Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Watering Hole

One of my major complaints about Japan is the abundance of concrete.
As well as the thousands of hideous concrete apartment buildings that
plague the cities, there are "ancient" concrete castles, concrete
shrines, concrete schools... well, you get the picture. The concrete
doesn't just stop at the buildings though - it's spilling into the
mountains and rivers too.

I live near Echizen Kaigan, which is a beautiful stretch of coastline
with some amazing rock formations and cliffs. But there's one problem
- almost the entire length of the mountainside is clad in concrete
landslide defences. It looks like some sort of giant concrete
honeycomb has completely smothered the landscape, and it's the same
story anywhere there's a road or house remotely near the side of a
mountain. The rivers fare no better - every inch of riverbank is
enclosed in a concrete straitjacket, making them look more like giant
sewage drains than rivers.

There are various explanations for this plague of concrete. One is
that Japan is very prone to landslides, and as such the mountains need
to be reinforced in order to stop them literally falling down. Japan
regularly suffers earthquakes and typhoons, both of which often cause
landslides. However, the sheer amount of concrete used to remedy this
problem seems to be extreme to say the least. Worse still, often no
effort is made to try and blend the reinforcements into the natural
landscape, for example by covering the concrete with a layer of grass.

As for the rivers, flood prevention is the reason given for the excess
of concrete dykes and levees. It's true that Fukui's almost totally
flat valleys are prone to flooding - the massive floods last July
proved that - but the solution seems extreme. Parts of England are
prone to flooding too, but I've never seen a river in England where
the entire riverbank is composed of grey, ugly concrete.

There's also a more sinister explanation for the spreading concrete -
corruption. Alex Kerr has written a book - "Dogs and Demons" - about
the widespread corruption inherent in the public works system in
Japan, which results in many needless projects and wasting of money.
I've only read extracts from his book, but you can read some of his
opinions on the concrete invasion of Japan
here - or go here to look at the full article. One of the most shocking statistics he gives is that 55% of Japan's coastline is covered in concrete. I can easily believe that...

However, last weekend I had a revelation. Sam organised a trip up to
"The Watering Hole" near Ono, a remote spot tucked away in the
mountains towards Izumi that very few people know about. There are no
signs, and the route there takes you down the smallest roads I've ever
seen through a tiny village surrounded by bamboo thickets and rice
fields. Eventually you reach a wall of forest, and when you emerge
through the trees you're presented with an absolutely stunning river
valley........with no concrete!!!!! Sing Hallelujah!!!!!

It was absolutely amazing - the water was clear and perfect for
swimming, and the views were stunning. Sam put out an email invite to
the local JETs, and in the end about 15 of us turned up for a spot of
camping and barbecuing, and it turned into one of the most relaxing
and fun weekends I've had since I got here. I know last week I said I
was planning to go to the beach every weekend from now on, but I've
decided to expand that to include "non-concreted rivers". Well, if
there's one, there must be more...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can create links via e-mail posting, if you turn on "Rich formatting". You are using Gmail, right? Highlight the text you want, click the link icon, and enter the URL.

Of course, for those of us using FireFox (with the appropriate plugins), the links are automatically clickable.

3:09 pm  
Blogger Maethelwine said...

Yes, you've worked it out. Screw the beaches, except on small islands. Go uphill. Follow dirt roads until you find Oz. Works almost every time. But don't tell anyone else.

9:35 am  
Blogger Lewis said...

Thanks for the tips on email posting Anonymous (I'm guessing it's Phoenix - am I right?). I've adjusted the article accordingly...

9:30 pm  

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