Kansai Scene Magazine



Attack of the four-legged concrete structures*

Tetrapods. Sounds like a new animation coming our way. Maybe it will involve giant robots. Maybe some schoolboy is the only person able to pilot a Gundam-style machine to protect the Earth from them. Only, it is not, because Tetrapods, to residents of Japan, mean four-legged pieces of concrete hugging the coastline in an effort to stave off erosion and tsunami.

You know how these things look. Go to any beach in Kansai, for example Pichi Pichi in Sennan City. Sure, it’s nice, but you can forget about seeing the sunset over the horizon­–because banks of Tetrapods sitting twenty meters out to sea block the view. Even an isolated paradise like Taketomi in the Yaeyama Islands is not free of them. The main beaches are spared because of their coral reefs, but be sure to check the harbor, which has some great agglomerated Tetrapodal mandibles around its entrance.

Fifty-five -percent of Japan’s entire coastline has been lined with concrete slabs and giant Tetrapods–approximately 16,000km of land. But where do these abominations to the eye come from? The answer is France. Yes, the home of Rococo, Poussin, Le Monde, Jean Reno and Carla Bruni also invented the Tetrapod. But fear not, Francophiles, because where France leads, others follow: roll on the British “Shed”, American “A-Jack”, Irish “Diahitis” and the Australian “Seabee”… Not every country loves them quite as much as Japan, though.

As with many things here, the Tetrapod situation has moved beyond normal channels. They are beloved of not just construction magnates and government officials, but also of a small group of Tetrapod otaku. Cannot afford concrete moulds? Then make your own paper Tetrapods. You can even buy Tetrapod pencil erasers. Any chance of a concrete Tetrapod eraser?

Admittedly, Japan can be a deadly place, with earthquakes, tsunami, volcanoes, landslides and typhoons to contend with. It is natural to hold a certain amount of fear of the environment, and to seek to manage it. However, things have gone too far with coastal cladding of this scale. There needs to be more awareness about how land can be protected and maintained without making it ugly. One example Japan can learn from is the sea defence at Sandwich, southeast England. Here, the Tetrapod seawall has been buried at the back of the beach under shingles. It does its job, but the beach still looks nice. Another idea would be to expand beach drainage systems. These are less expensive and more effective than hard systems like Tetrapods–but conspicuously would not pay the construction companies as much.

One way to beautify Japan’s beaches would be to take advantage of this nation’s famed competitiveness, especially on a regional scale. Europe operates a “Blue Flag” scheme, where each beach is inspected and only the cleanest, nicest beaches are awarded coveted Blue Flag status. A scheme such as this might just stimulate the minds of Japanese lawmakers.

Text by Mark Wollacott
Photos by Luke Hunter

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