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Japan Copes with Calamity

Edited By Tom Gill, Brigitte Steger and David H. Slater

Four years after the 3.11 disaster in Japan, this acclaimed collection of ethnographies in English on the Japanese communities affected by the giant Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters continues to be the only one of its kind. With a new preface offering an update on the affected communities, this volume brings together studies by experienced researchers of Japan from field sites around the disaster zone. The contributors present the survivors’ struggles in their own words: from enduring life in shelters and temporary housing, through re-creating the fishing industry, to rebuilding life-ways and relationships bruised by bereavement. They contrast the sudden brutal loss of life from the tsunami with the protracted anxiety about exposure to radiation and study the battle to protect children, family and a way of life from the effects of destruction, displacement and discrimination. The local communities’ encounters with volunteers and journalists who poured into Tohoku after the disaster and the campaign to win compensation from the state and nuclear industry are also explored. This volume offers insights into the social fabric of rural communities in north-eastern Japan and suggests how the human response to disaster may be improved in the future.

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Preface and Acknowledgements

Extract

This collection of ethnographic studies explores how people experienced the aftermath of the tsunami and nuclear disasters that af f licted Japan on 11 March 2011. By focusing on the period between the initial chaos caused by large-scale and sudden destruction and the formation of a recogniz- able trajectory of rebuilding, it aims to enhance our understanding of 3.11 and more generally of the human consequences of disaster. This was the period when outsiders, be they from nearby Sendai, from Tokyo or Osaka, or from abroad, ventured into the areas of north-eastern Japan where the tsunami had hit to provide aid and relief. New sets of relationships were being forged or negotiated in evacuation shelters and temporary housing. People were frantically trying to assess the ef fects of becquerels and mil- lisieverts on human health while the search for bodies under the debris was still going on. Communities were hatching relocation plans and imagin- ing possible futures, even as rituals for the dead were being performed. It was a period when people struggled to find narratives that could explain what had happened, but nevertheless had to sort out how to move ahead. It is impossible to make overarching scholarly or even systematic gener- alizations about this important, complex and chaotic phase. The contribu- tors to this volume have thus looked at specific issues in specific locations to explore the uneven fits and starts of relief and recovery, the tentative, incomplete, sometimes misguided attempts to recover community and lost social relations,...

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