One of the signs of doom cited by that Martin Fackler article on Japan is the spread of "Micro Houses" -- "Micro" seems to the the Japanese word for them. I did a little googling and found a lot of articles and pictures about the phenomenon in design magazines. The tone of these, though, is very different from Fackler's. The design writers are fascinated by these structures, their style, their clever use of space, their environmental sensitivity. They remind me of the tiny houses one sees in some old US neighborhoods, like Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria around DC; these were built for servants or poor relations, but now they sell for millions to wealthy gay men. The building of tiny houses in Japan is not a sign of economic crisis, but of an artificial land shortage created by the blanket ban on building on agricultural land, coupled with the continuing desire of many successful Japanese to move out of apartments. The house above is built on a 344-square-foot lot, the one below on a 279-square-foot lot.
Here is one that has gotten a lot attention in the architectural press:
And here's another, part of an extensive slide show of micro houses in Osaka.
If these houses are signs of crisis, I would say Japan doesn't have much to worry about.