Living on the Edge: Despair and Destruction of Tokyo's Aging Community
Hanahata (literally means Field of Flowers in Japanese) apartment complex is located on the very edge of northern Tokyo's Adachi-ward. It was constructed in 1964 by the Japanese Government to solve a huge housing shortage in Japan's post-war rapid economy growth (1). The Hanahata community contains 80 buildings (each building is a five-storied, has no elevator), nursery school, post office, shopping square, and two community centers on about 19 hectare (about 47 acre) land plot. When they were built, the concrete flats and its community were considered superior suburban chic for the middle class echelons and even extremely competitive to win a residential ticket alone under public lottery. It has a capacity of 2725 units in 80 buildings.
Today, the Hanahata Danchi (apartment complex) is nearly half empty, more than 1000 units are unoccupied and the exodus of residents has no end in sight.It has been 10 years since it stopped accepting new residential applicants for the reasons of its aging building structures and a future renovation (or gentrification) plan. Approximately 65% of the remaining residents are over 65 year old. As a result, an eerie marginalized ghost town-like atmosphere is overwhelming.
Aging residents feel that they are left behind, have been anxious for the past 10 years, but hang in there with all their might and strong sense of commitment to the remaining community which has been nurtured for the past 45 years (2). Yet, an elder's solitary death called Kodokushi (3) which is mainly caused by one's social isolation and weakened ties to community and family was befallen to one of the Hanahata Danchi units a few years ago. The body of a lone 76 year old man was found dead inside his flat a week after his death. Today, the government-affiliated independent corporation, called UR Agency which administrates the Hanahata Danchi has a plan to demolish the half of the complex and sell the real estate, and finally to remove the rest of residents to the renovated other half, yet its plan is still uncertain for the foreseeable future due to lack of a blueprint for both environmental and economical infrastructure. Prospects for real estate buyers in this stalled economy and already depopulating community remain dim as well. The UR Agency is still in the middle of negotiating with the remaining residents.
The issues facing the Hanahata Danchi community reflect the coming of Japan's graying society, the Japanese government's incompetent bureaucracy, the crumbling rights of tenants, and the collapse of a tightly held community, as Shouji Watanabe, 80, teacher of the Hanahata Danchi Go club, said, "I didn't know I could live this long,....It is very rude to say like this, but seems they (the UR agency) expect us to die out right here, right now."
(1) Similar numerous apartment complexes called Danchi were constructed during the 1960s in Tokyo, Osaka, and other major cities under the government agency, Japan Housing Corporation. The Japan Housing Corporation was originally established in 1955 under Prime Minister, Ichiro Hatoyama, grandfather of current Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama. Since Japan's economy bubble was burst in the '90s, the government organization has been changed to more free-market oriented, quasi-privatized independent administrative, renamed as the UR Agency, acronym of Urban Renaissance under Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi's wing in 2004. Today, the UR Agency manages about seven hundred and seventy thousand (770,000) units in its Danchis nationwide. The UR Agency has been criticized as one of hotbeds of Amakudari, institutionalized top-down bureaucratic practice where Japanese senior servants retire to the private and public sectors linked with their ministries or agencies. This Amakudari practice, however, will be restricted under the new Democratic Party of Japan regime. It may also have an impact on the UR Agency's budget and its uses, and consequently the Hanahata Danchi's future.ü€€ü€€ü€€
(2) According to 2008's Hanahata Residents' Association survey, 63.8% of the residents wanted to stay in the Hanahata Danchi, only 5.1% wanted to move out. Also,in this February 2009, there was a small protest march of union for the working poor who immediately needed a shelter and questioned the UR agency's vacant policy in the Hanahata Danchi.
(3) According to UR Agency data, in 2008, more than 600 cases of Kodokushi were confirmed in the UR housings alone. About 400 cases were over 65 years old. The figure is increasing every year. So far, no national records are kept of the number of Kodokushi but it is one of Japan's understated serious problems in addition to high rate of suicide or the youth's social isolation, shutting out behaviors called Hikikomori. In part, one can say that Kodokushi results from an elder's version of Hikikomori and is similar to committing gradual unconscious suicide. Overall, these problems could be attributed to Japan's culture of shame and stoicism, and the social stigma attached to one's shame.
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Newly installed gate to the rooftop of Building #35.2009/07/25
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A bird eye view of the western part of Hanahata Danchi (apartment complex). So far, this area has been designated as "reconstruction and future development zone." The buildings are considered too old to have enough earthquake proof by the UR Agency, yet some architecture experts and residents question its credibility, insisting that Danchi building can last longer than the UR Agency's estimate. All Hanahata Danchi buildings have no elevators. Saitama Prefecture is just across the Hanahata Danchi. 2009/07/19
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One of distinguished graffiti in front of Building #71. There are many kinds of graffiti on the walls of the Hanahata Danchi. Some are obscene enough, others are political. There is not much chance to have them erased due to the UR agency's negligence and shortage of the Hanahata' Danchi's Community Fund. 2009/05/16
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Akira Murakami, 75, has lived in the Hanahata Danchi's 2DK unit, which means two rooms in addition to the dining kitchen, for 45 years with his wife, Kazuko Murakami, 79. Recently he had a minor heart attack, so he can't go at a walk much. He says, "If I have to move out… well, It can't be helped."ü€€ He likes watching Sumo and Baseball games on TV. 2009/09/19
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One of closed store blocks nearby the Hanahata Danchi. One after another, shops have started to disappear from the Hanahata Danchi district since it stopped accepting new residential applicants 10 years ago. 2009/05/16
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A father teaches a baseball pitching form to his son at the Hanahata Danchi's Westside Playground. They are not residents of the Hanahata Danchi, just stopping by the park to play from nearby neighborhood. 2009/05/16
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Kiyoshi Ueki, 77, always keeps his neighborhood clean. He has lived in the Hanahata Danchi for 40 years with his wife. He says, "I am so happy to see my grandchild. It is one of my life's greatest pleasures right now." 2009/05/16
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Surveillance cameras and lights in the Hanahata Danchi's Westside Community Center and Playground. In addition to these measures, the UR Agency set a security patrol station in the Hanahata Danchi's shopping square for crime preventions in 2007. 2009/10/02
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Discarded Porn DVDs on the lawn next to Building #24. 2009/06/06
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Tokyo Metropolitan Police Force's Kabuki style Crime Prevention sticker keeps his eyes on the Hanahata Danchi neighborhood. It says, "We don't miss any crime activities." 2009/06/06
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A member from the Hanahata Residents’ Association pins up donation tabs for the annual Hanahata Danchi community's two-nights Summer Obon Dance festival at the park in front of Building #36. 2009/07/25
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The second night of the annual Hanahata Danchi community's two-nights Summer Obon Dance festival at the park in front of Building #36. The Hanahata Danchi community used to have its own annual athletic meeting event until a few years ago as well. The Hanahata Danchiresidents' strong sense of unity has been built through those community activities. 2009/07/25
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Members of the Hanahata Danchi Go club meet at the Westside Community Center every Sunday.The club used to have 50 members and own 40 Go boards, now reduced to 10 members. Only 3 to 6 members show up regularly nowadays. 2009/07/05
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Shouji Watanabe, 81, puts a chair back after weekly Go session at the Hanahata Danchi's Westside Community Center.The club used to have 50 members and own 40 Go boards, now reduced to 10 members. Only 3 to 6 members show up regularly nowadays. 2009/07/05
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A Sakai moving company crew carries discarded furniture for a resident who is moving out. More than 1000 units out of the Hanahata Danchi's 2725 units are unoccupied and the exodus of residents has no end in sight. 2009/07/12
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Nearly all sealed post boxes of Building #27. The sealed sign says, "Please, refrain from posting mails like fliers here." 2009/04/07
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Kazuko Murakami, 79, wife of Akira Murakami, climbs up stairs to her third floor apartment unit. Both of residents above and below her unit already moved out. She says, "A resident of the Fifth floor on the way down often stopped over at my unit to take a rest. Living in a third floor is not so bad."All Hanahata Danchi buildings have no elevators. 2009/09/19
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Kazuko Murakami, 79, makes a pot of tea in the dinning kitchen. She has lived in the Hanahata Danchi's 2DK unit (two rooms in addition to the dining kitchen) for 45 years with her husband. Both of residents above and below her unit already moved out. She won the Hanahata Danchi's residential lottery after numerous failed attempts -20 times- on other Japan Housing Corporation lotteries. She says, "If I have to move out,,,very hard to think about it especially for my age... I will have to throw away so many things. That's for sure." 2009/09/19
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Shouji Watanabe, 81, member of the Hanahata Danchi Go club, former taxi driver, prepares to leave after weekly Go session at the Hanahata Danchi's Westside Community Center.
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Hajime Hanada, 68, owner of Chinese restaurant of Building #78, Seika ,in the Hanahata Danchi's shopping square, worries about the future of the Hanahata Danchi community since his restaurant is the only one opened in the square and has survived for the past 45 years. He is a walking dictionary of the Hanahata Danchi. His restaurant also serves as the social hub in the community. He says, "There are so many gossips about the UR Agency plan and the future of this community flying around." 2009/08/02
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In 2001, All 99-yen convenience store (the big chain company) replaced posh Tobu railway owned store in the Hanahata Danchi's shopping square. One after another, shops have started to disappear from the Hanahata Danchi district since it stopped accepting new residential applicants 10 years ago. 2009/08/02
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The Hanahata Danichi (apartment complex) and jungle gym are reflected on a window curtain of the Eastside Community Center.A community warning notice is put on a window. It says," Caution! Do not loiter around the community center." 2009/08/02
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One of the Hanahata Danchi's remaining units gleams at night. An elder's solitary death called Kodokushi which is mainly caused by one's social isolation and weakened ties to community and family was befallen to one of the Hanahata Danchi units a few years ago. 2009/07/25
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Candidate posters for Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly Election on July 12, 2009 in the Hanahata Danchi. The Democratic Party of Japan won the election, took over the assembly as the Liberal Democratic Party slipped down from the top. 2009/07/12
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The Hanahata Danchi (apartment complex) and a Go club member on the way home by bicycle are reflected on a window of the Westside Community Center. 2009/07/05
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Building #29 and 30 of the Hanahata Danchi (apartment complex), are reflected on a pool of the field on a Sunday evening. 2009/06/21
Living on the Edge Living on the Edge: Despair and Destruction of Tokyo's Aging Community Hanahata (literally means Field of Flowers in Japanese) apartment complex is located on the very edge of northern Tokyo's Adachi-ward. It was constructed in 1964 by the Japanese Go...