Aerial photograph of Tokyo, Japan.

For an island nation with 30,000 kms of coastline, Japan is seriously looking into solutions for climate change which will inevitably impact many of its coastal cities – meaning a shift in accommodation patterns is a possibility although no concrete research has yet been known to be undertaken to date.
As we all know all too well – the effects of climate change and, more specifically,
global warming, are going to drastically change almost everything about the world we, and even more so, our children and grandchildren, are living in – and in the vast majority of cases, for the worse.
Asia is one of the places where these effects are going to hit the hardest, according to scientists, who predict an increase of approximately 50% in rainfall in coming years – barring a few countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, which may actually experience a decrease – and since these rainfalls will be limited to fewer
and far more intense days annually, the results, rather than prop up agriculture production and vegetation – will have the opposite effect that is of destroying crops and man-made structures through floods. Coupled with the rising temperatures, typhoons and cyclones will also become – as they already are becoming – more frequent and volatile.
Japan, which has 30,000 km of coastline and is, essentially, a large group of islands, is one of the countries destined to be most gravely affected by the recently amended expectation of a 3-degree Celsius average rise in global temperatures by  the year 2100 – with a devastating 3-7 degrees in the sea of Japan alone.
Japan, which like many of its Asian neighbours, relies on rice as the basic staple food for all ages, will suffer a serious blow unless it somehow adapts, as rice production is expected to drop by 50%, accompanied by a doubling of production costs in the next eight decades. Equally alarming is the anticipated collapse of all coral reef systems in the region, which naturally spells disaster for marine ecosystems and the extinction of a huge proportion of the nation’s seafood supply, on which it heavily relies for both domestic consumption and export.
The anticipated scarcity of cooling water will lead to reduced productivity in thermal power plants, intermittent performance of hydropowered installation due to uncertain water flows, an increased reliance on unsustainable fossil fuel, which will further exponentially increase the pace of the climate change in a vicious circle and, eventually – potential wars and conflicts over limited power sources.
A Japanese study as to the effects of sea-levels rising conducted in 2013 and published in part by “The Japan Times” has determined that the height of waves hitting the coast would be three times larger in the event of a 60-cm rise in sea levels combined with a typhoon that is 10% stronger than average. As a result, inundation zones widen and concrete sea dikes can be breached by extra-large waves, which can cause subsequent damage.
Additionally, since groundwater in coastal zones is directly linked to the height of the sea nearby, when sea levels rise, the groundwater table rises as well. Soil in coastal areas can then become saturated, causing it to be vulnerable to liquefaction in the event of an earthquake, of which Japan has one of the world’s highest frequencies.
Low-lying coastal areas are especially prone to the risk of flooding and liquefaction, with the coastlines around Tokyo Bay, Osaka Bay and Ise Bay representing the highest risk. Osaka is among the world’s 10 most vulnerable cities to rising sea levels, and is where damages have the most devastating potential – as economists project that the city could suffer the loss or damage of nearly U.S.$1 trillion in assets owing to coastal flooding by the 2070s—more than four times its current economic risk (UCS).
Nagoya, which is also one of Japan’s most vulnerable cities to climate change, is also one the least prepared and is actually among the top 20 cities with the largest growth of annual flood losses in the Asia-Pacific region between 2005-2050, according to “The Third Pole”, the institution dedicated to understanding and providing solutions for Asia’s impending water crisis and its numerous aspects.
The millions of people living in and around the coastal areas of the country are painfully aware of Japan’s painful past, in which Tsunamis often saw large swaths of coastal areas underwater throughout history – with the latest disaster, in 2011, costing more than 18,000 lives (approximately 2,500 people still reported as missing, with the rest confirmed dead) and over USD309 billion in financial and asset damages to the nation as a whole.
Many, who are also aware of the fact that climate change is going to make things worse, are choosing to live away from coastal areas, or in the upper floors of buildings – but as there is no surveying of opinions or data on the subject, no accurate numbers or levels of such awareness have been published.
From a national perspective, the general mindset seems to have come to terms with the fact that the current pace of climate change and its forecast effects are no longer likely to be avoided or slowed in any way, and so efforts are now focused on preparation and minimization of potential damages. Expenditures required for this purpose are focused on several crucial areas –

  1. Prediction and monitoring
  2. Upgrades of existing port facilities
  3. Re-modelling of coastal structures
  4. Construction of anti-tsunami barriers

Back in 1993, cost estimates put the required expenditure at over 12 trillion JPY (over USD110 billion) – however, as the effects of climate change become more and more pronounced, the cost of protection naturally rises as well.
In Japan, things are further complicated by the stringent budgets allocated to local governments, which in practice means that only national governance can take on the job. With 40% of Japan’s coastal protections outdated and deteriorating, the national government has taken on several initiatives to renovate and reform the current state of readiness – but in some places, like Nagoya, where these projects have only just begun to scratch the surface, there is much work to be done, and the danger is immense.
As of recent reports, the executed plan has been receiving a budget of 1 trillion JPY (approximately USD800 billion) annually, which are allocated to various areas such as those detailed above. One can only hope that, unlike other global climate change tackling initiatives, this will not turn out to be a case of “too little, too late”.

Ziv Nakajima-Magen is Partner & Executive Manager, Asia-Pacific, Nippon Tradings International (NTI), which specialises in assisting investors in capitalising on Japan’s vast property market. He can be contacted at: or +81 92 600 1613 .

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