With a government addicted to dubious public works projects, Japan has earned its reputation as the Construction State. Need an example? With 113 major rivers, the country has no fewer than 2,734 dams. That's why last week's surprise announcement of the first-ever dismantling of a Japanese dam is being hailed as a watershed. Kumamoto prefecture governor Yoshiko Shiotani declared that the Arase dam, which spans the Kumagawa River on Japan's southern island of Kyushu, would be torn down beginning in 2010. It's about time. Nearly 50 years old, the dam generates less than 1% of the region's electricity and would be more expensive to maintain than destroy. Never popular with locals, the Arase has also been blamed for exacerbating rather than controlling floods as well as causing the extinction of a local species of smelt. Still, with the project costing taxpayers an estimated $39 million and an additional dam still scheduled to go up just 40 kilometers away, the Arase dam's deconstruction may only prove that the Japanese government can spend money even when it's removing something. But some observers insist this could be the first crack in the nation's overpriced fašade. Says Takayoshi Igarashi, a professor at Hosei University in Tokyo and an expert on Japan's public spending: 'This is a revolutionary change. There have been some cases to stop dam construction, but this is one step forward.' Perhaps the floodgates of reform really have opened.