Thursday, January 24, 2013

Shotty Construction

The neighborhood I grew up in consist of houses mainly built in the 50’s and 60’s. That means the houses are about 50-60 years old. Although the houses were once a pop-up community, the construction was solid, and the layout of the neighborhood is pleasant, so the neighborhood continues to flourish.

College students occupy most of the smaller houses. College students have occupied many of those houses for my entire life (25 years), and even with the poor maintenance practices of college students, paired with apathetic landlords, the houses remain solid, and will likely be around for many more years.

I think Japan must be an architect’s nightmare. Loose soils,and earthquakes are enough to make my head spin, but paired with steep slopes,heavy summer rainfall, and tsunamis, there are a lot of elements to fight in this country. I don’t think this is an excuse for the abysmal construction work I see around town. Houses for the most part in my area aren't intended to last more than 30 years. On my walk home from Uenohara ES, I walk by houses that are literally crumbling, some of the houses are only about 25 years old, the windows have to be boarded up, because the house has warped too much, and the windows shatter. There are gaping holes in the walls, and in some, there are pieces of plywood over holes in the floor of the upper grounds. If it were a choice between homelessness, and a roof over my head, I see that these houses in ruins are the better option. The part that makes me sad though is that at some point these people had enough money to buy the house outright, but it now has no value. Even the land the houses are built on aren't enough to help the people whose homes have crumbled around them. In town the cost of tearing down a house costs more than the land it occupies.  One of the houses is on the main street, it no longer has doors, most of the windows are broken, and the floor inside is so littered in holes I see them stepping from hole to hole instead of on the floor boards. Sometimes when a house is no longer fit to live in, and the family has enough money to build a new one, the old house is just left abandoned, this gives an opportunity to those whose houses are too dangerous to live in, or someone who has recently come on hard times.

In my town, the value of houses increases almost regardless of other factors. There have been houses drenched in cat pee, and infested with a whole zoo’s worth of critters, but the house still sold for more than an average person makes in a year. Building a house in Japan costs less than in the states, but it would cost more than a year’s wages for a middle class family.The idea that you would have to throw a year’s worth of wages at something that in 30 years would be worth nothing, just flabbergasts me.
House on Main Street

House on Main Street

To me it is just mind boggling that houses here are constructed so poorly. Laminates are used for flooring, wall papers are plastered up on walls that let moisture seep into the house constantly, the walls are so thin that without some sort of energy input the house is always the same temperature inside as outside. The houses don’t look nice for very long, and make you constantly choose between comfort, or extreme power consumption.
New and Old

In a mostly socialist first world country, the housing system just seems absurd. I can’t imagine that it wouldn't help people economically to have lasting quality housing, with insulation, that would remain safe for generations. For the betterment of Japanese people, I really think there needs to be a change. 

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