In London my friend lived in a house that was 220 years old, and he was not allowed to change the color of the door — black — or to touch a single branch of the trees in the garden or the local council would impose heavy fines and insist he repair the damage. In Osaka friends bought a piece of land with a 30-year-old house on it, with the expectation that they would demolish the old house and spend half a million dollars building another.

Japanese media have recently been preoccupied by revelations that Asahi Kasei Construction Materials Corp. fabricated piling data in 360 buildings, or 11 percent of its projects, since 2005. Luckily, so far only a condominium building in Yokohama has been found to be defective.

The admissions raise awkward questions whether other companies have falsified data and not been found out, and whether there was collusion between construction and public officials. Japan is not the only country where the construction industry is bedeviled by shoddiness, substandard work and political wheeling and dealing. In the United Kingdom, the Ronan Point 22-story housing block in East London infamously collapsed in 1968 because of poor construction. In developing countries like Bangladesh and China, construction is a byword for corruption, shoddy work and inferior materials, with sand often spoiling the concrete.