The government’s disaster prevention commission recently came up with guidelines and measures that it said it would work on in response to major earthquakes that are projected to strike the Chubu and Kinki regions sometimes in the next 70 years. The commission estimated that if an earthquake the magnitude of the one that struck Kobe in 1995 (7.3 magnitude) happened in these two areas, about 42,000 people would die in the Kinki region and about 11,000 in the Chubu region. The Kobe earthquake–or, the Great Hanshin Earthquake, as it’s officially called–claimed 6,434 lives.
Most of the deaths would occur in the most densely populated areas, so one of the countermeasure is to somehow ease this density. Some 90% of the people who died in Kobe were crushed by collapsed buildings or by falling furniture. In addition, almost all the collapsed buildings were built before 1981, when new earthquake construction guidelines went into effect. The areas of Kobe with the highest death tolls were densely populated, with narrow streets and mostly wooden buildings. More strictly enforced building codes will definitely save lives, but housing design is also important. The reason so many people died under fallen furniture is that older Japanese houses have no closets, so rooms are filled with wardrobes that are tall and heavy.
The land ministry’s findings will obviously make the commission’s job a lot harder. Fifty-one percent of the houses and 10% of commercial buildings in the two regions are not up to code. Even worse, 50% of school buildings are not earthquake-proof yet.