TOKYO (Nikkei)–The Great East Japan Earthquake has led to a polarization of land prices in the hard-hit Tohoku region of northeastern Japan that could make it harder for residents to rebuild their lives. At the same time, the devastation has given local governments an opportunity to develop safer, more future-oriented communities.
The wide price gaps are especially conspicuous in the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. Two properties separated by a national highway exemplify this polarization: In the government land-price survey for 2012, one property saw the biggest price increase and the other saw the third-largest decline.
Land prices in the old Ishinomaki port district of Yoshino fell 15.9% on the year. The area is still reeling from the tsunami. Banks and shops on the main shopping street there remain shuttered, and a once-thriving dental clinic has moved to a different location. Anxious about the future, people are streaming out of Yoshino in search of a safer place to live.
By contrast, land prices in the new residential district of Shirasagidai, upland from Yoshino, surged 60.7% on the year.
The disaster has made finding safe living quarters the top priority for many people in affected areas. But it takes time to carve up mountains and hills to develop new residential areas on higher ground. Major housing developers estimate it will take at least two to three years to clear land for residential purposes. The shortage of potential relocation sites is fueling the polarization of land prices.
Inefficiencies in the process for rebuilding residential areas are seen as a reason for the extreme land price gaps. In areas hit hard by tsunami, municipalities are still trying to draw up land-use plans, hampering housing construction. This means that moves to build safe, new towns have yet to gain momentum.
Relocating large chunks of towns and residential areas is easier said than done. Given that most potential relocation sites are located in remote areas surrounded by forests and farmland, preparing the land for new use would entail cumbersome work and involve a slew of stakeholders. In addition, relocating an entire community would require a consensus to be reached among residents.
In Fukushima Prefecture, meanwhile, land prices in all surveyed areas fell due to the nuclear disaster.
High levels of radiation have been gauged at parks in the city of Koriyama. The city government has been cleaning up contaminated areas, but fear is building among residents. The owner of a dry-cleaning shop there said sales this winter fell 30% on the year. Families are moving out in droves, and prices of nearby commercial land have fallen 11.9%.
But not all is bad news in the battered northeast. Tsunami-ravaged areas near JR Ishinomaki Station have been buzzing with the construction of condominiums. In the shopping arcade in front of the station, the Mitsukoshi department store recently opened a small outlet, prompting souvenir shops dealing in local specialties to resume operations.
Tohoku is still struggling to rebuild from the devastation wrought a year ago, so a temporary polarization in land prices may be inevitable. But if no action is taken, people in coastal areas will keep moving out. And land prices in the limited number of residential areas on higher ground will soar to extreme levels, which could make it impossible for some people to relocate.
Eyes on the future
The municipal government of Higashimatsushima, also in Miyagi, recently launched a large-scale land development project in its western inland district in which it plans to build a residential area of about 1,500 households on 201 hectares of land it has purchased.
The city plans to rebuild tsunami-damaged transportation infrastructure, such as moving inland East Japan Railway Co.’s (9020) Senseki Line connecting Sendai and Ishinomaki and other roads. The new residential area will be equipped with solar power generation facilities to establish a sustainable energy supply system.
The project involves too many complicated issues for the private sector to undertake, so the municipal government is committed to taking the reins to demonstrate its leadership in building a safer town for its people.
(The Nikkei March 29 morning edition)