• Home
  • About


    This weekend’s earthquake in China not only is sad in and of itself, but is especially sobering for those following what’s happening with Japan’s beleaguered construction industry and government bodies.

    News is pouring in. The city of Hiratsuka in Kanagawa Prefecture (near Yokohama and the ancient capital of Kamakura) has acknowledged that it failed to check Aneha’s structural strength report:

    Municipal officials in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, failed to detect an architect’s lies about the quake-resistance of a hotel, saying his structural-strength report was simply too big to be checked in time.

    Hidetsugu Aneha, the Chiba Prefecture-based architect at the center of the growing scandal involving unsafe buildings, compiled the report for Park Inn Hiratsuka.

    “The structural strength report was a very thick one measuring about 10 centimeters, and it was very difficult to check it thoroughly in three weeks,” Hiratsuka Mayor Ritsuko Okura said Thursday.

    The oversight came to light after officials of the city’s urban policy department reviewed the report.

    The 14 columns on the first floor of the hotel had between 60 and 70 percent the required strength, sources said.

    Sounds like responsibility-dodging, huh? It may be worse than you think. In the week-and-change over which this story has been unfolding, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that at least some of Aneha’s falsifications should have been caught a long time ago. An on-site manager for the construction firm that built Sun Chuo Home # 15 in Funabashi apparently alerted the company as it was being built that it had too few girders. I’m quoting this at length so I can inflict on my Japan-based readers the full, creeping sense of horror I experienced when first reading it:

    An expert analysis has revealed that structural integrity data on two apartment buildings submitted by architect Hidetsugu Aneha had less than half the required earthquake resistance, with overly small pillars and girders used in the calculations.

    The analysis was provided by a first-class architect asked by The Yomiuri Shimbun to evaluate the plans of Aneha, who has admitted falsifying structural strength certificates for 22 buildings in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

    The expert said the structural data were an outright falsification, with various data combined to reduce material costs, and it was hard to imagine how the inspection agency involved failed to notice.

    Concerning the structural integrity data for Sun Chuo Home No. 15, an apartment building in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, the architect said, “I had an uncomfortable feeling looking at it at first glance.”

    The 10-story ferroconcrete building was designed by Aneha Architect Design Office in Ichikawa in the same prefecture, and constructed and sold by Sun Chuo Home Co. The Construction and Transport Ministry’s recalculation found the building has only 31 percent of the necessary strength.

    Bear in mind that these two condominium complexes were in Chiba Prefecture; they are not the same hotel that Hiratsuka is admitting it rushed through, and maybe Aneha was more careful to cover his tracks there. For his part, Aneha is accusing three of the construction firms with which he contracted of pressuring him to allow them to cut corners on structural strength.

    Several hotels have been closed. A few days ago, the city of Yokohama ordered a condominium evacuated, and now the federal government has stepped in, with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport taking the unusual step of threatening to invoke the building standards law to force people out of condos designated unsafe if they refuse to evacuate. It’s also proposing, naturally more stringent inspection procedures:

    Checks will be tightened on construction authorization procedures in the wake of a scandal that has uncovered dozens of apartment blocks and large buildings built using falsified structural integrity data, the government said Saturday.

    The Construction and Transport Ministry plans to introduce a manual on how to check the structural integrity data of building designs, as well as a random survey of government-designated private inspection companies.

    The ministry will submit the draft reform plan to the Panel on Infrastructure Development, an advisory body to the construction and transport minister, at a meeting to be held next month.

    Reviewing the checking system is one of the most important tasks to prevent a recurrence of the problem.

    “Until now, the system was based on trust in the inspectors,” a ministry official said. “But we must base it on the view that human nature is inherently evil.”

    Those who want to see the original of that last dramatic sentence can find it here: “これまでは設計者や、建築確認を行う民間機関、自治体などへの信頼が前提だったが、今後は性悪説に基づいた制度に変える。”

    I didn’t mention the China earthquake just because of its fatalities, BTW. Its magnitude was 5.7. That’s the Richter scale for released energy, not the JMA scale for surface vibration–still, by all accounts, the quake and aftershocks were strong but not major. I assume they were of about the intensity at which Aneha’s falsely certified buildings are expected to be at risk of failing.

    One of the things commentators have been saying since yesterday is that Jiangxi Province was lucky in a sense: most of the houses that are falling down are only one or two stories, so injuries and fatalities have been minimal. The hotels and apartments we’re talking about here in Japan are all, to my knowledge, multi-story structures. (At least one mentioned above is ten.) If, in the worst-case scenario, one of them collapsed, dozens of people could be buried in moments.

    Fortunately, counts of deaths and injuries in eastern China don’t seem to have ballooned overnight, so resources can probably be devoted to assisting those who have been displaced. It’s cold at night now, so keeping people out of the elements will be the first priority.

    Leave a Reply