'Rabbit-hutch nation' yearns in vain for more room: Prospective house-buyers are being priced out of the market, Terry McCarthy writes from Tokyo

HIROSHI SUZUKI is in his early forties, has been working for the same company for more than 15 years, and has risen to a managerial position with considerable responsibilities, often having to use up his weekends on business trips within Japan for company meetings. He is married with two children, and once confided that his salary is 'just under 10m yen (pounds 40,000)' - way above the national average, which is closer to pounds 25,000.

But partly because he and his wife are saving for their children's education, and partly because his company has said he may be transferred to another town, he has not bought his own house. He lives in a small two-bedroomed apartment, and when I first got to know him he used to make jokes about Japan's notorious 'rabbit- hutch housing' to cover his embarrassment at the size of his house.

Like most Japanese, Mr Suzuki would dearly like to own a house, but he cannot afford to. Buying a house is a huge venture in Japan, with land prices as high as they are: on average, a house costs seven times a worker's annual salary, even more in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Since Mr Suzuki's company cannot tell him where he will be working in the next five years, the whole investment is too much of a risk.

Statistically, Mr Suzuki belongs to the second-richest nation, per capita, in the developed world (after Switzerland). When I told him that, he just laughed. 'Europeans and Americans have a much better life,' he said. 'Japan is different.'

The government of Kiichi Miyazawa has, at least on the surface, admitted this discrepancy. Mr Miyazawa has pledged repeatedly to make Japan a 'lifestyle superpower'. Campaigning for the upper house elections last July, he acknowledged that Japanese are seen to live in the infamous rabbit hutches.

But behind the rhetoric, the government has shown as little interest in improving citizens' standards of living as it has in cleaning up political corruption. Japan, as Mr Suzuki says, is different.

Take last month's supplementary budget, for example. A total of Y10.7 trillion, or 2.3 per cent of the GNP, was earmarked for reviving the country's sagging economy. Of that, a mere Y800bn was destined to help the consumer, in the form of increased public housing loans. The rest was concentrated on helping businesses and the financial system to get out of its slump. Not a whiff of tax decreases or anything else to help the long-suffering workhorse population. But a closer look at the budget shows that not only is it not consumer-friendly, it will actually make life even harder for the would-be house-buyer, by attempting to keep property prices high. This is in contradiction of Mr Miyazawa's pious goal of reducing house prices to an average of five times a worker's salary. More than three-quarters of the budget is aimed directly or indirectly at supporting property prices at their high levels. This is to stop the nation's banks getting into hot water over imprudent loans, using property as collateral, in the 'bubble economy' years that begen at the end of the 1980s. No one, however, is complaining. The government is highly practised at stimulating Japan's remarkable group psychology. The prospect of the annual growth rate dropping below 2 per cent (to levels that the British Treasury, can only dream of now) has been blown up into a nightmare that apparently threatens the existence of the nation. There are dark hints that Japan might even suffer job losses - horror of horrors.

So Mr Suzuki and his compatriots shell out Y84,920 each to pay for last month's budget, to save the necks of a small group of bankers and real-estate speculators. Not surprisingly, the financial markets loved it, and the stock market has leapt by 25 per cent.

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin