Building For Resilience: After The Tsunami A look at disaster recovery and earthquake technology in Japan.


Japan can often be a fascinating mix of old and new and it is this aspect I discover in the next leg of my trip, after we catch a flight south to Osaka.

One big surprise is how modern buildings, not just in Japan but anywhere, can benefit from Japan’s proven earthquake technology, including traditional architecture.

While earthquakes have destroyed thousands of buildings over the last century, Japan’s temples, many of them hundreds of years old, have survived largely undamaged. One of the country’s leading experts on traditional architecture, Hidekazu Nishizawa, a professor of architectural engineering at Kansai University, believes old Japanese construction methods still have many advantages for new buildings today.

I meet the professor in Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital. Here we visit the five-story To-ji tower, originally built about a thousand years old and then rebuilt in the 17th century after a fire. We also visit the Nishi Hongan-ji temple complex, which dates from the same era and has been declared a World Heritage site. The main temple has 227 wooden posts and 110,000 roof tiles. These are among the largest and oldest wooden buildings in the world.

Even in the rain, surrounded by peonies in bloom and beautiful landscaped gardens, the architecture feels tranquil. It is a world away from the devastation of Tohuku.

Back in his lab, the professor shows me a video recorded during the March 2011 earthquake. It shows a traditional Buddhist temple. The bells are ringing; the temple is shaking. The ringing and the shaking go on for nearly two minutes, as a videographer keeps his balance and calmly carries on shooting.

The professor and his architectural engineering students have been delving into the secrets of the temples and what makes them so resilient to earthquakes.