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the principal focus of debate between a powerful orthodoxy steeped in the traditions
and practices of conventional technocratic engineering and a newly emergent school
that challenges the old imperatives of economic growth and insists instead on an
ecological equity, a harmonisation of human activity with local ecosystems.
The use of river water for irrigation has long been an essential part of Japanese wet-
rice farming, and agriculture remains the main consumer of water, with about two-
thirds of the total. Beginning in the early 1900s, however, rapid urbanisation and
industrialisation produced intense added demands on water resources. The increased
incidence of flooding that resulted, with its greater toll in terms of human casualties
and damage to property, was followed by a programme of stateled engineering
works within a new framework of legislation that laid out the state's responsibilities
(Takeuchi Keiichi 1996:221). Gradually, an infrastructure was created that aimed at
enabling a maximum utilisation of water resources and then a rapid channelling of
water into the sea. To this end, multi-purpose dams were built; artificial outlets
were constructed for turbulent rivers; and waterways were concealed behind high
concrete embankments, cut off from human sight in deep beds. The whole vast
programme (conceived though it was in piecemeal fashion) was possible because of a
complicated but comprehensive system of state control over the management of rivers.
Many of the smaller streams and irrigation channels that criss-crossed the terrain
lost their function in the decades of rapid urbanisation after the war. Like
Komatsugawa, they became outlets for household and industrial effluent. But as
more and more areas were linked to sewage treatment plants, local governments
were faced with the question of what to do with the redundant waterways.
Malodorous and unsanitary, many were covered up. The pollution of rivers led to
an inevitable decline in numbers and diversity of fish and invertebrates and before
long to the disappearance of species.
This loss was noted and mourned, but the quality of water in many rivers began
to improve again in the 1970s with the introduction of controls on effluent and
better treatment facilities. The reappearance of fish in urban rivers was picked up by
the media and transformed into a parable of natural rebirth. A broader process of
reappraisal was beginning at about this time. A spate of serious flooding in the
mid-1970s called into question the premises of the engineering-led approach to
river planning ( kuma 1988:232). The seemingly ubiquitous corruption of the
1980s and early 1990s also played its part in bringing a new popular mood to the fore,
one in which the earlier post-war sacred cows of economic growth and development
were questioned. At the same time, responses to a changing international
environment as well as the strength and shape of reaction to the 1995 earthquake in
Kobe led to the formation of a large number of NGOs (non-governmental
organisations), bringing together people from official and lay worlds to campaign
for improvements in the environment. Finally, recent years have witnessed growing
anger at engineering projects considered to be unnecessary and harmful to the
environment. Most of the high-profile campaigns against the construction of dams
and weirs have been unsuccessful, but they have served to highlight various issues, to
radicalise public opinion, and even to reinforce the position of the Environment
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