Candid Assessment of Japan Disaster

In  Time magazine, June 24. Rebuilding Japan.  A very candid assessment by a Japanese former newspaper editor. Some excerpts are provided below:

The earthquake of March 11, 2011, changed the geography of Japan — literally. Digital maps and GPS devices are likely to deviate by more than 5 m as a result. Beyond this geological shift, aftershocks from the earthquake are reverberating across many dimensions of Japanese life, creating upheaval in our politics, economy, social institutions and foreign relations. In ways many Japanese never before experienced, our national spirit has been shaken.

Throughout Japanese history, seismic disasters have often seemed to mark the dramatic end of an era. The momentous question now is what sort of change the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake will delineate. Japan can no longer afford the delusions of “graceful decline” or “small is beautiful” — notions that appealed to many prior to March 11. Our choice is rebirth or ruin. (See Japan’s history of massive earthquakes.)

Unfathomable losses are the most immediate consequence of the earthquake and tsunami. Some are at least measurable, or will be in the foreseeable future — in particular, the toll in lost lives, vanished communities and destroyed property. But the losses are intangible as well. The compound crisis of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency has shattered Japan’s image as a land of safety and security. Instead of viewing Japan as a haven of immunity from danger and inconvenience, many around the world now perceive the country as fraught with peril and discomfort. This perception is certain to have an effect on foreign investment and the nation’s appeal as a destination for tourists.

Another consequence of the disaster is a crisis of trust. The government has performed inadequately in sharing information with the Japanese public as well as the rest of the world. Unfortunately, Japan’s ineptness in communication and global literacy is a long-standing problem. More fundamental in this regard is the exposure of the too cozy relationship between an elite cadre at Tokyo Electric Power Company and officials at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The lack of transparency and accountability has undermined faith in Japan’s ability to manage risks properly and effectively.

On a more positive note is this article about volunteers who are helping with the cleanup in Japan; from Telegraph (UK), on June 30.

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