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Japan Copes with Calamity

Ethnographies of the Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Disasters of March 2011

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

This book is the first collection of ethnographies in English on the Japanese communities affected by the giant Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011 and the ensuing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. It 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 to the Second Edition


We are very happy to see this new edition of Japan Copes with Calamity published. The first edition has already been reprinted, as has the Japanese edition, which was also published in 2013. The demand for the book reflects the continuing lack of closely observed ethnographic studies of the 3.11 disasters but the enduring interest in the human aspect of the disasters. The book has received a warm response from informants in the disaster zone and many of them have told us they are glad that their voices have been heard.

We would like to take this opportunity to offer a brief update on post-disaster Japan as seen from a standpoint eighteen months on from the original publication.

‘Is everything back to normal now?’ This is what we are asked frequently, when we return from our visits to Tohoku. Coming from people living well away from the disaster zone, it is an understandable question. Three or four years after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters, life outside the zone has moved on. The flood of news items about the disaster has slowed to a trickle. The government of prime minister Abe Shinzo has engineered a temporary economic recovery under the name of ‘Abenomics’, a fashionable word that really means using the time-honoured pump-priming methods of the Liberal Democratic Party: injecting trillions of yen1 of borrowed money into the economy, much of it spent on public works.

Occasionally, people are reminded of...

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