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Japan Copes with Calamity

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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The Construction of Risk and the Resilience of Fukushima in the Aftermath of the Nuclear Power Plant Accident

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The image of the first explosion at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant was broadcast on Fukushima Central Television (FCT) on 12 March 2011, soon after it happened at 3.36pm that day. It was the day after the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami had hit Japan. Seeing the image, I immediately thought of Chernobyl. On 13 March, when I regained access to the internet, which had been down due to the earthquake, I looked up the distance between my home city of Kōriyama, and the nuclear power plant. Kōriyama, with a population of around 333,000, is in the centre of Fukushima prefecture, approximately 60 kilometres from the plant, which is located by the seashore on the eastern edge of Fukushima. At Chernobyl, the 30 kilometre radius from the plant became the ‘exclusion zone’, where no one has been allowed back to live. So, realizing I was 60 kilometres away reassured me for the time being. However, it still felt surreal that a nuclear accident was happening in my prefecture.

I am a US-trained anthropologist who happened to be living back at home in Kōriyama when Fukushima prefecture experienced its quadruple disaster: earthquake(s), tsunami, the nuclear power plant accident and the harmful rumours (fūhyō higai) associated with it. A nuclear accident evokes a fear of the unknown, alongside its actual harm. In the face of unknown possibilities and contradicting information, the boundaries between ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’,...

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