Japan’s oldest condominium building to be demolished
The Asahi Shimbun
By Ippei Minetoshi
30 March 2016

The Miyamasuzaka Building, which housed the nation's first privately-owned condominiums, in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward in February 2016 (Ippei Minetoshi)

From a window in the apartment building where she lived for much of her adult life, 81-year-old Kimi Sekine was in a unique position to observe the transformation of Tokyo's bustling Shibuya district.

In the late 60s, soon after she moved in, Sekine said she could still hear the sound of whistles on passenger boats docked at the Takeshiba wharf some five kilometers away: but not now, and not for many years, because of the plethora of new high-rise buildings, rapid development and traffic noise.

After 63 years and fraying around the edges, the oldest condominium building in Japan faces the wrecking ball, and with it, a slice of architectural history is passing.

The 11-story Miyamasuzaka Building, a stone's throw from iconic JR Shibuya Station, housed the nation’s first privately-owned apartments. The condominiums were commercially marketed by the Tokyo metropolitan government in 1953.

The Miyamasuzaka Building, center right, stands tall among low houses and shop buildings in 1955. The wide street by the apartment is the Miyamasuzaka slope, for which the building is named after. (Provided by Shibuya Miyamasu Shopping District Promotion Association)

At the time, Japan was beginning to recover from the devastation of war. The era of high economic growth was around the corner. And the idea of privately-owned real estate in the sky was novel.

Demolition is due to start in spring, signaling yet again how the march of progress never wanes in this neighborhood of central Tokyo.

The residents were torn about leaving, but finally decided there was no choice but to allow for the building to be demolished to make way for a new complex.

According to the Housing Research & Advancement Foundation of Japan, a public interest incorporated foundation, the apartments in the Miyamasuzaka Building were the first apartment properties commercially marketed to be owned privately in Japan.

“It was stimulating to watch over the ever-transforming city around Shibuya Station from my window," said Sekine, who moved out in February after 47 years. "I was expecting to live here until the end of my life, so I was initially against the reconstruction idea.”

Sekine moved in to a corner unit on the 10th floor at age of 35 in 1969, and commuted to a trading company in Minato Ward until she retired when she turned 60.

“Back then, there were no tall buildings around that block the sound (of boat whistles). I loved how things were,” she said.

Kimi Sekine, 81, reflects on the years she lived at the Miyamasuzaka Building while standing in the communal corridor. (Ippei Minetoshi)

Initially, the first floor was used by retailers, and business offices occupied the second to fourth floors. The fifth floor and above housed 70 apartment units. The original price tag was around 1 million yen for a unit with two rooms and the dining kitchen, covering 34 square meters or so. ( 366 square feet)

In the early years, a female elevator attendant in blue uniform and white gloves ushered in visitors and residents, according to Teruyo Mitsuda, 69, who heads the association for the rebuilding project and inherited her apartment from her mother.

Unit 507 retains the original features of the apartment built in 1953. (Provided by Asahi Kasei Fudousan Residence Corp.)

The building was fitted with the latest mod cons, central heating, garbage chutes, gas-heated baths and flush toilets.

The residents included a bank branch manager and a university professor.

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