* Japanese land prices probably have hit bottom
* Falls in big cities narrow but rural areas suffer
* Pace of land price falls in quake-hit areas accelerate
TOKYO, July 2 (Reuters) - Land prices in Japan slipped for a fourth straight year in 2011, falling 2.8 percent, but the pace of declines slowed, indicating the market may be bottoming as the economy steadily recovers from last year’s natural disaster.
The decline in average land prices compared with a 3.1 percent drop in 2010, a survey from the National Tax Agency showed.
Japanese land prices have been falling for years in the wake of the collapse of a real estate bubble in the early 1990s. They briefly showed signs of picking up in the mid-2000s, only to tumble again during the 2008/2009 global financial crisis.
Land prices fell in all of Japan’s 47 prefectures last year. While those in big cities showed some improvement, areas that were hit by the March 2011 earthquake and regional cities suffered.
Property prices in Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures slipped 1.5 percent last year, slowing down from a 1.8 percent fall in the previous year.
In the western Osaka area, land prices dipped 2.1 percent last year from a 3.3 percent drop in 2010, while those of Japan’s central Nagoya and its vicinity were down 1.4 percent compared with a 1.5 percent fall a year earlier.
Land prices in the northeastern city of Sendai and its neighbouring areas, which were hit hard by the massive quake and tsunami, dropped 5.2 percent in 2011 against a 4.4 percent decline the previous year.
The most expensive price of a plot in Tokyo’s posh Ginza shopping district was 21.52 million yen ($271,300) per square metre, down 2.2 percent from the previous year.
That compared with a 5.2 percent drop in 2010.
The tax agency assesses land prices as of Jan. 1 every year to calculate inheritance and gift taxes on properties that are acquired that year. The 2011 survey covered about 358,000 plots of land.
The tax agency last November revised down its assessment of land prices in the quake and tsunami-affected areas by as much as 80 percent.
The downward revision was much bigger than after the 1995 earthquake in Kobe when the agency revised down its assessment of land prices as much as 25 percent, because the size of the affected area is 30 times that of the region hit by the Kobe quake. ($1 = 79.3100 Japanese yen) (Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Kim Coghill)