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Dull and Ugly Homeowners Lose

Neighbors lose legal battle against unsightly house

Makoto Chan House

There are two kinds of residences in Tokyo: dull, generic ugly houses and uniquely ugly houses. Most dull, generic ugly houses have no aesthetic: they are essentially tile-covered boxes in odd geometric shapes. The worst ones are formless masses covered in stucco. They are not “post-modern” or modernist houses that start to look ugly in a few years. They are born ugly.

There are also some ugly houses that are quite interesting. These are mostly houses from rich people who can hire their own architects.

Once in a while there are some visually attractive houses, but for some reason, they are all in unadorned reinforced concrete.

So the owners of dull, ugly houses in Kichijoji tried to force insane manga artist Umezu Kazuo to make his uniquely ugly red-and-white striped house more dull ugly. They lost. A great day for uniquely ugly houses.

A note: I think we’ve complained about this before, but the problem is clearly not that Japan does not know how to make handsome houses. Traditional Japanese houses are amazing! They’re beautiful! Even the Japanese like them and preserve them and pay lots of vacation money to go visit and stay in them! And yet no one has figured out how to make a modern building with a traditional Japanese-exterior? Instead they just build a wooden box and throw some tiles on it. Could it not be related to the fact that the Japanese construction industry is the most corrupt industry in Japan, maybe after entertainment?

W. David MARX
January 29, 2009

15 Responses

  1. M-Bone Says:

    You do see some nice ones outside of Tokyo. Kyushu does okay.

  2. MattAlt Says:

    I find it difficult to believe that this kind of case would have been brought against a lower-profile, less obviously rich individual.

  3. W. David MARX Says:

    I don’t know. I don’t see any boring poor people with giant red stripes on their houses.

  4. James Says:

    What about ごみ屋敷? The owners of those usually aren’t rich, and neighbors often try to file complaints with local authorities.

  5. Mulboyne Says:

    It is pretty common for neighbours to object to aspects of a new property development. Most of these issues are ironed out beforehand but some do go to arbitration. A smaller, but not insignificant number, do then go on to court it’s just that you don’t read about them in the newspapers.

  6. Roy Berman Says:

    There actually are nice looking new houses, which meld aesthetic traditional design with modern materials. But they’re pathetically rare. I admit I don’t know the details, but isn’t a big part of Japan’s hideous modern commodity architecture the result of various inheritance and tax laws that make it move economical to transfer the land but destroy the building sitting upon it, encouraging the manufacture of easily disposable junk?

    “Could it not be related to the fact that the Japanese construction industry is the most corrupt industry in Japan, maybe after entertainment?”
    Last week’s Gendai has an article asking “Has Yoshimoto Kogyo cut its ties with criminal gangs?” There’s an entertainment company with a name that sounds like a construction company. Ipso facto, they are the most corrupt company in Japan.

  7. W. David MARX Says:

    I like that the article assumes that links to the gangs is a normal, core part of their business.

  8. Matt Says:

    One problem is that the most visually appealing (to me) aspects of traditional Japanese architecture are tied up with the structure, the load-bearing patterns and so on, and they aren’t going back to traditional structures because they’re not as mass-producible or as easy to get in line with modern regulations. You could maybe plonk a big fiberglass or concrete trad roof on top of your concrete box, but I’d find that more depressing, personally. Proper new/old mixes are presumably doable but require a lot more money and dedication. If you’re the average young married couple choosing from a menu in an affordable new development, you can’t really press the issue.

  9. Roy Berman Says:

    How about getting some inspiration from that brick-heavy Japan-Western fusion architecture they built some of back in Meiji?

  10. Grzeg Says:

    The post-war grand housing initiative – new technologies, mass production and standardization models – begat the landscape of generic, ugly, generic residential landscape that is Tokyo’s architecture du jour d’hui. What’s more, these are Western techniques, imported to resolve the immediate crisis of ‘domesticating’ and ‘normalizing’ post-war Japan.

    Those Western-mish-mash styled, stuccoed houses are actually the object of blame for many local citizens, accusing that they cause much of the communal social disharmony found in Japan today!

    And yet no one has figured out how to make a modern building with a traditional Japanese-exterior?

    This though would be troubling; not only with the logistics of constructing modern earthquake-to-code houses, apartments, or multi-story buildings, but with the very question of mimicking an historical idea of "style-appropriateness" for a modern form. It could and only be an ahistorical, post-modern farce of Japanese "authenticity".

  11. porandojin Says:

    so strong opinion…. but it’s difficult to discuss taste … old wooden houses are cute, but i think there is a problem during earthquake- roof collapses easily … and anyway – usually, contemporary, regular architecture always seem ugly in its time …

  12. Matt Says:

    For what it’s worth, most new houses in Australia are remarkably ugly too (dull ugly, not interesting ugly). It’s just less obvious because they’re usually set further back on the property and spaced more widely apart.

    Given that almost all home-buyers are stretching their finances to the absolute limit, many of them prefer to buy the biggest house they can rather than the prettiest one. This is fair enough, though… only your neighbors have to look at it.

  13. Adamu Says:

    “How about getting some inspiration from that brick-heavy Japan-Western fusion architecture they built some of back in Meiji?”

    I *definitely* want a house modeled after the Bank of Japan. (http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/0aaO8Pu6d47rq/610x.jpg)

    American houses are often ugly (raised ranches, ick), but at least they have insulation and actual living space.

  14. Roy Berman Says:

    It is true that if I think about how attractive most of the houses around where I come from in New Jersey are, I realize that I’m living in a town that was mostly built around a century ago, and the newer houses are just a technologically updated version of compatible styles.

  15. Kim Jong-il Hater Says:

    A victory for private property and people’s basic rights. Rothbard would be proud.