September 21, 2020

After Quake, Japanese Choose Peace of Mind Over Great View

They couldn’t wait to leave.

Their high-rise building, as it was designed to do, withstood Japan’s devastating earthquake on March 11, swaying and shuddering to absorb the worst shocks. But Ms. Tsubuku said she was petrified as the tower waved like a reed in the wind. And the elevators were knocked out of service until the next day, effectively stranding the couple and their two cats.

“I never knew how scary it is to live so far above ground,” said Ms. Tsubuku, who blogs about Japanese housing with her American husband, Philip Brasor. “I no longer think that high-rises are designed for people to live in.”

Neither, apparently, do a growing number of other people in and around Tokyo, which is more than a hundred miles from the areas worst hit in the disaster. Sales of high-rise apartment units have plummeted in Tokyo. And some renters like Ms. Tsubuku have moved out.

The new wariness threatens to halt a redevelopment rush that has been a rare bright spot in Japan’s residential real estate market and has transformed the city’s waterfront from an area of warehouses to a gleaming new skyscraper district.

With new or planned development worth billions of dollars at risk here and elsewhere in Japan, troubled real estate could prove to be yet another blow that the March 11 disaster has rendered to the already frail Japanese economy.

The earthquake also exposed the instability of land reclaimed from the sea, which in the last decade has become home to hundreds of thousands of people along Tokyo Bay. In Urayasu, a coastal city just 10 miles east of central Tokyo, the quake tore up pavement and tipped over houses as the ground quickly turned to mud in a phenomenon known as liquefaction.

The jitters and actual damage are unwelcome reminders of the tenuous ways that land-scarce Japan has continually sought to expand its habitable areas.

Over the last century, the nation has undertaken big land-reclamation projects in cities across the country to meet its industrial and residential needs. And since the early 2000s, reclamation has focused on Tokyo’s waterfront, where cheap land had opened up after shipbuilders and other heavy industry gave way to rivals elsewhere in Asia. One popular new neighborhood, with multiple apartment towers, used to be a shipyard operated by the industrial conglomerate IHI.

Now, second thoughts about high-rises and waterfront properties in Tokyo and other Japanese cities are casting a shadow on the country’s $29 trillion real estate market.

In May, unit sales at apartment buildings with 20 or more floors in greater Tokyo fell 39.5 percent from a year earlier, after plunging 82.8 percent in April, according to the Real Estate Economic Institute, a private research center in Tokyo.

The numbers have put a damper on overall apartment sales in metropolitan Tokyo, which grew just 3.6 percent in May — well below analysts’ expectations — after falling 27.3 percent in April.

Stringent building codes meant that the quake caused little actual damage to high-rises — even in the disaster zone up north, where most of the destruction was caused by the tsunami. But since the earthquake, homebuyers are preferring low-rise apartments, developers say, and are looking inland where the ground tends to be firmer.

“Nobody cares so much anymore about a good view,” said Toru Matsumura, head of the real estate investment team at the Tokyo-based NLI Research Institute . “Instead, they’re asking what will happen when the next big quake hits.”

At first sight, Masaru Isogawa’s 12-story apartment building in Urayasu, just east of Tokyo, appears to have escaped the quake unscathed. But the quake jolted the reclaimed land that makes up much of his neighborhood, contorting underground gas, water and sewage pipes.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c9a37ae96cc327ee591dc10ea0a1547d

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