2022-08-08 14:22:09 By : Ms. shelly bian

Minato, located close to the center of Tokyo, is one of the city’s wealthiest and most pleasant wards.

During the Edo period, wealthy daimyo and samurai families chose the breezy, fertile hillsides above Tokyo Bay to build their lavish mansion homes. While few of these historic buildings are in evidence today, Minato—meaning “harbor”— remains a popular choice for wealthy residents of Japan’s sprawling capital, thanks to its spacious luxury apartments, famous cultural and nightlife spots, abundant green spaces and central location.

Minato City, as it is known in English, was founded in 1947 as a merger of the Akasaka, Azabu and Shiba wards. Today, it is a business center, housing the headquarters of prominent domestic and international companies including Honda, Nikon, Mitsubishi Motors, Sony, Apple and Goldman Sachs, but it is also one of Tokyo’s nicest residential districts.

“It’s where you find a lot of the embassies, a lot of the international schools, a lot of very wealthy but low-rise residential neighborhoods, and then you’ve got a blend of the high-rise office districts as well,” said Zoe Ward, director at Tokyo-based Japan Property Central. 

As the ward with the most facilities and services catering to foreigners, attracting high-net-worth buyers from around the world, Minato is on the frontlines of a shift in residential living. It is the site of numerous recently or soon-to-be completed ultra-luxury developments that are introducing new standards of residential real estate to the Japanese capital—and setting record prices.

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Minato ward is located southwest of the Imperial Palace and is bounded by the special wards of Chiyoda, Chūō, Kōtō, Shinagawa, Shibuya and Shinjuku. It contains many smaller neighborhoods, including Akasaka, Roppongi, Shiba, Tranomon and Omotesando. 

It extends as far as Akasaka Palace in the north and is bounded to the east by Tokyo Bay. It extends just past Shinagawa Station in the south and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and Omote-Sando Station in the west. 

Prices for high-end apartments in Minato vary according to the age of the building but also the size of the property.

“You’ll find even within the same building there’s a price difference per square meter between the smaller units and the larger units because the larger ones, just based on size, are considered luxurious,” Ms. Ward said. “In some buildings, that difference can be 30% to 40% per square meter. You see it when they have high-rise buildings and only the top three or four floors have the premium residences, and they price them extremely differently.”

For high-end buildings less than 20 years old, she said prices start at ¥2 million (US$15,000) to ¥3 million per square meter. “The more high-end ultra-luxury stuff tends to go for between ¥4 million to ¥7 million yen a square meter and I think some of the penthouses can go for over ¥10 million yen per square meter,” she added. A 200-square-meter luxury apartment “might start from around $5 million but it could be as high as $10 million, depending on the building location and age.”

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Tetsuya Kaneko, head of research at Savills Japan, said that ultra-luxury developments with Western-style amenities—a new phenomenon in Tokyo—are setting record prices. “Tokyo has seen a few additions of luxury condominium towers in the past few years that can house ultra-luxury units, many of which are centered around Minato,” he said. “The most recent one is Toranomon Hills Residential Tower, which opened in early 2022. This property is rumored to house a unit priced for ¥10 billion—the most expensive condominium unit in Japan.” 

A second Minato development planned for 2023, known as the Toranomon-Azabudai project, is expected to price its most expensive residential unit at ¥20 billion, he added, “easily exceeding the most expensive unit recorded to date.” 

Most of Minato’s residential real estate is considered high-end, Ms. Ward said, but the most sought-after areas to live are up on the hills above Tokyo Bay. 

Minami-Aoyama, near Omotesando Station, is a particularly beautiful resident district. 

“You’ve got all the boutiques and brand shops as well as little cafes,” Ms. Ward said.“It’s very low-rise, so you don’t really have too many high-rise towers and instead of small studio apartments, a lot of the apartments around that neighborhood are quite large, like 200- or 300-square-meter units, so obviously it’s going to attract a different type of resident profile than the more business-oriented districts.”

Standalone family homes rarely come up for sale and are usually passed down through generations, she said. “There’s not a lot of turnover. There’s a lot of people who would like to own those houses, but very few of them actually come up on the market.”

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What sets luxury apartments in Minato apart is primarily the size and the presence of extra bathrooms. “In Japan they define luxury as pretty much anything over 100 square meters,” Ms. Ward said. “In recent years there’s been a few projects that you would perhaps consider more luxurious from an international standard, and their features would have, say, two or three bathrooms, instead of just one family bathroom.” 

Due to its history, Minato is filled with shrines and temples dating to the Edo period. The location of Japan’s first foreign diplomatic establishments, originally housed in four temples, the ward currently contains over 80 embassies. Despite its many famous mega-complexes, the ward has plentiful green spaces, including the beautiful Aoyama Cemetery, one of the largest in the city, and Shiba Park, home to the historic Zozo-ji Buddhist temple. 

Its cultural offerings include the Nezu Museum in upscale Aoyama, which focuses on classical East Asian art, and the Mori Art Museum, located in the famous Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills. Minato is also the home of the National Art Center, one of Tokyo’s largest art spaces, located in glittering Roppongi, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Japan’s first art museum, established in 1926 in picturesque Ueno Park.

Minato ward contains several world-class, English-speaking hospitals and some of the city’s best leisure amenities, from the famous nightlife of Roppongi, to high-end boutiques and neighborhoods full of hidden character. “Around Omotesando neighborhood you have all of the boutiques,” Ms. Ward said. “People also go to Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown, the two big shopping-office-hotel-type complexes where everything is in one huge block. But then if you go down the little streets… you can find small boutiques and lots of little shopping and entertainment districts. There are tiny little buildings filled to the brim with bars and restaurants.”

Tokyo Midtown is home to the Suntory Museum of Art, and 21_21 Design Sight, a gallery and workshop created by fashion designer Issey Miyake and architect Tadao Ando, along with a high-end mall and luxury residential and office units. The prestigious Roppongi Hills mega-complex includes office space, high-end apartments and retail spaces, restaurants, movie theaters, a TV station, the Tokyo Grand Hyatt Hotel and the Mori Art Museum. The ward also contains the Toranomon Hills complex, the city’s highest skyscraper, combining high-end retail and residential units with offices and a boutique hotel.

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Minato also contains several prestigious international schools, including the Montessori School of Tokyo, an accredited English-language school for children aged two to 15; Tokyo International School, a primary school and middle school following the International Baccalaureate curriculum; as well as primary schools following the British, Finnish and Russian curriculums. 

“Tokyo boasts 203 Michelin-starred restaurants, according to the 2022 Michelin guide, and maintains its status as the top gourmet destination. Moreover, Tokyo hosts 12 three-starred restaurants, four of which are located in Minato,” Mr. Kaneko said.

“You find a lot of celebrities who live around Minato,” Ms. Ward said. “You get a lot of company directors, and you get some startup founders and IT people because Shibuya Station area has become an IT hub.” Thanks to its central location and plentiful amenities, the area is also popular with foreign buyers, particularly those from Hong Kong and Singapore, she added.

The Emperor Emiritus and the Empress Emertia live in the Sento Imperial Residence in the Akasaka neighborhood of Minato. The ward is also home to many Japanese celebrities, including prominent manga artist Naoko Takeuchi and famous vocalist Ayumi Hamasaki. Fashion designer Rei Kawakubo, founder of Comme des Garcons and Dover Street Market, lives in Aoyama.

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“Japan has been one of the rare countries that’s determined to keep rates as low as possible for as long as they can, so it’s a bit of an outlier at the moment. We have record low interest rates,” Ms. Ward said. “Land prices in the residential sector even with the pandemic performed really well.” 

The result is a robust Tokyo market, particularly in Minato, where “supply is low and demand has remained pretty constant throughout the pandemic. It’s still one of the top desirable places to live in Tokyo,” she added. Rising construction costs have pushed up the price of new developments, helping to support the value of existing resale properties, she said, adding that prices are expected to remain stable.

A side-effect of pandemic border closures is a possible explosion of sales to overseas buyers down the line, she added, particularly in light of a favorable dollar-to-yen exchange rate. 

Mr. Kaneko said that new ultra-luxury residential units are boosting prices in Minato. “Although Tokyo’s ultra-luxury residential market is considered relatively new, it is growing rapidly and has gained popularity over time,” he said. “Current developments in the pipeline will add new ultra-luxury units into the market and likely raise the top prices of the market to levels equivalent to those seen in Manhattan and London… As the world faces stiff headwinds of uncertainty, Tokyo might further gain popularity as a place to preserve wealth.”

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