Essay

How Do We Want to Trust, Cultivate and Love Where We Live? / Teppei Fujiwara [Contribution Text for chelfitsch & Teppei Kaneuji]

©︎Shota Yamauchi ©︎Shota Yamauchi

The Great East Japan Earthquake and its aftershocks caused the deaths of 15,894 people. The cause of death for 92.5% of the victims was drowning, indicating how unprecedented the tsunami damage from the earthquake was. The height of the tsunami was an incredible 16.7 meters in Ofunato in Iwate Prefecture, 14.8 meters in Onagawa in Miyagi, and 21.1 meters in Tomioka in Fukushima, with the highest point of the wave reaching 43.3 meters. Following these survey results, the special investigating committee of the Central Disaster Management Council recommended the reinforcement of seawalls in June 2011.

As an area where tsunamis frequently occur, the Sanriku coast in the Tohoku region naturally already had seawalls. The height of these walls was typically between three and four meters, with the highest wall measuring 6.4 meters. The height of the seawalls was redesigned for the new installations with an almost unbelievable 14.5 meters (equivalent to the height of a five-story building) proposed for the tallest parts. Not only seawalls, at places where relocating to higher ground is difficult a plan was proposed for filling in the low-lying land with over ten meters of soil. Greatly surpassing our own physical sense of scale, this disaster prevention plan engendered much opposition and doubt.

The opposition voices focused on four main points, all of which are persuasive: the scenic destruction (the oppressiveness of the seawalls; the loss of the attractive features of the terrain; the impact on tourism); the loss of local identity (the impact on traditions and cultures that arise from living beside the sea); doubts about the safety (it is on the contrary actually more dangerous when you cannot see the ocean; people will become accustomed to not dealing with small tsunamis); and the impact on ecosystems (the influence on groundwater water ecosystems is not confirmed; there are fears about the impact on offshore resources).

The disaster prevention plan was drawn up in consultation with locals, but, being an issue with implications for people’s survival, the deadlocked discussions ended up causing much distress and pain to the relationships between people in the region. Though a wide range of opinions were exchanged, the plan was ultimately decided in a top-down way,with the result that almost all highways are now surrounded by seawalls measuring more than ten meters, and work is continuing in many areas to raise them higher than ten meters. A considerable number of people involved are left feeling that their efforts have been futile.

There were also areas where there was consensus among local residents to oppose the plan and rather lower the height of the seawall somehow. Why did they choose to take a risk and reduce the seawall like this? The reasons given in one survey reveal very legitimate and frank opinions (“It means that fishermen going off to work won’t be able to observe their custom of looking over at the island where there is a shrine for praying for their safety”; “Because everyone feels like we shouldn’t change the way the coastal landscape is integrated into our everyday lives”) that were upsetting to read. It seemed strange that other areas could not engage in a proper discussion of the issue like this.

On the other hand, when life-threatening choices are foisted on us, I wonder whether we are really thinking in a way that connects our lives with the landscapes and natural features of the places in which we were born and raised, to the extent that we can all share a trust in the landscape. Natural features are only formed by the affection, cultivation, and love of the people who live there. We go on trips in search of stunning landscapes, though we seem somehow indifferent in regard to participating in the scenery right in front of us and cultivating that land. How do you want to trust, cultivate, and love the landscape of the city neighborhood where you live? The problems of landscape now arising in Tohoku are without doubt rooted in our own local circumstances.


Teppei Fujiwara
Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1975, Teppei Fujiwara completed postgraduate studies at Yokohama National University. After time at Kengo Kuma and Associates, he set up his own firm, Fujiwara Teppei Architects. He is an associate professor at the Yokohama Graduate School of Architecture, Yokohama National University. In his work he searches for new possibilities for architecture through open dialogue with various kinds of people, from clients to builders, carpenters, artisans, structural designers, facility designers, designers, and factory engineers.

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