you can walk everywhere, do all your shopping on foot, etc. I think it's a very healthy lifestyle. This is especially true if you live at a station that has not yet been made "accessible" with escalators and elevators.

The fact that you have to carry everything home (and the limited storage space) prevents you from buying too much at a time, which makes you have to go out shopping again, on foot, sooner. Daily food shopping encourages use of fresh ingredients and less packaged food, etc.

Condos are indeed a rip-off in Japan and are completely delapidated before you pay off your loan. But the residents are at least healthy and slim, unlike, I'm sure, Joi's neighbors in Chiba, who are probably like my in-laws in Chiba: fat and getting fatter. The difference between the shoppers at an Aeon in rural Chiba and in a typical Tokyo shopping area is dramatic.

I used to live at Kikari as an exchange student. I used the Chiba New Town chou stop to get to school and back. I remember in 2001 they were just starting to build a walkway for the station, and when I went back in 2003 for a visit, the station was twice the size I remembered it to be and all the land around it was full of condos. I can't imagine what it looks like now.

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