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It takes a planned community

Childbirths are up in a neighborhood 40 minutes from Tokyo

This summer festival was held in Funabashi Morino City, a planned community in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture.

TOKYO -- Part of the Japanese government's economic growth strategy focuses on giving a leg up to businesses that make it easier to rear children, whose numbers are on the wane in Japan.

Births in Japan fell below 1 million for the first time since data began being compiled in 1899. There is a lone bright spot, a community in Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo, where there is something of a baby boom.

Funabashi Morino City is a planned community developed by Nomura Real Estate Holdings and trading house Mitsubishi Corp. Some 1,500 families live in five condominium towers. Nomura began selling units in 2013.

The complex is close to Shin-Funabashi Station, a stop along Tobu Railway's Noda Line. The community has a general hospital, commercial facilities and a day-care center for children. An assisted living residence for the elderly is due to be completed in 2018.

Although the Funabashi city office initially projected that the community would have a population of around 200 children, the couples who moved in have continued to have babies. There are now 700 kids.

Children are everywhere. There are babies in strollers being pushed by mothers, kindergarteners getting off shuttle buses and schoolkids having fun in playgrounds.

The scenes are a reminder of the housing complexes built one after another during Japan's high-growth era. On weekdays, mothers in similar outfits would stand chatting with one another, their children playing around them.

Funabashi Morino City re-creates this atmosphere.

Proud Funabashi, as the condo complex is known, differs from many housing towers in urban centers that seem to unintentionally sort their residents. Retired people can often be found living on the higher floors. DINKS -- couples with double incomes, no kids -- take up the middle floors. Below them are families with children.

Interactions among these stratified residents are few. Their incomes put them in different social classes; their daily rhythms differ. In extreme cases, floor-by-floor hierarchies take hold. There is plenty of privacy, but couples raising kids tend to get isolated.

Funabashi Morino City is a 40-minute train ride from Tokyo Station, and each flat was priced at a comparatively affordable 40 million yen ($341,840) or so. The complex attracted families, and now the horizontal ties that the residents are forming might be contributing to their having more kids.

"I was encouraged because lots of women around me have a second child," a 30-year-old mother pregnant with a second child said with a smile.

Nomura has worked out a strategy for its Proud brand based on a finding that "people of child-bearing age generally give weight to horizontal relations," a representative said.

The strategy includes a variety of arrangements to promote "collisions" among residents. For example, play equipment and chairs in playgrounds are arranged in a manner that enables mothers to leisurely chat with one another while watching their children.

In the first three years after the complex was completed, Nomura representatives have worked as secretariats for events to help residents come together as a community. Some 30 circles have been established and are now managed by residents. They conduct karaoke sing-alongs, mahjong tournaments, games, child-raising consultancy services and other activities.

"I don't know why," said a mother carrying her baby in a stroller, "but this town offers an air friendly to child rearing."

Real estate stocks, which used to be an investor favorite when monetary easing was new, are now undervalued in comparison with assets held by the companies. What's more, said Sachiko Okada of Goldman Sachs Japan, there are no "catalysts" in sight that can help them rebound.

Nomura, which focuses on condos, in July slashed the target number of sales for fiscal 2016, through March, by 100 units to 5,650. It did so because the condo market is slumping. Still, there are doubts as to whether the company can clear the revised target.

Now that even condos in urban centers are mired in the slump, developers cannot afford to waste time in stimulating demand for suburban homes.

Not even added luxuries are enough to lure condo buyers in the crowded urban market, said Shigeyuki Yamamoto, an executive officer at Nomura. "Competition will center on software approaches, such as friendliness to child rearing."

Nomura, which has been promoting luxury condos under its Proud brand, may get investors to raise their assessment of the company if it further stimulates demand for condos among people of child-bearing age.

Last year, Global Group, which operates child care centers, and other companies in related fields attracted investors. Nomura could be joining this group sooner or later.

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