a village spared due to its unique architecture

Many wooden buildings on the Noto Peninsula in central Japan collapsed due to a strong New Year’s earthquake, but a small fishing village survived, saved by an architectural oddity.

The village of Akasaki in Ishikawa Prefecture after a magnitude 7.5 earthquake on January 6, 2024. (PHILIP FONG / AFP)

Among the 100 houses in Akasaki, built on a windswept stretch of the west coast, none collapsed after the 7.5-magnitude earthquake that killed at least 161 and injured 560 in the area and whose epicenter was very close. This is because of their unusual design, points out Masaki Sato, 43. Local House “is very partitioned, with many columns” which ensure its strength, explains this protector of local heritage. To withstand the rain, snow and sea wind, most buildings in Akasaki have few windows and their exterior walls are made of wooden beams stacked horizontally. Unlike many wooden houses on the Noto Peninsula and Japan in general, their ceilings are further supported by cross-beams, adding a fortress-like structure.

“The Village Still Stands”

Masaki Sato lives in Tokyo, but after the devastating earthquake on January 1, he rushed to travel the 300 km that separated him from Akasaki to get news about the residents and the house he rents as a guest room. Despite the high death toll from the earthquake in the region, with 103 people still missing, no casualties were reported in the village, which was also protected by breakwaters and concrete dams from the earthquake’s tsunami. After the whole night, Masaki Sato was relieved when he came to see “the village still stands”, “thanks to the solution of houses”.

Inside, he found broken dishes, overturned appliances and a broken sliding door, but the structure remained intact. The same phenomenon occurred throughout the village, where “the design of the houses is more or less the same,” said Seiya Shinagawa, a 78-year-old retired fisherman. “Traditionally, they consist of a shed facing the coast, which stops the wind, and a narrow house attached behind it,” a configuration dating back to the days when fishermen set sail directly from their sheds.

“No One To Give It To”

When a fire destroyed much of the village in the late 1930s, the residents rebuilt the houses in a uniform and particularly robust style. But even this seemingly indestructible village faces a problem endemic to Japan: an aging population. Most of Akasaki’s residents are over 65, and many live alone, like 74-year-old Akiyo Wakasa. “My neighbor and his neighbor also live alone,” she elaborates. AND “Home repairs cost money.

“I don’t know how many people here think it’s worth repairing a house and continuing to live there if they don’t have anyone to pass it on to.”

Akiyo Wakasa, a villager


The company’s IT employee Masaki Sato is also involved in property renovation and has pledged to buy a total of five houses in Akasaki with their sheds to help save them. Because despite its unique architecture, the area is not recognized as a cultural heritage by the government, and when the house is no longer inhabited, it is often demolished, he complains. Gold, “the village is too precious to lose”, emphasizes Masaki Sato.

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