Average land prices fell in the 2003 calendar year for the 13th straight year.

The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry said Monday in a report that land prices in residential areas nationwide fell an average of 5.7 percent in 2003. The margin of decline narrowed for the first time in six years, it said.

Land prices in commercial areas nationwide fell an average of 7.4 percent, and the margin of decline narrowed for the second straight year, it said.

But prices of land plots in prime urban areas, including Tokyo’s Minato and Shibuya wards, other wards in the capital and top locations in Chiba Prefecture have started to level off or rise, it said.

“In these locations, the trend of land prices ending their slide has become more prominent,” it said.

The ministry traced the trend to a growing number of condominiums in urban centers and large urban redevelopment projects, including those in Tokyo’s Roppongi and Shinagawa districts.

It said prime locations in Fukuoka, Sapporo and Nagoya have also seen a halt in declining prices.

“Some signs of change in the trend of land price movements have been detected,” a ministry official said.

The ministry’s annual report on land prices per square meter — measured Jan. 1 — is compiled by studying prices at 31,866 select locations nationwide.

The officially assessed land prices serve as a benchmark for public and private land transactions, and for government assessment of inheritance and property taxes.

In the three major metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, land prices have slipped by a smaller margin than in previous years, falling 5.7 percent in residential areas and 5.8 percent in commercial areas.

In Tokyo’s 23 wards, 40.3 percent of locations in residential areas saw land prices rise, level off or nearly level off.

In rural areas, residential land prices fell an average of 5.7 percent, with the margin of fall expanding. Those in rural commercial areas shrank an average of 8.7 percent, a margin of fall almost unchanged from the previous year.

Even in relatively large regional cities that have a population of at least 100,000, the margin of decline in residential land prices widened from the previous year.

At some commercial areas in smaller cities, land prices plunged following the closures of small and midsize retailers, and company offices.

The report says that four locations in Chiba Prefecture’s Urayasu, home to Tokyo Disneyland, were among the top 10 locations in terms of the rising rate of residential land prices. Land prices at the four sites averaged between 292,000 yen and 320,000 yen per sq. meter, and showed year-on-year increases ranging between 2.8 percent and 3.3 percent.

A ministry official said land prices at those locations rose as people bought plots and homes by taking into account “courteous local government services, which are funded by affluent tax revenues from Tokyo Disneyland.”

Urayasu government is known for hiring a sufficient number of elementary and high school teachers while limiting the number of students per classroom, giving each student a high level of attention.

The commercial zone of Tokyo’s Jingu district, near JR Harajuku Station, saw the sharpest margin of increase in land prices. Land there fetched 5.05 million yen per sq. meter, up 9.8 percent.

Ministry officials attributed the rise to the openings of retail shops for foreign-brand goods such as Louis Vuitton.

Ranked second and third were two locations in Tokyo’s Ginza district, where Christian Dior and Chanel shops will soon open.

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