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Why old homes and city farms are disappearing

Kyodo mansion entrance

For a city that suffered tremendous human and structural damages from World War II fire bombs, it is sad how little efforts are taken to preserve older houses and farms in Tokyo. The tax code, which levies an inheritance tax on the real value of property, literally forces many families to sell or subdivide their childhood homes in order to pay the tax bill.

Kyodo mansion overview

When parents die, the wooden homes with large yards and small urban farms become quickly transformed into multi-unit condos and apartments. New construction in Tokyo is often cheap and pre-fabricated, with the idea being that buildings should last for thirty years before being raised and rebuilt. Old gardens and trees are replaced with hardscape that provides neither shade nor habitat.

Kyodo mansion side view

Above are images of a grand home and garden near Nodai, the Tokyo University of Agriculture. It is one of only a handful of historic homes along the 20 minute walk between the Kyodo station and Nodai.

Below is an example from my neighborhood of brand new construction of a six unit building on what was previously a single family lot with garden. The amount of planting probably covers less than 2% of the lot size, and there’s four parking spaces paved in front.

New construction in Nakano

Changes to the tax code are necessary to stop this steady erasure of history and habitat. Click the link below to see another nearby house during demolition and its rebuilt form.

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Peach truck

Peach truck in Jiyugaoka

A common Tokyo summer sight are mini pick-up trucks parked near train stations selling fruit, like this peach truck in Jiyugaoka. The sign on the back says “Directly from Yamanashi, cheap, cheap.”

The summer fruit vendor remains me of the “Arabbers” of Baltimore, who since the early 1800s have sold fruit and vegetables on highly decorated horse-drawn carts. According to the preservation society, the numbers have recently increased from one to six arabbers still working today.

Arabber in Baltimore