Research at AIIT

Dialog with an Uncertain Future / Excerp (Irregular updates)

The 48th Installment"Overcoming the disaster"

by Noboru Koyama,
Professor in the Master Program for Innovation for Design and Engineering

Overcoming the disaster

I would like to express my upmost respect to those affected by the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and their strong bond of solidarity and willingness for restoration. I am frustrated that I can only send some relief money and words of encouragement, but I would like to provide more support in the future.

Due to the nuclear accident after the disaster, the power supply became unstable, and very unusual rolling blackouts were implemented. Because of this, public transportation, public facilities, and all private companies have been affected with the surrounding environment experiencing a major change. As seen from under-lit train stations, partial lighting in department stores and grocery stores, and restraint over neon lights, the excessively bright lights of the entire city dimmed and the joyous mood quieted down. In fact, after the disaster, I felt somewhat comfortable at the under-lit train stations that I use to go to work. It brings me a sense of relief from the decreased advertisements and neon signs that used to be overwhelming.

As a person involved in design, I feel that it is a good opportunity to re-design the environment. I also feel that it is the time to reconsider product design. During blackouts, even the useful oil fan heaters became useless. Telephones in each household and office cannot be used without batteries. People cannot buy train tickets and even ticket gates experience limited access. If you look around, we are surrounded by products that rely on electricity.

Not a day passes without thinking about what can I do with design and what I should do in the wake of this disaster.

If you hear "restoration," people often place a high priority on places to live (buildings); however, the highest priority is on grand design to reconstruct the cities and towns that were devastated. The port towns in the Tohoku area must start from the ground up to restore buildings, design, city planning, and public transportation to create towns that are truly resistance to disasters yet still attractive. My thoughts center on a new design for future towns restored without stop-gap measures where we can confidently show the world modern collective housing for fishermen mixed in with nature while leaving the vast traditions atop a hill overlooking the scenic Sanriku shoreline, fishermen commuting to ports by clean energy transportation, and road networks that simulate evacuation from tsunami waves passed down for hundreds of years. I cannot stop wishing for the start of majestic rehabilitation projects that Japan can only achieve at present. As for myself, I am working on the implementation of student projects at my university with the concept of wishing that I could somehow support it through my design plans even indirectly.

On the other hand, I think it is the time to reconsider each product design as described earlier. For example, another new concept or theme is to "grow out of product design that relies too much on electricity." To be more specific, it is possible to create power during blackouts due to a disaster using the batteries of hybrid cars as has been advocated in experiments by some authorities, as well as adding additional features to products in case of blackouts.

Media coverage has highlighted what the world is expecting from the disaster in Japan. One of the most notable things is the patience of the people in Japan, especially the people in the Tohoku area. The explanations include the following comments: "well-maintained public peace in the devastated area," "unexceptionable manners of people," "the spirit of self-help and mutual assistance," "human dignity," "calm and orderly behaviors" and "lock-step mentality." The author, Pearl Buck, wrote a short story entitled "Tsunami (The Big Wave)" and included a conversation between a parent and child. "Do you wish you were not born in Japan?" said his child, and the father replies, "We can learn to value our lives because we survive through danger." I hope people in the Tohoku area will establish a "newly designed community" that values lives while utilizing what they have learned from the crisis toward recovery without leaving their hometowns.

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  • The 49th Installment

    "Diet Apps"

    by Yosuke Tsuchiya,
    Assistant Professor in the Master Program for Information Systems Architecture
  • The 48th Installment

    "Overcoming the disaster"

    by Noboru Koyama,
    Professor in the Master Program for Innovation for Design and Engineering
  • The 47th Installment

    "Earthquakes and Information Literacy"

    by Yoshihide Chubachi,
    Assistant Professor in the Master Program for Information Systems Architecture