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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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This Spoiled Soil: Place, People and Community in an Irradiated Village in Fukushima Prefecture


← 200 | 201 → TOM GILL

This Spoiled Soil: Place, People and Communityin an Irradiated Village in Fukushima Prefecture1

What constitutes a community? At the simplest level, a community is a group of people who live in the same place. In rural Japan, the link between people and place, between the soil and the people who work it, retains an overwhelming ideological significance – a significance encapsulated in the word ‘furusato’. It is translated as ‘hometown’ or ‘native place’. Yearning for the furusato is expressed in countless sentimental ballads, many of which praise the mountains, valleys, woods and rivers of a particular furusato. One particular song, simply entitled Furusato, has been sung by all children attending state schools in Japan since 1914.2 As Jennifer Robertson correctly observes, ‘the ubiquity of furusato as a signifier of a wide range of cultural productions effectively imbues those productions with unifying – and ultimately nativist and national – political meaning and value’ (Robertson 1988: 494). Love for one’s home community is an emotion endorsed by the national culture in a similar way to love for one’s mother.

Yet there is an irony here. The cultural emphasis on the furusato has persisted despite the fact that most Japanese long since ceased to live in the prototypical rural village. Nowadays 90 per cent of Japanese people live in urban areas, and the rural/urban imbalance in population is more acute ← 201 | 202 → than in any other major industrialized society.3 Thus the gap between the furusato as...

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