Hyogo: Aging of Condominiums Posing Problem for Ashiya Upscale Residential Area

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Detached homes and mid-rise condominiums are seen in the central area of Ashiya, Hyogo Prefecture. High-rise condominiums stand on the beach side.

ASHIYA, Hyogo — The city of Ashiya in Hyogo Prefecture, one of the Kansai region’s most upscale residential areas, is often associated with grand mansions. But it also has one of Japan’s higher concentrations of condominiums.

This has created a problem for the city, as condominiums are aging and may ruin the scenery.

Ashiya is highly rated as a high-class residential area shaped by a unique blend of Japanese and Western culture and lifestyles, called “Hanshinkan Modernism” (Modernism of the Hanshin area). The exquisite living environment, dubbed the “Ashiya brand,” has been protected by strict regulations.

The city’s Rokurokuso district in particular is heavily regulated and is one of the most exclusive residential areas in the nation. The district at the foot of Mt. Rokko is filled with rows of houses surrounded by stone walls and decorated with plants. Only detached houses with plots of at least 400 square meters can be newly built there under a municipal rule, the so-called luxurious mansion ordinance.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A row of mansions surrounded by stone walls is seen in the Rokurokuso district, a particularly high-class residential area in Ashiya

Originally, Ashiya was a farming village with white sand and pine trees. After the Hanshin Electric Railway started running through the village and businesspeople from Osaka were drawn there in search of a place to live, Ashiya began to expand. Among the people who moved to Ashiya was writer Junichiro Tanizaki, and Ashiya became the setting for his famous novel “Sasameyuki” (“The Makioka Sisters”).

But the residential area began to change around 1965.

The Japan News

After many homeowners became unable to pay inheritance taxes and sold their lands, mansions were demolished and their stone walls were left behind. Mid-rise condominiums appeared on the sites.

In the 1980s and ’90s, There was a flurry of condominium concentration. In the 2000s, residents staged a protest against more construction, claiming that it would spoil the scenery.

Another ordinance

Condominiums are popular in Ashiya and account for 36.4% of the total number of residential units in the city. Ashiya ranks fourth in the nation for this index, on par with municipalities in Tokyo, where many tower condominiums stand facing Tokyo Bay.

“Vendors are looking for plots that were used for mansions because they are in high demand among people raising children and offer high profit margins for businesses,” said Keiko Fukami, president of the Ashiya Fudosan real estate agency, who has been doing business in Ashiya for many years.

The city has protected the local scenery with strict regulations not only on the height of buildings but also on outdoor advertisements. In addition, there is an ordinance to promote the burying of power lines. However, the city is in a situation where the beautiful scenery of the upscale residential area, or the Ashiya brand, may be damaged.

An increasing number of condominiums are facing problems nationwide due to aging or poor management, and Ashiya is no exception. There are 419 condominiums with 10 or more units in the city and 105 of them are over 40 years old. They are said to have such problems as exterior walls falling off and the corrosion of reinforcing steel.

Alarmed by the situation, the municipal government decided to enact an ordinance requiring the condominiums’ management associations to report repair plans and other information, and aims to bring the mandate into force in July. Eight local governments across the country have already similar ordinances.

“The city’s townscape has been preserved by condominiums built inside the stone walls of the mansions as if inheriting them,” said Masahiro Miyake, a professor at Mukogawa Women’s University. “If the aged condominiums are not properly managed, the townscape that has been preserved until today will be damaged.”

Hanshinkan Modernism

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Yodoko Guest House designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright

The modernism of the Hanshin area is the style that emerged in the region between Osaka and Kobe at the beginning of the 20th century. It was regarded as free, smart and stylish, and was introduced in a variety of fields, including architecture, literature and the arts. Cultural figures who moved from Tokyo to Ashiya after 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, including author Junichiro Tanizaki, propelled the movement to new heights of popularity. Buildings in the style include the Yodoko Guest House in Ashiya, designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.