ULI finds “resilience backbone” in Tokyo’s response to natural disasters


A Tokyo study found that ancient institutions are just as important to protecting Japanese society from natural disasters as massive investments in disaster risk reduction infrastructure.

A ULI study on urban resilience shows how culture can contribute to a city’s resilience by promoting mutual collaboration among residents, helping the high cost of infrastructure investments, and inspiring private property developers to accept and agree to some of the toughest building codes in the world surpass.

The study, In the eye of the storm, looks at Tokyo’s experiences in responding to centuries of natural disasters – typhoons, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and droughts. The active neighborhoods of the city – known as chonaikai– are demonstrably a permanent social core around which disaster preparedness and response can be organized. you matsuri Festivals strengthen bonds with the community, while the festivals’ disaster relief groups remain active year round. Japan’s Volunteer Fire Brigades, the shobodanto raise awareness of local hazards and act as local leaders in disaster prevention.

This report is available in the Knowledge Finder.

Tokyo’s investors and landlords are responding to the need for resilient urban design with buildings that usually exceed the already high official standards. Your emergency infrastructure usually serves the wider neighborhood and forms a self-contained bubble that enables the neighborhood to continue functioning even if supply and communication connections are interrupted during a disaster. The report highlights Mitsubishi Estate Group’s development in the Marunouchi, Otemachi and Yurakucho areas, the city’s main central business district; Mori Building Company’s Roppongi District; and the modernization of the historic Nihonbashi business district by Mitsui Fudosan Co.

Improvements in resilience offset their construction costs and create opportunities. The completion of the Greater Tokyo Outer Area Discharge Channel enabled Kasukabe City to develop into a successful logistics hub, while the Yokohama International Stadium was made possible by the Tsurumi River Detention Basin.

David Faulkner, President of ULI Asia Pacific said: “Japan has responded to its geographic vulnerability to natural disasters with a cultural dynamic in which all segments of society pull together for the common good. This includes its key developers who are inspired to act as good corporate citizens and set high standards that others can follow. Your showcase projects are showcase objects for resilient design. “

With 37 million inhabitants, the Japanese capital is the largest urban area in Asia, but also the third most threatened area in the world by natural disasters. Tokyo’s vulnerability is due to geological fault lines, its exposure to extreme weather conditions, and its proximity to inland mountain ranges and their fast-flowing rivers. Tokyo responded to its vulnerability by doing the following:

  • Massive civil engineering campaigns since the second half of the 19th century and most recently after the global financial crisis, when the state stimulated the economy by building infrastructures.
  • The creation of a district-wide, self-sufficient infrastructure around new developments.
  • A national law on building standards that sets minimum requirements for technical safety against fire, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
  • Extensive redevelopment: The redevelopment promotion law for earthquake-proof structures of 1995 requires an assessment of buildings and, if necessary, structural reinforcement.
  • Reconstruction or increase of the fire resistance class in “Priority Development Districts”, which are characterized by densely packed wooden buildings.
  • Disaster and evacuation drills are conducted throughout the year, including Disaster Prevention Day on September 1, which focuses on flood risk in river basins, landslides in June, and avalanches in December.
  • The automated, satellite-based J-Alert warning system for impending earthquakes or floods.

Tokyo’s success in dealing with natural disasters is evident in the limited damage caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 and Super Typhoon Hagibis in 2019. The report finds that Typhoon Lan only flooded 202 homes in 2017, compared to a similar amount of rainfall from a 1991 typhoon that flooded more than 31,000.

Register to learn more about this report in a ULI Asia Pacific webinar.


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