David Chart's Japan Diary

May 9th 2005

There's only really one thing to report this week, since I didn't do anything particularly exciting this weekend, and during the week I was (mainly) working. Work, fortunately, is going well. I finished the first draft of a writing project, admittedly quite a short one, and I've done a first outline for a rather longer one (a whole book). I could do to get another book outline done tomorrow, so that I can send them both to the relevant companies for approval. I've had preliminary meetings with some more potential English students, but my first lessons will be this week, so that hasn't really started yet.

The main thing to report is that I've started house-hunting in earnest. Well, flat-hunting. My budget does not stretch to a house in, or even particularly near, Tokyo. On the other hand, housing in Tokyo is a lot cheaper than reputation would lead one to expect. There are a couple of reasons for this.

One is that there has been zero or negative inflation in Japan since the bubble burst at the beginning of the 1990s. Fifteen years ago, flats in Tokyo were about the same price as they are now. Fifteen years ago, flats and houses in England were about a quarter of their current price, less in some areas. Thus, comparisons that made Tokyo very expensive then are less marked now. In fact, I'd say that Tokyo is substantially cheaper than London, and that greater Tokyo is no more expensive than any town in southern England. Of course, English house prices are ridiculously high.

The other factor is a marked difference between the Japanese housing market and every other market I'm familiar with. Japanese real estate depreciates. Flats lose about half of their sale value over the course of twenty years or so (and then appear to settle down); houses also lose value, but I've not looked into those enough to have a sense of how much.

Combined with that, and almost certainly a primary cause, is a strong preference on the part of the Japanese for buying new flats. Around 60% of the flats sold in Tokyo last year were new, for example. As a result, one of the questions that people ask when buying a flat is 'how much value will it lose before we want to sell it?'.

I'm not sure how much of this is due to the current deflationary state of the Japanese economy, and how much is a persistent feature from way back when, but it does mean that older flats are much cheaper than the headline prices, which are all for new construction.

Even so, of course, I can't buy anywhere larger than a shoebox in Tokyo itself. Because Yuriko is working in the western part of central Tokyo, we're looking in Kanagawa, the prefecture immediately to the west of Tokyo proper. There, I can afford a three-bedroom flat, as long as I'm willing to be some distance from the railway station.

I imagine we'll be looking for a while. Neither of us has a great deal of free time, and we need to be able to look at places together, which is a further restriction; obviously, I can take my time off at pretty much any actual time, but Yuriko can't. Still, I have a pretty nice place to live at the moment, so I don't need to worry too much about taking my time to look around and get a feel for the market before buying. It's not like house prices are shooting up around me, after all.