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Since 3.11

The Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011 resulted in a tsunami washing away towns and villages. The quake also affected the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, resulting in an accident which forced many people to evacuate their homes and towns to live in interim houses. In the aftermath, "3.11" has become an opportunity to rethink what family is, what home is, and what community is, not only for the victims, but also for those who have witnessed this tragedy.

"3.11" has gradually revealed the strain in modern society caused by modernization and urbanization as well as the dangers of nuclear power plants.

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From the Beginning of Machizukuri

Many volunteers for disaster relief included professors and students from several universities. It seemed as though our spirit, which is represented in our Institute slogan, "University as a Town, Town as a University," was in practice throughout the disaster areas.

When we mention this, there may be a counterargument that there is a big difference between the machizukuri in disaster areas in Tohoku, where one rebuilds from almost nothing, and our machizukuri in Obuse Town, where one modifies the existing townscape in the manner of Shukei. However, as I said in the opening statement in the symposium entitled "Theory and Method to Create Landscapes Where People Dwell" (Nov. 2011, see p.20), although the starting point may vary and the process may differ, the final conditions which enable people to dwell may not be all that different.

It is not important if the area is disasterstricken or not. As the cause of the huge damage related to 3.11 has surfaced, public opinion seems to be shifting from binary arguments to one discussion; from "tourism or the daily life of the residents" and "preservation of the past or modern life" to "creating a safe and stable living environment."

This change follows from the very nature of it because a disaster-stricken area has to begin from nothing, and "improving the living environment" has gradually become the starting point of machizukuri's theory and method across Japan. Japanese people are starting to reconsider "modernization," "urbanization," "preservation" and "tourism." These have been supposedly inextricably organized to have a powerful impact on the improvement of living environments, but in fact, they have been quite disconnected, as they have affected and distorted the living environment of residents. This seems to be one of the root causes which led to many villages and towns being so vulnerable to natural disasters.

Recently, Obuse Town has become a popular tourist destination. Over the past few decades, tourists numbering more than 100 times the population of the town (ca. 11,500) have visited annually. Our Institute has been focusing our attention on improving the living environment of the townspeople since the foundation of the Institution in 2005. Our objective has been to present specific proposals based on our ongoing surveys. All of our proposals are organically related to the "improvement of the living environment."

It is important that the Institute aims to construct an applicable and universal "Science of Machizukuri" for all the municipalities and not just for Obuse. Although Machizukuri in Obuse is considered to be a unique and exceptional case in Japan, our Institute aims for a universal "Science of Machizukuri." Therefore, we research the everyday world, cultivating data, while seeking to reveal the basic elements of the everyday world in all areas, including houses, roads and waterways. As a result, we have come to understand that a spiritual and materially sustainable system was maintained in the rural cities and towns long before the permeation of high economic growth in Japan. This system included houses, roads and waterways.

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Houses, Roads, Waterways, and Lights

Our research started from a comprehensive village survey of all households; gathering data not only for architectural forms, materials, and techniques and not just for the main houses,but also for all the attached houses.

Next, research was carried out on all of the "roads" in town. Not just the national,prefectural, and town designated roads, but also over 700 undesignated roads which are called "ridous" (country roads). Ridou is a road undesignated by a country, prefecture, or town. It has been left untouched, without being surfaced in asphalt or concrete, and most of them have been taken care of by local residents.

Our Institute gained the residents' permission to service the ridous for tourists to enjoy, and networked them as a walking route through the village and fields. In addition, we have experimentally renovated storage sheds and silkworm houses along the route as a place for the locals to gather and sell agricultural products. "Restaurant NAYA (2010)" (see p.24) is one of the renovations.

In 2011, we started working on "waterways." (see pp.10-11, 16-17, 18-19) Obuse Town is located on the alluvial fan formed by the Matsukawa (river) and many waterways run along the sloped land covering the area. These waterways were used for living and agriculture since Obuse Town used to be comprised of several villages, because the underground water runs very deep in the central area of the alluvial fan, and it was hard to dig wells. Many regulations and technical inventions designed to keep clean water running throughout the entire area of the alluvial fan were confirmed through our research. Many maps and documents related to the waterways dating back to the Edo period have been carefully stored because the water supply has been one of the most important issues influencing basic living conditions. Careful analysis of these documents is an essential part of our study.

With the development of a modern water supply system, the use of waterways has declined. Although most of the waterways have been covered and most of the "wash places" made by remarkable stonework have disappeared, we can still see and hear the waterways running through Obuse Town. The waterways are valuable landscape resources. The water power which was used to turn large industrial water mills can also be considered as an alternative source of energy to replace electricity.

Another new theme for our study in 2011 was light. Lighting is one of the basic structuring elements for the living environment. To begin the project of improving National Road 403 (previously, the old Tani Highway) using the method of Shukei, we have decided to install "lighting for daily life" which will be placed at entrances, homes, and gates instead of relying on glittering street lights. A "light planning" professional has joined our team to experiment with various material and do surveys to find the best lighting fixtures for maximum effect of "lighting for daily life." (see pp.04-05, 08-09)

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From Body to Architecture and Landscape

Our Institute has been conducting comparative research on old towns and villages inside and outside of Japan (see pp.14-15). Houses and villages have been abandoned and left to deteriorate not only because of natural disasters, but also because of depopulation.

In the November symposium mentioned above, we discussed the current problem of traditional Japanese houses, villages, and landscapes collapsing and disappearing (see pp.20-21).

In that discussion, it was mentioned that traditional houses are losing their openness and are being reformed into uncomfortable places to live because of incomplete modernization, urbanization, and mechanization over the past few decades. Privatization has increased wall partitions which have made rooms much darker, with extremely bad ventilation. Houses have become very humid due to the degree of enclosure without sunlight and proper ventilation. If the houses were "truly" traditional architectural designs, they would be open and harmonious with the landscape. They would be as bright, airy, and comfortable inside as out to live in.

Our detailed research reveals the risk of discussing traditional architecture versus modern architecture. "Truly" traditional architecture is as good as "ideal" modern architecture, but traditional architecture has often lost its quality and charm due to the incomplete outer modernization, urbanization, and mechanization which has caused residents to abandon it.

However, the transformation of living space is in accordance with the transformation of human bodies. Not just "houses," but also "roads" and "waterways" were built and used by human bodies. It was also human bodies which built the remarkable stonework at the wash place and used water from the waterways for housework, agriculture and fire fighting. It should be emphasized again that human bodies were the only order that formed architecture and landscape until the permeation of modernization, urbanization, and mechanization. The human body has been unconsciously transformed under the influence of modernization, urbanization, and mechanization. For better or worse, architecture and landscape have also been transformed according to the transformation of the human body itself.

Therefore, the body that builds our stable living environment is very important. The annual "Machizukuri Workshop for the Next Generation, " which is held for local elementary and middle school students, is intended to create something related to architecture and landscape through the physical use of their bodies, to help them understand the essential role of the human body (see pp.16-17, 18-19).

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