Mie Kawamata dreamed of owning a home where she could tend a small garden and her 1-year-old daughter could play outside, yet still be close enough to commute to central Tokyo.

But after much searching, Kawamata and her husband, who both work in accounting, gave up on the house idea and bought an apartment about a third of the size that she'd wanted.

"I'm not sure ordinary people can buy a house anymore," Kawamata, 31, said. "Housing prices and rents have risen a lot compared to the past, but in the end, salaries haven't gone up that much."