Everybody knows the old saying “Necessity is the mother of invention,” but the Japanese seems to really take it to heart. Japan has a lot of strange, unique needs, and out of those needs come cool, unusual inventions.
One of Japan’s biggest needs has been space. Japan is a pretty small country with a lot of mountains and a ton of people. These factors together sometimes limit what Japan can do with what land it has.
So what do the Japanese do? They make more space by creating artificial, man-made islands. Unlike the crazy extravagant artificial islands of Dubai, most of Japan’s man-made islands are actually quite functional.
Before I go any further, I know that you have a serious, burning question you need to ask. Fortunately, our friends over at Ask.com have answered it for us:
Surprisingly, Japanese artificial islands have been around for hundreds of years. You’d expect that artificial islands would require giant diggers, barges, and other mechanized monstrosities, but people still somehow managed to make man-made islands in the days before the industrial revolution.
Take Dejima, for example. Created in the 1600s Dejima, located in Nagasaki, was one of Japan’s first artificial islands.
Way back in the day when Japan was more than a little distrustful of foreigners, they kept interaction with the outside world at the absolute bare minimum. Trade and visitation were severely limited to everybody outside of Japan for about 200 years.
Artist’s depiction of Dejima around the 1800s
Those foreigners who were allowed to come to Japan were kept at arm’s length. The shogunate wanted one dedicated place where foreigners could trade in Japan, and decided to create Dejima to be that place.
You know the kid who was always picked last for kickball in school? Dejima is like that times a million. The Japanese think that you’re so icky that they built an island just so they don’t have to deal with you?
Artist’s depiction of Tokugawa Japan
Eventually, Japan got over its whole fear of foreigners, and there wasn’t really a need for Dejima anymore. Nagasaki grew, caught up with Dejima, and eventually absorbed it into the city.
Nowadays, Dejima has been lost within Nagasaki; but the Japanese government has declared Dejima historical site and are working on figuring out its exact location in Dejima and restoring it to its original state.
Odaiba, like Dejima, is an artificial island that was built because of scary, scary foreigners. After Commodore Perry rolled up on Japan and told the Japanese to come out of isolation or else, the shogunate decided to prepare for the worst. A series of gun batteries were built in Tokyo Bay to defend the city from any potential attacks.
The attack from the outside never came, and the islands fell into disuse until the 20th century. Local government gradually repurposed and built upon these islands, transforming them from old, unused gun batteries into places where people live, work, and play.
Since Odaiba has sprung to life, it’s gained its own character. Odaiba houses the iconic Fuji Television building, and has a bunch of tourist attractions. A miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty overlooks Tokyo Tower, and a giant Gundam has attracted flocks of otaku to Odaiba for over two years.
A Gundam isn’t quite what the shogunate had in mind when they built Odaiba to house weapons, but hey, it’ll do.
As impressive as artificial islands like Dejima and Odaiba are, they pale in comparison to Kansai International Airport (KIX). The construction of KIX is an engineering marvel built at the peak of the Japanese economic powerhouse of the mid 20th century.
The city of Osaka wanted a first-class international airport, but couldn’t make it happen by conventional means. Osaka didn’t have the space, and building an airport in the middle of the city would have caused a ton of noise pollution and myriad safety issues.
So what did Osaka do? It built an island.
Construction started in the late 80s and, through years of work, tons and tons of landfill, and $20 billion, Kansai Airport opened in 1994. Its creation wasn’t without problems, though.
Kansai Airport’s designers grappled with the problem of sinking. Even after you’ve created a man-made island, you still have to deal with the island sinking into the soft ground below it. Designers have dealt with this problem by adding more material into the island and fitting the buildings with hydraulic lifts to keep them level and elevated.
And, believe it or not, KIX has held up pretty well. It’s weathered typhoons and earthquakes, including the devastating 1995 Hanshin Earthquake.
There are plenty more fake islands in Japan, but these are the ones that seemed most significant to me. Did I miss any? Which is your favorite? Let me know in the comments!