"And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." But when the Almighty felt displeasure with the builders' intent, "He confused their languages and scattered the people throughout the earth." (Genesis 11)
The Old Testament's account of the Tower of Babel happened a long, long time ago, and its allegorical message has been subject to a variety of interpretations. One is that when humans lose sight of humility and behave with impudence, they get deservedly smitten. With a little tweaking, the allegory can easily be applied to modern-day capitalism.
Shukan Jitsuwa (July 15) is worried because it's stumbled on a jinx. Completion of the Tokyo Sky Tree next year, it frets, may invoke a modern-day jinx that will send what's left of Japan's economy crashing down.
The basis for this concern was an article by Bloomberg News columnist William Pesek Jr about the so-called "Skyscraper Curse," the uncanny correlation between completion dates of world's tallest building projects and financial meltdowns.
Take the 828-meter-high Burj Khalifa building in Dubai, UAE, which stood out as a symbol of that country's spectacular financial crash last year.
The curse goes back to completion of two Manhattan buildings that stood as the world's tallest in 1908, the 47-story Singer Building and the 50-story Metropolitan Life Building. Their completion came just after the Wall Street crash of 1907.
A quarter century later, history repeated itself: Manhattan's 77-story Chrysler Building was completed in 1930, only months after the stock market crash of 1929. The 102-story Empire State Building was finished the following year.
New York's ill-fated World Trade Center was completed in 1973 and Chicago's Sears Tower (currently Willis Tower) in 1974, and soon thereafter, the U.S. economy was reeling from the effects of the Mideast oil embargo.
Communist North Korea has its own example of man's folly, in the form of Pyongyang's 330-meter-high Ryugyong Hotel. Begun in 1987, it would have been the world's tallest hotel at the time; but work was halted in 1992 and it remains incomplete -- "a symbol of the economic collapse of North Korea," as one political observer puts it.
South of the 38th Parallel, Seoul's 580-meter International Business Center was completed in 2008. The following year, former President Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide and now the country is beset by threats from North Korea.
So as completion of the Tokyo Sky Tree looms, Japanese should have good reason be worried -- although for numerous reasons, their country is not normally in the running for world's highest.
"Financing such buildings in Japan is discouraged by such factors as requirements for earthquake-resistant construction and stable foundations, not to mention the prolonged recession," says a reporter for a construction industry trade publication. "The Aviation Law also restricts building height. The highest building in the country is Yokohama's Landmark Tower (70 stories, 296 meters). The Tokyo Sky Tree scheduled for completion in 2011 was planned to be 610.6 meters in height, but this was extended to 634 meters to make it the world's highest free-standing communications tower."
The new tower is needed to avoid signal interference caused by the larger numbers of high-rise buildings in Tokyo, which weren't a problem when the existing Tokyo Tower was completed in 1958.
So then, will the Sky Tree's completion foreshadow yet another economic slump? Tetsuo Kaneko, a journalist covering retailing and distribution, tells Shukan Jitsuwa, "Since the consumption tax will probably be hiked about the time Tokyo Sky Tree is completed, demand for nonessential consumer goods is likely to plummet. The government might adopt measures to stimulate a the market for replacement goods, but concerns will remain over this 'curse.'"
Shukan Jitsuwa at last gets down to the crux of the article, which is how soon Prime Minister Naoto Kan will boost the consumption tax to 10%.
The skyscraper jinx aside, Japan seems to be confronting two equally unappealing options: becoming Asia's Greece, or snuffing out its sputtering economy with a major tax hike.© Japan Today