Residents in mountainous new-town growing increasingly cut-off

Back in February, Japan’s ABC TV ran a special program on problems facing one of the aging ‘new towns’ that were developed in far-flung, mountainous regions. These subdivisions were developed in the 1970s and 1980s, promoting an ideal lifestyle away from the hustle and grind of downtown Tokyo or Osaka. Decades later, the remaining residents are facing issues both with a declining and aging population, and a lack of access to basic amenities.

One of these new towns is located 20 kilometers north of central Osaka and right on the border of Osaka and Kyoto prefectures. The closest bus stop is 1.5 kilometers away and it is 50 minutes by bus to Ibaraki Station, where you can then hop on a train for 17 minutes to Umeda Station. In order to get to this bus stop, one must pass over a private road owned by a sports center. It is often blocked off to traffic, prohibiting larger vehicles from entering from this side. The bus only comes along once each hour. The developer had initially promised a new road that would provide a quicker link to Ibaraki City but this never eventuated. 

The neighborhood was developed in the 1970s as a holiday home area, with roads and house blocks carved out of the hillside (it later earned the nickname of the Machu Picchu of North Osaka). In the 1980s, the asset bubble saw land prices across Japan skyrocket, causing developers to create suburbs far outside of urban areas to provide affordable housing for home-owners while often making promises of better transport connections in the future that never came true. The subdivision was created right up against the edge of Ibaraki City (Osaka) and Kameoka City (Kyoto). Development could not span over the border into Ibaraki City because the city had designated that part of the mountains as an Urbanization Control Area, effectively prohibiting any development. Kameoka City hadn’t given their side of the border this designation, allowing housing to be built. Some of the original home buyers thought they were buying in Ibaraki City, only to find out later when registering the land that it was, in fact, in Kameoka. 

At its peak the new town had 230 households. It currently has 150 households and 350 residents. Approximatley 70% of the residents are over the age of 65.  

A common trait with many of these older new towns or resort subdivisions is that the developer was often the owner of the roads and water pipes. Various lot owners would pay monthly fees to the developer for their upkeep. However, things can get painful when the developer goes bankrupt. In this new town, the developer filed for bankruptcy in 1991 and the bank and Osaka City foreclosed on the roads and water pipes. In 1998, the local residents of the suburb banded together to acquire the infrastructure and now manage it themselves. Kameoka City was not keen on making the roads city-owned since the mountainous area was essentially considered a no-man’s land and had been privately developed. In the June 2018 earthquake that struck the northern Osaka area, the new town’s water pipes ruptured, requiring the residents to seek a contractor to repair them. Repair costs exceeded one million Yen. 

Kameoka City has made some efforts to assist residents by recognizing the main roads as quasi-city roads and covering up to 90% of the maintenance costs. The city mayor has also expressed an idea to provide financial assistance for the private water pipes. 

15km to the nearest convenience store

There are no schools, hospitals, clinic or stores nearby, although a mobile grocery truck does make the rounds. For the many older residents, driving to the supermarket or clinic is no longer feasible. In recent years the local resident association started a shuttle van that takes residents down to the supermarket three times a week for groceries. But, with steep roads that can ice over in the colder winter months, some residents choose to stock up on supplies in case they cannot make a supermarket run. 

Land values

With a shrinking population, vacant homes are becoming more noticeable. No new homes have been built in the town for over 10 years. Land that was once 182,000 Yen/sqm may now be found for as little as 3,500 ~ 6,000 Yen/sqm. 

Source: ABC TV, February 1, 2019.

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