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Thursday, January 12, 2006

The pinch

姉葉 木村建設
Japan - the construction state

Japan's economy is said to be back on the rise again. However, I was with my friend the other day and called in on the graphic design office he is a member of on the way home, as he had to pick something up. Being late at night, and the office deserted, I wandered around for a few minutes, while he was busy, looking at the profusion of design-related reference material and equipment that packed every corner of the modest-sized space.

I noticed a set of drawers, each with a designer's name on it, and, seeing my friend's name, got curious and opened it. The first thing to strike my eye was a set of 4 CDs he seemed to be in the process of designing, in striking colors using a feather motif. It is difficult to describe the impact in words, but my eye immediately picked it out as a piece of true art - quite different in terms of vividness and obvious flair from the usually more restrained minimal work I associate with him.

He came over, looked rather sadly at it, and explained that although - as he showed me - there was room for two more CDs in the boxed set, those two empty spaces would not be filled. The company had suddenly pulled the plug on his project two thirds of the way through 'because of money'.

The design company belongs to one of the biggest, if not the biggest, music publisher in Japan - perhaps the world, and is certainly not a company that is even remotely close to being on hard times. Quite the opposite.

My friend then went on - the sadness giving rise to a note of bitterness - saying that what they'd done to his project rose from exactly the same mindset as had given rise to the present construction industry scandal that Japan is in the throes of. Hidetsugu Aneha, an architect, has been exposed as having purposely skimped on the amount of steel reinforcing required to make the buildings he designed fully earthquake resistant - apparently thereby caving in to pressure from the Kimura Construction Company so that Kimura could save a few yen by not having to buy as much steel.

It is now widely felt that this is but the tip of the iceberg, and that there are hundreds of buildings in Japan that could well come tumbling down in the next big earthquake because of simple tightfistedness. As difficult to understand as it is in Japan, which is renowned for its wealth and its dedication to quality, this is the moneygrubbing side of the country that comes out in such scandals - including the smaller scandal of a work of art stopped dead in its tracks by a similarly minded scrooge.

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