By Kikuko Tagawa
Although sporting events represent a growing market for tents in Japan, the tent industry overall is struggling with economic and regulatory issues that have taken their toll on the country. The skyrocketing price of oil is affecting most countries around the globe, but Japan is at a serious disadvantage due to its heavy dependence on imported oil. (Ninety-nine percent of oil consumed in the country is imported.) Tent manufacturers are wrestling with higher materials prices, and this has translated into significantly fewer profits for both manufacturers and renters.
A recent scandal has led to a stricter building code which, in turn, has had a serious impact on the tent industry and many other industries in Japan. Hidetsugu Aneha, an architect who has since been arrested and disqualified, was found to have falsified structural engineering calculations for many buildings to gain profit for himself and his clients. The Japanese government moved quickly to revise the building code for stricter safety standards to protect the nation in the event of an earthquake.
Tent warehouses are one of the biggest market sectors in Japan’s tent industry. Under the revised building code, tent warehouses and other longer-term fabric structures are considered regular buildings. Structure installations thus require additional design inspections by the building judging agent, along with government inspections. This added code requirement means tent professionals have to account for longer time frames and greater expense, and they must provide more documents detailing the engineering technology behind the structure.
Tent professionals are working hard to combat the effects of the new building code. The Japan Tent Sheet Manufacturers’ Association has successfully secured a government subsidy of 18 million yen ($167,000 U.S.) to develop a special engineering and design software for tent warehouses. In addition, the Membrane Structures Association of Japan is currently trying to earn the right to certify some standard tents so fabricators can make their tents more easily and with less cost.
The revised building code has introduced a period of transition for tent companies in Japan, but the industry will benefit in the long run. Before the new code, some tents had been erected without proper approval, meaning that companies who did follow procedures had trouble competing on price when bidding. But because of the stricter building code, those kind of illegal tents are rarely approved. Proper competition—without gouging prices—is now possible, and the overall quality of tents has already been improving.