Finding space for flowing water in Japan’s densely populated landscapes
With its rapidly flowing rivers and plentiful summer rainfall, 20th-century Japan has a history of frequent flooding. The effects on its densely populated flood plains have often been devastating. Japan also has one of the world’s landscapes most heavily covered in concrete. In recent decades, however, the Japanese state has turned hesitantly to new techniques of releasing of water into the sea buttressed by a concern for ecological well-being. Its ‘nature-oriented’ river landscaping programme is an attempt to find a more sustainable balance between flowing water and the built terrain, allowing water to make space for itself. Our paper sets this programme in its historical context, relating it back to the premodern period and juxtaposing it to prevalent modernist 20th-century practice. Throughout this paper, we focus on the interweaving of discourse and practice, drawing attention to the ‘idiom’ of river landscaping as well as to the role of the state in defining this idiom. We argue that a sort of reconciliation is occurring between the contrasting discourses and practices of ‘hard’ and ‘green’ engineers.
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