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    A broken frame

    Since the Aneha scandal broke last year, federal officials have manifested a charming capacity for surprise. The latest shock:

    The infrastructure ministry, stunned to learn that builders rarely bother to scrutinize architectural blueprints, will require that they do so for all new wooden homes to make sure the structures are quake-proof, officials said.

    They said builders must study the design plans before construction starts after learning that such procedures are rarely observed these days.

    The ministry was so shocked at the finding that it decided to rescind an exemption put in place 22 years ago to allow builders to skip such checks.

    The move comes on the heels of recent disclosures about a Tokyo company that built and sold nearly 700 wooden homes with substandard earthquake resistance, officials said.

    Even more surprising was a finding by a cooperative association for quake-proof strength on wooden buildings, whose members are mostly medium- and small-sized builders.

    It said that 62 percent of about 24,000 wooden homes it surveyed were not strong enough to withstand an earthquake even though they were put up in or after 1981, when quake-proof standards were tightened.

    Is it really that surprising that construction companies would skip a step they’d been expressly exempted from having to execute? After all, the Aneha scandal demonstrated that not even civil servants whose explicit responsibility was to verify structural calculations roused themselves to do so.

    The wooden building problem is a big deal, of course. Despite the folksy belief that wood-framed buildings are less likely to collapse in earthquakes because their flexible joints and organic materials allow them to flop around in harmony with Gaia until she settles down–seriously, you hear that from people here all the time–the fact is that wooden buildings have to be very well engineered to be safe. And when they do collapse, they’re more likely to tip over than are buildings of rebarred concrete, which makes them more dangerous for the neighbors.

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