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Many Japanese institutions lack funds to bolster quake resistance

Publication Date : 02-12-2013

 

Many financially strapped inns and hospitals are thinking twice about renovating their buildings to make them more earthquake resistant, despite the November 25 enforcement of a law that requires them to undergo earthquake resistance inspections and release the results.

The revised law is aimed at promoting earthquake-resistance renovations at nearly 4,000 large facilities across the nation, that were built in and before May 1981 under previous earthquake-resistance standards.

The government hopes to meet the 90 per cent target for the ratio of buildings meeting the current earthquake resistance standards by the end of 2015.

Many old facilities, however, are believed to be strapped for cash and unable to pay for costly renovations, therefore making it uncertain if the government can attain the numerical target.

Under the revised law, even if facilities are judged not to meet the current standards after inspections by architects and other experts, the owners of such buildings are not obliged to renovate them immediately. But as the results will be made public, owners will face pressure to renovate them because they do not want to lose customers.

In 2006, the government set the goal of raising the rate of facilities that meet the current quake-resistance standards by 15 percentage points to 90 per cent by the end of 2015. But, according to the latest survey in 2008, the rate remained at 80 per cent, indicating that renovations have not progressed as the government had hoped.

The revised law was introduced to expedite renovations at inns and hospitals that are visited by a large number of people as well as at homes for the elderly and schools, which require particular attention when occupants are evacuated.

Heavy burden

In the hot spring resort area of Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, many inns were built just ahead of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Fourteen of about 100 inns there are required to undergo earthquake-resistance inspections. According to an estimate by the Atami municipal government, they would each need to procure more than 150 million yen (US$1.46 million) for renovations.

Masao Otsuka of Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, who visited the hot spring resort in October, said: “I think inspections should have been enforced much earlier. It is common sense for inn managers to ensure the safety of customers. If they can’t do that, they should close down.”

But Motoi Tsuchiya, executive director of the Atami Hot Spring Ryokan and Hotel Association, said, “As the number of customers has decreased due to the prolonged recession, it is difficult to find the money to pay for reconstruction or renovation.”

Similarly, earthquake resistance work has not progressed at hospitals. It is more expensive to renovate hospitals as they require special structures to reduce noise and vibration for full-time residents.

The percentage of hospitals that meet the current quake-resistance standards in Fukushima Prefecture is 50.4 per cent, the third-lowest following Kyoto and Kagawa prefectures. As many construction companies are already engaged in reconstruction projects following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake in the prefecture, they are not available to undertake quake-resistance work. Kokichi Tanaka, head of an architectural firm in Fukushima, said: “Construction companies have abundant work such as decontamination. I think it is difficult to find a company unless it is paid 50 per cent over the norm.”

Government support

The government is increasing subsidies for quake resistance for three years from this fiscal year. For example, subsidies for the inspections rose to half of the cost from one-third, and those for renovations increased to one-third of the cost from 11.5 per cent. The outline of tax system reform compiled by ruling parties at the end of September included a reduction in the corporation tax for owners of renovated facilities.

Some local governments have introduced support systems of their own. As the Shizuoka prefectural government and Atami municipal government have each subsidized 5.75 per cent of the renovation costs, facility owners pay only half of the costs when combined with subsidies from the government. The Wakayama prefectural government also allocated 367 million yen for subsidies in the fiscal 2013 supplementary budget.

But only 10 prefectures decided to subsidise renovations, as many local governments are struggling financially. Also, some owners of facilities, that have already been renovated without subsidies, have complained that the situation is unfair.

 

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