Danchi (団地) is the Japanese word (literally ‘group land’) for a large cluster of apartment buildings. During the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, the Japanese created many such low-rent apartment complexes in the outskirts of urban areas to offset the housing demand of the then-increasing Japanese population. Fewer and fewer Japanese live in the gradually aging danchi, generally desiring individual housing left over from the Japanese bubble — new and exclusive private apartments, called mansion. Many danchi are owned by large corporations, who encourage employees to live alongside their colleagues, sometimes rent-free, in order to foster a corporate ‘family’ atmosphere.
The rent payment for a danchi is much cheaper than the lease of a mansion or mortgage of a used or new house, but usually the prospective tenant must participate in a lottery in order to be assigned an open apartment. The Japanese housing authority then assigns the tenant. Some danchi are extremely new and modern, but since there is a lottery for assignment and many open apartments in the older danchi, it is a risk to enter public housing.
It seems that the Danchi way of living is starting to recuperate again. The minimalistic living style is attracting Japan’s youngest and trendiest and it won’t be long before you see these grey/beige public housing monuments erected and re-glorified again.
Long regarded as eyesores and monstrosities that blighted the landscape, Japan’s concrete block monolithic public housing estates have started attracted a strong following smitten by what they say is their visual appeal, according to Cyzo (December).
The estates, known across Japan as danchi (which literally means “group areas”), are made in a minimalist style reminiscent of architecture during the Soviet Union’s heyday, but the usually pale cream or gray buildings are starting to attract enough fans that their appeal has spawned an admiration industry.
Symbolizing the new look at danchi is the recently released DVD “Danchi Mania: Danchi Purei Hajime no Ippo (Danchi Mania: Your First Step to Playing With Housing Estates).”
“I’d be delighted if people who don’t have a fascination with danchi picked up a copy of this DVD. There are danchi just about everywhere, but I’d say most people haven’t really taken a close look at them. I’d like people to take a different viewpoint when looking at something in their daily lives and discover just how much fun they can be,” Akira Oyama, maker of the danchi DVD, tells Cyzo.
Danchi first popped up in Tokyo suburbs during the 1950s as large numbers of Japanese deserted the country lifestyles their families had maintained for centuries and flocked to the cities so they could take part in the economic miracle then encompassing the country. Urban population growth skyrocketed and the danchi were a quick, cheap and nasty way to house people in a country then working full throttle to try and catch up with the West.
Oyama’s movie provides information on all sorts of housing estates across Japan, giving them unexplained ratings such as “sexy” “evil” or “upper crust.” Much of the material in his video can also be found on the website he operates, also devoted to public housing estates.