Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Tetrapod Farm

Tetrapods are a Showa Era innovation and emblematize the natural catastrophe that is one characteristic of Japan's encounter with the Western World. Donald Richie, longtime expat and insightful translator of Japanese culture, laments the suspension of the "truce" which formerly existed between Japan and Mother Nature. In other words, whereas until the early 20th century the Japanese implicitly acknowledged limitations on their ability-and the desirability thereof-to alter or manipulate Nature, modern Japan admits no such restrictions. For instance, coastal areas subject to extremes of violent weather and which, in times bygone, were wisely deemed off-limits to development, are now depressing (and expensive) examples of capitalism run amok. To protect private property and the infrastructure that makes it possible(as well as to subsidize the local cement people), erosion control measures, chiefly in the form of tetrapods, have been implemented along vast stretches of Japan's coastline. But not even the mighty tetrapod can protect coastal roads and other beachfront development from typhoon-generated storm surge or tidal waves produced by boreal winds, for every year construction crews rush to repair damage inflicted by inclement weather. With the fate of the Earth's ecosystem hanging in the balance, let us hope that Japan returns to her roots and lights the world's way forward to a sustainable co-existence with all of creation.

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