Chapter 3.
2017 2021
ESG Management and Technological Innovation—Paving the Way for a Sustainable Future

Responding to Diversifying Social Challenges

Continuous Heavy Rain Disasters

In recent years, Japan has experienced a spate of major earthquakes and successive large-scale typhoons. Amidst the growing threat of natural disasters, it has become increasingly important to take measures to prevent and mitigate disasters, address the issue of aging infrastructure, and build national resilience in order to protect people’s lives and livelihoods. Obayashi Corporation has been widely involved in the construction of infrastructure, including seismic reinforcement of road and rail bridge piers, dam construction, and river improvements. In the event of a natural disaster, the company quickly swings into action by engaging in recovery and restoration activities, fulfilling its social responsibility and mission to contribute to the realization of safety and security in people’s lives.

During the latter half of the 2010s in particular, many parts of Japan were hit by a string of natural disasters seemingly year after year, which were caused by severe typhoons and localized torrential rains. In the Northern Kyushu Torrential Rain of July 2017 incident, areas from western to eastern Japan were battered by extremely heavy and localized bursts of rainfall which caused large-scale sediment-related disasters, especially in Fukuoka and Oita prefectures. Many homes were completely or partially destroyed or suffered flood damage up to floor level.

The following year, during the Heavy Rain Event of July 2018, the largest precipitations in recorded history were observed at many observation points in northern Kyushu, Shikoku, Chugoku, Kinki, Tokai, and Hokkaido regions. These record-breaking rainfalls caused rivers to overflow their banks and led to flood damage and sediment-related and other disasters, especially in western Japan. In August 2019, concentrated heavy downpours caused by line-shaped precipitation systems (linear rainbands) continued over a long period, once again affecting northern Kyushu across a wide area covering the prefectures of Nagasaki, Saga, and Fukuoka. Then, in September, Typhoon Faxai, one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded, hit the Kanto region. The typhoon caused significant damage, mainly in Chiba Prefecture, and was followed by Typhoon Hagibis in October, which brought record-breaking rainfall to the Kanto, Koshin (Central Highlands), Tohoku, and other regions.

The company made a concerted effort to quickly restore the expressways and railways that were cut off by damage from these torrential rains.

Participation in Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai and Contribution to the Development of Yumeshima District

In May 2018, Obayashi Corporation set up the Yumeshima Development (Expo/IR) Project Team at its Osaka Main Office with the aim of making a significant contribution to the development of the economy of the Kansai region by actively supporting and participating in efforts to organize the 2025 World Exposition (Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai), an event which Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture, and other organizers were hoping to bring to Kansai. Integrated resort (IR) facilities, which are planned for the Yumeshima District, the venue for the Expo, are also part of the project.

In order to bring the World Exposition to Osaka for the second time since 1970, a bidding committee was set up, with various organizations and individuals, including the Osaka prefectural and municipal governments, and members of the business community, participating in the hopes of demonstrating Osaka’s appeal as a host for the Expo. The committee conducted promotional activities that involved not only the Kansai region, but also the entire country. As an official partner of the committee, Obayashi Corporation also supported these activities to help Osaka get chosen as the host city for the Expo.

Thanks to the enormous support from all corners of Japan, Osaka/Kansai was chosen to host World Expo 2025 at the General Assembly of the Bureau International des Expositions held in Paris, France, in November 2018. Following the approval of Yumeshima in Osaka as the Expo venue, in December 2018, the company reorganized and expanded the Yumeshima Development (Expo/IR) Project Team, and newly established the Osaka Expo/IR Section. It was anticipated that efforts toward holding the Expo would be energized by the public and private sectors working hand in hand. Also, with the passing of the IR Implementation Act (Act on Promotion of Development of Specified Integrated Resort Districts) in July 2018, activities to attract IRs to the area are likely to accelerate. The organizational structure of the Osaka Expo/IR Section allows it to make the most of the technology and expertise that the company has accumulated over the years, and it is through this structure that the section is working hard to be able to quickly harness the growing momentum and contribute to the development of Yumeshima and the growth of Kansai’s economy.

The Global Spread of COVID-19

In December 2019, the first cases of persons infected with COVID-19 were confirmed in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. The following year saw the infection quickly spread across the globe, first, to countries in Asia and Oceania, and later, to Europe and the Americas. Although attention in Japan was initially focused on an outbreak of the virus aboard a large cruise ship docked in the Port of Yokohama, cases soon spread nationwide, with the total number of cases in Japan surpassing 100 on February 22. Then in March, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games were postponed.

In response to the spread of infection, the company set up the Task Force on the Emergence of the Novel Coronavirus in February. Chaired by the company president, the task force gathered information, drafted countermeasures, and gave company-wide instructions regarding the pandemic. Then, in April, the Japanese government declared a state of emergency. The company responded accordingly, placing the protection of the physical safety and lives of all persons connected with the Obayashi Group, including its suppliers and subcontractors, as its first priority. Measures were taken to ensure that Obayashi employees and workers could continue construction work with peace of mind, for example, by thoroughly eliminating the “Three Cs” (closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings) at construction sites. In some cases, construction work was suspended with the consent of clients. Telecommuting was introduced for employees in back offices once relevant ICT systems were put in place that allowed working from home.

Further, the company established the “Basic Action Plan to Prevent the Spread of the Novel Coronavirus” on May 25, which was based on information about the outbreak, spread, and prevention of COVID-19, and conformed with both the “Basic Policies for Novel Coronavirus Disease Control” set out by the government and the Keidanren’s “Guidelines for Preventing the Spread of Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in Offices.” The company also laid out the “Action Guidelines for Prevention of Novel Coronavirus Infection at Construction Sites” on June 1, based on guidelines for measures to be taken at construction sites issued by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, and the Japan Federation of Construction Contractors.

Contributing to Recovery after Heavy Rain in Western Japan

The Heavy Rain Event of July 2018 caused severe damage, especially in the prefectures of Hiroshima, Okayama, and Ehime. It also took the lives of over 230 people. Flowing debris, mudslides, and the wide-scale collapse of embankments resulted in the closure of the San-yo Expressway, a major artery through western Japan. As a consequence, logistics were brought to a standstill, making it almost impossible to transport relief supplies to affected areas. Obayashi Corporation dispatched support personnel from its Hiroshima Branch, as well as from Tokyo, Osaka, and other branches, to the area between the Hiroshima-higashi Interchange and Kochi Interchange, where damage was the most extensive. The entire company worked around the clock to remove about 30,000 cubic meters of sediment, trees, and other debris that had been swept onto the main road as quickly as possible, thereby ensuring a speedy recovery.

The Hiroshima-Kure Road linking the cities of Hiroshima and Kure was also closed, causing heavy traffic congestion on the National Highway running alongside, which was expected to significantly slow the removal of sediment cleared from the San-yo Expressway. The company adopted an alternative method of transporting the sediment by boat over the Seto Inland Sea as a way of avoiding this congestion. This made it possible to transport 1,000 cubic meters of cleared sediment at a time, which helped hasten recovery efforts.

Emergency restoration work on the San-yo Expressway
Emergency restoration work on the San-yo Expressway