In a country with scarce habitable land that is continuously subject to earthquakes - the latest tremor struck at the weekend in the North of Nagano Province – looking ‘elsewhere’ for new housing and workplace solutions is the norm.

READ MORE: The Earthquake is coming. The fear of the Big One and the search for salvation

The Shimizu Corp. does exactly this: the corporation designs dreams.

In reality this is not the company’s core business. Shimizu is one of the world leaders in the planning and construction of infrastructure projects; one particular example is the bridge and accompanying tunnel connecting the two sides of Tokyo Bay from Kawasaki to Kisarazu.

Sometimes, however – maybe to impress or even to attract new clients through clever marketing – the corporation pulls out a project that can be considered futuristic or absurd, depending on your point of view.

The most recent of these is called the Ocean Spiral: a colony of homes and offices anchored to the ocean floor. The name should say it all, but for a clearer picture of the project take a look at some of the images that have appeared on Shimuzu’s website and in the international press in recent days.


The centre of the colony is a floating globe located on the water’s surface. The globe is connected by a spiral of three to four kilometres in length to a platform anchored to the ocean floor, which houses a facility for the research and extraction of deep sea resources including rare earth minerals.

Up to five thousand people could live in a structure of this type.

The whole complex would leave no ecological footprint: any CO2 produced would be conserved within the structure and reused to produce new energy.

The total cost of the project would be around 25 billion dollars and the technology necessary to accomplish it should be available from 2030.

Provided that by 2030 Japan has managed to resolve the problems lurking offshore; not Godzilla, but the geopolitical questions that have been the subject of international disputes for decades.

Among those recently making the news is the situation concerning the islands of Senkaku-Diaoyu, an archipelago of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea located between, and contested by, Japan, Taiwan and China.

At the latest Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, the foreign affairs representatives for each country signed an agreement setting out the establishment of a direct diplomatic channel between the parties to encourage the joint management of conflicts that may arise in those waters

Infographic from from

The dispute dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century and the first documented Japanese economic activity on the larger of the islands, but then all was forgotten for around a hundred years. The dispute re-emerged in the seventies with the end of American occupation of Okinawa and then again at the end of the nineties and periodically during the 2000s. In recent years there have been incursions by Chinese and Taiwanese ships into what are formally Japanese waters, attempts to occupy and settle the islands by activists from the three nations and collisions between Chinese fishing vessels and the Japanese coastguard. (

The second delicate situation concerns Russia. President Vladimir Putin is expected in Tokyo in the coming months to discuss sanctions and the gas supply but he is also set to bring up the subject of sovereignty of the Kuril Islands in the extreme North of Japan, beyond the island of Hokkaido. In spite of the fact that the islands are under Moscow’s full jurisdiction and are inhabited by Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Tartars, almost all of whom work in the fishing industry, the two sides remain at loggerheads and have been unable to reach an agreement since 1945.

Finally there is the Dokdo-Takeshima dispute that, along with the bitter question of the ‘comfort women’, has been a source of division between Tokyo and Seoul for the last fifty years ( .

In this case the territorial dispute has even overflowed into the world of Show business: a few days ago South Korean singer, Lee Seung-chul, was denied an entry visa into Japan. The probable reason for this, according to the Korea Herald, was that he had performed in the contested islands this summer.

With three out the country’s four sides of habitable oceans the subject of international disputes, despite the very remote risk of direct conflict, is it wise to choose to live in the sea?

Perhaps it’s worth waiting until someone manages to trace indisputable national borders across the waters.


Edited by Nicholas Neiger

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