Cost-cutting pathology at work

Fujisawa, Kanagawa

In his May 20 letter, “Stupidity of planners and builders,” Paul Gaysford is distressed that tsunami victims’ homes are being rebuilt without proper, sensible insulation. He is criticizing a unique Japanese tradition.

Near the end of the fabulous “bubble economy,” I shivered inside an expensive rented Tokyo house. Steam rising from my toilet reminded me of winter Boy Scout camping in upstate New York. Meanwhile, clueless Japanese needled me about how much richer they were than foreigners.

In swanky Kamakura, a carpenter told my landlady that my weight of 89 kg was “too heavy” for her nearly half-million dollar house. Some people claim that centuries of disasters created a national fatalism encouraging cheap, crummy construction. I call it corruption and gullibility.

I’ve read about cars in Japan crashing through the thin partition walls of multistory parking garages, killing the occupants. Several years ago a drunk driver rammed another car through a flimsy bridge guardrail, drowning three children. A proper guardrail would have saved them. Recent multiple fatalities reiterate the need for real guardrails, yet officials are only proficient at offering excuses for why they can’t be installed. Japanese carmakers only considered safety features under foreign pressure. Profits mattered more to them than their fellow Japanese.

The same cost-cutting pathology that shrunk transistor radios and eschews simple safety measures reached its apogee when Tokyo Electric Power Co. lowered a hill on the Fukushima coast to cut the cost of pumping water up to several nuclear reactors cleverly located on an earthquake fault in a tsunami zone. They saved even more money on wiring [by locating the emergency generators barely above sea level]. We all know how that turned out. Last year a government official told me twice that the nuclear “decontamination” effort must be carried out “as cheaply as possible.” Isn’t that what got us into this horrible mess?

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

donald feeney