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Japan: Law on Making Local Areas Resistant to Tsunamis

(Feb. 13, 2012) When a major tsunami hit the country's east coast in March 2011, Japan had various laws concerning earthquakes, but there was no law that mainly addressed tsunami countermeasures. The largest non-ruling coalition (comprised of the Liberal Democratic Party and the Komei party) had submitted a bill for a Law Concerning Promotion of Countermeasures Against Tsunamis in June 2010, after observing the damage caused by a tsunami generated by the 2010 earthquake in Chile, which hit that country's shores on February 27, 2010. The bill was, however, never discussed in the Diet in 2010. (House of Representatives Bill No. 28, 174th Diet session, 2010; for information on the bill, see House of Representatives website [in Japanese] (last visited Feb. 10, 2012).)

After the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the same sponsors resuscitated the 2010 bill and the Diet passed it in June 2011. (Tsunami taisaku no suishin ni kansuru horitsu [Law Concerning Promotion of Countermeasures Against Tsunamis], Law No. 77 of 2011 (June 24, 2011). This Law is a basic law on tsunamis that sets forth basic policies of tsunami countermeasures, enhances tsunami research systems, implements tsunami education and tsunami evacuation training, and establishes necessary facilities to cope with tsunamis. (Id.)

A second tsunami law was enacted and promulgated in December 2011. The Law on Making Local Areas Resistant to Tsunami (Tsunami bosai chiiki dukuri ni kansuru horitsu, Law No. 123 of 2011 (Dec. 14, 2011) implements concrete measures on the basis of Law No. 77. The new Law promotes the comprehensive construction, use, and preservation of areas in order to prevent or mitigate in the long term the damage from tsunamis. Based on this Law, the Minister of Land, Infrastructures, and Transportation is to establish Basic Guidelines for handling tsunamis. (Id.)

The new Law also prescribes that the prefecture governors will conduct surveys and determine which areas are expected to be hit by tsunamis. The municipal governments will make counter-tsunami plans. The Law facilitates counter-tsunami city planning by municipal governments. It also clarifies prefectural and municipal government responsibilities for the installment, improvement, and maintenance of counter-tsunami facilities, such as levees, and makes it easier for them to carry out these responsibilities by restricting rights of private parties. The governors may designate “tsunami special warning areas.” In such areas, the building of facilities that accommodate people who have difficulty evacuating in an emergency, such as hospitals, nurseries, and schools, must satisfy special requirements, such that these facilities will not be destroyed by tsunamis and will have higher floors to accommodate people who cannot evacuate. (Id.)