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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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Part 1 Coping with Life after the Tsunami

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Brigitte Steger Solidarity and Distinction through Practices of Cleanliness in Tsunami Evacuation Shelters in Yamada, Iwate Prefecture1 On about the tenth day of shelter life, the operators of a spa in Toyomane, a few miles inland, opened up the bath for us. They provided a bus so we could take a bath there. Actually, it was sooner than I had expected. I had assumed we would have to go even longer without a bath. That bath felt so great! I was really relieved (hotto shimashita). Shortly after that, electricity and water were reconnected at the shelter. When I could wash my hands again, and when I could drink the water again, I finally began to feel a little less anxious (hajimete hito anshin). Then daily life started to improve. — Toda Haruko*2 (36), staying at the Minami Elementary School shelter How do people react during a major crisis? How do they co-operate and when do they refuse to co-operate? How do social hierarchies and power relations, including gender roles and relationships, develop when a large number of people of diverse backgrounds suddenly share the fate of destroyed homes and abruptly smashed community? 1 An earlier and longer version of this paper was published online in Japan Focus on 17 September 2012. . I would like to thank all the people in Yamada who shared their experiences with me, in particular my host at the shelter, head priest Shimizu Seishō, as well as Keiko Morrison, John Traphagan, Jerry Eades, Lodewijk Brunt, Sen...

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