We have often looked at real estate bubbles in other countries for insight into our local market, so we’re a big fan of the New York Times feature on Japan’s real estate woes.

Japan suffered one of the biggest property market collapses in modern history. At the market’s peak in 1991, all the land in Japan, a country the size of California, was worth about $18 trillion, or almost four times the value of all property in the United States at the time.
Now the land in Japan is worth less than half its 1991 peak, while property in the United States has more than tripled in value, to about $17 trillion.
Homeowners were among the biggest victims of the Japanese real estate bubble. In Japan’s six largest cities, residential prices dropped 64 percent from 1991 to last year. By most estimates, millions of homebuyers took substantial losses on the largest purchase of their lives.
Their experiences contain many warnings. One is to shun the sort of temptations that appear in red-hot real estate markets, particularly the use of risky or exotic loans to borrow beyond one’s means. Another is to avoid property that may be hard to unload when the market cools.
Most of all, economists say, Japan’s experience teaches the need to be skeptical of that fundamental myth behind all asset bubbles: that prices will keep rising forever. Like their United States counterparts today, too many Japanese homebuyers overextended their debt, buying property that cost more than they could rationally afford because they assumed that values would only rise. When prices dropped, many buyers were financially battered or even wiped out.
“The biggest lesson from Japan is not to fall into the same state of denial that existed here,” said Yukio Noguchi, a finance professor at Waseda University in Tokyo who is perhaps the leading authority on the Japanese bubble.
During a bubble, people don’t believe that prices will fall,” he said. “This has been proven wrong so many times in the past. But there’s something in human nature that makes us unable to learn from history.”

Oh, and the last time we checked, they weren’t making any more land in Japan either…
Take It From Japan: Bubbles Hurt [NYT]