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Impact of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Moving Toward Recovery | Tsugio Ide, Professor Graduate School of Business Nihon University [Date of Issue: 28/April/2011 No.0194-0793]

Date of Issue:28/April/2011

Impact of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Moving Toward Recovery

Tsugio Ide
Professor
Graduate School of Business
Nihon University


What should we learn from the Great East Japan Earthquake? This recent disaster presents an opportunity to think about modern science and technology and modern lifestyles. We must also seize the chance to accumulate knowledge and experience in relation to social solidarity and to develop new social systems and a new public sphere.


Around this time every year as winter gives way to spring, the northward spread of cherry blossom causes spirits to rise, and a celebratory mood takes hold around the country as people look forward to school graduations and admissions. This year, of course, is completely different due to the major earthquake which occurred in the Pacific Ocean off northeastern Japan in the afternoon of 11 March. I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives as a result of the earthquake, and heartfelt sympathy to everyone else affected.

The Great East Japan Earthquake caused far more damage than the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake back in 1995, standing in modern Japanese history alongside the Great Kanto Earthquake and the devastation caused by World War II. It is certainly the greatest disaster that I have experienced in my life. In addition to the immediate tasks of victim aid and securing lifelines, Japan needs to throw its national weight behind restoration efforts, including returning people to their daily lives and restarting economic activities and supply chains that were interrupted by the disaster. We also need to realize that the restoration will be a long-term exercise.

The cost of the damage directly attributable to the quake and the subsequent tsunami is already being estimated at between 15 and 20 trillion yen, or 3-4 percent of GDP. While this is a useful reference in terms of gaining a quantitative grasp of the implications of the disaster, here I would like to focus on those problems with our current socioeconomic system that the disaster has thrown into new relief, as well as the lessons that we must learn from the disaster.

Harmony between people and nature

The Great East Japan Earthquake and the accompanying tsunami represented a natural disaster of previously unimaginable scale. Since the time of the Industrial Revolution, people have looked to conquer nature on various fronts through the advance of science and technology. The Tower of Babel which appears in the Old Testament is regarded as a parable about God punishing human pride, and the tsunami certainly impressed on me anew the fact that human beings are not omnipotent and that we can live in harmony with nature. The event also threw into stark relief the vulnerability of our current socioeconomic system with its dependence on just-in-time manufacturing and massive energy consumption, recalling the ‘small is beautiful’ economic philosophy of EF Schumacher that sounded the alarm against the materialism and belief in and reliance on large-scale technologies that lie at the heart of modern civilization.

International support and reactions, energy choices and modern lifestyles

Since immediately after the disaster, Japan has received offers for cooperation at various levels from the US, France and many other countries, which have also dispatched rescue teams, evidence of growing recognition of humanity’s interdependence beyond border and race. This is a new phenomenon in the modern world spurred by the advent of a global society.

Our new information society also saw information about the disaster instantly exchanged around the world and through the media. The media focused in particular on unease and alarm over the potentially devastating impact of the nuclear power plant problems caused by the disaster, reflecting international debate over the pros and cons of using this technology. As the most serious nuclear energy-related incident since Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, it will certainly provoke widespread discussion about energy options at home and abroad, including the issues of national energy trajectories and safety.

Until now, global warming has provided backing for the pursuit of nuclear power, but even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has taken a pro nuclear energy stance, noted that the Fukushima incident had occurred in a country with high safety standards and safety requirements, and moved quickly to indicate that Germany would review its entire nuclear policy. The coming years are also likely to bring a new perspective to debate in Japan and around the world concerning current industrial structures and lifestyles, which have traditionally been premised on massive energy utilization and electricity demand (electrification).

Formation of a new public sphere and political will behind this

In Japan, it doesn’t seem long ago that aid efforts on the part of volunteers who came from all over Japan after the Great Hanshin-Awaj Earthquake, as well as the existence of non-profit organizations (NPOs), leaped into the public eye, spurring the formulation of the Law to Promote Specified Nonprofit Activities (the NPO Law). NPOs have since begun to emerge as a third sector in Japanese society alongside government and the business sector, with more than 40,000 NPOs now operating. In the current aid effort too, NPOs have been in there working beside central and local government, demonstrating a new social solidarity.

Japan is currently right in the middle of a socioeconomic paradigm shift, looking to form a new public sphere. The large-scale crisis management and response efforts following the disaster will provide a critical proving ground for national government policy. Samuel Smiles’ Self-Help suggests that national politics are a reflection of the people, and certainly this disaster will test whether Japanese politics can formulate a new public sphere beyond existing territoriality.

Duty of those who escaped damage

One Oriental proverb refers to the inscrutability of heaven, and how good can come out of bad. In the process of overcoming the current major disaster, we must accumulate new knowledge and experience in relation to social solidarity and develop concrete new social systems and a new public sphere that we can show to the world. This is the duty of Japanese citizens who escaped the immediate hand of the disaster, our historic obligation to all those who lost their lives and those who have suffered so greatly.

(original article : Japanese)
(For the Japanese version of this article)


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