Introduction: The Role of Anthropology in Disaster Japan: Responses to the 3/11 Earthquake and the Fukushima Accident Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association in San Francisco November 17,

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Introduction: The Role of Anthropology in Disaster Japan: Responses to the 3/11 Earthquake and the Fukushima Accident
Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association in San Francisco

November 17, 2012
Junko Habu

Dept. of Anthropology

University of California, Berkeley
This Inno-vent session stages a discussion about the roles of anthropology and other academic disciplines in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011 and the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. Following the earthquake, the news of the tsunami victims and the severity of the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident attracted worldwide attention. However, the information available in English was limited after the earthquake and, over the past one and a half years, the news coverage outside Japan has significantly decreased. In the meanwhile, problems caused by the earthquake and the Fukushima accident continue to threaten people’s everyday life in Fukushima, the Tohoku region (the northern part of the Honshu Island), and the rest of Japan.
My own research interest focuses on the importance of small-scale and diversified economies for the long-term sustainability of human societies: When the earthquake hit Japan, I was at the Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Hayama in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo. Right after the earthquake, I was extremely frustrated by the lack of accurate information about Fukushima Daiichi: People were not informed of the explosion at Unit #1 of Fukushima Daiichi on March 12 until about an hour and a half later even though some TV stations showed the smoke coming out of Unit #1. A similar time lag of about 30 minutes occurred with the explosion of Unit #3 on March 14h. The delay of reports occurred again for the explosion of Unit #2 and the fire at the spent fuel storage at Unit #4 in the morning of March 15th. Whether the slow flow of information was deliberate or a result of the crisis faced by the government and TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company that owns the Fukushima Daiichi Plant), the consequence was that many people felt that they were not informed of what was really going on.
For me, one of the reliable sources of information was the website of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center. It is an anti-nuclear nonprofit organization dedicated to securing a safe, nuclear-free world, which was originated by Jinzaburo Takagi. Starting on March 13, they broadcast daily press conferences with English translation, which were distributed through Ustream videos on the internet. Comments from specialists on these videos were all extremely informative. In particular, a former reactor designer Masashi Goto’s analysis of the status of Fukushima Daiichi demonstrated that the situation was far worse than what had been reported by the mainstream media. It took several months before the government and TEPCO released a substantial amount of data that revealed the severity of the accidents and the subsequent levels of radiation contamination. The extent of radiation contamination on land, sea, water and food was not widely acknowledged until the early summer of 2011.
The reason I am laying out these issues is not to complain about what happened, but to think about the historical and sociopolitical contexts in which these problems occurred, and to argue for the importance of anthropological discussions of the future directions of post-3/11 Japan. While the earthquake and the Fukushima accident have had profound negative consequences, these disasters also provided the citizens and residents of Japan, as well as scholars and students of Japanese studies, with an opportunity to reexamine some of the key issues and problems in contemporary Japanese society.
Many people assume that the nuclear accident and the earthquake relief efforts are two separate issues. However, we suggest that any discussion of the Fukushima accident must also address relief needs of the victims of the earthquake and tsunamis in the Tohoku region. Thus, the goals of this Inno-vent are twofold. First, we propose that anthropology can play a major role in Japanese and international energy, agriculture and fishing policies in response to the 3/11 earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear accident. Many people have pointed out that, while the earthquake itself was a natural disaster, many of the problems that followed after the earthquake were human-made disasters. Scholars have also pointed out that the earthquake exasperated the previous problems in the Tohoku region, including economic disparities between large cities and rural communities, the depopulation of agricultural villages, lack of communication between food producers and urban consumers, and the dense distribution of nuclear power plants in rural Japan.
At another meeting, Professor Yasuo Goto, one of our presenters today, stated that what matters most for the people in Fukushima can be summarized in three issues: 1) decontamination, 2) compensation, and 3) the safety of children. This short, succinct list epitomizes the complex nature of problems created by the disaster.
An important consideration in how we address these issues is how to integrate short-term relief with long-term solutions. By providing critical assessments of the 3/11 disaster and its causes, anthropologists can influence the opinions of the general public and decision makers at the local, national and global levels. While these disasters occurred in Japan, it is our conviction that the triple crises (the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear accident) are not only a domestic matter within Japan but they also have implications when thinking about the future sustainability of human societies, and anthropologists’ role therein.
Second, several presenters today will emphasize the role of anthropology and anthropologists in the earthquake and tsunami relief efforts in dealing with both short- and long-term problems of local residents and communities. Anthropologists can provide specialized knowledge that could aid in the relief effort. What are the ethical and political challenges that anthropologists are facing in dealing with this crisis?
Themes that will be discussed today include 1) the lack of efficient systems for providing immediate aids and necessary information at the time of such disasters at the national and prefectural level, 2) energy policy, 3) food safety, 4) problems of large-scale production and circulation systems dominated by large corporates, 5) failure of mainstream media vs. independent media, and new communication tools including the internet, 6) Economic disparity between urban and rural areas, especially between the Tokyo metropolitan district and the Tohoku region, 7) the possible resurgence of nationalism signified by the phrase “Ganbaro Nippon” and localism, and 8) the role of NPOs, grass-root networks and women.
We will start our Inno-vent session with the short-term relief efforts and problems of economic disparity and depopulation in the Tohoku region. First, Professor Ken’ichi Abe of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto will talk about what anthropologists have done at the Otsuchi Town, one of the coastal areas in Iwate Prefecture, which was severely hit by the tsunami. This will be followed by Berkeley MA student Grant Schechner’s report of the depopulation and economic problems in Kita-Akita City, a rural municipal unit in Akita Prefecture of the northern Tohoku region. After these two presentations, our first respondent, Professor David Slater of Sophia University, will comment on the role of anthropology in the relief efforts in the Tohoku region. After a short break, three presentations on Fukushima-related issues will follow. First, Dr. Mio Katayama Owens, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley, will talk about the issue of food safety after the Fukushima accident. Professor Yasuo Goto of Fukushima University will discuss the sociopolitical actions taken by various stakeholders, including scholars of Fukushima University. He will also solicit comments from several visitors from Japan (Nobuyo GOTO, Hiroko AIHARA, and Ayumi KINEZUKA) about changing perceptions of the role of media, food production and circulation in post-Fukushima. Finally, Heather Swanson, a Ph.D. candidate of UC Santa Cruz and the co-organizer of this session, will introduce their book project on Fukushima, the contents of which will be presented by Dr. Daisuke Naito, Assistant Professor of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, and commented by Ryan Sayre, a Ph.D. candidate of Yale University and a visiting research fellow at Waseda University.

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