Japan is an archipelago located in monsoon East Asia. Of its total land area of 378 000 square miles, 66.6 per cent is forest and 13.7 per cent agricultural land. Developed land, which includes residential, industrial and other land, accounts for only 4.5 per cent; it is here that most of its cities and the great majority of its population of 123 million people live (HUDC 1998). Notwithstanding its rapid economic growth in the post-war period, resulting in Japan becoming one of the leading industrial nations, the living conditions of the great majority of the population are relatively poor and small houses occupy a large part of the built up areas.
Immediately after the ending of the Second World War the housing shortage reached 4.2 million units. Wartime air raids had destroyed the houses of the rich and poor alike so that Japan's homeless citizens were, in a sense, all in the same plight. In due course, and in varying degrees, there was progress in housing reconstruction. In the pre-war years renting had been the major form of housing provision; rented homes had made up 70 per cent of the total number of houses in Tokyo and 90 per cent in Osaka, for example. However, the Land and House Rent Control Ordinance, on the one hand, and the high rate of inflation in the immediate post-war years, on the other, fundamentally changed the market for rented housing. No longer such a profitable avenue for investment, landlords played a minor role in the reconstruction. Some people were able to purchase the houses they had previously rented, and some black-market profiteers built sumptuous estates. In general however, houses came to be built by those who wanted them and who could afford them. In terms of sheer numbers,