JAPAN’'S FUTURE, CHANGES AND LACK OF CHANGES AFTER FUKUSHIMA AND THE 2011 TSUNAMI

EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI AND JAPAN’s FUTURE

Many wondered about how the earthquake and tsunami in 2011 would affect Japan’s future. “It has become clear that the earthquake and the resulting nuclear crisis, will change this nation,” reported the New York Times. “The open question is how, and how much. Will it be a final marker of an irreversible decline? Or will it be an opportunity to draw on the resilience of a people repeatedly tested by calamity to reshape Japan---in the mold of either the left or the right? This disaster, like the 1923 Tokyo earthquake and the 1995 Kobe earthquake, could well signal a new era.”

20110413-US Navy wakayu 2.jpg
still a lot of work to do in Wakayu

Joshua Hammer wrote in the New York Times, “The earthquake could unify the country with a renewed sense of purpose. Or it could decisively relegate Japan to second-class power status, breeding resentments, perpetuating economic misery, and feeding the aspirations of a still-present nationalist movement.”

The earthquake and tsunami in 2011 wasn’t even the big one that people had been expecting. That one is supposed to strike the Tokyo area. This calls into question the wisdom have so much of Japan’s economic and government power centered in such a vulnerable place. Takahoshi Igarashi, a professor at Hosei University in Tokyo and an advisor to the government. Said, “We have no idea when he big one’s going to hit Tokyo , but when ut does, its going to annihilate the entire country because everything is here,: He has advised Japan to undertake a “nationwide dispersal” program.

How about the nuclear power industry? Germany said it will temporarily shut down seven German nuclear power plants that began operations before the end of 1980 as officials begin a three-month safety review of all of the country’s 17 plants. Similar moves were taken by governments in other countries with nuclear power plants.

The entire nuclear industry took a hit. Stock prices for the French nuclear giant Avena fell 13 percent in weeks after the crisis at Fukushima nuclear power plant began,

Getting the Japanese Economy Going After the Tsunami

The Japan Research institute, a subsidiary of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. Said that in order to turn around the economies in disaster-hit northeastern Japan, efforts should be made to create jobs by strengthening the local industrial structure anchored on fisheries and the seafood processing businesses, it said. The institute also suggested that local authorities across Japan take the initiative in providing temporary employment in their areas for disaster victims until infrastructure is rebuilt in quake-hit regions. [Source: Kyodo, May 19, 2011]

Trade with Asia was seen as the key to a recovery in Japan as a whole. And critical to getting the ball rolling there was getting China and South Korea to lift their import bans and take measures to facilitate investments. In Japan, people were encouraged to buy products from disaster-hit areas in Tohoku.

There has also been discussion of moving offices and production out of Tokyo. After the earthquake many embassies temporarily moved to western Japan. Shumpei Takemore, economics professor at Keio University, wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Kansai has three airports. There does not seem to be any problem in having Kansai and Tokyo share the role of being hubs for economic activity for the time being. If corporations relocate and people migrate from the greater Tokyo area to other areas, it could reduce the demand for electricity around the capital. Lessening the problem of overpopulation around the greater Tokyo area will make it easier to renovate and enhance protections against another round of earthquakes of the city.”

The government adopted a “double debt” relief plan to help small and middle size companies that had been straddled with debt to pay for things destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami and who also needed new loans to get their companies back on their feet. Under the plan approved in June 2011 the Japan Housing Finance Agency would create a fund to take over existing debt, waive mortgage payments and reduce interest payments.

See Rebuilding

International Reaction to Japan’s Plight

The main reactions by the international community towards Japan after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011 were sympathy about what happened and worries about radiation and concerns about how the official problem has been handled. Ian Buruma wrote, “Rarely indeed, perhaps not since World War II have the Japanese had such good press abroad. Even South Korean newspapers have been full of praise for the self-discipline of ordinary Japanese in dire circumstances. And coming from Koreans, not usually Japan's biggest fans, that is no small thing.” [Source: Ian Buruma, Project Syndicate, April 2011]

“When it comes to Japanese officials, however, matters are a little different. There has been much complaining from foreign observers, aid teams, reporters, and government spokesmen about the lack of clarity, not to mention reliability, of official Japanese statements about the various disasters following the massive earthquake that struck northeastern Japan on March 11. Serious problems appeared to be skirted, deliberately hidden, or played down.

Outside Japan, it is widely believed that everything works differently there, owing to the country's exotic culture. This perception is not entirely false. An important aspect of culture is the use of language. Often Japanese officials' utterances are deliberately vague, to avoid having to take responsibility if things go wrong a fairly universal trait among the powerful. But some utterances may get lost in translation. When a Japanese official says that he will take something “into serious consideration,” he means “no.” This is not always properly understood.

Celebrities and Gambaru Japan

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “To be in Japan in the days after the wave, to watch a nation realize the devastation of that instant, was to glimpse a people torn between the instinct for calm and the cry of alarm. For all the tragedies---immediate and myriad on the day of the quake---and the looming sense of nuclear dread that persisted, it was remarkable to observe firsthand, and through the Japanese media, the almost complete sense of national coöperation and purpose: little observable looting or undue panic, and almost no acts of political exploitation.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, March 28, 2011]

Public service announcement filled Japan's TV airwaves that aimed at getting people to have hope and help Japan pull itself by its boot straps to rebuild. Don Lee and Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “One by one, members of Japan's heartthrob pop band SMAP make their pitch: "You are not alone," says one. "Let's help each other," beckons another. Then comes the final exhortation from celebrity Tortoise Matsumoto: "Believe in Japan's strength!"[Source: Don Lee and Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2011]

Pessimists, Osnos wrote, have compared Japan to an elderly relative who appears to be in fine health until a sudden stumble, a broken hip---and recovery never arrives.

See Motorsports

In June 2011, Kyodo reported: “Pop star Lady Gaga urged people to come to Japan...saying the country is safe more than three months after the March earthquake and tsunami. It is 'important that we remind the world that Japan is now safe,' Lady Gaga said. ''The most important thing that I could do was act immediately,'' she said at the event, at times becoming teary-eyed. Lady Gaga also appeared at an MTV music event at the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba Prefecture and was presented with a certificate of appreciation by Tourism Agency Commissioner Hiroshi Mizohata. Lady Gaga was quick to come up with the sale of wrist bands inscribed ''We Pray For Japan'' to raise money in support of those affected by the disasters, donating $3 million to a charity so far, including proceeds from the sale, according to her label. [Source: Kyodo, June 24, 2011]

A little bit after this Lady Gaga was sued by a U.S. legal group that claimed she “retained a portion of the proceeds...instead of donating all the proceeds” of “Pray for Japan” wrist bands. President Prime Minister Naoto kan sent her a rose and thank you message.

Chinese and South Korean Leaders Visit Fukushima

In late May, 2011, Reuters reported, “Chinese and South Korean leaders chatted with evacuees and tasted local produce in Japan's battered northeast, in a show of support for a nation struggling with a humanitarian and nuclear crisis set off by a deadly earthquake and tsunami in March. Premier Wen Jiabao signaled Beijing's willingness to ease restrictions on Japanese food imports imposed by China and other nations, including South Korea, after the disaster crippled the Fukushima nuclear plant and fanned contamination fears.” [Source: Kim Kyung Hoon and Sui-Lee Wee, Reuters, May 21, 2011]

“Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who hosted an annual summit of the region's three leading economies, counted on the event to help ease concerns at home and abroad about the safety of Japan's nuclear facilities and farm exports. In a symbolic gesture, Wen and South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak met Kan in Fukushima city, about 60 km (37 miles) northwest of the stricken power plant.” [Ibid]

“Outside a sports complex that was turned into an evacuation center after the quake, the three leaders ate local cucumbers, tomatoes and other produce to demonstrate the food was safe. Wen and Lee were the first foreign leaders to visit Fukushima since the nuclear disaster. "China is willing to continue relaxation toward importing Japanese agricultural and other goods, with the condition that safety is assured," Wen, dressed in trainers, blue shirt and a dark jacket, told reporters in Natori, a northeastern town heavily wrecked by the tsunami, he also visited.” [Ibid]

“Wen, called "Grandpa Wen" at home because of his man-of-the-people touch, was doing his part, handing out stuffed pandas to tsunami survivors at an evacuation center. His cordial exchanges contrasted with Kan's first encounters with evacuees, who shouted at him in frustration at his handling of the disasters. Later, after his arrival in Tokyo, Wen set aside time to meet -- and invite for concerts in China -- Japanese pop group SMAP, which canceled an appearance at the Shanghai Expo last year after the trawler incident.” But “in a sign of simmering tensions, about 300 protesters gathered outside a Tokyo hotel where the Chinese delegation was staying waving Japanese and Tibetan flags and holding placards about Japanese rights to the disputed territories.” [Ibid]

Rebuilding After the Tsunami, an Opportunity for Japan’s Rebirth?

Japan’s hope and rebuilding “campaign also seem to reflect a deeper desire on the part of many to propel Japan back not just to what it was, but something better and different,” Don Lee and Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Before the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Japan had been foundering from two decades of economic malaise, political gridlock and such entrenched social problems as a shrinking population and dispirited youths. Now, many hope the catastrophe will be a catalyst that will turn around the nation and give it a rebirth.” [Source: Don Lee and Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2011]

“The shape of the public debate over rebuilding is turning out to be much broader than restoring broken roads and compensating victims in Japan's stricken northeast. It's encompassing a wide range of national policies, such as immigration and the country's electricity use, that probably will determine the growth path for decades to come.” This is an opportunity "to change our thinking, our civilization," Akira Wada, a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, told the Los Angeles Times. [Ibid]

“Many want to believe that Japan can emerge from the rubble stronger, as it did after the great 1923 earthquake and the devastation of World War II, Lee and Makinen wrote. “But in interviews with young and old, businessman and homemaker, bureaucrat and educator, many expressed lingering doubts about whether the country could pull together and overcome such deep-seated problems as weak leadership and Japan's huge public debt. No one can say yet with any confidence whether this event will prove to be the kick needed for Japan to break out of its long period of deflation and stagnancy that set in after the nation's real estate bubble burst in the early 1990s. But at least there is new hope.” [Ibid]

"I think scholars are saying Japan is going down, but I think it's a chance for business," Tetsuji Morino, board member of Dai Nippon Printing Co., a big company in Tokyo told the Los Angeles Times. After the disaster, he said, people will need new appliances, broken factories will need to be upgraded and new technology will be developed. "I sense it's a good thing for Japan," Morino added, noting that before the disaster, he saw signs of Japan's economy forming another bubble, with society turning more to materialism. "We should think about the richness of our heart."

“Many scholars and policy analysts agree that now is the time to address some of Japan's serious imbalances, including the growing concentration of people and institutions in Tokyo and a few other cities,” Lee and Makinen wrote.. “That has created sharp inequities in wealth as well as in such things as energy use, something that was underscored by this disaster. Hidenori Sakanaka, former Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau chief, advocates overhauling Japan's restrictive immigration policies. Foreign people are needed to help with rebuilding the country, he said, and they can help fill the void in Japan's aging society and rural depopulation.”

Possible Positives Outcomes of Rebuilding Japan

Marcus Noland, deputy director and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, wrote in the Washington Post that rebuilding process couple have some positive effects on Japan: 1) “Some rebuilding can be financed by redirecting spending from useless white-elephant projects to the higher priority of remaking Tohoku. The quality of public investment in the nation could improve, perhaps permanently, as a result of this crisis.”[Source: Marcus Noland, Washington Post, March 16, 2011]

2) “Japan’s shrinking labor force could constrain the country’s ability to rebuild---thus forcing politicians and the public to confront its misgivings about immigration. Japan has long exerted tight control of its borders and makes it difficult for foreigners to live and work in the country. Among leading industrial nations, only South Korea has a lower share of foreigners in its workplaces. The foreigners now in Japan fall into various niches: highly skilled white-collar expatriates; low-skilled, often illegal, laborers; imported rural brides. Economists have long argued that Japan needs to welcome more workers to remain economically competitive. The imperative to rebuild housing and infrastructure on a massive scale could force this immigration challenge into the open.

3) The rebuilding process can also help slow, if not reverse, the extraordinary concentration of economic power in Tokyo. Over the past 10 to 20 years, hundreds of Japanese corporations have moved their headquarters from cities such as Osaka and Kitakyushu to the Japanese capital. The nation’s transition to a post-industrial society (with its greater emphasis on white-collar services), the decline of regional financial institutions and a cultural emphasis on face-to-face communication in business have encouraged the clustering of economic life in Tokyo. But post-earthquake rebuilding could help spread economic activity across the country. If pursued creatively, this could help jump-start an entirely new source of economic strength in northern Japan.

4) Financially, the government has more maneuvering room than might seem apparent. Even though has an enormous nation debt 95 percent of that debt is owned by its citizens, not foreign hedge funds; it’s unlikely that those citizens would dump their bond holdings if the government takes on more debt to rebuild the city of Sendai, for example.

5) If the incumbent DPJ successfully manages this emergency, the episode could reassure Japanese voters that this fledgling party represents a credible alternative to the LDP. Japan would then have a true two-party system in which political power and ideas are genuinely contested. Such a transformation could make governing Japan more messy and complicated, but it also could allow the nation to confront in a forthright way sensitive issues that it has avoided for too long: the coddling of its heavily subsidized farmers, its self-defeating trade policy, its unwillingness to face immigration reform, its awkward defense policy, and its uncertain place in Asia and in the world. Japan could emerge as a more conventional and modern country with more genuinely democratic politics.

Economic Push of Rebuilding Japan

Nathan Gardels, editor-in-chief of NPQ and the Global Viewpoint Network, wrote: “The need to rebuild a large swath of Japan will create huge opportunities for domestic economic growth, particularly in energy-efficient technologies, while also stimulating global demand and hastening the integration of East Asia....By taking Japan's mature economy down a notch, Mother Nature has accomplished what fiscal policy and the central bank could not. Now there are more bridges to somewhere to be built than one can count. Entire cities and regions need to be reconstructed in toto, from housing and commercial buildings to roads, rail lines, information networks, the energy grid and even the tsunami warning system that must be digitally revamped. Twitter- and Facebook-like platforms will need to be integrated into a system reliant on old technologies like warning sirens and radio or TV broadcasts. (It was reported that at one point on the day of the quake, 20 tweets a second were coming out of Tokyo.) [Source: Nathan Gardels, Global Viewpoint, March 14 2011]

The result of all the new wealth creation will be money in the pockets of Japanese to buy global goods and services. This newly created demand will surely attract the piles of cash out there looking for investment opportunities, from global private equity pools to American banks and China's sovereign funds. At a dinner in Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago, one of Asia's largest investors complained to me about the dearth of good deals in Asia outside of China. China itself has more surplus funds than it knows what to do with. Direct foreign investment in overly indebted Japan's reconstruction by China would more closely integrate the second- and third-largest economies in the world in a way that political reconciliation has failed to do under normal circumstances. [Ibid]

The greatest opportunities lie in building the world's most advanced, smart, energy-efficient cities and infrastructure out of the rubble. Japan is not Haiti or even the United States. Despite its long stagnation, Japan has retained an engineering prowess second to none. Indeed, Japan is uniquely positioned for a green recovery. While the world has been focused on Islamist terrorism or the miracle of Chinese growth, the island nation has been engaging in a quiet revolution as the incubator of the energy-efficient technologies of the future. [Ibid]

This cultural disposition that has been the fertile soil for the development of green technology will only be bolstered by the earthquake and tsunami damage to Japan's nuclear reactors, as well as the economic jolt of rising oil prices resulting from the combined effects of the sudden drop in refining capacity because of Japan's damaged facilities and... the Arab revolt.

Anger at TEPCO, a Catalyst for Change

William Pesek, a Bloomberg News columnist, wrote: “Something fascinating is afoot in Japan: anger. People are fuming about the nuclear crisis that put their nation in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons... The public is realizing that Tepco is a microcosm of much of what ails Japan. It embodies the incestuous ties between government and industry and an antiqued economic model that undermines Japan’s place in the world.” [Source: William Pesek, a Bloomberg News, April 11, 2011]

“Tepco’s failings were exposed by a record earthquake on March 11 and a devastating tsunami, followed by breakdowns and radiation leaks at TEPCO’s Fukushima nuclear plant. There’s growing recognition that a big crisis might uncover manifold examples of the bureaucracy, inefficiencies, poor strategic planning and lack of vision for a new and better future that hobbles Japan Inc.” [Ibid]

“Tepco has become the poster child” for Japan’s problems. “Once one of Japan’s proudest names, Tepco is now seen by some in the same toxic class as Enron or Lehman Brothers. Each day brings new disclosures about how Tepco doctored safety reports and underestimated risks all without holding responsible the company directors who are still collecting their salaries, never mind keeping their jobs...Media reports are taking on more ominous tones as we learn radioactive materials will be leaking for months. Tepco executives are receiving threats and finding their home addresses posted on the Internet. The company has covered signs at TEPCO-employee dormitories and beefed up security.” [Ibid]

“It’s important to note, though, that this story is bigger than Tepco. The lack of transparency that has been the hallmark of the Fukushima crisis is found much more broadly in corporate Japan. There’s a reason thousands of companies still hold their shareholder meetings on the same day. This ploy limits the risk of probing questions from the floor, a stark reminder that investor rights remain a novel idea.” [Ibid]

Japanese are now asking about their rights, and it will be interesting to see where the question leads. In 2009, Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan tossed out the Liberal Democratic Party, which had run Japan for 54 virtually uninterrupted years. The LPD coddled Tepco for decades, allowed unaccountable executives to ride roughshod over the nation and burdened Japan with the largest public debt of any developed nation. Kan has a chance for greatness.”

“So far, he hasn’t risen to the occasion. Kan often says the right things about putting Japan on more stable footing; the problem is the execution. This is Kan’s opportunity to pull a Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR used anger toward bankers in the 1930s to remake the economy, just as Ronald Reagan used an uncompromising stand against striking air- traffic controllers in 1981 as a battle cry for broader change...Japan is a terrific place to live. It’s an efficient, clean, prosperous, well-educated and reasonably crime-free nation. Yet it’s run by a generation of insular and barely accountable politicians, bureaucrats and executives with a poor sense of just how rapidly the world around them is evolving.” [Ibid]

Public Distrust in Japan After Fukushima

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: That kind of distrust was astonishingly pervasive; a poll in late May showed that more than eighty per cent of the population did not believe the government’s information about the nuclear crisis. That explains why, even long after the evacuation maps were clear and widely known, people in places that had been officially declared safe, like Tataki’s home town of Iwaki, were divided. “People are arguing at their dinner tables: Should we go; should we stay?” said Sayoko Ishihara, a seventy-eight-year-old woman I met one afternoon across from a Mr. Donut shop. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 17, 2011]

Even Fukushima’s unharmed areas are confronting---to put it mildly---a branding problem. “Yes, I’m afraid the whole world knows this name now,” Professor Shuji Shimizu, of Fukushima University, told me when I visited him at the university’s campus, which is arrayed across a tranquil slope on the edge of Fukushima City. Shimizu is tall and thin, and he walked me outside to show off a freshly laid parking lot, beneath which the school had buried tons of contaminated leaves and branches, in the hope of reassuring potential applicants that the campus is safe. “We have a hundred and fifty foreign students this year,” he said. “But somehow I suspect next year we will have zero.”

Public Anger at the Japanese Government Over Fukushima

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: Initially, public anger was fixed on Tokyo Electric. The families of senior executives were placed under police guard after their addresses were posted on a Web site critical of the company. But on a weekday afternoon in May protesters of a kind rarely seen in Japan turned up at the headquarters of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, in Tokyo. They were parents and grandparents who had taken the bus from Fukushima. Their target was specific: in order to keep more schools open in Fukushima, the government had raised the limits on radiation exposure for the general public. Scientists said that the limits were safe, but people were unconvinced. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 17, 2011]

In front of the Ministry, a parent with a bullhorn began with a list of rules for the other protesters: “The demonstration will go from precisely one o’clock to two-thirty. When someone is speaking, please don’t interrupt.” Then the protesters began to shout. “Minister, come out! Minister, come out!” They carried signs, including one that said “Don’t Use the Children of Fukushima as Marmots.” (The marmot is Japan’s guinea pig.)

A low-level government official eventually came out to hear the group’s demands. Beside me on the edge of the crowd, a young protester, an actress named Hayuki Ishikawa, eyed him warily and said, “That doesn’t look like his real hair color. It’s too black. How can you trust someone if you can’t trust his hair?” It began to drizzle. She tugged a floral-patterned scarf up over her head and said, “This is black rain. It’s not safe.”

Later, one of the organizers, Seiichi Nakate, a fifty-year-old father of two, told me he feels that he himself bears some responsibility for what happened. “If you look back to the Second World War, we waged war against the world’s major power, and that was the wrong decision for humanity. After we lost the war, Japanese people became even more politically indifferent. It permeated the whole social structure.” He went on, “By nature, Fukushima people are very calm and quiet, but we are standing up. We endured through years with the nuclear plants, and now we have woken up.” The group prevailed; a week later, the government went back to the old radiation limits.

Alternative Media Coverage of the Fukushima Disaster

John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Hajime Shiraishi's moment of truth came when her online video news show, at the time relatively unknown, decided to buck the government line and call a story as it saw it. Mainstream media dutifully reported that all was well and TEPCO was on top of the accident. No radiation had been released into the atmosphere. But not Shiraishi's "Our Planet TV," which soon broadcast a live interview with five Japanese reporters in Futaba City, a community near the stricken plant. The reporters, who had covered the Chernobyl disaster, told a very different tale. "They held up Geiger counters showing the level of radiation was almost beyond calculation," said Shiraishi, a former network TV journalist who co-founded the Internet venture in 2001, hosts the show and reports many of its stories. "They'd never seen anything like it."[Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, December 18, 2011]

For Shiraishi and others, that broadcast was a turning point, a moment many see as marking a profound shift in the trust younger Japanese place in government and media. Since that show, "Our Planet TV" viewership has shot up from about 1,000 to more than 100,000 as people have begun to seek alternative sources of information. Shiraishi's "Our Planet TV" also has strived to keep independent information flowing. The weekly broadcast features stories on Japanese conducting their own radiation tests on breast milk, food and even the piles of rubble that still remain across northeastern Japan.

Viewer response has been overwhelming. Many send notes of praise, along with unsolicited donations, explaining that they want to help keep this information source open. Since March, "Our Planet TV," which relies solely on viewer contributions, has seen such support increase tenfold. In one recent show, Shiraishi interviewed officials at a charity that has set up free medical consultations for mothers and schoolchildren in the Fukushima area. Another guest was a cancer researcher who emphasized that no matter what assurances the government has made about public safety, children were showing up with "new clinical symptoms of low-dose radiation exposure."That show brought the highest-ever number of viewers. "As soon as we broadcast anything about radiation, viewership just goes through the roof," Shiraishi said. "People tell us that they're now just learning that what the government has been telling them all along might just be a fairy tale."

Post-Disaster Japanese Less Trusting of Authority

John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times: For many older Japanese, the government remains a trusted, paternal overseer. But younger Japanese are now consulting the Internet and other information sources, rather than depending on major media. Many people also have become more vocal in their criticism of how Tokyo bureaucrats -- many with ties to the nation's powerful nuclear power industry -- withheld information in the early days of the disaster. Officials now say they did so to avoid a public panic. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, December 18, 2011]

One Internet site has featured 600,000 comments by people describing how they no longer believe the reassurances issued by either the central government or Tepco about nuclear safety. Such skepticism is considered rare in a nation where citizens from an early age are taught to respect authority. As a rule, Japanese don't wage noisy public protests like their South Korean neighbors. Most people observe rules and expect others to do so as well: They don't jaywalk, preferring to obediently wait -- often in large groups -- for the traffic light to change even on an empty street. They carefully line up for public transportation and rarely talk on their cellphones while riding buses or trains.

Once nearly ignored by the public, nuclear physicist Ryugo Hayano is amazed by the attention he's been receiving. Since 2008, the 59-year-old Tokyo-based scholar has made regular Twitter posts about his research, attracting about 3,000 followers before the March disaster. But after the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown, Hayano took an interest in radioactive fallout. He tweeted that foreign news reports of radioactive cesium spilling into the atmosphere were a dangerous sign for public health. Within three days, his following soared to more than 150,000.

Hayano explains his sudden popularity by noting that many Japanese, including himself, believe they're not being told the whole story by the nation's traditional information outlets. "Whether TV news or the government, people are now criticizing authority in fundamental ways they didn't before," said Hayano, a graying, dapper man with a white handkerchief in the breast pocket of his maroon blazer. "They're making accusations about ministers hiding information, or not releasing it quickly enough. They've come to learn that they cannot trust the government like they did before March 11."

Hayano said he doesn't know how far the distrust will reach, or whether Japanese, young and old, will return to their conformist ways once the radiation danger has passed. But for now he's working hard to fill the information gap. These days he regularly posts links on Twitter to interpretive charts that break down statistics released by the government and utilities. "It's analysis they're not getting anywhere else," he said.

Response of Japanese Government and TEPCO to Public Anger Over Fukushima

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has acknowledged failures in the government's response to the disaster, being too slow in relaying key information and believing too much in "a myth of safety" about nuclear power. "We can no longer make the excuse that what was unpredictable and outside our imagination has happened," Noda told a group of reporters last weekend. "Crisis management requires us to imagine what may be outside our imagination." [Source: AP, March 12, 2012]

The phrase "soteigai," or "outside our imagination," was used repeatedly by Tokyo Electric Power Co, the utility that runs the Fukushima plant, as the reason it was not prepared for the giant tsunami. Although some scholars had warned about such tsunami risks, both the utility and regulators did little to prepare for such an event, and kept backup generators in basements, where they could be flooded. "We can say in hindsight that the government, business and scholars had all been seeped in a myth of safety," Noda said of the oversights in the accident. "The responsibility must be shared."

Japan Marks One Year Anniversary of the March 11, 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami

On March 11, 2012, AP reported: With moments of silence and prayers, Japan has begun marking one year since the massive earthquake and tsunami struck the nation....At dawn in the devastated northeastern coastal town of Rikuzentakata, dozens of people from across Japan gathered to offer prayers in front of a solitary pine tree that stands amid the barrenness, a symbol of survival. Some returned to where their houses and those of friends once stood, and placed flowers and small gifts for loved ones lost in the disaster. [Source: Associated Press in Rikuzentakata, March 11, 2012]

Naomi Fujino, a 42-year-old Rikuzentakata resident who lost her father in the tsunami, was in tears recalling 11 March, 2011. With her mother, she escaped to a nearby hill where they watched the enormous wave wash away their home. They waited all night, but her father never came to meet them as he had promised. Two months later, his body was found. "I wanted to save people, but I couldn't. I couldn't even help my father. I cannot keep on crying," Fujino said. "What can I do but keep on going?"

Reporting from Tokyo, Chico Harlan wrote in the Washington Post: Sirens blared, trains stopped and mourners bowed their heads Sunday as Japan marked the first anniversary of a twinned disaster that killed about 19,000 and set off a nuclear emergency. At a theater in Tokyo, Japanese Emperor Akihito, 22 days after heart bypass surgery, stood for a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m.---the precise time when one year ago a 9.0-magnitude earthquake pulsed 80 miles off Japan’s northeastern coast. An anti-nuclear protest was also planned in downtown Tokyo on Sunday amid growing public opposition to atomic power in the wake of the disaster, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986. [Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post , March 11 2012]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in his remarks, "I'd like to promise three things. First, we'll achieve reconstruction of the affected areas as soon as possible. Second, we'll convey the lessons learned from the earthquake to coming generations. Third, we won't forget the spirit of helping each other and gratitude to others. "We'll carry out our historic mission to revitalize Japan through reconstruction efforts." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 12, 2012]

Accompanied by the Empress, the 78-year-old Emperor said, "I deeply appreciate the efforts of those who worked to help survivors and areas affected by the disaster. I'm also deeply grateful for the kindness of other countries following the disaster." The Emperor said, "I hope people in the country will continue to rebuild quake-struck areas." The Emperor and Empress entered the venue at 2:40 p.m. and left about 20 minutes later, out of concern for the health of the Emperor, who recently underwent heart surgery.

The Washington Post reported: In the many small towns devastated by the quake and the resulting tsunami wave---45 feet high, in some cases---survivors dressed in black and laid flowers in spots where loved ones had died, places that now look like empty construction sites. And at a baseball stadium in Fukushima, the prefecture (state) where a radiation-spewing nuclear plant forced the evacuation of 90,000 people, anti-nuclear protesters gathered to speak out about an energy source that has turned into one of Japan’s most divisive, and unresolved, issues.

March 2011 Tsunami Has Failed to Rouse Japan from its Stagnation

On the first anniversary of the disaster It is all the more dispiriting, on this somber occasion, to contemplate how little the country’s prospects have changed. The disaster should have roused Japan from its lethargy once and for all. Instead, the nation’s malaise is back with a vengeance. “In the past 20 years, never have I been more sanguine about prospects for Japan’s rebirth,” Yoichi Funabashi, one of the country’s leading journalists, wrote in a book of essays published shortly after the quake. But Funabashi also warned that the disaster had exacerbated Japan’s vulnerabilities. “Our choice,” he wrote, “is rebirth or ruin.” [Source: Paul Blustein, Washington Post, March 9 2012. Blustein is a former Tokyo correspondent for The Washington Post and an author and researcher affiliated with the Brookings Institution and the Centre for International Governance Innovation.]

If Japan were responding as it ought to, its economy would be poised to emerge from stagnation, spurred by the need to rebuild. And the national trauma would be inspiring politicians to overcome differences on issues vital to the future of the world’s fastest-aging society. But at the disaster’s first anniversary, Japan is floundering.

At first, Japan’s reaction was characteristically gritty. The anguish besetting the people of Tohoku---and the stoicism with which they bore it---generated an outpouring of compassion, support and national pride, encapsulated in the word kizuna, meaning “bonds,” which became a national catchphrase. Thus, when the government imposed rolling power outages, so much voluntary, round-the-clock energy saving occurred---with people donning extra clothing amid the cold---that the outages soon proved unnecessary.

That spirit has faded, however, as divisions have erupted over nuclear power. The national discussion of the country’s reliance on atomic energy has degenerated into farce as many people have become increasingly---and irrationally---preoccupied with how radiation from the crippled Fukushima Daiichipower plant might affect them. Large segments of the population are so petrified, and so militant in their fear, that most local governments outside Tohoku are refusing to accept for burial some of the millions of tons of rubble left by the tsunami. (And I’m talking about the remnants of smashed buildings and vehicles in other prefectures, not junk from the nuclear plant’s vicinity.)...In a town near where I live, officials rejected the debris, saying that even if the radiation emissions were zero, local farmers and fishermen might suffer from huu hyou higai---financial losses due to baseless rumors---just as many Tohoku producers are already. So much for kizuna.

The hysteria about radiation reflects a breakdown in trust, as witnessed by endless media accounts quoting people who doubt the government’s monitoring of food and soil. This is lamentable; although officials disingenuously played down the possibility of a much worse accident at Fukushima Daiichi in the first days after the quake, reputable experts affirm the government’s major claim: that health risks are minuscule except in areas very close to the plant.

The public’s growing skepticism of authority is arousing more citizen involvement in politics, which could prove positive in the long run. But it increases the chances that imprudent ideas---such as mothballing all those nuclear plants---will prevail. Meanwhile, more serious political and economic problems are left to fester.

Tokyo’s political class, which was eager to appear unified after the disaster, is consumed anew with score-settling and power maneuvers of the sort that have given the country six prime ministers in the past five years. The upshot is a lengthy stalemate over the measures necessary to put Japan on sound long-term economic footing. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has proposed doubling the 5 percent consumption tax, an increase that would take effect only after several years so the economy could first gain strength. But the main opposition party, which favored a similar idea when in power, is refusing to help enact any such measure, insisting that elections should be held first. In the past few days, Noda and opposition leaders have hinted that they may be forging a compromise, but embittered rivals in Noda’s party are complaining that the tax hike is ill-timed and are threatening to break up the ruling coalition.

In contrast to the hapless situation in Tokyo are heartening scenes in Tohoku of life returning to some semblance of normalcy, though the region still faces staggering obstacles, with many of its younger residents moving elsewhere in search of jobs. Shelters that once accommodated half a million people are now closed; many of their former residents are living in temporary, government-provided housing. In coastal towns once inundated with seawater, vehicles traverse repaired roads, and shops have reopened.

Regardless of how such localities fare, however, their fortunes are only a small part of the effort needed to revitalize a national economy that was facing massive challenges long before March 11, 2011. Unfortunately, the disaster has heightened the most daunting problems. Reconstruction costs will swell the government’s $12 trillion debt, which stood at 212 percent of gross domestic product last year (compared with 165 percent for Greece and 128 percent for Italy). By 2013, as reconstruction spending kicks in, the debt burden in Japan will reach 227 percent of GDP, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Good ideas abound for restoring Japan’s dynamism, such as creating more employment opportunities for women, all too many of whom stay out of the workforce because of poor promotion chances and a lack of affordable day care. But new economic pitfalls also loom as a result of last March’s disaster---in particular the danger that the nuclear crisis will spawn additional energy shortages, further subverting growth.

Few of the world’s peoples, if any, are as resourceful and concerned about the welfare of their compatriots as the Japanese. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before they and their leaders put the country on a more promising path. After last year’s catastrophe, my admiration and affection for this country deepened to the point where I could happily envision my half-Japanese sons choosing to settle here. I just wish I felt confident that Japan will offer them, and the rest of their generation, the kind of prospects that would make that choice attractive.

Plans Being Devised to Prevent Repeat of Shutdowns after March 11 Quake

Ryusuke Yamauchi and Katsutoshi Samata wrote in the Shimbun: Many companies that suffered extensive damage in the Great East Japan Earthquake have been working around the clock over the past year to improve their crisis-management systems and restore production facilities. Takashi Aoyagi, director of the Naka plant of Renesas Electronics Corp. in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture, is confident his plant can avoid a repeat of the extended shutdown it suffered after the March 11, 2011, disaster. "If our plant is hit again by a quake measuring upper 6" on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7, "we'll be able to resume operations in a month," Aoyagi said. [Source: Ryusuke Yamauchi and Katsutoshi Samata,Yomiuri Shimbun, March 12, 2012]

Renesas Electronics is the world's largest manufacturers of microcomputer devices for automobiles, holding a market share of about 40 percent. The March 11, 2001, disaster forced the Naka plant to stop operations until June 1, which forced automakers across the world to cut production sharply. Based on the new BCP, Renesas Electronics began obtaining prior agreement from clients to allow the company to transfer production to plants that do not have contracts with the clients if a similar disaster occurs."We asked our clients to hold more than enough inventory until work to improve the plant's quake resistance is completed," said Masaki Kato, senior managing director of the company.

According to a survey on 343 major companies conducted by Tokio Marine & Nichido Risk Consulting Co., the percentage of companies with business continuity plans rose from 48 percent before the disaster to 89 percent as of November, including those that intend to draw up such plans.

Major semiconductor manufacturers also have been reconsidering their production systems. For example, Toshiba Corp. plans to halve its number of assembly lines, which churned out about 90,000 products before. An increasing number of companies are considering moving the functions of their head office in an event of a disaster. Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. is preparing to transfer its head office functions to its Mizushima office in Okayama Prefecture if Tokyo is directly hit by a major earthquake.

The tsunami devastated the plant of Rengo Co., a major manufacturer of cardboard boxes, near Sendai Shiogama Port. Rengo will open a new plant in Taiwa, a town about 20 kilometers inland from the Miyagi Prefecture coast, in April. Following the disaster, the company temporarily transferred workers to plants in Aomori and Fukushima prefectures. But they returned to Miyagi Prefecture in February to transport equipment to the new plant and conduct test operations. There is a glut of cardboard boxes on the market, so constructing the new plant was a difficult decision for Rengo. But the company said it wanted to give priority to keeping jobs in the region and preserving ties with local companies.

Many new plants have sprung up in the disaster-hit areas during the past year. JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp. announced Friday it had reopened its Sendai refinery in Miyagi Prefecture. The plant will refine up to 145,000 barrels of crude oil into gasoline, heating oil and other products daily. Nippon Paper Group Inc.'s Ishinomaki plant in the prefecture resumed operations of its largest production line Friday. As a result, about 80 percent of the plant's lines are rolling again.At Nippon Steel Corp.'s Kamaishi steel plant in Iwate Prefecture, port facilities for shipping products to domestic markets resumed operation Sunday.

The plant for Kanto Auto Works Ltd., a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corp., halted operations for about five weeks after the disaster because its supplies were cut off. The plant is now operating at full capacity. Since December, the plant has manufactured Toyota's Aqua small hybrid model. The plant boosted monthly output from 20,000 units to 30,000 in February.

Automakers are establishing systems that will enable the quick resumption of production after a disaster. Toyota is collecting information about parts makers with which it has had no business deals, and has widened its range of parts suppliers. On March 5, Nissan Motor Co. and its partner parts makers conducted a drill to simulate how they will resume production in the event of a major earthquake.

A Year after Tsunami, a Cloud of Distrust Hangs over Japan

"Many Japanese feel they've been lied to by their government," Mitsuhiro Fukao, an economics professor at Keio University in Tokyo who has written about the public loss of trust, told the Los Angeles Times. "In a time of disaster, people wanted the government to help them, not lie to them. And many wonder whether it could happen again." [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2012]

John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Even though the tsunami had knocked out the cooling system at Fukushima, leading to meltdowns in three reactors, officials insisted that all was well at the seaside plant. Recently released reports show that was far from the case. Seeking to avoid a public panic, then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his advisors buried a worst-case assessment by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission that included the possible evacuation of Tokyo. Officials delayed disclosing key data and safety standards, leaving many Japanese not knowing whether their food chain had been contaminated.

A new report on Fukushima for the American Nuclear Society says the long-term health risks of the radioactive fallout will probably be minimal. But some Japanese aren't convinced. Suspicious of data provided by the government and news media, many people now conduct their own radiation research. They surf the Internet and seek out podcasts that offer alternative perspectives on the dangers and what to do about them. They flock to the Twitter accounts of nuclear scientists.

Even the trash left in the tsunami's wake is a source of fear. The landscape of northeastern Japan remains littered with 25 million tons of clothing, computers, stoves and car parts, shoved aside into massive unsightly mountains. In many areas, the debris, known as gareki, equals what residents would normally create in 20 years. Only 5 percent of what the tsunami created has been removed. Fearing high levels of radioactive cesium, residents across Japan don't want the debris buried or incinerated near their homes.

The government is offering to pay communities to accept the rubble, but there are few takers. "The unseen enemy has aroused concerns that are more a matter of psychology than of science," Yuriko Koike, a former defense minister, wrote in a recent editorial. "As the world's only victim of a nuclear attack, Japan's allergy to radiation is stronger than anywhere else."

Anti-nuclear protests have attracted tens of thousands of angry citizens, many of whom are pressuring politicians to abandon their support for nuclear power.Former Prime Minister Kan, a onetime supporter, now says Japan needs to reduce its reliance on atomic energy. "We should have taken more adequate safety steps, and we failed to do so," he recently said of the Fukushima meltdowns. "It was a big mistake, and I must admit that [the accident] was due to human error."

A Year after Tsunami, Distrust and Fear in Tokyo

Reporting from Tokyo, John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Veteran fish seller Yoshito Shimada is under siege. At a grocery store in Tokyo's Shibuya district, mothers pushing strollers demand proof that the daily catch isn't from the waters off the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. "I tell them the government checks the fish for radiation, but they don't trust elected officials, or anyone," said Shimada, his blue shirt stained with fish blood. "A year after the disaster, Japan is still afraid of its own food." [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2012]

Even in Tokyo, more than 200 miles from the northeastern region devastated by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused radiation to spew from the nuclear plant, residents fear that local schoolyards are laced with dangerous isotopes. Citizen collectives wander streets with dosimeters to make sure their neighborhoods remain radiation-free, conducting spot checks on fish and produce.

In what's being called the "measurement movement," people rushed to buy their own Geiger counters and dosimeters to check for radiation exposure. At a Tokyo electronics store, one salesman said he was amazed at how knowledgeable customers had become about the sophisticated equipment, with many asking numerous technical questions as if they were shopping for high-end stereo systems.

Yuko Kamine says she views her life differently than she did a year ago. "I worry about food safety," the 29-year-old office worker said. "I want to live each day to the fullest. You never know when something like this could happen again, when you're going to die."

At the busy Shibuya supermarket, where lunchtime shoppers grab items on the run, restaurant owner Takayuki Minagawa surveyed the vegetables---spinach, mushrooms and eggplant. And he sighed. The 62-year-old, dressed in a gray suit jacket, said he'd lost faith in whatever assurances he got about the safety of the food he buys. But what choice does he have? "Look at these vegetables---they look safe, but maybe they aren't," he said. "I'm worried, but there's nothing I can do. I just have to buy this stuff. We all have to eat."

Image Sources: Wikipedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, Daily Yomiuri, Japan Times, Mainichi Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2012

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