'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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
David Silva strokes home his and City's second goal
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value

Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas