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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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Youth for 3.11 and the Challenge of Dispatching Young Urban Volunteers to North-eastern Japan


Regardless of the fact that there has been a severe shortage of volunteers following the Great East Japan Earthquake, we have witnessed a situation where many interested students have been unable to partake in volunteering. Youth for 3.11 believes that students – the supporters of tomorrow’s Japan – have an important role to play in the solution of social problems. This is why it is our aim to realise, through the provision of accessible volunteering opportunities, both a swift recovery as well as a society where students can take part in the solving of social problems.

— Mission Statement, Youth for 3.11 (Youth for 3.11, 2012)



As amply documented in this volume, the aftermath of 3.11 has thrown up a plethora of vexing puzzles of great anthropological and sociological significance. At the micro-level, diverse volunteers have found themselves colliding with the tricky moral dimensions of giving and receiving aid (see Slater in this volume). At the mezzo-level, many domestic and international aid organizations have experienced considerable frustration as their offers of assistance have been turned down by local government officials and other gate-keepers (see McJilton 2013). By shifting the focus from ‘adult’ volunteers and established aid organizations onto Japanese young people in their late teens and early twenties, in the present chapter I expose yet another important conundrum: why is it that urban youth have found it so difficult to engage in volunteering in the disaster-struck areas of north-eastern Japan despite the evident...

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