Godzilla doesn't even make the list
Steve S. posted a link to this article in a comment last month, and I kind of liked it so decided to do a Japanese version. So without further ado, here are my nine scariest things about owning property in Japan:
1. Loss of equity
This the big one. It's the main reason why people outside of Japan cannot understand the situation here, and people in Japan can't understand the real estate situation elsewhere.
Basically houses in Japan depreciate, and while land may keep its value, the house on it will be worth less and less as time goes on, going to zero or even minus numbers (to account for the costs of demolishing the building) after a number of decades.
One big consequence of this is that it can be very difficult to move once you have bought a house.
2. Natural disasters
Earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, floods, volcanoes, typhoons, oh my.
Japan has more than its fair share of natural disasters, many of which can affect (or destroy) your property. Insurance may or may not cover you -definitely worth looking very carefully at the fine print.
3. Incorrect property tax
Property tax is set by the local authority, and sometimes they make mistakes. Like many bureaucracies, in Japan if you make a mistake it's your responsibility to make things right, and if the bureaucrats make a mistake... well, these things happen.
4. Crappy neighbours
We had a bad experience with this when we rented a house. One of our neighbours was a troubled man in his 40s living alone in a small apartment in front of our house. He took a dislike to us that slowly escalated up to him repeatedly shouting at my wife in the street, grabbing her arm on one occasion, and coming round in the middle of the night to complain that our cats (that were sleeping in the living room) were walking around outside.
I was able to restrain my urge to put his head through a window and the police (who were great) eventually told him he wasn't allowed to talk to us and should go through them if he had a problem. Very stressful and unpleasant, and seemingly not rare in Japan.
We were happy to see the end of him when we moved out, but if you don't have the option to move...
5. New buildings going up next door
This is another big one tied into the lack of ability to move. You find the place of your dreams, build the perfect house and settle in to enjoy the wonderful view. Then someone buys the land next door and builds a larger house a couple of feet from your bay windows.
To ameliorate this you can look into the laws and regulations in your area (that can limit the height of houses, etc.), try to predict what the land around you will be used for (our in-laws' land is next to a prefectural park and a cliff, so I think it's unlikely people will build on it), and plan your house to avoid unpleasant surprises.
6. Unwelcome guests
Japan has some truly terrifying wildlife. For house owners, termites (shiro ari in Japanese) might be top of the list. Once they move in (burrowing in invisibly from underneath the house) they quickly eat the timber and insulation in your walls and require expensive repairs. There are a few ways to deal with them (the housebuilders we're talking to were explaining a few of them) involving treating wood so that it is unappetising or poisonous to them, but the main factor seems to be vigilance and luck.
Cockroaches are less serious but potentially more unpleasant. We found one in our flat last week, and operating on the principle that where there is one there are more we bought a bunch of cockroach traps (gokiburi hoi hoi in Japanese) and spread them throughout the kitchen. Nothing so far, so either it was alone or we are infested with hyperintelligent cockroaches...
Suzumebachi (Japanese giant hornets) are potentially lethal, but rarer and easier to clear up. Avoid if possible, seek medical help if stung, and get professional help if you find a nest on or near your property.
7. Human disasters
Top of the list (if very unlikely) would be nuclear accidents, but chemical spills or leaks, major accidents, or fires can seriously affect your property, and as with natural disasters, your insurance may or may not cover you.
8. Maintenance costs
One reason houses fall apart after thirty years in Japan is that many people don't carry out repairs and maintenance. Weatherproofing, termite coating, roof or exterior replacements may all become necessary at some point.
One consequence of the lack of awareness/implementation of repairs is that they cost more than they might if they were more widespread.
The way a lot of housing is handled in Japan is that development companies create large estates of houses all at the same time (sometimes called new towns). If all goes to plan all the houses sell and young families (mostly) move in. This means that everyone living there is about the same age.
In the early years there are a lot of kids and the area is lively, but as time goes by the kids grow up and move out. After that the owners get older and start dying and getting ill. There are no kids any more so the local schools close. Houses start being abandoned. In extreme cases local services, transport, and utilities are shut down.
This is actually the case in the area my in-laws live in (where we are thinking of rebuilding their house). It was a new town 40 years ago, so now it's becoming a depopulated town. One benefit: it's very quiet!
And one bonus one:
*. Mortgage liability
To be honest, this seems to be the same in the UK, but in Japan you cannot just give the property to the bank and walk away. You are liable for the remaining amount of the loan, minus whatever they can get from selling the property.
So even the people who were about to move into their new house only to see it washed away by the tsunami were liable to pay the mortgage. These may have been subsequently forgiven or reduced but in principle were due regardless.
How about you? Any stories to share? Anything we should add to the list?