The Nagano prefecture in Honshu’s Chūbu (central) region, boasts some of the country’s most impressive highlands.
A dramatic backdrop, they host a popular winter playground for the world’s ski tourists; they also serve as a precipitation catch for the communities below. What becomes apparent on closer inspection is that these colossal peaks compete heavily for acreage with the Japanese dietary staple, rice & to this end – here in Japan’s rural heartland – no flat terrain is left under utilised in this delicate act of balance for the resource of space. Indeed, perhaps the most striking feature of this landscape, if one can can see beyond the majesty on the horizon, is the practical shortage of floodable parcels of arable land for agriculture & the resulting impact on it’s inhabitants.
From the coastline, all the way to the fringes of some of the planet’s most densely populated cities, a continuous patchwork of small paddies interlace modest agricultural communities dedicated to cultivating the nation’s food. Traveling through the countryside I got the acute sense that to build new housing in these regions is to rob the annual economic demand of several tonnes of rice.
Much as in Holland, the prevailing modern architectural style in these lowlands is one born of function. The need to live so close to this soaked agricultural process gives rise to brutal concrete surrounds & moated foundations that insulate the spartan structures from flood; most indoor living it seems occurs on the dwellings’ first & second storeys.
In few highly populated countries is it more evident, that the landscape’s characteristic forms the basis of a culture’s architectural ethos. No doubt the combined threats of quake & tsunami pose their influence here too.