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Sunday, July 22, 2007

TETRAPODISTAS

Beauty beheld in huge concrete forms


Staff writer

Astonishingly, despite their unsightly impact on natural scenery, the Internet is full of geeks who appear to love tetrapods.

News photo
Tetrapods being made by the shore in Okinawa PHOTO COURTESY OF KEN OYAMA

(Whether referring generically to those concrete things piled up all along Japan's coasts, or to the products of Tokyo- and Osaka-based Fudo Tetra Corporation accorded a capital "T" as registered trade-name items, these chunky coastal features are also known as shouha negatame [wave-dissipating blocks] in Japanese, or "armor units" in English, according to Nihon Shouha Negatame Block Kyokai — the industry association).

Just a quick search on the Web immediately brought up two people posting romantic poems titled "Tetrapod," as well as one writing an essay titled "Tetrapod No Ue De (On Top of a Tetrapod)"; and another displaying a photo and caption titled "Tetrapod No Sukima (The Space Between Tetrapods)."

In addition, there were two educational groups encouraging schoolchildren to go out and make their own tetrapods, or giving presentations about them. There was also a blog with more than 160 entries, where people had heated debates about such issues as how much a tetrapod costs — with some saying that the big ones, weighing 64 tons, go for almost 1 million yen each. Additionally, there were at least four Web sites dedicated to tetrapods, mainly praising their beauty and aesthetic appeal.

One man, who showed several types of these blocks on his Web site, said that he wished he liked something more natural or something smaller.

"Why did I come to like such a huge thing?" he wrote rather like a confused lover, adding that this inclination began when he saw a tetrapod that served as a signboard for a coastal museum.

"The minute I saw it, I felt like something inside of me was awakened. Why did I get so excited? I always liked shapes, but that feeling was different from any other time," he confessed.

Another man, Yuji Hayashi, 36, wrote on a Web site that he likes to play with his miniature tetrapods.

"I bought these tiny tetrapods that are made as part of a railway model kit, but model railways are not my hobby. I was just fascinated by their shapes," he said.

Although he felt that he bought something really nice, after he did so, he said he wasn't sure what to do with them anymore. So he turned to the Internet to study how to fit the blocks together. Then he got himself a doll, also from a railway kit, to make model landscape in which it looked like a woman came to visit a pier.

The doll was slightly big compared to the tetrapods, but he said he was pretty satisfied with the result.

But the ultimate tetrapod fan must be Ken Oyama, 34, who works in the think-tank department of a consumer-electronics manufacturer.

News photo
Tetrapod fan Yuji Hayashi, 36, made this scene using rail-modeling accessories. PHOTO COURTESY OF YUJI HAYASHI

On his Web site "Riku Tetrapod Wo Kansho Suru (Admiring Onshore Tetrapods)," Oyama says that everything about tetrapods is "lovely." In particular he cites their functionality in dissipating waves to protect the shore, the random ways in which they are piled up, the sound of waves that come from in-between them, and the tension, where, if you drop something between them, it can never be retrieved.

He also said he believes that "tetrapods will be in fashion in spring," although he did not specify which spring he was talking about — or why this might be so.

But Oyama had one complaint: He cannot see the tetrapods' entire shape when they are in the water.

It was this tetra-angst that drove Oyama to embark on a quest to find places where fanatics can see complete tetrapods on land. He found fulfillment in Okinawa and Kanagawa prefectures, and has posted photos on his Web site to prove it.

"A woman may like a man who works energetically with a suit on, but she may also want to see him in his weekend outfit. That was my feeling," he said, in explaining his motive.

And to more fully express his fascination, he went on: "(Tetrapods have) a chunky shape but with no waste. They have an exquisite size that's too big to lift but not as big as an architectural structure. The fact that they are assembled together with the same shapes . . . it's so lovely!"

The tetrapods he found on land were often next to the sea, as they are usually manufactured on the seaside for easy transportation to the shore.

Some of the ones he found in Kanagawa, however, were lined up in front of an apartment complex. This delighted him, as he is also a well-known apartment watcher.

In fact Oyama, who is fascinated by many forms of construction, such as water towers, pedestrian bridges and multilevel parking lots, started his "career" as a construction-watcher 10 years ago.

It was then that he began to hold photo exhibitions and write a series of stories about apartments in a magazine. He still appears every week on an NHK satellite TV show expounding the wonders of apartments.

He recently also copublished "Kojo Moe (Factory Freaks)," which drew enthusiastic reviews in numerous quarters.

But as in the case of others obsessed with strange constructions, Oyama insists tetrapod fans are not unusual at all. By posting Web sites and publishing books in fact, he claims he is trying to make people "see things they are overlooking."

"It's just that the media didn't realize it, or didn't feature them until now, but since individuals started to run their own Web sites, there have been quite a few people who expressed the fact that they liked tetrapods. When you look at them carefully, there are very few things with such unusual shapes.

"When you look at the different community sites on the Mixi online social networking service, you will see there are loads of people who like such industrial forms. But I repeat, these people are not special at all. I even think that it's in human beings' nature to be attracted to such things," he said.



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