Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library

3.11: Disaster and Change in Japan

Richard J. Samuels
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 304
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    On March 11, 2011, Japan was struck by the shockwaves of a 9.0 magnitude undersea earthquake originating less than 50 miles off its eastern coastline. The most powerful earthquake to have hit Japan in recorded history, it produced a devastating tsunami with waves reaching heights of over 130 feet that in turn caused an unprecedented multireactor meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. This triple catastrophe claimed almost 20,000 lives, destroyed whole towns, and will ultimately cost hundreds of billions of dollars for reconstruction.

    In3.11, Richard Samuels offers the first broad scholarly assessment of the disaster's impact on Japan's government and society. The events of March 2011 occurred after two decades of social and economic malaise-as well as considerable political and administrative dysfunction at both the national and local levels-and resulted in national soul-searching. Political reformers saw in the tragedy cause for hope: an opportunity for Japan to remake itself. Samuels explores Japan's post-earthquake actions in three key sectors: national security, energy policy, and local governance. For some reformers, 3.11 was a warning for Japan to overhaul its priorities and political processes. For others, it was a once-in-a-millennium event; they cautioned that while national policy could be improved, dramatic changes would be counterproductive. Still others declared that the catastrophe demonstrated the need to return to an idealized past and rebuild what has been lost to modernity and globalization.

    Samuels chronicles the battles among these perspectives and analyzes various attempts to mobilize popular support by political entrepreneurs who repeatedly invoked three powerfully affective themes: leadership, community, and vulnerability. Assessing reformers' successes and failures as they used the catastrophe to push their particular agendas-and by examining the earthquake and its aftermath alongside prior disasters in Japan, China, and the United States-Samuels outlines Japan's rhetoric of crisis and shows how it has come to define post-3.11 politics and public policy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6803-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE The Status Quo Ante and 3.11
    (pp. 1-23)

    The Great Eastern Japan Disaster, now known simply as “3.11,” could not have come at a worse time for Japan. Or, if one believes in the cathartic power of natural disasters, perhaps it could not have come at a better time. A generation ago, in the late 1970s–early 1990s, Japan was the envy of the world. Ezra Vogel’sJapan as Number Onecaptured the awe and admiration—and dread—that Japanese economic successes inspired. It was a model for how to run an economy and how to manage a society, even how to govern a nation.¹

    Forty years later,...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Never Waste a Good Crisis
    (pp. 24-45)

    Cataclysmic events do not always deliver large-scale change, but much of social theory predicts—and many practitioners proclaim—that they are likely to do so. Social science has focused on “critical junctures”—so-called moments of “punctuated equilibria”—when constraints on choice “soften” or “relax” for short periods due to power shifts in the course of normal domestic politics or to exogenous shocks such as war, ideological collapse, depression, or natural disasters.¹ Leaders at such moments of crisis are thought to enjoy a greater range of choices than those who operated before the constraints lifted.² Their choices, moreover, are presumed to...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Historical and Comparative Guidance
    (pp. 46-79)

    The list of natural disasters along the Japanese archipelago is sadly long. It is so long, in fact, that as Peter Duus has noted, over the course of two millennia there has always been a disaster that older residents can remember.¹ Indeed, they have been so frequent that the Japanese tell themselves the four most frightening things in life are (in order): earthquakes, thunderstorms, fires, and fathers.²

    The first recorded Japanese earthquake occurred in 416.³ More than forty large-scale earthquakes have struck Japan since the mid-nineteenth century alone, and many of those within living memory, such as Fukui (1948), Niigata...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Dueling Security Narratives
    (pp. 80-109)

    For those less familiar with the history reviewed in chapter three than with the theories of change reviewed in chapter two, 3.11 ought to be the mother of all catalysts—or at least their aunt. And if the greatest benefits come to those who had the greatest success, then the Japanese military and the U.S.-Japan alliance ought to expect a “Tohoku dividend”—the institutional silver lining in the dark cloud of 3.11. Chronicles of the exploits of Japan’s soldiers were on public view everywhere—on television, in bookstores, and in the social media. The Self-Defense Forces (SDF) joined civilian volunteers...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Debating Energy Policy
    (pp. 110-150)

    After 3.11, discussions of change were most active—and expectations for change were most extravagant—in two policy areas: security and energy. As we have seen in the case of security, this was because its institutions succeeded and heroes abounded. In the case of energy, it was because most of the protagonists failed dramatically. In the dueling narratives about the nuclear meltdown, potential villains were everywhere and each of our four themes was in play. Elite chatter aboutchangewas ubiquitous;leaderseither did not lead or else they misled; in the process, they were blamed for destroying whole communities...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Repurposing Local Government
    (pp. 151-179)

    Local public administration—the delivery of services to residents by sub national governments—is hardly as dramatic as war fighting or as awesome as the production and delivery of energy by massive industrial machines. But it is no less consequential. Education, welfare services, property registration, transportation, public safety, recreation, voting—indeed, nearly everything in the public sphere related to birth and life, death and taxes, is the work of neighbors. They are quotidian tasks—until they are not. As 3.11 demonstrated in riveting detail, the quality of local governments and the systems in which they are embedded can themselves be...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 180-200)

    These epigraphs frame the mixed lessons that this book draws for Japanese politics and public policy after 3.11. In December 2011, Kurokawa Kiyoshi, a professor of medicine and former president of the Science Council of Japan, was appointed by both houses of the Diet to chair the newly created Committee to Investigate the Accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plants.¹ In a nation where blue ribbon panels are common but often ineffectual—or else captured—this one was to be different. The Kurokawa Committee would be the first independent public investigatory commission in Japanese history....

  11. Notes
    (pp. 201-244)
  12. References
    (pp. 245-266)
  13. Index
    (pp. 267-275)