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    Neither safe nor dangerous

    The friends I went out with last night are architects, BTW, so you can imagine that the Aneha scandal was one of our topics of conversation. New revelations include an admission that the firm falsified earthquake resistance certification for more buildings than we already knew about. Another problem:

    But officials still have not managed to identify all of the buildings in question. Since the investigation by the Chiba Prefectural Government was limited to structures listed in Aneha’s notes, officials have been able to identify only about one-third of all buildings, and the location of 20 buildings is unknown.

    In Wakayama, where one hotel came under suspicion, city officials said an inspection failed to find any problems. However, officials added that Aneha’s name had not come up in any of the city’s own data, leaving doubt over whether the firm was involved in the construction of any other buildings in the city.

    Another building was located in Gifu Prefecture. Officials said there was no evidence to suggest that data had been falsified, but added that they could neither regard the building as safe nor dangerous.

    I’ll bet that last bit of PR-speak is of significant comfort to people are wondering whether their house or hotel room could come crashing down on their heads. Of the buildings that are known to be unsafe, there are already plans to demolish some:

    Three contractors involved in the construction of 22 metropolitan buildings built using falsified structural-integrity data have decided to demolish 13 housing blocks the government fears may collapse if hit by a temblor registering upper 5 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of seven.

    At press conferences held in Fukuoka and Tokyo on Tuesday, Hideaki Shinohara, 40, president of Hakata Ward, Fukuoka-based real estate company Shinoken Co. and Susumu Kojima, 52, president of Huser Management Ltd., said they would reimburse costs incurred by those who had to be evacuated, but were divided on the idea of buying back the condominiums.

    On Wednesday, Sun Chuo Home Co. of Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, said it would demolish two 10-story buildings and a nine-story building–a total of 177 units in the city.

    Managing Director Keiji Kudo of the real estate company made the announcement during a briefing in Funabashi to the residents, during which he also offered his apologies to them.

    He told the meeting, organized by the Funabashi municipal government, that his company had thought of reinforcing the three condominiums but that emergency inspections of their earthquake-resistance had led to the conclusion that they needed to be pulled down.

    Not being an engineer, I’m not sure how weak a building has to be before you’re better off tearing it down than trying to retrofit it. It doesn’t sound good. It’s been determined that one building, inspected by a team of architects from the Funabashi municipal government, has only 31% of the level of earthquake resistance required by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. That sounds even worse.

    The rating scale, BTW, apparently works like this:

    On Tuesday, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said it will compile a unified set of standards to be applied when local municipalities order buildings that are at risk from temblors to be demolished or repaired.

    The ministry decided on the step because standards differ from one municipality to another. Officials reasoned that residents in the apartments at risk should not be worried further.

    A benchmark of 1 describes strength that will withstand a temblor of upper 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7. Structures will be graded in proportion to the benchmark. A reading of 0.5 means that there is a danger the structure will collapse in an earthquake of upper 5 on the seismic scale.

    Those classified as between 0.3 and 0.2 in quake resistance will be ordered torn down.

    Of the 14 completed buildings in which Aneha, 48, was involved, the ministry said Monday that 12 were rated at 0.5 or less in quake-resistance levels. One was classified with a 0.56 reading.

    As my friends and I were remarking yet again last night, an upper 5 is a significant quake, but it’s not really what you’d call major. Nor is it a rare occurrence if you take Japan as a whole. As Taro Akasaka commented here the other day, the good news is that a scandal like this rivets the attention and could help prevent such fraud in the future. The Japanese will gamely put up with all kinds of discomfort, but tell them their houses aren’t safe in earthquakes, and you will know their wrath.

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