TT-426 -- Japan, the Land of Concrete

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, June 24, 2007 Issue No. 426


- What's new
- News
- Candidate roundup/Vacancies
- Upcoming events
- Corrections/Feedback
- News credits

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As any visitor to Japan will testify, Japan is the land of
construction and concrete. During the heyday of Japanese
public works, from 1991 through 2000, the Japanese
government spent an unprecedented JPY430trn (US$3.58trn) on
public works projects. Most of this went on people,
corporate profits, alleged kick-backs, and of course the
basic raw material - concrete. Not coincidentally, the
spending spree contributed to more than half the current
government debt of JPY773trn, the world's highest and some
148% of the nation's GDP.

Concrete is a highly versatile material and modern Japan
made the move from timber to concrete in the early 1960's,
prompted in part by the need for infrastructure for the
1964 Tokyo Olympics. Further major strides were made in
building construction techniques in the mid-80's, when the
earthquake regulations were changed, and the requirement
for more steel reinforcement in office and apartment
buildings also meant that architects could go higher than
previously possible - mainly because of breakthroughs in
earthquake design and because saving money through using
less steel was now a non-issue.

Today, Japan leads the world in the design and construction
of premium housing and high-quality public facilities that
are cast in reinforced concrete. Approximately 99% of all
apartments built in Japan being made of concrete, primarily
cast on site.

The irony is that although the build quality for concrete
buildings these days is excellent and there is a
theoretical lifetime of around 50-60 years, the average
Japanese concrete building is torn down after only 25-30
years. The reason for such a short cycle time is that not
only were there changes in the earthquake building design
law but also because after 20 years of exposure to Tokyo's
dirty and acid-laden air, concrete exteriors can easily
become cracked, discolored, and dangerous. Until recently,
wrecking and rebuilding was cheaper and easier than making

[Continued below...]

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The logical response to prevent premature aging of concrete
is to use some form of surface treatment during
construction to make the materials last longer. A good
surface treatment should be environmentally safe, fire
resistant, practically impervious to the elements, and be
able to take exposure to typical cleaning chemicals and
fuels that are used on a daily basis in public, private,
and office buildings. Unless some special capability is
desired, the treatment should be relatively inexpensive
compared to its durability pay-off, and should be easy to

One family of chemicals which offer most of these
characteristics is polymers - a catch-all term for plastics
primarily derived from petrochemicals and which can be
hardened or made heat resistant.

The problem with polymers is that there is a growing
concern about whether using such products in living spaces
is really safe. This is particularly true of polymers based
on Bisphenol A, which appear to be giving rise to claims of
genetic damage, cancer, and a number of other health
problems. Perhaps not surprisingly, industry-sponsored
studies have not been able to identify any causal links
between exposure to Bisphenol A and health problems...

However, one independent study that has some academic
credibility is a 2006 research program conducted by Ana M.
Soto, Professor of Anatomy and Cellular Biology at Tufts
University School of Medicine, in Boston, USA. In October
last year, she reported that exposure of pregnant rats to
Bisphenol A at a rate of 2.5 to 1,000 µg per kg of body
weight per day resulted 25% of the pups having precancerous
lesions in their mammary ducts upon reaching pubescence,
a rate about 300%-400% greater than that for unexposed
control pups. This study suggests that polymers may be one
cause of breast cancer in adult women, and thus the jury
is still out on the safety of polymer surface coatings in
living spaces.

In the summer issue of Japan Inc. magazine (out in stores
this week), we cover a privately owned surface coatings
company called Nikko Inc. This firm has in the last 5 years
become a leader in environmentally safe coatings that do
NOT use polymers. Nikko is small, with just 10 staff, and
outsources most of its production and distribution to
partners, however, its sales are ramping up impressively.
Last year, through to March 31st, 2006, income was just
JPY500m, while this year revenue is expected to jump to
around JPY2bn.

The reason why Nikko is doing so well is because after a
long period of gestation; testing and refining a unique
and innovative product, it is now ready for mainstream
use and is getting rave reviews and referrals among
architects working on major government and corporate
contracts, as well as those doing upmarket housing.

The Nikko product range is based on an inorganic glass-like
compound held together with a proprietary water-based
binder. Effectively, the Nikko product covers the surface
of the target object with nano-processed quartz particles,
giving the object similar qualities to those of natural
quartz: i.e., extreme hardness, resistance to heat and cold
and water, and resistance to most chemicals and fuels. Most
important of all, the products are environmentally safe,
with no emission of potentially dangerous compounds.

Indeed, one version of the Nikko product contains a natural
negative ion compound that intended to remove sick-house
particles from the air on contact and neutralizes them.

In the last 3-5 years, Nikko products have been used on:
* A JR Higashi Nihon elevated railway bridge, where the
company provided a high-durability formula for the concrete
sections of the bridge
* Gunma Prefecture Dam. Again the company provided its
high-durability formula to the exterior of the dam,
repairing sections that were in danger of weakening due to
extreme weathering
* Metropolitan expressway tunnels. The company supplied a
special nano-processed version of their Anti-fouling and
Anti-contamination compounds to coat the inside of the
tunnels. As a result, soot and dust accumulation levels are
less than 20% of prior levels.
* Perhaps the most visible project has been the new Prime
Minister's residence in Tokyo, which was surfaced on the
exterior to improve cleanliness of the facility.

We thought readers would like a heads up on this innovative
company -- typical of many that never get coverage with the
western press. You can read more about Nikko and it's
ebullient 69-years young CEO, Masatoshi Shiota, in the
Japan Inc magazine. If readers representing foreign
construction firms or simply looking to build in concrete
are interested in finding out more about the product,
Shiota told Japan Inc. magazine that he is looking for
licencees abroad and is happy to sell to local consumers.
The company's website (unfortunately, Japanese only) is

*** Our Corrections and Feedback section includes a
correction on just which hotel is really at the top of the
Midtown tower, and an interesting comment on the whaling
controversy. More at the bottom of the newsletter.

*** If you're a Tivoli-experienced engineer and have
technical writing experience but no Japanese skills, see
the job section below.

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Brain control devices
- New inkjet printer technology
- TSE plans a sin bin
- Huge Japan investment for India
- NPO chief tied to illegal immigrants

-> Brain control devices

As much as it may seem the stuff of science fiction,
Hitachi researchers have developed a device which measures
changes in brain blood flow, and by using biofeedback,
allows the user to control external devices. Currently the
technology is still quite basic, and rather than think of
moving the object, users instead do sums or sing a song.
The device detects the blood flow changes as the frontal
cortex and translates them into a control signal for
whatever device the user wishes to run. In the Hitachi
experiment, a TV was turned on and off and channels
changed. ***Ed: With more refinement, this device would be
a blessing to physically disabled people such as those
having suffered a severe stroke.** (Source: TT commentary
from, Jun 23, 2007)

-> New inkjet printer technology

Just when you thought ink jet printers have got about as
good as they can be, Fuji Xerox comes out with an
interesting new technology that lets inkjet printers spit
out pages as quickly as a laser printer. The technology
uses a fixed head that first sprays the paper with a
processing solvent then applies the ink. The solvent causes
the ink to stay on the surface of the paper rather than
wicking along the fibers and dispersing. This means that
images are sharper and drying time is quicker. (Source: TT
commentary from, Jun 21, 2007)

See source here

-> TSE plans a sin bin

The Tokyo Stock Exchange has said that in October it will
set up a special market for companies that have violated
the exchange rules, but where those violations are not
sufficiently severe to have the company delisted. ***Ed:
Tantamount to a sin bin, we assume that the move comes
after the Nikko Cordial debacle, where Nikko was almost
delisted.** (Source: TT commentary from, Jun
23, 2007)

See source here

-> Huge Japan investment for India

According to the Nikkei, the Japanese government will make
loans and investments totaling US$30bn to assist India in
building infrastructure alongside a new railway line
planned between Mumbai and New Delhi. The project will
include the railway line itself, industrial parks, and
ports. ***Ed: This will be the Japanese government's
largest foreign financial commitment, and when viewed in
conjunction with the loosening of immigration and trade
rules between the two nations, clearly indicates that India
will play a large part in Japan's future. Do we detect some
political balancing vis-a-vis China in this move?**
(Source: TT commentary from, Jun 22, 2007)

-> NPO chief tied to illegal immigrants

In a case that is bound to become more common, the head of
a Fukui-based NPO helping Filipinas deal with fraudulent
marriages has himself been charged with arranging illegal
work contracts for Filipina hostesses in Saitama. Police
plan to extradite the man, a Japanese national, from the
Philippines where he currently lives. ***Ed: The demand
for workers from the Philippines is growing stronger,
especially for factory and home caregiver work. Since the
law prevents such demand from being addressed legally,
people will find ways around the rules. What is
interesting about this case is the inventiveness of the
perpetrator, setting up an NPO ostensibly to help victims
gave him a perfect smoke screen to interact with his
dispatched workers.** (Source: TT commentary from Jun 21,

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.


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In this section we run comments and corrections submitted
by readers. We encourage you to spot our mistakes and
amplify our points, by email, to

-> Correction in TT 425. We incorrectly identified the
hotel at the top of midtown as the Mandarin. As a reader
pointed out, it is in fact the Ritz-Carlton. We apologize
to both parties and can only conclude that we need to stop
frequenting ramen shops and eat at fancier places more...

-> Feedback
TT423 -- Whaling. More comment on whaling.

*** Our reader states: One thing puzzles me about pretty
well all news coverage of the whaling debate. It seems to
me the whole whaling for food argument should be moot by
now, since it's been fairly well established (by Japanese
researchers no less) that the meat is contaminated with
unsafe levels of mercury. Is everyone in denial about this,
or do they just not know?

In particular, I wonder if the parents of the kids being
forced to eat whale meat in their school lunches know
about it?

*** We respond: This is an excellent article, and if the
issue of mercury poisoning isn't an issue yet, it will
become one once the word gets out.


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