Gratitude to the members of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA)

Published on 21 July 2011

Author(s): International Federation of Landscape Architects/Kenta Sinozawa, Seiichiro Takahashi, Yuko Tanabe, Hiko Mitani

Type:  Report IFLA Newsletter June 2011, pp 2-5


We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the members of IFLA and to the people all over the world for their kind words, letters of sympathy, encouragement and supportive mail after the great earthquake and related disasters.

We imagine that many people have knowledge of the great earthquake after seeing the shocking images that were broadcast throughout the world, as well as the nuclear plant accident, whose effects on the environment are now concerns worldwide, and not only in Japan.

We are aware that this is likely to be the most interesting topic, however we shall save it for another time when thorough research has been done and more reliable information becomes available. At this time many facts remain unknown even to us Japanese.

This horrifying earthquake severely affected the Tohoku district of Japan. Although it is a limited region, each sub-region has its own topographical and climatic characteristics. The diversity of vegetation and climate has diversified people’s life styles. Thus, the earthquake caused a variety of types of damage, and has made reconstruction plans more difficult and complex.

Three months have already passed since March 11th 2011 and we have only taken the first steps in recovery and reconstruction.


This is not the first time that Japan has suffered from severe earthquake damage. We’ve experienced disasters periodically and frequently throughout our history.

The Japanese natural landscape has been strongly related to such disasters. In ancient times when professionals were not differentiated, landscaping was alongside civil engineering, memorials, and requiems.

A Japanese “scholar of religion” once said, ‘Art is born side by side with death’, accordingly, the natural landscape is also related to natural disasters. The “landscaper Pilgrim monks” were a typical feature of that time, and their lifestyle represents this ideology. At present, our identity as landscape architects is in question after the terrible earthquake.


This is the third time in the modern age that Japan has been hit by a huge earthquake or a large scale natural disaster, since the profession of landscape architecture gained recognition in Japan. The former
two earthquakes are known as the great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995. After each event we picked ourselves up and reconstructed our cities and landscapes from piles of wreckage.

However, there are fundamental differences. In the natural disasters that have affected Japan to date, an invisible ‘something’, an uncontrollable force, destroyed the ‘cities’. This time, a series of tsunamis, a visible part of ‘nature’ destroyed and swallowed huge ‘landscapes in only a few hours. This great earthquake was ‘a disaster of everyday landscapes’ but also, it illustrated that ‘usual and unusual phenomena are two sides of the same coin’.


“Shinto-ism” suggests that the spirits of Gods have two sides. The tama (spirit of god) has different qualities: Niki-tama, the peaceful or passionate element, and the other, Ara-tama, the vigorous or active element, while they are sometimes seen as sharing one body.

We may have paid too much attention to the ‘gentle’ side of the landscape in peaceful and materially fulfilled modern days. Despite this fact, the Japanese have dealt with ‘severe nature beyond our control’ since ancient times; earthquakes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions... The Japanese have existed alongside with these gods, in turn praying for aid and trying to pacify them. Nevertheless, there are places that we have given up as ‘regions of the Gods’.


Unchangeable structural characteristics of the landscape were recognized through this disaster, at the same time as new artifacts like houses and modern engineering structures were drowned and washed away by the tsunami.

For the Matsushima islands, a famous scenic spot known for its beautiful landscape of numerous small islands, the tsunami is only one part of the history of erosion of the natural environment. People in the Tohoku region have confronted the natural environment for hundreds of years. For instance, they rerouted a river (R. Kitagami) and ran canals along the coast (Teizan canal).

These landscapes have developed over time, with careful reading of the power of nature. Old Shrines and ancient passageways were undamaged. More surprising to us, in the middle of rice fields washed out by the tsunami, a few black pine trees remained standing on a mound only 1m high. Surrounded by the black pine trees, a shrine revering a local god had been built.

On the other hand, those which were built without thorough thought given to nature’s rules and overlooking history seem to have been washed away. We landscape architects cannot help admiring the sincere working relationship of nature and humanbeings. By seeing both what remains and what was destroyed, we are powerfully reminded of a unique oriental idea, the ‘Inashi’ method in Ju-jitsu and Karate to fend off an enormous power, never received up front.


The current Japanese economic climate is grim, and Japan’s decline in the world economy is unavoidable. We have not managed to solve the nuclear plant problems, and the burden will surely eat up our current savings. Furthermore, at the base of its recovery and reconstruction, Tohoku has numerous foreseeable problems to face in daily life and in the economy, such as a shrinking population and the decline of primary industry in the hilly and mountainous regions as well as the nuclear accident that ‘causes uneasiness in the world’. We have to get away from ungrounded beliefs regarding ‘the illusion of development’, and come up with a truly realistic approach to recover from these difficulties.


In such a difficult time, we, IFLA Japan, are also in the process of being reborn. Is it suitable to call it ‘Rebirth’ or ‘Revival’? It certainly will depend on how we do, and how we continue to do it. We will continue working with ‘Hope’ and a positive ‘Mindset’


The Japanese Institute of Landscape Architecture, the academic institution of landscape architecture in Japan, organized a reconstruction support committee for the Tohoku earthquake, and conducted the primary site survey beginning in late April and throughout early May.

The 10 survey teams consisted mainly of experts who belong to universities, and surveyed a large area from the coastline inland, including the following cities and towns:

  • Iwate pref: Miyako-shi, Otsuchi-machi, Rikuzentakata-shi;
  • Miyagi pref: Kesennuma-shi, Sendai-shi, Natori-shi;
  • Fukushima pref: Minamisoma-shi;
  • Chiba pref: Asahishi, Urayasu-shi, Wabiko-shi.

The survey report is shown (in Japanese) on the institution’s website:

Using the theme of earthquake aid through landscape regeneration, the following points were seen as important in the primary site survey.

  1. Value local residents’ views.
  2. Consider how to recover vital local communities and panning for highly resilient towns.
  3. Consider reconstruction plans that lead to sustainable lifestyles that are suitable to the natural environment. How to co-habit with nature wisely.
  4. Summing up those ideas in view of new planning at the national level.

The emergency primary site survey was followed by an extraordinary meeting on May 21st 2011. The survey reports as well as future considerations for the reconstruction were discussed, and suggestions
issued. The following was reported in the meeting:

  • Keynote address by Shiro Wakui (Professor of Tokyo City University) ‘Suggestions From the Field ofLandscaping for Reconstruction Plans’.
  • Akio Nemoto (Head of an adventure park) The Experience of Escape and Survival on High Ground in a Coastal Park.
  • Followed by Masayuki Moriyama (Professor at Miyagi University) who introduced the research activities of the institution’s Tohoku branch.
  • Tetsuro Nomura (Japan Landscape Contractors Association) reported a survey of the stricken area from a landscape contractor’s perspective, as well as from Seiichiro Takahashi (Registered Landscape
    Architect) who accompanied the primary site survey.
  • Suggestions and observations were given by government officials in charge of reconstruction policies, such as the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation, the Environmental Ministry,
    and the Agency of Cultural Affairs. Direction and the possibility of landscape reconstruction were discussed at the panel discussion session.
  • Following the primary site survey, a second survey has been planned based on the suggestions at this extraordinary meeting. A symposium for reconstruction support for the Eastern Japan earthquake
    is planned for this autumn, in which more specific suggestions will be made based on the second site survey that will cover more specific research as well as detailed systematic studies on each theme.

Additionally, after the earthquake, each university’s landscape school voluntarily visited the stricken areas and began their own studies and research on site, making suggestions on reconstruction plans, workshops and events for long-term reconstruction support.

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