THE IMPACT OF AGING ON JAPANESE ACCESSIBILITY STANDARDS

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1. INTRODUCTION
Within the context of the rapid aging of its population, this chapter discusses the implications for building accessibility in Japan. The introduction of the new Accessible  Built Environment Law (2006) is described, as well as how dwelling design for an aging society has progressed in the last 20 years. Japan is among the firstUNIVERSAL DESIGN-2 for dwellings. Japan may be the only nation that has used economic incentives at the federal level rather than legal enforcement. The lessons learned and possible future directions are also discussed.
countries to succeed in persuading the general public to accept design-for-all concepts
2. AGING AND URBANISM IN JAPAN

The notion of the emergence of an aging society in Japan is relatively new, and its consequences have rarely been taken seriously, even by the government, until fairly recently. However, Japan is becoming a society with a rapidly growing population of elderly people (National Institute of Population Problems, 1986; National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, 1997). In 1970, just 7UNIVERSAL DESIGN-3 percent of the population was of age 65 or older. In 1994, the figure had reached 14 percent. It took only 24 years—i.e., less than a generation—for Japan to double this percentage, a rate that has never been paralleled. In 2013, more than 25 percent of the Japanese population will be aged 65 or older, and the rate is expected to reach 40 percent in 2052.

It must be pointed out that in-family care has been implicitly integrated into the system of social welfare services in Japan. Moreover, the social assumption was that the eldest son’s family would take care of the aging parents, preferably as an extended family. Unfortunately, the social context that supported this arrangement is becoming less prevalent, partly as a result of social change and the decreasing numbers of children.Design requirements in dwellings for the aging population had never been properly met by designers, although the aging population was increasing
(Kose and Nakaohji, 1991; Kose et al., 1992). The situation is similar in the larger community environment. It is true that barrier-free design has long been tried in larger buildings with the assistance of design guidelines, but this has only been on a voluntary and negotiated basis, because virtually nothing is required by the Building Standard Law of Japan.

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3. INFLUENCE OF INTERNATIONAL ACTIONS ON JAPANESE ACCESSIBILITY LEGISLATION

In the past in Japan, the accessibility issue was mostly under the control of the Welfare Ministry and its departments. As early as 1974, Machida City, one of the local municipalities, issued “Design Guidelines of Buildings and Facilities toward Realizing a Welfare City,” which aimed at creating an accessible environment for wheelchair users from the welfare perspective. Although it was not mandatory, the local government tried to influence building developers as much as it could to include barrier-free design for wheelchair users in larger buildings and facilities. Although they succeeded to some extent and other local governments followed, voluntary compliance was not as effective as desired, and the move toward realizing barrier-free environments was slow. Part of the problem could be attributed to insufficient coordination in the local governments between the Buildings Control Department and the Welfare Department.

4. OVERVIEW OF THE BUILDING STANDARD LAW

The new law, however, did not replace the Building Standard Law. Rather, itUNIVERSAL DESIGN-5 provided an alternative procedure to obtaining a building permit if the building incorporated accessible and usable design features.

5. NEW POLICIES AND INCENTIVES

The government also enacted preferential interest rate schemes and subsidies linked to the law at the same time, which were expected to work as incentives. Such measures were previously enacted by some local governments, e.g., for theUNIVERSAL DESIGN-6 installation of elevators in railway stations. New measures included tax exemptions for unavoidable floor area increase as well as other provisions. The difficulty was that the effort necessary to
apply for such benefits did not always justify the extra work in terms of time and cost.

 

6. THE NEED TO REVISE THE BUILDING STANDARD LAW TO INCORPORATE ACCESSIBILITY REQUIREMENTS

The problems designers and clients are faced with due to building control are probably not unique to Japan. However, it is true that there are several limitations of the present Building Standard Law in the Japanese system. The following issues need urgent solution:

1. The assumptions about building users, as far as their capabilities are

concerned, are inadequate, as pointed out in part by the Accessible and Usable

UNIVERSAL DESIGN-7 Building Law.

2. There is no explicitly

stated established system for routine revisions.

4. While there is too much emphasis on specification requirements, the performance standards are too vague.

5. The delegation of authority to local ordinances is too restrictive.

 

7. HOUSING POLICY FOR A NEW ERA

If the dwelling unit is to be certified, all 10 performance categories must beUNIVERSAL DESIGN-8 addressed, not just some of them. The categories are structural integrity, fire safety, durability, ease of maintenance, thermal performance, air quality, lighting and visual environment, sound insulation, design for aging, and crime prevention.

 

 

8.THE GROWING NEED TO ADAPT  EXISTING BUILDINGS

Kose (2000) stressed that good design is what is needed by the users, and thatUNIVERSAL DESIGN-9 there are six essential requirements—safety, accessibility, usability, affordability, sustainability, and aesthetics—to “good design.” Some of the requirements are enforceable, but not all. Kose stressed that the first four requirements must be met to qualify for being called universal design, but perhaps affordability is most crucial.

 

9.THE CURRENT SITUATION REGARDING DWELLING PROVISION

As stated earlier, the official design guidelines of dwellings for the aged and the Housing Loan  Corporation (HLC) housing mortgage requirements emphasized three requirements: floor without unnecessary level change, support for handrail installation, and width of crucial space dimensions.The Ministry of Construction wished to have 20 percent of all dwelling units in 2015 be newly built with at least such accessible and usable features and an extra 20 percent adapted to include thesefeatures. However, the most recent result of the Housing and Land Survey conducted in 2003 revealed the following picture: Among the entire housing stock, only 5.4 percent satisfy the three requirements, and even among those units where seniors reside, only 6.7 percent satisfy the same requirements. The situation is worse with rental units compared to owner-occupied units. More recent data, surveyed inautumn 2008, are to be released soon.

With an inclination toward laissez faire practices, the government diminished and changed the role of the Housing Loan Corporation, to be named the Japan Housing Finance Agency. With only a small role left as to housing mortgages, the primary role of the agency is to subsidize housing modifications for earthquake resistance and age-friendly design. Unfortunately, the number of dwellings that qualify is very small, far below government expectations.

10.CONCLUSIONS

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There are several difficulties Japan faces in order to make dwellings accessible and usable during residents’ later years. The Basic Act for Housing, enacted in 2006, lacks effective authority to enable the government to tackle and solve the problems. Generally, the act asks local governments to establish their own policy measures and priorities, yet under the current economic situation, implementation has come to a halt. It remains to be seen whether various tax incentives for new housing construction and adaptation can reverse the trend.

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