While the world is still in shock following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on Friday, it is worth considering how many lives were actually saved on that fateful day. With the death toll climbing higher all the time, it may seem difficult to see any kind of bright side in this tragedy, but one wonders how much greater the devastation could have been – especially in Tokyo. One headline you won’t have read over the weekend would be: “Millions saved in Japan by good engineering and government building codes”. But it’s the truth. Reports from the capital suggest that the city streets swayed back and forth like choppy seas. Skyscrapers and high-rise buildings were rocked to an extent that would have caused many similar-sized buildings in other countries to collapse. But Tokyo’s buildings stood tall. Why?
Well, Japan has one of the strictest building codes in the world. Inside the walls, buildings are reinforced with steel lattice work and in the foundations giant rubber shock absorbers allow the buildings to sway without crumbling. In addition, from school age Japanese people are educated on what to do in the event of an earthquake.
Of course much has been learned from previous tragedies. The Kobe earthquake in 1995 killed approximately 6,000 people, but it prompted the Japanese government to enforce new regulations on building design and construction. The benefits of this were undoubtedly seen on Friday.
While it is difficult to look on the bright side when 1,500 people have died and a further 10,000 are missing, it is still worth considering that the tragedy could have been a lot, lot worse. The quake that struck northeast Japan on Friday has been classified as the sixth biggest in history. Not even the most stringent building codes or emergency drills could have prevented the devastation seen near the epicentre. But sound Japanese engineering may just have prevented significant loss of life in Tokyo. And for that, we should all be very thankful.