What’s a measly seven centimeters?

Looks straight to me: Umeda Gate Tower

The Umeda Gate Tower, a 21-story office building located near Osaka Station, was completed two years ago, but it was only in the past week that the media has reported that the structure is flawed. Before that, the city of Osaka officially reprimanded the general contractor in charge of construction, Kashima Corp., which has since issued assurances that the building is totally safe.

One of the primary vertical steel pillars on the third floor of the building is apparently 7 centimeters off the plumb line, meaning it is not perfectly perpendicular to the base. An unnamed sub-contractor realized the flaw before work on the floor was completed but did nothing to correct it. The company’s workers also failed to inform Kashima of the defect and then falsified the required documentation for the work. These documents were given to the building owner before safety checks were carred out.

Eventually, one of the men who worked for the sub-contractor revealed the defect on the Internet, which is how Kashima and the city of Osaka first found out about it sometime in the fall. Kashima says it carried out an inspection and concluded that the defect does not in any way compromise the structural integrity of the building. The media, however, did not report the story until Dec. 15, by which time the controversy was mostly over. Most of the stories, in fact, did not even identify the building, and none of them analyzed what a 7-centimeter tilt to a third-story vertical pillar means in terms of safety. We just have to take Kashima’s word.

Nihongo needed

Last April the city of Fukui adopted a “guideline” in its municipal public housing regulations that stated non-Japanese who applied for low-income housing must be able to “communicate in Japanese.” Applications for those who cannot will not be accepted. Since then various groups that work with foreigners in Japan have protested the guideline, but it still stands. Some of these groups have said that they are aware that some non-Japanese applicants, though they qualify for public housing otherwise, have been prevented from applying for housing due to the new guideline.

There are nine cities in Fukui Prefecture, but only Fukui City has such a rule. The city official in charge of public housing told a local newspaper that his office had received complaints from community associations (jichikai) of individual public housing complexes. These associations said that some non-Japanese residents were unable to communicate “very well” in Japanese, and thus it was difficult for them to understand and follow association rules regarding the “sorting of refuse” and “noise.” For that reason, the city government adopted this new guideline. Read More

Public housing on the ropes

Housing complex along Sumida River run by Tokyo-to

There are two types of public housing available in Japan. A national public corporation called UR runs semi-public housing whose rents are pegged to property values. Meanwhile local governments at the prefectural and municipal levels provide housing for low-income families and individuals. Last week, the Asahi Shimbun surveyed this latter category among Japan’s 47 prefectures and 19 major cities. The newspaper found that 1/3 of these entities planned to reduce the number of units of low-income housing in the future.

In fact, the only two local governments who said they planned to increase low-income public housing was the prefecture of Okinawa and the city of Sagamihara in Kanagawa Prefecture. Everyone else said they either would keep the number they already have, or had not made any plans at all.

The governments who said they would decrease public housing stated as their main reason the declining population. The second most common reason was difficulty in securing funds for maintenance of existing housing. Two prefectures said they were planning on rebuilding their housing facilities, since the bulk of low-income public apartments were built in the 60s and 70s. When they carry out the reconstruction work, they will probably reduce the number of units per building. Another reason that wasn’t mentioned as often but certainly had a significant impact is the fact that subsidies for public housing from the central government have dropped by 40 percent in the past ten years. Read More