Posts Tagged ‘housing’

Creative shelters bring privacy to Tohoku evacuees

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

ShelterBox tents are helping families regain privacy in evacuation centers in Iwate Prefecture

A UN report on March 19 stated that there were 376,907 people taking shelter in evacuation centers in the areas affected by the recent tsunami. While that number goes down daily as refugees are housed by relatives and friends, the numbers of people living in cramped conditions at evacuation centers is still high. Fortunately for some evacuees, temporary schemes are being implened to immediately improve their privacy and the temporary housing projects that are currently being constructed.

Architect Shigeru Ban‘s disaster relief project aims to tackle the immediate problem of privacy. “For the first few days, it’s O.K., but then people suffer because there’s no privacy between families. It normally takes a few months before they can move into temporary government housing,” Ban said in a recent interview in the New York Times. Ban’s solution is simple: Canvas sheets are hung from a frame constructed of rolled paper poles to create a partitioned area in which families can retreat from the public eye. Financed with donations from around the world, the kits are shipped out to evacuations centers in the affected areas. Details about how to contribute can be found on the Shigeru Ban website.

U.K.-based charity ShelterBox are sending out emergency kits that contain a tent, blankets, tools, crayons and coloring books for kids and cooking utensils. “Our tents are being used by young families as a private space and a sleeping area. This is incredibly important for morale and is giving the families back a sense of dignity,” says ShelterBox Field Operations Specialist Mark Pearson on the charity’s website. Rikuzentakata and Ofunato, both in Iwate Prefecture, are areas that have received ShelterBox kits so far.

In Rikuzentakata temporary housing for the 1,000 people currently living in evacuation centers is already being constructed. According to Bloomberg News, pre-fabricated shelters like these are constructed by Japan Prefabricated Construction and Suppliers Association, a group that includes big name house builders like Sekisui House and Daiwa House Industry.

Another possibility for future housing looks to be eco-warrior Michael Reynolds’ Earthship. According to MNM.com, earthquake resistant homes made from recycled materials that support sustainable living could possibly be constructed in affected areas in the future. Reynolds has previously overseen the construction of Earthships for victims of the Haiti earthquake and is considering the same for Japan. “Earthship Biotecture is currently gathering information on getting to Japan,” Reynolds wrote in a strongly worded anti-nuclear statement on Earthship Biotechture’s website.

Apartment shares in Japan draw a share of the herd

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Hitsuji Real Esate, for those who want to share

Hitsuji Real Esate, for those who want to share

Last October the Japanese edition of the magazine The Big Issue addressed the youth housing problem in Japan, conducting a survey of young Japanese in Tokyo and Osaka and interviewing several experts on the topic. Kobe University Professor of Human Development and Environmental Studies Yosuke Hirayama noted that changing demographics have caused housing problems for Japan’s youth. Most housing benefits came from “groups” that people joined – notably companies and families. Participation in these groups, however, is declining. People are waiting longer to get married, and the number of people with regular employment is falling. Housing subsidies and cheap company housing provided by companies for full-time employees enabled young people to save money, which they could put toward a house in the future.

Options for youth now are limited. Young singles are not usually eligible for cheap public housing, and while post-bubble deflation affected most of the economy, rents continued to rise. This has lead to “parasite singles” (youth who live rent-free with parents, draining their resources) and “net cafe refugees” (people who, not being able to make rent, turn to cheap options at net cafes for a place to turn in for the night).

Hitsuji Real Estate is a Web site that is doing its best to promote collective housing as a solution to the problem. The site, which started in 2005, maintains an extensive list of apartment shares across Japan, most of which are in the Kanto area. In exchange for listings on the site, which include professional photographs, apartments must meet the standards of the site. This is in contrast to the looser atmosphere of roomshare.jp, a message board where those with rooms to rent and those looking for rooms can freely post messages and search text listings.

In the survey conducted by The Big Issue, however, 60 percent of respondents stated that they did not want to live in shared housing because “it would be troublesome to live with strangers.” While cash-strapped foreigners in Japan have long opted for guest houses and shared housing, such as the English-friendly Sakura House, Japanese have been more hesitant to use the same techniques, perhaps with the exception of university dormitories. In order to help, Hitsuji Real Estate provides a detailed FAQ on the site with answers to questions like “Who lives there?” “What is it like to live there?” “Do problems ever happen?” and “What does dormitory-style mean?”

Some young Japanese are even working on their own to combat the housing problem, which I can attest from personal experience. I currently share an apartment with five Japanese and one Korean. Teppei Ohashi, one of my roommates, incorporated himself into the company G Place and rented the apartment. Initially all the roommates were Japanese. They lived together at a guesthouse in Gotanda and decided to move somewhere smaller. My roommate Ayako noted that it was, to a certain extent, easier to live in the guesthouse, as there was less responsibility, beyond paying your own rent and keeping the place clean. The apartment does have its perks – more space and privacy. Teppei rents another apartment as well, which he then lets out as a women-only apartment share. Currently three women from Myanmar are living there while they work at a bento company. As is evident from his site, he has other apartments and is looking for other real estate to rent out.

He is also interested in collective housing as a solution to Japan’s aging population – if young and old could share together, he believes, the young could help care for the old as part of their daily life. He works as a caretaker, spending some nights on call.

The media coverage in Japan treats shared housing as exceptional cases, which is easy when you find a group of geeks living together, but it’s clear that, despite hesitancy, collective housing is becoming more natural for the natives.

Read more about the benefits of shared housing in Japan on Yen for Living.

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