Saturday 31 October 2015

Moving mountains

The intense dispersion of population in Japan’s major cities is a critical aspect that stood out to me the most during our six day stay in the country. Within hours of landing in Japan, as we made our journey on the bullet train to Shin-Osaka, large “box” apartments made of prefabricated cement sheets (a common aesthetic of modern factory buildings in Melbourne) dominated the horizon. It suddenly became evident that medium to high rise apartment buildings made of cheap pre-fabricated cement sheets is a dwelling choice made by many Japanese. I can only assume that these dwelling types are affordable based on the ridiculous abundance of these buildings. Although similar apartments like these can be found in Melbourne, a unique aspect of these dwellings that stood out the most is the lack of windows. With a large quantity of these buildings existing in virtually every city in Japan, it was interesting to notice the differences in what residents look for in these dwellings. For example, the absence of windows in these apartments are considered as inappropriate and unacceptable from Melbourne standard, where as in Japan, the location of these apartments is the primary concern for renters/buyers when considering to rent/buy these apartments.

Visiting the tsunami devastated areas provided us with an opportunity to get an insight to the physical, social and economic settings of Japan’s planning. Firstly, the physical response that resonated to me the most is the physical barriers being built to protect the land from future tsunamis. As described by Sam, the Japanese are truck by truck “moving mountains” to create human made barricades that they hope would protect the area from future devastating tsunamis.

The concept of “moving mountains” is an idea that stuck to my mind as I tried to imagine a similar occasion ever happening in Melbourne. Alarming issues of habitat loss, wildlife endangerment, and so forth all played a key role in establishing the fact that a big movement as such would not be easily accepted as the most appropriate action to take from a Melbourne context. It was interesting to hear the Japanese justify this action. From their point of view, statistically speaking “70% of Japan’s land is rural and mountainous, and only 30% is liveable land”, they then therefore justify the action of “moving mountains” as just because of the abundance of unliveable and supply. It was both interesting and horrific to hear their perspective of why potentially destroying an ecosystem is justified because of the abundance of soil supply. Overall, the lesson I learnt from this experience is that different cultures have different responses to challenges. The embedded cultural beliefs, values and traditions heavily influences the actions we take. In this example, the Japanese culture values the peace of mind of safety over valuing the importance of protecting the environment and habitats.

Lastly, during the city tour with Kit, another Japanese mindset way of planning that stood out to me the most was the disregard for valuing historic buildings. It was interesting to learn that the Japanese viewed old and historic buildings with little to no value. The whole purpose of ‘preserving’ a historic building through rebuilding an exact replica with a high rise building on top of the building is a complete “mockery”. I found this concept of history preservation as both valid and outrageous. Firstly, I find this a valid way of preserving history as the replicas are built to a higher modern standard and are therefore less susceptible to structural failure. However, I disagree with this method of preservation as the whole purpose of “preservation” is to preserve the original state of a place, a replica does not have the sentimental value that the original builds possess.

Jericho Perez

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