Metropolis Magazine
Issue #805 - Friday, Aug 28th, 2009
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Photo of the Week
The Small Print
Star Struck
"Page 2 "
The Goods
Body & Soul
Tech Know
Cars & Bikes
Global Village
The Last Word
The Negi
+ Best of Tokyo
Haikyo Corner
Out & About
Japan Beat
Live Report
Pop Life
2008 Flashback
Stage & Dance
Metropolis League
Theater Maps
Restaurant Review
Bar Review
International Dining
Local Flavors
Table Talk
About Us
Distribution Points
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Past Issues
804: Drama Scene
803: Heads, Tails & Snake Eyes
801: A Legacy of Emotion
800: Through the Monocle
799: Fighting spirit
798: Taking the Stares
796: Friends Don't Let Friends Become Salarymen
795: Fuzzy Democracy
794: Hung Jury
792: Highway to Hell
791: The Cartography of Cyberspace
790: Train Talk
789: A Confessions of a Teenager in Kimono
787: A Downloaded Question
786: Counterculture Shock
785: The Good Sensei
783: Me, Charisma Woman?
782: Stumbling Block
781: Paradise Lost
779: Half and Half
778: Road Rage
777: Dumb Luck
775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ain't Easy Being Green
769: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
761: Kicking the bucket
760: Thumbing It
759: Fixing the System
757: Smoke rings
756: Stalking the Predators
755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Let's Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
747: I'll be back
746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
744: Magical Mystery Tour
743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes 'R' Us
740: The Mother of all Mothers
739: Crimes of Fashion
738: The Hafu Dad Brigade
737: The Green Team
736: Fight Club
735: The Paper Chase
734: The Wind-Up Writer Chronicle
733: Food For Thought?
732: Home and Away
731: The 2008 Nazi Olympics
730: The Two-Wheel Revolution
729: Gimme a Break
728: Power Play
727: Dying for a doctor
726: Footloose Revisited
725: Little Fish, Bigger Pond
724: Japan's Peace Monster
723: Language Abuse
722: Scumbusters "R" Us
721: First Action Hiro
720: The Return of Asashoryu
718-719: A Time to Give
717: My Homelessness Dilemma
716: The 30 Percent Solution
715: Past Imperfect
714: Killing the Kimono
713: The trouble with Tibbets
712: Surfing the Shinto-net
711: Falling Stars
710: Macho Man
709: Bad Impressions
708: Bloodsport
707: Our Last Word
706: Anonymocracy
705: The Air Up There
704: Read the Signs
703: The sky should not be the limit
702: My Year Zero Proposal
701: The Joys of Freeganism
700: Prada for the People
699: The Parasite Country
698: Washed up in Tokyo
697: Birthing's Not for Babies
696: On the Handlebars of a Dilemma
695: My So-Called Poverty
694: Get Out the Vote
693: The Ishihara Mystery
691: Let it Flow
690: Caf Culture
689: Oyaji Fashionistas
688: The Democracy of the Dysfunctional
687: Polite Disregard
686: Venting on Climate Change
685: Silent No Longer
684: To protect and serve?
683: Save the Sanshin building!
682: In the Realm of the Pond God
681: The Open Society and Its Enemies
680: Five-Ring Circus
679: Topic of Cancer
678: Pet Peeves
677: Why I am Banned in Japan
676: A long way to the top
675: Euro-vision
674: Child's play
673: Why I did it
672: I Love Japan
671: Running Crazy
670: Planet Apology
669: A peek behind the curtain
668: Opening Up
666: Pitching a fit
665: All wrapped up
664: Yule Rules
663: Field of Dreams
662: Save Lives, not Face
661: Why Do I Buy a Ticket?
660: Dying for a Nap
659: We, the jury
658: Grain of truth
657: Remembering The Maverick
656: A Rose by any Other Name
655: Heir today, gone tomorrow
654: Manhandled on the Metro
653: The bodyguards of the road
652: Separate but equal
651: Going for the gold
650: Being Audrey Hepburn
649: Not Sitting Pretty
648: Get Smart
647: Through foreign eyes
646: A failing grade in cute
644: Club Lands
643: Sayonara, Hide
642: The JET SET
641: What, me worry?
640: The Da Vinci Load
639: Making Waves
638: Final Cut
637: Resave the whales
636: Soccer Silliness
635: I, Smoker
634: The Ultimate Loss
633: Shoot the Messengers
632: The second sex
631: A Maverick Moves On
630: The curse of Baron Mitsui
629: Waiting for Heidi
628: Memoirs of a fake celebrant
627: Take it Outside
626: Wa? What wa?
625: A well-drawn life
624: St. Patrick the abducted
623: Bend over
622: The (Un)Late show
621: Oil spill
620: Ice Follies
619: Pride Goeth
618: Lost roles
617: Saying it with Cookies
616: Wrestling with foreigners
614-615: Blank Pages
613: Fretting Over Freeters
612: Farewell, Sensei
611: Sympathy for the wild ones
610: Back in Black
609: Out of many, one
608: Youth culture
607: The Russians are coming!
606: Meddle Detector
605: Tokyo, Mon amour
604: The Wailing Wall
603: Getting Abreast of Cancer
602: Willing Ally
601: New war,same story
600: The Big Chill
599: The Gray Zone
598: Jail break
597: Extremely Lost in Translation
596: Wounded Despot
595: History Lessons
594: Valhalla of the Imperial Army
592: Culture crash
591: Complaints Department
590: What lies beneath
589: Strange Games
588: Junk Science
587: The day the invaders came
586: The Test that Drove Me Crazy
585: Smile and say “lesbian”
584: Keep Article 9
583: The Great Divide
582: An ad for all seasons
581: Killing the Golden Goose
580: The other half
579: Give me back my bye-bye
578: Araki in Focus
577: Head out on the Highway
576: The hate that won't go away
575: Here's the beef
574: Yukking it up
573: Squatter’s rights and wrongs
572: The Trouble with Yokoso
571: Fire from the sky
570: Invasion of the gairaigo
569: Good company
568: Find Out What it Means To Me
567: Field of schemes
566: In the Name of Justice
565: Winner or Loser?
564: Staying Foreign
563: The Scare after Tomorrow
561-562: The Spirit of Things
560: War for remembrance
559: Storm damage
558: The Meaning of Godzilla
557: Who’s left to listen?
556: Paying respects
555: Gender Trouble
554: Coming clean at last
553: Go our own way
552: Hits of yesteryear
551: Heir apparel
550: Personal Reflections
549: Nuclear Reactions
548: Article of faith
547: Martyrs for the firm
546: A different anniversary
545: We, the jury
544: Wrongs & rights
543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged

By Catherine Frances

Stumbling Block
Trying to understand local planning laws is like knocking your head against a brick wall

Catherine Frances is a post-graduate researcher and mother

I first became acquainted with Japanese planning laws—or rather, the lack of them—ten years ago when I lived in a two-story mansion in Kanagawa. One day, I came home from work to find a three-story pre-fab house had been erected next door. All sunlight and my cherished glimpses of Mt Fuji had been replaced by the view of a stranger’s bedroom; our balconies were so close that I could have reached into his washing machine and hung out his laundry if I felt so inclined (which I didn’t). I was outraged. Surely this was impossible? Illegal? Immoral?

Well, not in Japan. Generally speaking, for buildings up to ten meters tall, there are no restrictions. What’s more, the Basic Construction Standard only requires that new structures in residential zones not obscure natural sunlight to private homes in a southerly direction for a certain number of hours per day, as determined by each municipality. Even a law passed in 1997 for protecting the environment in Antarctica is more stringent and logical.

Most planning legislation here dates back to the postwar period, when the country was trying to rebuild physically and economically. Under the 1950 Comprehensive National Land Development Act, the prime minister drew up a national plan for industry and infrastructure, leaving the private sector to develop commercial and residential areas at a community level, under the jurisdiction of local governments. Therefore, unlike most Western countries, where residential, commercial or industrial areas are clearly delineated, in Tokyo the default model is mixed-use zoning.

Historically, this “market force” approach to planning worked well, especially when earthquake-proofing technology limited building heights to ten floors. But now that construction techniques have become more advanced, regulations have relaxed and skyscrapers are more common.

We’ve all seen examples of construction anomalies: pachinko parlors next to beautiful temples, vending machines on country footpaths. Recently, a Tokyo court ruled that manga artist Kazuo Umezu’s red-and-white-striped, cartoon-character-topped home did “not destroy the harmony of the landscape.” Apparently, 70 percent of the public agreed it was “not ugly,” but this probably did not include the neighbors who have to look at it every day. The Japanese need for harmony and aesthetics does not seem to apply to architecture.

Of course, what is visually pleasing and acceptable is subjective, but when a building proposal has serious adverse effects on the well-being and daily life of neighbors, but is nevertheless legal, surely something is wrong.
Shane Busato

A recent incident involving my son’s daycare center offers a perfect example of the absurdity of Japanese planning laws. The Shinjuku Dai-Ni Hoikuen is a two-story building with all its windows on the east side, overlooking a parking lot. Orix construction company has approval from Shinjuku City Office (who incidentally run the daycare center) to erect a 15-story apartment building where the parking lot now stands, less than one meter from the hoikuen. They are able to do this because the part of the proposed structure facing the road will only be two stories high.

Since the hoikuen and the neighboring houses are in what is classified as a “commercial” zone, and because they don’t lie to the south of the proposed building, the sunlight preservation rule only applies to the road. In other words, it is perfectly legal for Orix to block all the toddlers’ natural light and fresh air, and to vibrate the babies’ cots with their drills.

The name Orix might sound familiar because this is the group currently embroiled in a scandal involving the purchase of Kampo no Yado inns from Japan Post for well below market value. A glance at the company’s homepage reveals that Orix has received awards for showing compassion towards mothers and children. Possibly these were in-house awards?

Shinjuku City Office recently arranged a consultation meeting for parents and residents to express their concerns directly to the construction company. However, Orix did not attend; instead they sent a professional—but uninformed—PR company to listen on their behalf.

Had Orix come to the meeting, they would have heard concerns about, obviously, daylight, but also air pollution, noise, privacy and safety—anything dropped from the 15th floor could seriously injure a child on the hoikuen’s roof garden. Someone reaching across a balcony to take clothes is one thing; being able to harm a child is quite another.

At some point, common sense must be brought into play, along the lines of British Common Law, which evaluates cases from the contemporary standpoint of the average “man on the Clapham Omnibus.” This would negate the need for having a specific civil law that says “Thou shalt not build a 15-story building within one meter of a hoikuen building's windows” before anyone realized that it might not be a good idea.

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