Ondagumi president Chuya Onda
By JUDIT KAWAGUCHI
Chuya Onda, 68, is the president of Ondagumi, one of Japan’s biggest hikiya companies. Hikiya specialize in deconstructing, rebuilding and moving buildings. They are also experts at lifting up houses in order to make them earthquake-proof with special high-tech materials. Since the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, Onda’s company has been overwhelmed with the demolition aspect of his business. If a building is too dangerous to use, Onda and his team must demolish it. If it is merely tilted, then Ondagumi will straighten it out. Onda is well known as a tough guy who knows no fear when it comes to blowing up buildings, but when it comes to his wife — even after 42 years of marriage — he still gets weak in the knees.
Anyone can demolish a structure, but the real trick is to lift up and move a whole building without spilling the tea on the table. That’s what we do. We prepare for two weeks and then voilà, we raise the whole building with all the furniture inside it and move it so smoothly that everything stays exactly as it was when we began our work. The furniture, the dishes — nothing is disturbed. The homeowners could even sit on the sofa and sip tea as we move their whole house, but usually they want to watch the process so they remain outside taking photos.
Japanese buildings might look weak, but they are strong. Three top U.S. demolition teams came to Japan and tried to blow up typical Japanese homes with dynamite. The results were surprising: no team succeeded! The spots where the dynamite was placed were damaged, but the rest of the building was undisturbed. The kind of effect one sees in other countries, where even high-rise buildings crumble once some floors get severely damaged, just doesn’t happen in Japan because all structures are built to withstand quakes.
Instead of cutting down a tree or demolishing a house, save it by moving it to a new location. Japanese cities grew quite organically, so their roads are very narrow. Once the need for wider roads arose, starting in the Edo Period, Japanese moved trees and buildings by a few meters to make room for road construction.
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