There has been a massive spike in construction in Japan as it prepares stadiums for the Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics ©
Facing delays to infrastructure projects and even the stadiums for the Rugby World Cup, the Japanese government has ordered the construction industry to explain why it is nuts about bolts.
An emergency survey of construction companies was due to be completed on Friday as major traders of construction materials say inventories of the bolts used to join steel frames together have been entirely depleted since January. The government’s urgent move highlights the challenge for companies trying to cope with the country’s tightening labour market and demographic decline. These forces have caused 24-hour convenience stores to close at night and left 60 per cent of the hotel industry complaining of staffing issues. Now they are hitting the construction industry too, forcing companies to adapt their approach.
Japanese architects and construction companies have had to base their designs around steel frames that can be bolted together using specialist high-tension bolts, rather than using the more labour-intensive welding method. That shift has coincided with a surge in central Tokyo developments and a massive spike in construction work ahead of this year’s Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics. Now, trading houses say delivery times for the precious component have risen from about six weeks to six months.
Despite official attempts to persuade everyone to order only the bolts they need, suspicions of competitive hoarding now swirl through the ranks of the big contractors. A senior executive of one Osaka-based materials trading company said that the shortfall of high-strength bolts became severe in 2018. In a survey of 305 major construction companies conducted last year by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT), 83 per cent said the bolt drought was causing delays. Projects affected include schools, office buildings, infrastructure and the refurbishment of stadiums for the Rugby World Cup, which begins this autumn. Yasuyuki Konishi, an official in the MLIT’s construction labour and materials division, said that after last year’s survey, the government asked companies to be more sparing in their orders for bolts, but the situation had not changed. The follow-up survey now being conducted, he added, would ask the same companies to say how assiduously they treated the government’s request. Mr Konishi said that there were only eight major Japanese manufacturers of the high-strength bolts and that they had “no intention of increasing manufacturing capacity”. Only one importer, a South Korean manufacturer, has been certified by the ministry and does not have the capacity to fulfil Japanese demand.
The shortages are not expected to alleviate before November this year.