Oldest apartment building in Tokyo’s Ginza

I stumbled across this Japanese blog by “mocomarimoco” that waxes elegant about the oldest apartment building in the Ginza district of Tokyo with an amazing slideshow of construction decrepitude….

2009.05 mocomarimoco.blog

Okuno Building(formerly called the “Ginza Apartments”)
Perhaps the oldest apartment building in Tokyo’s Ginza district it now has many art galleries and some offices. Although it seems genteelly shabby, one has to wonder if the building’s management actually cares about the place?
Completed in 1932 is building has survived 77 years….
….The Okuno Building seems to been awarded the Important Cultural Asset status by the Chou Ward government of Tokyo.

Between earthquakes, war, fires and the developed world’s worst construction quality, Tokyo buildings are constructed for only a 20-30 year lifespan.* Hence this building that has survived 77 years is considered an “Important Cultural Asset” even though the structure itself is considered to have a huge negative value (and land beneath it is worth billions).
*Refer to: Japan must kick the habit (of crappy housing)www.TimesOnline.co.UK

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I'm a pale, alien, quadruped who has worked for 25+ years at "Maybe-the-Largest Inc." in Tokyo.

6 thoughts on “Oldest apartment building in Tokyo’s Ginza”

  1. Another masterpiece it seems (in a good sense of the term).

    Like this one:


    Only from 1970. I wish I could locate them on google earth prior to my next trip to the sweaty armpit.

    In Paris these kind of building (kinda bauhaus-ish/art deco for some) are usually classified monument -untouchable- like the Mairie de Boulogne Billancourt


  2. Okuno bld is awesome! One of my favourite stops when touring art galleries in Tokyo.

  3. Re: “… even though the structure itself is considered to have a huge negative value…”

    Could you explain exactly what you mean by that? That sentence appears to be saying that the building costs its owners money. That’s not the case. It’s a profitable structure that continues to generate revenue for it’s owners.

  4. [Oldest apartment building in Ginza is a] profitable structure … [and it] continues to generate revenue for its owners.

    Yes, it’s “profitable” but not compared to what it could be making (and the high property taxes would be crippling). That old structure generates a massively lower amount of revenue than the surrounding structures. Basically, it’s like running a junkyard facing on Rodeo Drive.

    In the case of the oldest apartment building in Ginza, rents have declined during Japan’s Lost Decades* but property taxes that apartment building have edged up because taxes have increased slowly and the value of the surrounding buildings is so high. In addition, from my visits, it is obvious the building needs a full-scale re-pointing of its brickwork, which would cost many bazillion yen. Right now the brickwork veneer is falling off. The apartment building has never been properly re-pointed in its life, but re-pointing needs to done every 15 years in seismically-active Tokyo.

    Buildings in Japan are depreciating assets in Japan similar to automobiles. Just like an automobile, the moment you move into a Japanese house, it loses 10%+ of its value. After the lifespan of a Japanese building, which is only 20-to-25 years, the building itself is a negative value as it must be torn down or undergo a 110% remodeling stripped to the studs or bare concrete walls. While the land may have a small increase of value, the expenses of the building teardown or massive remodeling makes the bare land worth more than the land with an existing older building.

    As Japanese buildings age fall apart increasing maintenance costs and rents drop. Landlords and individual owners tend to just give up a building after 25 years saying Japan’s official motto, Shogannai ™ (It can’t be helped).

    The larger WTF question is “WHY?”

    There’s many reasons why Japanese structures have negative value (I’ve been slowing gathering material and writing a book about it). The main reason is a vicious cycle:
    Japanese buildings are built with the lowest possible quality because they lose all value in 20-25 years…And because Japanese buildings have no value after 20-25 years, they built with the lowest-cost materials possible.

    The cultural reasons for this wacky situation are multifold:
    • Traditionally houses were built of wood and paper since earthquakes, fires and tsunami destroyed everything every 10 to 20 years,
    • Old structures gather cockroaches, mold and bad Shinto “vibes” so it’s always best to start afresh with a new house each generation,
    • Etc. As I said, it is going to take writing a loooooong book to explain it.)

    As you might guess, gaijin/foreign building owners can make a fortune buying fully-depreciated Japanese structures, rehabbing, and then renting them out to other foreigners who don’t have the Japanese culture blinders of Old-Building=Bad. More than half of Shinjuku is owned by Chinese doing just that.

  5. Thank you for your informative further explanation about the screwy situation in Japan in terms of housing. In my experience things here in Japan are always more complicated than they them seem. It is good to know I are not alone in the struggle for adequate housing here in Japanese housing hell.
    Take care.

  6. “Right now the brickwork veneer is falling off.”

    There are a couple of places where the bricks have come loose, but 99% of the bricks seem to be attached well enough.

    It’s actually a pretty solid old building. Built not long after the Great Kanto Earthquake (in 1932 and 1934, BTW, not just 1932), they put some serious effort into making it solid – with reinforced corners, etc.

    Whatever the accountants, loan sharks, Godzilla construction industry, politicians, etc. say, I hope the building continues along as it is. God knows there are too few historical buildings in Tokyo!

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