Where’s the mess? – Construction in Japan

Ever since I first set foot in Japan – many long years ago – I have envied the Japanese for their construction industry. Huge worksites, giant cranes, dozens of trucks – and no dust, mud or dirt anywhere!

It came as a kind of culture shock when the developer of a construction project about to get underway on the land right next door to the embassy visited us to announce it. He showed us a work plan broken down by the day and covering several months in advance. It showed us how many trucks would be involved and when, and when there would be particularly loud noise or heavier traffic. He asked for our forgiveness… plenty of bowing and a huge box of chocolates…

And the best part was they really did the work on the days they said they would. And if we were expecting a high-ranking delegation or were organizing a reception at the embassy and asked them to briefly discontinue the noisier work they complied without a word of complaint.

And we got to see the construction close-up, and that’s really what this post is about: no dust, no mud, no dirt…

This is such a basic expectation for Japanese construction projects that they simply couldn’t understand the amazement of a stray (Eastern/Central) European traveler. The building sites are surrounded by fences made of tall and pleasant-looking panels, the scaffolding is always covered by a curtain, nothing gets thrown around, and demolition is accompanied by a steady spray of water…

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You won’t find a single piece of graffiti on the panels surrounding construction sites. (Oh, and by the way, most people have never even heard of graffiti.) There are no advertisements pasted onto the panels and there are no private ads either. (Posters are only put up in designated spaces, so, for instance, the utility poles hold the phone lines and power lines and nothing else – no ads.) And most amazing of all: when a vehicle leaves the construction site it stops at a grating by the gate where it is washed down. The result is a mud-free construction site and no dirt carried out of it either.

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The most spectacular example of demolition without creating a mess was unquestionably that of the Akasaka Prince Hotel, a 40-story building built in the early 1980s and had to be taken down. Instead of trying to explain it, I suggest watching the video:

The building was demolished from the bottom up: each time they took out a floor they lowered the building, preventing any dust from getting out. Anywhere else in the world they would have cleared out the neighborhood and blown the building up, creating a huge dust cloud. (Check out the demolition of the former Ministry of Industry in Budapest, on Margit körút!)

A new luxury apartment house is now being built on the site of the hotel. I recently went by the construction site. What I saw exceeded everything I have experienced to date. This is what it looked like:

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Yes!!! Yes!!! A wall of greenery has been attached to the panels surrounding the construction site, and the roses planted there are about to bloom! The photo also shows how clean the panels are. (Maybe they polish them to get them so shiny?)

Granted, Japan is not exactly the land of milk and honey. Its fiscal year ends at the end of March. Having any money left over is just as hazardous in Japan as elsewhere. So the money has to be spent, and spent quickly. This is why we see major road construction in March. One night in March (in Japan the roads are dug up at night, doing the noisy part of the job in the early evening and the rest overnight so as not to block traffic) a brigade showed up under our window. I counted: there were fourteen people. Three were in charge of warning and detouring the non-existent traffic, using nightsticks that glowed. Several others marched up and down, trying to look important. One man studied the plans. No need to continue. Exactly two of them picked up the tools and started working… the Japanese political parties need to be financed, too…

But, to end this tale on a positive note: each morning the dug up section of road had been restored and the tools and materials were stacked up into a nice pile to wait for evening when the crew would come back and continue the work. In other words, we could learn a thing or two…

The pictures in the post were taken by the author.

The video in the post can be accessed here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_4G_8gEjng

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