Public Works Endanger Japan's Environment

Mount Bukozan i i

Mount Bukozan is known as the "sacred mountain" in Chichibu, Japan. Chichibu's Shinto Shrine has been located at the base of the mountain for 2000 years. Over the last few decades, though, cement companies have gouged out the face of the sacred mountain for limestone. Tim Hornyak for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Tim Hornyak for NPR
Mount Bukozan

Mount Bukozan is known as the "sacred mountain" in Chichibu, Japan. Chichibu's Shinto Shrine has been located at the base of the mountain for 2000 years. Over the last few decades, though, cement companies have gouged out the face of the sacred mountain for limestone.

Tim Hornyak for NPR
Cement factory i i

A half-dozen cement companies have located their factories at the base of Mount Bukozan. Tim Hornyak for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Tim Hornyak for NPR
Cement factory

A half-dozen cement companies have located their factories at the base of Mount Bukozan.

Tim Hornyak for NPR
The Tokyo Metro Building i i

The Tokyo Metro Building is like something out of the science fiction film Blade Runner. But the Metro government is trying to fight what's known as the "heat island" effect in Tokyo by locating rooftop gardens on its building and other new skyscrapers. Martha Little, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Martha Little, NPR
The Tokyo Metro Building

The Tokyo Metro Building is like something out of the science fiction film Blade Runner. But the Metro government is trying to fight what's known as the "heat island" effect in Tokyo by locating rooftop gardens on its building and other new skyscrapers.

Martha Little, NPR

Japan is the place where the Kyoto Treaty on global warming was signed. It is also a place with a long history of conservationism. Shinto is a distinctly Japanese religion. It is animistic, attributing personalized souls to animals, vegetables and even rocks.

But Japan struggles with environmental issues like climate change brought about in part by decades of rampant construction driven by massive public works projects. The projects have turned Japan into the world's ugliest country, according to Alex Kerr, author of Dogs and Demons, which chronicles the destruction of Japan's natural beauty.

In Chichibu, a small town an hour outside of Tokyo, the spirit of Shintoism and Japan's drive to industrialize comes together in stark contrast.

Chichibu's sacred mountain, Mount Bukozan, has been the location for the Shinto Shrine for more than 2,000 years. It is also a mountain rich in limestone and has for decades been gouged out by cement companies.

All this concrete ends up lining streams and waterfalls, but it also has contributed to the "heat island" effect in Tokyo. The temperature has risen four times more than the global average in the past century. The Tokyo government's answer is to stipulate that all new skyscrapers build rooftop gardens to mitigate the effects of warming in the largely concrete city.

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