Tide Change in Saga, Japan
Tide Change in Saga, Japan
Coastal defenses in
Accepting the arguments of a group of local fishermen, the Saga District Court criticized the national government for not implementing the medium and long-term reviews prescribed by a committee it had itself appointed, overruled the objections of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, and ordered the Isahaya Tidal Wetlands Reclamation works suspended pending a review of the whole project, even though by then it was 90 percent complete.1 The final outcome remains impossible to predict. The national government announced that it would appeal against the Saga court's decision. Still, no Japanese court had ever before issued an explicit "stop" order on a government-directed public works project. The bureaucrats, politicians and construction companies that together make up the "iron triangle" of the "construction state" were at last on the defensive.
The Isahaya Tidal Wetlands Reclamation project represents in concentrated form the essence of the construction state, the developmental state that helped drive
The bay is the largest wetland component of the
The bay used to teem with fish. Fishermen, and local residents, from children to old folk, skated over its muddy surface on wooden sleds, occasionally dipping their arms into the mud to pull out shellfish, eels, seaweed or fish, including many unique species and sub-species. Most remarkable of the 200 varieties of fish that inhabited the Bay is the bulging-eyed mutsugoro or "mudskipper," a local variety of goby. The mutsugoro buries itself deep in the mud to hibernate during winter months, not stirring until April, and its English name derives from its habit of "surfing" along the mud with the receding tide. There are also forty-two kinds of shrimp, ninety-six of crab, three of octopus, two hundred and fourteen of shellfish, and at least three hundred different kinds of benthos (flora and fauna of the sea bottom), including some unknown till a 1994-6 survey, and eighty different kinds of lug-worm, many of them too previously unknown.4 A single square kilometer of tidal wetlands can produce 22.6 tons of fish-shellfish/year.5 Alternatively, all life-forms included, it can sustain a maximum of four kilograms of biota to each cubic meter of water, which places it on a par with coral reef.6 For migratory shore birds that breed in
The idea of draining and reclaiming the bay was born more than a half century ago, with grandiose visions of blocking off the sea at its mouth, which is about 12 kms across, and reclaiming the whole expanse, which is roughly 17 kms deep and 76.6 kms2 in area. It looked easy enough to do. The plan, however, has had three distinct rationales, successively promoted or abandoned at bureaucratic whim while only one fundamental principle has stood firm: that the work would be done.
The first detailed plan was simply to build a huge dike and drain the whole of the bay, to create a vast stretch of new farmland.8 That idea, however, was blocked by fishermen, and it lost bureaucratic favor as the design for Japanese agriculture itself underwent drastic change, a mountain of surplus rice grew, and farmers were pressed to take their rice fields out of production. This plan was abandoned in 1970. The lands would still be created, but only as a by-product, so to speak, rather than as principal purpose of the reclamation.
In slightly different guise, the plan next was promoted as the "Comprehensive Regional Development Plan for Southern Nagasaki," its rationale transformed into "multi-purpose," but with especial weight attaching to the provision of fresh water for industrial and urban consumption. In 1982, this second version too was cancelled. The creation of large quantities of water for industry made no sense both because there was no such demand (as high-growth tapered off and grandiose regional industrialization plans collapsed) and because the continual flow of household wastewater turned the "freshwater" reservoir into a polluted pond whose quality was well below the level required for licensing for irrigation. 9
A third phase then began under the "Isahaya Bay Comprehensive Flood Prevention Reclamation Plan." This time, the focus was on flood prevention. Only one-third of the bay would be drained, creating about 1,500 hectares of farmland and a 1,700 hectare freshwater reservoir, but the lands and the water would become ancillary to the plan's main purpose, flood control.10 However, when heavy rains came in the summer of 1999, waters swirled again over the floorboards of homes built on reclaimed lands.11 As the Ministry of Agriculture's reclamation at Isahaya proceeded, the Ministry of Construction in 1994 began work independently on its own plan to dam the Honmyo River and thereby "flood-proof" Isahaya against even a "once in a hundred years" downpour.12 An official of that Ministry's River Bureau declared, with thinly concealed contempt for the massive nearby works by its rival Ministry: "This dam should make any other flood control measures redundant for this area."13 During the 1980s, under this scheme fishing cooperatives one-by-one signed away their fishing rights and accepted compensation packages, feeling that they had no alternative because of the relentless bureaucratic pressure and because the works were represented as necessary for flood protection and for the protection of lives and property.
The question -- what are these works for -- was thus answered in various, contradictory and unsatisfactory ways but, in essence, they were because the construction state required them. As all other justifications collapsed, bizarre and outlandish ideas began to circulate: the new lands might be dubbed an "Ecopolis" and used for a series of leisure facilities -- boat races, leisure farms, race horse training camp, and even a "bird sanctuary." Critics derided this as "green paint on a bald mountain."14
In due course a seven kilometer seawall was built to cut off the tidal flow, and in April 1997 293 giant steel shutters were lowered into place to block the aperture from the bay to the Ariake Sea. The event took place on prime time national television before a grand convocation of national and local dignitaries. Intended as a celebration of the construction state and of the human capacity to engineer, control, and exploit nature, the effect was quite contrary: the overwhelming impression was of the sea being "guillotined." The country watched horror-stricken as death and devastation spread over the bay.
The area that lay exposed by the departing sea slowly turned into a cracked, spongy, wasteland, sprouting a ragged coat of vegetation, while the rest of the site became covered with stagnant, murky water, and the air filled with the smell of dying fish, oysters, clams, cockles and crabs. The bay was beset thereafter by chronic "red tides" of phytoplankton caused by the excess of nutrients. Many fishermen took other jobs, mostly in construction, even as workers on the actual Isahaya site. Ironically, almost at a stroke, the guillotine wielded by the national government seemed to have wiped out stocks of
The philosopher, Umehara Takeshi, saw a profound symbolic meaning in the Isahaya reclamation. For him, what Isahaya manifested was nothing less than the emptiness of the postwar Japanese soul: "believing in no religion, valuing no morality, carelessly killing living things for profit, and feeling no sense of sin."19 Yet the bureaucratic enthusiasm was undimmed. Nagasaki Governor Takeda Isamu spoke of the project ensuring "a bright future for Japanese agriculture in the coming century"20 -- surely a preposterous view of the salty, sodden, and inferior lands that were being created at fabulous public expense -- and Fujinami Takao, Minister of Agriculture (who bore the primary responsibility for the decision), remarked that "the current ecosystem may disappear, but nature will create another one."21 The insight of the fishermen, that to cut off the sea's womb was to cause sterility, contrasted sharply with the bureaucratic view that one ecology was the equal of another.
Not only the usefulness but the safety of the works was also at issue. The construction was carried out on a base of a clay soil which one expert described as "the worst possible foundation, not only in
The symbiotic cycle they so rudely disrupted was delicate.
The obvious question is why did people allow such a plainly misguided, unnecessary and damaging project. Why did they not simply vote those responsible out of office? In theory they might have, but in practice the network of "private" interests served by "public" works was too finely woven and intricate. First of all, the usual rule in public works is that approximately two-thirds of the costs are met by national government and one-third by prefectural and local authorities, but Isahaya being a special case the proportion was set at 82:18.27 In other words, local communities got the works at minimal cost, whether they wanted them or not and national taxpayers footed the bill, likewise without ever exercising any political or environmental judgment. For the former, short-term economic advantage was served by saying yes, while for the latter the price only slowly dawned on people as they were told of the bankruptcy the country faced and their pension and welfare systems were declared insolvent.
Secondly, also typical of public works projects throughout the country, this project has long been embedded in a network of bureaucratic-construction industry-political collusion. Nearly 90 per cent of 654 public works contracts related to the Isahaya works between 1996 and 2000 were allocated at administrative discretion without competitive bidding. More than 400 former officials from either the national agriculture ministry or the prefectural government were employed in the 61 companies involved in the works.28 The Nagasaki prefectural branch of the (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) depends heavily on political funds donated by firms benefiting from works contracts and the interests of many local people are involved, some as sub-contractors and some as laborers. Local fishing cooperatives are also paid substantial sums, nominally for "research into fisheries" but plainly intended to buy their silence.29 Such a network of economic and political interest has always been stronger than any fishing net. One critic coined the term "reclamation fascism" to try to describe it.30
Initially, all that had been required under the Public Water Reclamation Law was a perfunctory review, carried out in 1986 by the Environment Agency, which simply referred to materials provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries without being able to contest their accuracy or to conduct independent experiments or investigation.31 Its conclusion, that the impact on
The more contentious matter of medium and long-term opening, which had obvious implications for the completion of the project as a while, however, was merely referred to as a new "specialists" committee. In December 2003, that committee (made up of seven ex-bureaucrats, including several major proponents of the project from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) came to the expected conclusion that to implement this recommendation would cause delay on the project (by then already 94 per cent complete), and would therefore be too "technically difficult." In other words, it would cost time and money, and negative findings might even threaten the completion of the project as a whole.33 In May 2004, the then Minister (Kamei Yoshiyuki) announced the decision to "set aside" the medium and long-term impact studies. Instead he chose a technical, engineering "fix:" the dredging of the seabed and insertion of large quantities of sand and steps to improve the quality of the reservoir water. This was essentially the prescription of the "Ariake Sea and Yatsushiro Sea Special Measures Law" adopted in 2002: new sewage treatment plants, dredging and clearing works, the planting of trees and reed beds, and the promotion of fish and technology for the development of marine resources. It was a characteristically capital intensive, bureaucratic, technological fix for an ecological problem caused by bureaucratic irresponsibility, if not criminality.
It seems unlikely that such piddling measures would stop the spreading ecological crisis or bring the former "
The Liberal Democratic Party, faced in the 1990s with growing protest against its public works programs, abandoned a small number of projects, cut the public works budget, and adopted "nature regeneration" as a major slogan. Most dramatic of the cancellations was that of the reclamation and desalination project at
Despite the Nakaumi cancellation, and the suspension of wetland reclamation projects in
The pattern at Isahaya -- of decision-making without consultation, extravagant use of public monies to buy consent, and resolute pressure against dissenters or opponents -- is the same as in other villages and towns designated as sites for dams, nuclear reactors, garbage disposal plants, and in some cases airports. The continuation of the Isahaya project demonstrates that grand design without limit for transforming the Japanese archipelago, drawn up in the early 1970s and best known in Tanaka Kakuei's formulation of "Rebuilding the Japanese Archipelago," still informs the bureaucratic mentality. Rivers, coast, wetlands, mountains and forests, continue to be sacrificed to feed the engine of growth.
In 2006, the works are scheduled for completion. The flow of contracts, jobs, subsidies, and bribes will cease and the permanence of the damage being done to the
1. "Isahaya wan kantaku koji sashidome kettei," Asahi shimbun,
2. Gavan McCormack, The Emptiness of Japanese Affluence,
3. Kyushu-Ryukyu shitchi nettowaku, 1999
4. Yamashita Hirofumi and Tominaga Kenji, Ariake-kai Isahaya-wan higata no seibutsu oyobi seisoku kankyo no kenkyu [Studies on the fauna and habitat environment of the tidal flats of Isahaya bay in
5. Yamashita Hirofumi, "Isahaya higata wa sekai no takara," Isahaya-wan kinkyu kyusai honbu, Migoroshi ni sareru Isahaya higata o dare ga mamoru no ka,
6. Sato Masanori, "'Girochin' no ato no higata no genjo," Migoroshi, pp. 60-65, at p. 61.
7. Yamashita, Sodoki, p. 41; Yamashita, "Atogaki," Migoroshi, pp. 96-7.
8. For brief accounts in English: Fukatsu Hiroshi, "Tideland project brings waves of controversy," Japan Quarterly, October-December 1997, pp. 26-35; and Michael E. Stanley, "The death of a wetland," Japan Inc, November 2002, pp. 36-40 (http://www.japaninc.com).
9. Chloric ions at 1,000 ppm and COD at between 6.2 and 11, as against minimum standards of 500 for the former and five for the latter. "Reclaimed area loses rich ecosystem, natural purifier," Asahi, Online,
10. Yamashita Hirofumi, "Higata hinshi -- seibutsu no hoko," Sekai, November 1996, at p. 121. And by the same author, "Kore ga Nihon no kokyo jigyo -- Isahaya-wan kantaku jigyo no genjo," Shukan kinyobi,
11. Suganuma Kan, "Isahaya-wan kantaku jigyo no bosai koka no kyoko," Higata o mamoru hi 2002 in Isahaya & Tokyo shinpojiumu shiryoshu, (hereafter Shiryoshu ) http://www.bekkoame.ne.jp/~signa/kantaku/higata/libr/lb020424ref0204.html (accessed
12. Eiji Yamaguchi, "
13. Yamaguchi, ibid.
14. For discussion of the 'Isahaya Bay Regional Environment Plan' ("Isahaya-wan chiiki kankyo keikaku"), see Yamashita Hirofumi, "Yakunitatanai nochi," Migoroshi, pp. 29-30.
15. Nagao Toshihiko, "Isahaya de nani ga okita ka," Sekai, April 2000, pp. 152-160; Asahi shimbun,
16. For a table of declining harvests, 1973-1999, see Nishida Tetsu, "Isahaya-wan suimon ga hiraitara.". See also Stephanie Gartelmann, "Fisheries crashing from pollution in Ariake," The Japan Times,
17. "Suimon o hirakete shirabeyo," Asahi shimbun, ed,
18. Mick Corless, "Bottom of the Barrel: The fight against damming
19. Quoted in column "Mado" entitled "Isahaya-wan no fuyu" in Asahi shimbun,
20. Fukatsu, p. 26.
21. "Environment watchdog asleep at Isahaya, critics say," The Japan Times,
22. Takada Naotoshi (of
23. Quoted in Nobuya Sawa and Kenji Imamura, "Tideland turned into 'desert'," Asahi Online,
24. Takahashi Yutaka, quoted in Yamashita Hirofumi, "Teibo
25. Robert Costanza, et al, "The value of the world's ecosystem services and natural capital," Nature, Vol. 387,
26. Following the tests conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture on Isshiki Wetlands in Aichi prefecture. the waste recycling value of Isahaya's wetlands could be estimated at 260 billion yen, but the reclamation works was costing around 249 billion yen. (Yamashita Hirofumi, "Isahayawan kantaku jigyo no genjo," p. xx.)
27. Miyairi Koichi, "'Isahaya-wan kantaku jigyo no hatan to kongo no tenbo' Isahaya o mamoru hi 2002," in Isahaya and Tokyo Simposiumu Shiryoshu, Isahaya, 2002. p. 9.
28. Nagao, "Rupo -- Isahaya, sono go," pp. 242-3; also Miyairi cit.
29. Approximately 100 million yen per year is paid by the reclamation works office, Miyairi, ibid.
30. Nagao Toshihiko, "Rupo -- Isahaya, kantaku fashizumu wa naze susumu no ka," Sekai, May 2003, pp. 261-269.
31. "Environment watchdog asleep at Isahaya -- critics say," The Japan Times,
32. Yatsu went on record after he left office following the change of government in April as saying the sluice gates could and should be opened, allowing the wetlands to revive, and the reclamation area could and should be substantially reduced. On the "Yatsu Plan," as it came to be known, see Nagao Toshihiko, "Rupo -- Isahaya, sono go," Sekai, April 2002, pp. 239-247, at p. 240
33. Asahi shimbun, editorial, 24 April and
34. Detailed chronology in
35. Azuma Mikio et al, "Nosuisho wa tadachi ni chuchoki kaimon chosa wo okonaubeki de aru,"
36. Shiryoshu, p. 50.
37. For the general details of the Nakaumi project, see Gavan McCormack, "Nakaumi," Kyoto Journal, No 36, May 1998, pp. 72-78.
38. Amano Reiko, "Kaihatsu yusen no seisaku kaenai Nihon," Shukan kinyobi,
39. Sodoki, p. 170.
40. Reclamation in the Po Delta region began in the 15th century, but was pursued most actively under Mussolini in the 1930s and then again in the 1960s. From 1962, the government adopted the plan to reclaim 18,000 hectares or two-thirds of
41. "Ichi kara wakaru higata," Asahi shinbun,
42. See Gavan McCormack, "Water, development, and nature in