Thursday, April 27, 2006

Earthquake Resistant Buildings

One would assume, especially since we always read about how advanced Japan is in earthquake resistant buildings, that these buildings actually exist. There has been as scandal in Tokyo this year because an architect had falsified the documents on the standards of the buildings that he designed in order to increase the profit (and get kickbacks) for his firm. The government missed this during their "inspections" which mainly consist of reviewing the paperwork. Private companies do the same. Of course, if the documents are all full of falsified information, then these "inspections" are not going to work.

Several buildings have been condemned because they are unsafe in earthquakes---some unable to resist even a moderate quake. These are all new buildings, hotels, apartment buildings---buildings which if they collapsed could kill hundreds and hundreds of people. The architect and a construction firm which may have pressured the guy into becoming a fraud are being investigated by the government. He and others have been arrested.

I know an architect who says that this is not a surprise to him, but that he believes that this is common practice in Tokyo. According to him, most buildings do not meet those standards. Since his firm is not a Japanese company, and deals mainly with foreign firms, they have to personally and closely check all construction on work that they do to make sure that the standards are followed. If not, it is likely that cheap, shoddy, illegal work will be done in order to increase profits. Who cares if this results in people being killed.

One of the problems according to him, is that the Japanese bureaucracy does not have people who can competently inspect these buildings. They don't understand the construction, engineering, or even their own laws. Perhaps this is a reason they rely on the numbers in the documents alone.

A major earthquake in Tokyo is going to happen. It will kill thousands. Wonder how many will die needlessly because the Japanese government is not doing its job, and is not going to do its job, but instead will prosecute this small group of crooks and then go back to business as usual. Once and appearances and show over substance and action. And no, this is not the same as in other countries---such things happen, but not as a way of life.

The architect whom I talked to about this, expects nothing to come of it---the government has not seriously reviewed other buildings and firms in order to see how widespread the fraud is (it probably doesn't want to know, or at least doesn't want the public to know)---and he believes it will all be forgotten soon and everything will got back to normal. Fraud, lies, pretend---tatemae.

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