Buying real estate in Kamakura – a quick overview of building restrictions

Kamakura 2

Located between the mountains and sea, Kamakura is an ancient city located 50 km south of Tokyo. The city came to prominence in the 12th century when it was home to the Kamakura Shogunate. Unlike some of the more urban cities in Japan, Kamakura has retained much of its traditional character. The city is characterised by its traditional streetscapes, numerous temples and shrines, and lush mountainside. In fact, 40% of the city is forest and greenery.

Nowadays, much of this character is preserved through numerous strict building and zoning codes enforced by the city, along with efforts by local residents.

Japan’s National Trust was originally started in Kamakura after residents fought to preserve a tract of forestry behind the Hachimangu Shrine. Back in the 1960s, a developer was planning to convert the mountainside into a housing subdivision. Residents raised money in order to buy the land for preservation. Author and Kamakura resident, Jiro Osaragi, was one of the leading campaigners for the protection of Kamakura’s scenic landscape.

Kamakura 3
Land behind Hachimangu Shrine preserved by the National Trust

Although Japan’s City Planning Act means that land zoning and building area ratios are uniformly applied nationwide, there are 10 cities and towns, including Kamakura, Zushi, Kyoto and Nara, where the local governments have applied special zoning overlays in order to protect the historic landscape. Kamakura has strict building restrictions, including height limits, which means there are no high-rise buildings.

If you are considering buying real estate in Kamakura, you may come across the following regulations:

Special Historic Natural Features Conservation Zone:

Advance notice to government authorities must be provided when:

  • Constructing new buildings or extending or altering existing buildings.
  • Clearing land or altering the shape of land.
  • Felling trees.
  • Quarrying stones.
  • Any other activity that may affect the historical features of an area.

Scenic District:

55.5% of Kamakura City is designed as a Scenic District. Permission from the city mayor is required for the following:

  • Constructing new buildings or extending or altering existing buildings.
  • Changing the colour of buildings.
  • Clearing land or altering the shape of land.
  • Land reclamation.
  • Felling trees.
  • Quarrying stones.

Landscape District:

In a landscape district, there are regulations on building height and colour. Permission from the city mayor is required before construction can start.

Building heights are limited to a maximum of 15 meters (approximately 5-storeys), and 10 meters (approximately 3-storeys or below) in Category I Exclusively Low-Rise Residential Zones.

Buried Cultural Property Area:

In places with a long history of inhabitation there may be historic artefacts buried underground.

If, during excavations, historic items are unearthed, construction can be delayed while experts carefully document the site.

Local Resident Agreements:

There are 51 areas in Kamakura with local resident agreements in place. These agreements may cover things such as banning the construction of rental apartments, prohibiting the subdivision of land below 165 sqm in size, requiring a minimum space of 1 meter between a building and the land boundary and so on.


Before you buy

You can confirm any relevant zoning and construction agreements by visiting the city hall. There may be cases where local resident agreements may not have been specified in the contract documents when buying land or a house, so it is essential to check with the local government beforehand.

Also, before you can begin construction of a house, the city will need to approve the construction plans to ensure the building meets local regulations. If you are unsure about whether you can build the house you want, you should hire the services of an architect or home builder before you settle on a parcel of land.

Buying an older house

The city offers financial assistance for the earthquake-retrofitting of older houses. Assistance includes a free consultation with an architect (there is a 2 month waiting list), up to 50,000 Yen to go towards an earthquake-resistant building inspection, and up to 700,000 Yen (and not exceeding half of the costs) for the retrofitting work.

Older neighbourhoods where you can find historic homes and more traditional streetscapes include Yukinoshita, Nikaido, Nishimikado, Kamakurayama, Komachi and Onarimachi.

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