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Saturday, April 24, 2010

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How you reclaim land here: Just say, it's mine!


If you think Japan is small, imagine how small it used to be. You may not be aware of this, but Japan is a lot bigger than it used to be, thanks to a phenomenon called landmass growth.

This geological process, more accurately described as a mutation, has been accomplished over hundreds of years of reclaiming land.

Kantakuchi, reclaimed land from the sea, may bring to mind some of the well-known man-made islands in Japan's Seto Inland Sea, such as Rokko Island off Kobe and the island in Osaka Bay that Kansai Airport was built on. But there is a lot more reclaiming going on that is little known.

I'm not sure where the word "reclaimed land" comes from. Makes you wonder who claimed Rokko Island before it was "reclaimed."

The area undoubtedly belonged to the fish. But fish, despite being a majority in Japan, don't have many rights here. Japan has been the aggressor of the sea for years, something we avoid owning up to. With all those schools of fish out there, imagine what their textbooks read like.

Or it could be one of those strange Japanese customs like the way the first son inherits the family fortune by virtue of his being born first.

But in this case, since the second son always misses out, land can be passed down to the second child in line, not the first. But the oldest son still has the responsibility to claim the land first, so the second one can legally reclaim it. There might even be a government Claims Department that handles this.

Land reclamation has been going on for a long time in the Seto Inland Sea.

Shiraishi Island, where I live, used to be two separate islands until they "reclaimed" the land between the two islands in order to make it one. The neighborhood in which I live still goes by its original name, Mukaijo, or "Over there" because that's where it used to be. It is not so far away now that reclaimed land connects the two.

Most of this reclaimed land is now used for vegetable gardens.

Not only that, but my house and the house next door were both built on reclaimed land. There used to be just coastal rocks where my house now stands. There must be some angry fish in the port.

Curiously, however, my land was owned by the city and my next door neighbor's by the prefecture. I was able to buy my land from the city, but she is unable to buy hers from the prefecture.

Perhaps she needs to reclaim it. Just say, "It's mine!" I keep telling her.

Twelve kilometers away on the mainland, the city of Kasaoka filled in 100 hectares of land between the city and Konoshima, the first island in the Kasaoka island group. This land is now used for agriculture.

Most reclaimed land in Japan is the result of a desire for more flat land. Our island is no exception.

The mountains drop right down into the sea here, leaving little room for beaches or even a road. When the one road around the perimeter of the island was built, years ago, they had to blast through parts of mountains and reclaim parts of the sea just to have enough flat space to build the road.

And this is why you still find villages all huddled at the bottom of mountains. With no cars or roads, who would want to climb a mountain every time just to get home?

Needless to say, the natural shape of the island has changed significantly over the years.

And every time land is reclaimed from the sea, various techniques are employed to reinforce the new structures. Stone walls, cement tetrapods, sea walls and other barriers are used to keep the unruly land intact. Reclaiming is all about controlling spaces and reforming them to fit your needs.

Now that sea levels are rising, it seems that the sea, and the fish, are attempting to reclaim what was rightfully theirs.

The fear of rising seas has prompted construction of even more sea walls on our island. Despite this being against the wishes of the locals, we are told we need the sea walls to protect us from the sea.

At least, that's what they claim.



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