Thursday, November 08, 2007

Ready for the big one?

Most know Tokyo is located in a major earthquake zone. Most also know that Japan has various laws on the construction of earthquake resistant buildings. My understanding is that if you live in an apartment built after 1981, you are in one of the more modern earthquake resistant jobs. In theory. In reality, you may be living in a shoddily built piece of crap that will turn into a death trap with any sort of strong quake.

Last year a Tokyo architect was convicted of designing numerous buildings with substandard reinforcement in order to save money. He appealed and has just lost the appeal (No surprise, this is Japan, after all.):

In Wednesday's decision, presiding Judge Kunio Harada stated that the accused "not only attempted to dodge liability, but tried to put the blame on others" by lying under oath that he was pressured to fake construction blueprints. The disgraced architect also stated at the Diet that the fabrications began in 1998, when in fact they started in 1996.

The perjury "was an attempt to selfishly protect his own interests, which leaves no reason to consider extenuation," Harada told the court, adding that the false testimony resulted in delayed inspections of substandard buildings Aneha designed. (From JTonline.)

I know a few folks who are employed as architects and who have a pretty good knowledge of the industry. Most of them are Japanese. There is quite a bit of doubt among them that he actually did lie when he said he was pressure to fake the blueprints. According to one of these people, this sort of thing is not likely an isolated case, but the government cannot possibly address all of the defective buildings. I just recently heard a story from someone in this industry about a building which a US company was interested in leasing in the Shibuya area. His company was being asked to bid on the project to help the US company set up an office there. He had to decline as the building, although brand-new, was very poorly constructed with chunks of concrete already falling off the interior walls and ceiling, and massive water leaks were already weakening it. He felt the yakuza was likely involved in the construction of the building. Again, something not exactly unusual in the construction/real estate industry.

I did get to see some photos of the fine workmanship at this site. It sort of makes me a bit less confident in the earthquake resistance of buildings here. I guess if one is lucky and lives or works in a building/home designed and built by honest people who followed the law, you make come out OK. If you live in a shoddy, cheaply made piece of junk, you may have just enough time to kiss your a** goodbye before it collapses on you and yours. The wonderfully exciting thing is that there is no way to know without actually having your place professionally inspected. Since this usually requires some cutting and other invasive/damaging methods, this ain't likely to happen unless you own the house/building. And then, if you find that it is not built to standards, what are you going to do? Sell it? Sue the builder? That last option is a joke, of course. Unless you have 300 years for it to crawl through a Japanese court.

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