Some foreign embassies are cashing in on the high value of real estate in central Tokyo.
Australia is selling its Tokyo property to help balance the budget back home.Mainland China is doing it to finance a new ambassador's residence in Tokyo.
The Argentine embassy has refused to comment on Japanese press reports that it is looking to sell its ambassador's residence to help pay for the building of Argentina's new capital city.
But the diplomatic missions of poorer countries complain of being priced out of Tokyo.
The African nation of Uganda, for example, closed its embassy in Tokyo last year, and its mission in China now doubles as the embassy for Japan.
Embassy land sales have generated waves in diplomatic channels because local authorities are trying to lower prices in hopes of stemming further increases in property prices in the world's most expensive city.
"The Australian government decided it would reduce its current account deficit by selling some of its assets," including one-third of its land in Tokyo, said an embassy spokesman. "The high value of the yen and booming real estate were factors in the government decision to sell."
Australia's 1.5 acres of prime land with a pond and many trees is in the posh Minato ward and, according to the spokesman, was recently sold to a consortium of four Japanese and two Australian firms.
The bid price was $45.7 million or, according to news reports, 2.5 times the asking price for adjacent land.
"It wasn't exactly double the standard price, but it was slightly too high," said a metropolitan government official, speaking only on condition of anonymity.
"We told them to lower the price, otherwise it would jack up the price of the surrounding area," he added.
According to Japanese land law, foreign missions are free to sell their property at any cost, the metropolitan government official said. But in light of the recent acceleration in prices, sellers are required to report terms of sales to the government before signing contracts.
"We then advise them if the price is too high," the official said, but the city has no power to stop a sale.
According to the government-run National Land Agency, the cost of residential real estate skyrocketed a record 68.9 percent in fiscal 1987, almost double the previous high of 35.9 percent in 1973 and nearly three times the 1986 increase of 23.8 percent.
The agency attributed the phenomenal rise to speculative buying prompted by money surpluses and lowered interest rates.
While big powers like the United States and the Soviet Union seem settled on their prime embassy grounds, the Chinese Embassy is looking to unload part of its property for a reported $11.1 million.
"We want to sell the land to purchase another property for building our ambassador's residence," said an embassy official.
The embassy of Zambia, which rents the property it occupies, is threatened by a redevelopment plan that would raze the mission buildings to make way for a highrise business complex.
"If our landlord is bought out, we will be too," said Ambassador Boniface Zulu. "We will not stand in the way of progress, though we like it here and want to stay."
But Shozo Yamaguchi, the landlord, is anxious to sell.
"Instead of all these little houses, it would be better to have a highrise," he said.
"For us (landlords), renting to diplomats is like volunteer work. If there is some problem with rent payment, the Foreign Ministry won't touch it, but they also urge us not to evict diplomats for fear of repercussions.
"All we can do is cry ourselves to sleep."
The Zambian predicament reflects a growing problem among foreign missions in Tokyo.
Some operate with skeleton staffs because of the high cost of living in Tokyo.