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A New German Suburb Rises...In Osaka, Japan

White clinker brick houses with saunas, Jacuzzis and underfloor heating: in the Munich suburb of Grünwald, villas like this abound. But now, a Japanese businessman has decided to plant this “Grünwald style” for the moneyed elite in Osaka.

One of Mr. Okamato's Grünwald Co. homes
One of Mr. Okamato's Grünwald Co. homes
Manuela Warkocz

OSAKA -- Grünwald in the middle of Osaka. Well, not exactly the middle, but in the section of the city known as Suita, about 10 km from the center of Japan's third-largest city. "Grünwald" announces the sign – the word painted in elegant faux calligraphy. Beyond it lie the white-tiled villa-style luxury apartments that the Grünwald Co, Ltd has built. The apartments are presently among the most sought-after status symbols of Osaka's upper crust.

Behind the successful real estate venture is Japanese businessman Yukiharu Okamoto. The 61-year-old spent several years in Munich where he headed the subsidiary of a Japanese company.

He loved the Grünwald area on sight, and used to roam around the neighborhood: "I soon realized that I wanted to build this type of housing, with white bricks, black roof tiling and a lot of green landscaping, in Osaka," he says. As it turned out, the idea of "beautifying" Japan's cities and giving his fellow Japanese a taste of solid German architecture proved to be a lucrative business model.

The success story began in 1990 with the "Mädelhaus," which loosely translated means "the gals' house," a building for single women. Over the next 20 years, Okamoto built seven further apartment buildings with more than 100 apartments, baptizing them with full-on Munich-style names like "Villa Schönbrunn," "Villa Märchenschloss' (a Märchenschloss is a fairytale castle) and "Villa Maximilian."

For the Japanese, these names are as exotic as they are unpronounceable and evoke pleasing associations of old Bavaria. Playing on that, Okamoto imported a lot of Bavarian stylistic elements – four-sided towers, hipped roofs, rounded arches, brick walls, attics, balconies and window boxes – which make up what he is now calling "Grünwald design."

Of particular importance to the chairman of Grünwald Co, Ltd is the landscaping of the gardens which does take Japanese tastes and preferences into account – at the entrance to "Villa Schönbrunn," for example, a fine keyaki tree shares space with a plaster dog and the figure of an angel.

The interiors of the apartments, which range in size from 35 to 140 square meters, are upscale by German standards, but represent the true height of luxury in Japan. Underfloor heating "is still very rare in Japan," says Okamoto. Each room has at least two double-glazed windows, the bathrooms are generously proportioned, and there are solar panels.

Earthquake proof

Shared by residents are a sauna, fitness room and Jacuzzi along with a large home movie theater. Doctors, lawyers, and executives of large companies are among the tenants, according to the real estate company's documentation – except in the "Mädelhaus," where the apartments are rented to single women and have special security features such as automatically locking doors.

So that his "Grünwald" in Osaka could not be destroyed by earthquakes, Okamoto says his buildings have "concrete walls with class 1 certification, so they can withstand a quake of 8 or more on the Richter scale." Does he use German construction materials? No, that was unfortunately not possible, says the entrepreneur.

When he started out, he tried to import windows from Germany because "they're the best in the world." However, getting the necessary permission from local authorities turned out to be long and tedious. But the Japanese businessman, who intends to continue expanding Osaka's Grünwald, still maintains contacts in Grünwald, Germany, such as with the Rotary Club whose members made donations for victims of the tsunami catastrophe last March.

By letting scholarship-holders live in much-sought-after attic apartments in Suita, Okamoto also supports a foundation that grants the scholarships to young people so they can discover what it's like to live in Japan. But the company boss himself doesn't live in Grünwald. He and his family occupy a renovated 200-year-old home with a straw roof in traditional Japanese style.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Grünwald Co. Ltd.

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