3.11 Disaster And Change in Japan

3.11 Disaster And Change in Japan

March 11 2011 will go down in Japan as one of the worst natural disasters to hit Japan, after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. For the lack of better word, it is the day that will "live in infamy," to borrow a phrase from US President Franklin D Roosevelt.
Richard J. Samuels, being one of the top Japanologists in MIT, has latched on to the event, perhaps too conveniently, to understand the manner by which Japan can change in three fronts ? These are local policy, energy policy and nuclear policy.

By change, he referred to the extent that the policy needle can move; especially if the pressures are coming from the civic groups, the op-ed writers, the media, and the politicians themselves. Well, it has been five years since the "Japanese tsunami," that measured the magnitude of 9 in the Richter Scale, but there isn't any suggestion of a dramatic change other the huge amount of money that has been poured in. By 2013, more than 6 trillion Japanese yen has been thrown into the reconstruction effort; more than double the amount originally slated. As things stand, the recovery in Japan, appears to be slow-gong.

In fact, even prior to March 11, the graduate/undergraduate student unemployment in Japan, remains the lowest in the history of post war Japan. No reforms were forthcoming to allow more qualified immigrants to work in Japan too. Or, to become naturalized. Indeed, Japan's security policy remains out of touch with the growth of China.

Every now and then, when a Chinese jet or submarine enters the Japanese territory un-announced, Japan has had to scramble its jet or naval fleet to counter the threat. In other words, Japan has been doing nothing more than to react to every Chinese provocation in the East China Sea, be it an action organized by Beijing, or, rogue elements in the People's Liberation Army and Navy.

Thus, it goes without saying, that something is wrong in Japan; especially the Prime Ministry. Indeed, Prime Minister Naoto Kan did not fully know the scope and scale of the nuclear melt-down in Fukushima plant, according to Richard J Samuels, "until three months after the incident." Meanwhile, the reconstruction effort in and around the Fukushima area has been transformed to permanent evacuation.

Indeed, the belief that nuclear meltdown can change a country, emerged from the Chernobyl incident in Russia. That event caused the Communist Party in Soviet Union to undertake serious reforms, that interestingly enough, led to the demise of its own party, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Indian Ocean "tsunami" on Boxing Day in 2004 also led to the peace agreement between the Aceh separatists and Jakarta. It was on the basis of these incidents and events that Richard J. Samuels wondered, perhaps prematurely, if Japan was capable of some kind of systemic change or reform ?

The issue is not a simple one. The Kobe Earthquake in 1995 inspired Japan to change. The role and importance of civic organizations were acknowledged. The Japanese local authorities admitted the reach and limits of its own rescue efforts. Thus, laws were changed to allow civic organizations to enjoy a better standing, with better tax breaks. But the March 11 earthquake hit Iwate and Fukushima; not any one of the major capitals or ports in Japan. The geographical differences made for a lesser preoccupation with the need for change. Also, having gone through major reforms in Meiji Reformation and constitutional reforms undertaken by General McArthur in post war Japan, the threshold of change is often placed higher.

But, as a society driven by consensus, and harmony, every little bit of systemic perturbation is enough to make the decision makers shudder and wonder if they are doing the right thing. It is this 'one step forward and two steps back' mentality that makes Japan less accustomed to the need to change. One wonders if other consensus-driven societies in Asia, including China and Southeast Asia, may also be vulnerable to this kind of virus lurking from deep within their political make up ?