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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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Urgent Ethnography


The tsunami and nuclear disasters of 3.11 have triggered a huge and diverse literature on the 3.11 disasters and their aftermath. With the rise of fast output such as social media, blogs and websites, and online publishing by news outlets of stories that were often longer than conventional print would permit, there is probably no other disaster which has received as much documentation (see Slater, Nishimura and Kindstrand 2012). So, what is the specific contribution that this book is trying to make and how does it differ from other works? Let us first briefly look at the range of literature on 3.11.

The largest and most revealing body of literature on 3.11 is first-person accounts of how people experienced the disasters. Most of them are of course in Japanese. They range from haphazard tweets and texts, photos and videos to systematic reports of visits and relief work.1 In contrast to many disasters around the world where documentation often comes from official or outside sources, insider or local accounts are some of the most detailed and sustained sources of information. This gives us a more immediate view, one from the inside, a view not normally available when we try to understand what has happened. Since communication channels were initially cut off, local communities and journalists also made an effort to get people’s voices heard. After the crisis, one of the first things done by many communities (village or city offices, or later, temporary housing units) was to...

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