Sustainable Development in Japan in the Aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake

(Translated by Nicholas Maxfield, Edited by Simon Høiberg Olsen)

1. Preface

This article handles the subject of sustainable development in Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that took place on 11 March 2011; its target audience is each and every Japanese voter. A little more specifically, the article draws attention to the question of how we all should consider the so-called “recovery of Eastern Japan” and Japan's energy policy.

There are two things this earthquake demonstrated that have not be seen in recent disasters. The first of these is the fact that natural disasters (in this case, tsunamis), can cause destruction on a scale that exceeds conceivable human expectations. The second is that in Japan, a renowned seismic hotspot, the generation of nuclear power occurs without adequate participatory public consultation and discussion.[i] It is clear from the former point that we cannot use science and technology to fully understand and control nature but may rely on precautionary principles in our decision making as well. It is also clear from the latter that within the Japanese community, policy making is intrinsically and traditionally related to both money and connections: this lack of transparency prevents us from identifying our individual duties and responsibilities as a basis for sharing and discussing different value systems.

When we consider the interaction between human consciousness and nature, and the extent to which natural phenomena surpass the control of human consciousness, we must also give thought to the time scale of the earth’s development. Modern mankind occupies the last 100 to 200 thousand years of the 4.6 billion-year history of the earth.[ii] It is only over the last 250 years, and in particular the last 50 years, that humans have started affecting the accumulation and flow of the energy and matter on the earth's surface.[iii] At present, the population of humankind is estimated to exceed 6.5 billion.[iv] It can be inferred that four Earths would be required if all of humanity were to consume resources and energy at the current pace of developed nations.[v] The standard of lifestyle that Japan enjoys at present creates a short-lived, unsustainable civilisation which encourages the acceleration of the flow of energy and materials.[vi] It is a society in which human consciousness is shackled by the twin notions of “more” and “faster”.

Why, and for whose sake, is this acceleration necessary? Faced with the vast expanse of land obliterated by the tsunami, should we not perhaps stop and pause to reconsider, instead of rushing ahead to restore things to how they were before? I believe we must make this recovery with the goal of creating a long lifetime, more sustainable civilisation by rethinking our current short-lived social ethos of “faster” and “more”, and by living and dying with preparedness and courage.

During the course of the planet’s development, the bodies and consciousnesses that designate us as modern human beings have become differentiated from physical and ecological Nature. At the same time, social institutions have made it possible to predict the actions and intentions of others for the purpose of stabilizing our society and reducing its complexity. Over time, many forms of social institutions have developed, first springing to life, before changing and ultimately collapsing. There are such types of social institution as “ownership” and “nationality”, but “money” plays a particularly important role. In essence, social institutions and expectations generally require that we save money in order to maintain liquidity (the ability to exchange money for goods and services at any given point in the future), meaning that we do not use our money for current consumption.[vii] More than any other life form on earth, humans subordinate their bodies to their consciousness, in which money (as a conceived social institution) is treated with disproportionate reverence. This is arguably characteristic of our impermanent civilisation.

In order to construct a more permanent civilisation, it is necessary to shift our physical and mental focus away from the present system and consider how things could be. By this I mean that surely it is necessary to encourage the development of social institutions as things that shape our existence as individuals (our lifestyles) and societies (our social styles).[viii] We must see social institutions as exerting influences on our consciousness and also forming the environment for our consciousness. Both individuals and society in general create these institutions, discuss them, adopt them, experience them, live them, study them, and adapt to them.

Another key issue that we have failed to pay proper attention to is ending our tendency to pass the buck politically over the 40 years since the so-called “season of politics”. It is surely the case that our tendency to devalue the social institutions created by mutually unknown individuals has strengthened, not weakened, over the 20 years since the collapse of the bubble. Only the Market (private possessions and their exchange) and the Government (the state and its redistribution of wealth) are ever discussed. Even if non-market, non-governmental intermediary communities have brought about the spontaneous development and maintenance of social institutions, and even if there have been attempts to foster a “New Public Commons”, these are insufficient: in particular, this can surely be seen from the case of atomic energy policy, which has so far been the exclusive domain of the Japanese government.

The state of Eastern Japan after 3-11 presents the country with an opportunity to reconsider the acceleration of civilisation and the role of intermediary communities. What we need to do now is rebuild the relationships between mankind and nature on a regional basis, and in addition the relationships between people both of the same regions and of different regions.

2. The Recovery of Eastern Japan: Affected and Unaffected Areas; Affected and Unaffected People

The earthquake, the tsunami, and the ongoing nuclear disaster have divided areas and people into two categories: affected and unaffected; victims and non-victims. What is the relationship between the two? A potential reference point for distinguishing between the two can be found in the form of two terms used most often in the context of international co-operation efforts regarding the development of industrialising nations. The terms are “stakeholder” and “outsider”.[ix] The reconstruction of affected areas and of the livelihoods of affected parties should, in essence, be guided by these very affected parties who were living in the affected areas at the time. As a result, in the context of recovery, those “stakeholders” involved in recovery in affected areas should be those who suffered as a result of the disasters, while those who were unaffected by the disasters must be considered “outsiders”. These, however, are myopic designations. The many victims who are facing extreme hardship as a result of the disaster are trying to rebuild their daily lives and future prospects, and in order to do so they must reconstruct both man-made structures, including infrastructure (for example, civil structures in cities and residential or industrial buildings), and structures that are half-natural, half-man-made (such as paddies, fields, orchards and copses).[x]

However, it cannot be said that only those who were directly affected by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster are “stakeholders” in these events, for two reasons: firstly, the Japanese constitution enshrines the freedom to choose one’s location of residence and profession; secondly, the rebuilding of affected areas and livelihoods of inhabitants, despite being a relatively temporary event, will be achieved through the transfer of resources from unaffected citizens and unaffected areas. We cannot, therefore, argue that it is only the direct victims of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident that deserve to be designated “stakeholders”; conversely, we cannot argue that the rest of the population of Japan can be considered “outsiders”.

First, I would like to make two points: the extent to which someone is actually a “stakeholder” varies from person to person in content and degree, but due to the intrinsic links between people and their livelihoods, there is no such thing as a complete “outsider”; “outsiders” can also play a significant role in resolving the problems of “stakeholders”.

People (labour, including volunteers) and resources are needed for the recovery of the affected areas and the livelihoods of the affected people. At present, those are in short supply in such areas. Accordingly, in these areas, money is needed to mobilise the necessary people and procure the necessary resources. Private capital is procured through a voluntary market process. By contrast, public capital is procured in the following manner: the government, by means of taxation, transfers purchasing power (money) from the unaffected areas and people to the affected areas and people; this means that the necessary labour and resources are purchased from the unaffected areas, while the money used to pay for them flows into those unaffected areas.[xi]

It would surely be appropriate, at least for the labour issue, if legislation were introduced that allowed currently unemployed citizens to participate in recovery activities while acquiring professional experience, while the government could sponsor employers or individuals to enable currently employed citizens to spend their holidays participating in recovery activities. In my opinion, this kind of system would be effective at encouraging direct contact between affected and unaffected people, and would change the slogan for recovery from “you can do it” to “let's get it done together”.[xii]

Discussions regarding how best to achieve recovery in affected areas, including measures for the prevention of future natural disasters, should largely be led by those affected by this disaster, and should focus first on making these areas habitable. If this is to be the case, surely combining discussions on a municipal government basis (cities, towns and villages) as opposed to an intermediary government basis (prefectures), and discussions aiming for wide-scale co-operation between municipal governments across prefectural boundaries (if necessary) would enable a whole variety of regionally-led recovery initiatives, more effective and efficient responses, and mutual learning. From the perspective of sustainable development in the context of the recent tsunami, we can see that discussion regarding land-use planning must take into account factors such as elevation, watersheds and river basins.[xiii] Those affected most by recent events must make some particularly crucial decisions regarding the management of areas that should be designated “radiation control zones” and whether or not areas in risk from future tsunamis should be restored to the state they were in prior to the tsunami.

At present, our top priority is to rebuild the future prospects and daily lifestyles of the inhabitants of affected areas. The medium-to-long term issues, such as city planning, land-use planning, and redevelopment, should be dealt with separately. We must use resources and labour from unaffected areas to ensure the protection of key aspects of daily life: the education of children and young people; employment; an environment that allows for those raising families to work; job training and placement; and social care for the elderly, the sick, the stressed, and the disabled.[xiv] There is also a need for government help (state assistance) from local and intermediary authorities, in addition to self-help (self-aid for individuals or domestic mutual aid) and group help (mutual aid within a specific group). In addition, there are those who must relocate as individuals, families, or groups. The issue of group relocation in particular raises the question of how to approach the social re-integration of individuals, families, and groups undergoing relocation with the communities that take them in. This needs to be addressed through discussion and action on both sides. Temporary or permanent relocation programs between regional governments with twinning or sister relationships will prove a key test of their ability to co-operate.

Regarding the reconstruction of Japan's affected areas and the livelihoods of the affected inhabitants, many lessons could be gained from experiences of rebuilding and reintegration in developing countries recovering from natural disasters or wars, or from organisations in developed countries working towards the same goal. To be more precise, Japan could learn a great deal from the experiences of Aceh in Indonesia (earthquake, tsunami), Sierra Leone (war), and North-East Sri Lanka (war, earthquake, tsunami). National governments and NGOs should facilitate the arrangement of such experience-sharing opportunities.[xv]

3. Japan’s Energy Policy and Nuclear Policy Henceforth: Issues from the Perspective of World History

Why is energy so important to us? For what purpose are we using fuel and consuming electricity? In essence, energy is not something that is unlimited (in particular, oil, coal, natural gas, uranium, and other types of energy can be considered exhaustible from when considered in the context of the time-scale of human existence); once we have understood this constraint, we should consider the meaning of the reduction in energy supply resulting from the earthquake and tsunami.

We must question the notion that the demand for energy in Japanese society before 3-11 was absolutely necessary. Enjoying the same standard of service involved a relatively high amount of waste, and if we consider the energy consumption per capita in Japan (which has, in fact, increased consistently since the collapse of the bubble), another topic in need of discussion is whether we should aim to reduce that standard of service (and the volume of energy needed to offer it). This is an unsustainable society, as consumer responsibility is ignored in the name of consumer sovereignty. This is also true both of producers and of private and public investing agents.

In addition, while nuclear energy experts (engineers, scientists and doctors) and citizens with misgivings regarding nuclear energy were well aware of many of these issues, the information made clear by 3-11 to non-expert citizens regarding nuclear energy is an even more important matter. Of particular importance is the fact that societies using nuclear power rely on a vulnerable system that requires a long time for the intermediate and final management of radioactive waste.[xvi] The management of radioactive waste is a process that requires tens, hundreds, tens of thousands or even millions of years, and in such a time span the methods or areas for disposal cannot be properly secured. The volume of global radioactive waste is expected to keep increasing, and yet no decision has been made in Japan regarding how to minimise risks to other countries while treating and disposing of waste in our own country (or in other countries, or territories that do not belong to any country). In addition, depleted uranium has distinctly military associations, and its connection with terrorism cannot be denied.[xvii] It has become clear after 3-11 that we should not separate our thoughts on nuclear power in the context of energy policy and nuclear power in the context of non-proliferation policy. Fukushima, Hamaoka, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Marshall Islands are all connected. The Japanese electorate, having conducted more debate regarding the management and possible military application of radioactive waste, should review the nation's approach to nuclear energy (this notion also applies to the Okinawa issue).

One thing that has become clear as a result of 3-11 is the extent to which the Japanese people have embraced nuclear power without knowing enough about it, and without engaging in participatory debate. This is particularly true of those who use the electricity generated by nuclear power plants but are unaffected by their location. First, we voters must look back on and evaluate the path that led us to this point. A total of 54 nuclear reactors are operating commercially in Japan at present: through what decision-making process was this achieved? What does it mean to live in a society that uses nuclear energy? There are many aspects to this question, such as the extraction and conveyance of uranium, the health risks (resulting from both internal and external exposure), radioactive waste management, employment, and industry: experts and officials must provide information on these, and we voters must discuss them properly. Similarly, when it comes to revising our Basic Energy Plan, our elected representatives must ensure they conduct adequate study and debate, and in addition we must reformulate the Basic Plan by holding a referendum regarding the state of the management of radioactive waste and our dependence on nuclear energy.[xviii] Discussion should be conducted on all levels of local government, and these discussions should focus on how to manage energy supply and demand in each region: on the supply side, we must determine which sources of energy are dependable; on the demand side, we must discuss viable courses towards the construction of a low-energy society. Assemblies representing all levels of government should then adopt their own specific Basic Energy Plans that reflect the results of these discussions.

In order to build a future, we must attempt to understand what has happened so far. The objective of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa was the same. It also bears comparison with the “parallel histories” approach, a collaborative project in which perspectives on Japanese, Chinese, and Korean history are shared by people from each respective country.[xix] We must bring an end to the polarisation of our nation by removing labels such as “pro-” and “anti-” nuclear power, and reunite Japan by furthering dialogue.

A low-energy society is a more sustainable society. In order to make the shift towards a low-energy society, or one that places importance on natural energy sources, we must construct a new electricity transmission network (to function as an energy supply and demand platform), and all existing transmission infrastructure must be transferred to public ownership. In addition, we must promote a low-energy society (or a natural energy society) through the dissolution of regional monopolies and the liberalisation of the power generation industry, through the adoption of consumer choice-driven generation processes, through the promotion of competition between power suppliers, and through restoring the right of veto on the demand side (by denying producers the ability to make coercive sales through the use of paternalistic insistence).[xx]

4. Grass-roots connections, action, and dialogue

After 3-11, I made contributions, although small, to the earthquake and tsunami emergency relief efforts. While was unable to visit the affected areas in person, I provided funding by supporting, through piecemeal donations (in fixed units), organisations and individuals with whom I have some connection, and who are diligently studying, developing and broadening information disclosure regarding relief efforts. In total, I made single donations to eight groups and two donations to two groups. In addition, I conveyed as much information as I knew to national and international relief groups and individuals in need of information regarding the extent and implications of the damage. Furthermore, I asked my parents, who live in a region where products and goods are relatively easy to come by, to provide these goods and products themselves to groups in need of them; they encouraged others living in the same area to do likewise.

Even more than the above, the single aspect of 3-11 that occupied the greatest portion of my personal time was attempting to understand and come up with solutions to the radiological accident. I did my utmost to understand what was happening, what could happen, how it could be dealt with, and how this situation developed in the first place, and, while I was aware that my knowledge was by no means sufficient, I shared what information I did know with those around me, and called for (and am still calling for) action. I participated in petitions calling for the shutdown of the nuclear reactor at Hamaoka power plant and for heightened protection from nuclear fuel, and I expressed my opinion to the Japanese government and Diet. With the help of volunteers, I translated drafts (written by Japanese experts abroad) of standard measures for handling external radiation exposure and emergency evacuation procedures, and attempted to disseminate them as widely as possible: in particular, I wanted to reach foreigners living and studying in Japan and foreigners considering whether or not they should visit Japan.[xxi]

The use of mailing list subscriptions and the internet (facebook, emails, etc.) played a key role in the above activities. A decisive factor was forging connections among universities, workplaces, and people who share common concerns about sustainable development and global issues. I genuinely felt that these “intermediary communities” were at work here, in these grass-roots connections and the resulting actions.

From now on, I intend to use these connections as a basis for the promotion of further dialogue on energy policy and nuclear power. It is important to participate in processes ensuring that governments and markets follow more sustainable development paths, but first of all I am keen to make these local and grass-roots efforts more active.

The Japanese people have so far avoided dialogue, but they will now need to form opinions and make decisions (capacity is not as important). This dialogue will not only require our consciousness, but also our bodies. In addition, communication is supported by intuition, sensitivity, emotion, and logic. There are things we can express verbally, and things we cannot; likewise, there are things we can express mathematically, and things we cannot. Yet we must use of all of these in order to communicate fully. I want to continue this grass-roots dialogue considering all of the above, and, using science, art, technology, design, and entertainment as key focal areas, I want to consider new measures for self-expression and the expression of values. I want to search for the roots that link entire regions, and for new forms of expression.

5. In Conclusion: I breathe, and live only as fast as I can walk

I will keep in touch with these various contacts of mine, and pursue dialogue further. I will continue to participate, record, publicise and study these experiments that have been created by such dialogue so far. Perhaps I do not have the mind to do so. But I do have words. I will choose my words carefully, and remain sensitive to their impact. In addition, I have a body. I will train my body, and, while making careful use of my body and my words, I want to breathe, and live at the pace I can walk. I will examine my own role in our fast-paced civilization, and will do so in the knowledge that I am directly involved in the generation and collapse of these intermediary communities. I anxiously offer the above words to you. I wonder what you will make of them.

When they died, what did they leave behind?
You and I, the only survivors:
Nothing else remains
Nothing else remains

And what did our dead history leave us?
This shining day, and tomorrow soon to come:
Nothing else remains
Nothing else remains

 (Shuntaro Tanikawa, What the Dead Man Left Behind; Music by Takemitsu Toru)

[i] Miyadai, Shinji, 2011, comments in internet radio programme “Maru geki toku on demando (Hard talk on demand)” 519, 25 March, http://www.videonews.com/on-demand/511520/001784.php
[ii] Shinoda, Kenichi, 2007, Nihon jin ni natta sosen tachi (Ancestors who became Japanese), Nihon Hoso Shuppan Kyokai
[iii] Maddison, Angus, 2006, The World economy. A millennial perspective. OECD; Clark, Gregory, 2007, A farewell to alms, Princeton University Press
[vi] Matsui, Takafumi, 2003, Uchujin to shiteno ikikata (The way of life as extra-terrestrial beings), Iwanami Shoten
[vii] Ono, Yoshiyasu, 2009, Kinyu (Finance) 2nd edition, Iwanami Shoten
[viii] Miyadai, Shinji, 2011, comments in internet radio programme “Maru geki toku on demando (Hard talk on demand)” 519, 25 March, http://www.videonews.com/on-demand/511520/001784.php
[ix] Sato, Kan (Ed.), 2003, Sanka gawa kaihastu no saikento (Revisiting participatory development), IDE-JETRO
[x] Classification was adopted from Hidano, Noboru, 2004, Kakucho jiko gainen kara mita toshi no kokyo kukan – kofuku kukan wo meguru dansho (Urban public space from the viewpoint of the concept of extended-self – Fragment on sphere of happiness) In Imada, Takadoshi and Kim, Tae-Chang (Eds), Toshi kara kangaeru kokyosei (Public-ness from the perspective of city), 215-239, Tokyo Daigaku Shuppan Kai
[xi] Telephone interview with Ono, Yoshiyasu, President of Economic and Social Research Institute, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan, 4 April 2011
[xii] Inspired by blog entry by Watanabe, Miki, 2011, http://ameblo.jp/watanabemiki/entry-10862497213.html, 16 April
[xiii] See Kishi, Yuji, 1996, Shizen he no manazashi (Perspective of nature), Kinokuniya Shoten
[xiv] Hamaguchi, Kiichiro, 2009, Atarashii rodo shakai – koyo shisutemu no sai kochiku he (New labour and society – Towards redevelopment of employment system), Iwanami Shoten
[xv] Tanaka, Kiyofumi, 2008, Kinkyu enjo kara kaihatsu enjo heno sumuzuna iko no tameni – sierareone de no “gakko wo toshita komyunityi kaihatsu” no keiken kara (For efficient transition from emergency relief to developmental cooperation – Based on the experiences of “community development using schools” in Sierra Leone, http://www.unforum.org/teigen/13.html; Watanabe, Makiko, 2009, Funso go no fukko kaihatsu shien ni okeru komyunityi shudo gata kaihatsu no yakuwari – Indonesia ache no keiken kara (Role of community-led development in assisting post-conflict redevelopment – Based on the experiences of Aceh, Indonesia), http://www.unforum.org/teigen/18.html
[xvi] Omae, Kenichi, 2011, Nihon fukko keikaku (Redevelopment plan of Japan), Bungei Shunju; Into eternity, 2009, film, http://www.intoeternitythemovie.com/
[xvii] Hida, Shuntaro, and Kamanaka, Hitomi, 2005, Naibu hibaku no kyoi (Threat of internal exposure to radiation), Chikuma Shobo
[xviii] See also Iida, Tetsunari, 2011, 3-11 go no genshiryoku / enerugi seisak no hokosei (Direction of nuclear / energy policy after 3-11), http://smc-japan.org/?p=1657
[xix] Kitaoka Shinichi, 2010, Gurobaru pureiya to shite no Nihon (Japan as global player), NTT Shuppan
[xx] See also SankeiBiz, 2011,  http://www.sankeibiz.jp/macro/news/110517/mca1105170500003-n1.htm, for consideration by Japanese government

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