Old hotels closing under new earthquake retrofitting rules

noboribetsuLocal governments have started to publish earthquake-resistance data on hotels, hospitals, schools and other buildings across Japan. Data on over 12,000 buildings nationwide will be made public.

Kagawa Prefecture was the first prefecture in Japan to release data, with inspection reports on 37 hotels made public. The Tokyo metropolitan government plans to release their findings on buildings later in the capital in the second half of 2017.

Hotels, ryokans, department stores, theatres, aged care homes, schools, hospitals and other public buildings built before 1981, over 3-storeys and with a total floor area of 1,000 ~ 5,000 square meters and over are obligated to carry out an earthquake-resistance inspection, the results of which will be made public by local governments.

The introduction of these rules in 2013 has already led to a closure of several hotels across Japan.

In Ehime Prefecture, retrofitting is an urgent task with the local government estimating that as many as 107,554 buildings would suffer complete destruction in the event of a mega earthquake along the Nankai Trough. A 45-year old hotel in Ehime was reported to have a seismic index of just 0.02. An index below 0.3 poses a high risk of collapse in an earthquake producing a shindo level of 6 ~ 7. Current earthquake resistant standards require a seismic index of 0.6 and above. The 3-storey, 18 room hotel was built in 1971. In recent years it has been running in the red, with last year’s loss reaching 10 million Yen. Occupancy rates have not changed following the publication of the hotel’s earthquake resistance data, although the hotel operator is still struggling with low revenues and is considering closing the hotel.

In Noboribetsu, a hot spring district in Hokkaido, six of the area’s fourteen buildings have been found to fall below current earthquake resistant standards. The area has seen an influx in tourists from Asia in recent years, with as many as 1.2 million nights booked in the district’s hotels per year. According to the city, it would cost as much as 4 billion Yen (approx. 35 million USD) to retrofit the six hotel buildings. One building has already been retrofitted, but the next project is tentatively scheduled to start sometime in late 2017. The Noboribetsu Tourism Association is concerned that publicising the names of the hotels that need retrofitting could scare away tourists.

Hotel New Yagen Aomori
Hotel New Yagen, Aomori

One hotel in Aomori Prefecture didn’t wait for their name to be publicised before shutting their doors. Hotel New Yagen in Ohata was built in 1970 and was the largest hotel in the Yagen hot-spring village. The hotel was profitable, receiving as many as 20,000 ~ 30,000 tourists from the Tokyo and Osaka regions each year. Earthquake-retrofitting was estimated to cost over 1 billion Yen (8.8 million USD), which was unaffordable. The hotel closed in November 2016.

In Yokohama City, Hotel New Grand, one of Japan’s leading examples of ‘classic hotels’, finished retrofitting the main building in October. The total cost of retrofitting and refurbishment was 3.3 billion Yen (29 million USD). The landmark building was completed in 1927 and has hosted guests such as Charlie Chaplin, members of the British Royal Family, the Japanese Imperial Family, and Babe Ruth.

Source: The Asahi Shimbun, November 27, 2016.

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