In September, real estate developer Tokyo Tatemono started to demolish the Suwa Ni-chome apartments in the western Tokyo region of Tama. The Suwa danchi (housing development) was an integral part of Tama New Town, which opened in 1971. Of the various "new towns" built in the late 1960s and '70s by the government to create integrated living-working communities on the outskirts of major cities, Tama's was the most celebrated. News footage of families moving into the 50 sq.-meter apartments, which sold for about ¥5 million, are used whenever a TV show wants to illustrate Japan's postwar re-emergence as a developed country.

The new towns, however, never fulfilled their destinies. People didn't flock to them in the numbers envisioned, and companies didn't relocate in their vicinity, so residents still had to commute to the city.

Also, Japan's hard-won first-world status didn't include upward mobility, that idea of the middle class continually trading up to larger homes. In Japan, most homeowners remain in the first place they buy for the rest of their lives, so present inhabitants of new towns tend to be elderly, their buildings superannuated.