The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Newsletter
Newsletter No. 16. 2011  
April 18, 2011  
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In This Issue


Once again pride of place in this issue goes to the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, and the multifaceted responses by the Japanese state in Tokyo and throughout the Northeast, TEPCO, and citizens in the disaster zone. Gavan McCormack sees the end of an era framed by the August 15, 1945 speech of Hirohito and the March 16, 2011 speech by Akihito, the latter, he suggests marking the end of the failed era of nuclear power and signaling the possibility for Japan to embark on a new course. Makiko Segawa and David McNeill report from the frontlines in communities across the Northeast struggling to survive following the devastation of quake and tsunami. Other reports scan Japan's energy options and present scientific assessments of the disaster.

As a result of outstanding contributions by a corps of volunteer translators, the journal has been able to make available some of our most important work in Japanese, some of it widely circulated across the internet and in one or two instances published in Japanese journals, as well as to step up the pace of translation into English. Our special thanks to Julie Higashi, Shigeru Sugiyama, Richard Minear, and Norimatsu Satoko for coming to our assistance in this period of crisis. The work of others will appear in future issues. If you are able to assist, please contact us at

The Journal has completed its fundraising drive and forwarded funds in the amount of $1,350 to the Japanese Red Cross for Fukushima relief. Many thanks to our contributors.

Many of the  articles mentioned above  appear in What's hot and they bring a diversity of sources and reports from Ground Zero in Tohoku and Tokyo. "What's hot" zeroes in on breaking stories and provides information beyond the headlines, to cast them in broader perspective. What's hot is regularly updated, often on a daily basis and we invite you to consult it and contribute to it.

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Gavan McCormack, Hubris Punished: Japan as Nuclear State


This article offers a general overview of the nuclear era that began in Japan less

than a decade after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and may well have been brought to its close by the events at Fukushima six and a half decades later. The Hirohito imperial broadcast of 15 August 1945 announcing the Japanese surrender and calling on the Japanese people to unite to "endure the unendurable" is now matched by the Akihito imperial television address of 16 March, calling on people to unite in the face of catastrophe and help each other through the crisis. Two days after the Akihito address, the government announced that the "Great East Japan Earthquake" disaster was to be elevated from level 4 to level 5, on a par with Three Mile Island, and three weeks later, on 12 April, it raised it again, to level 7, the maximum on the international scale for nuclear incidents, alongside Chernobyl. 


Does the first imperial address on television match the first on radio in signifying radical change? Those at the centre of the Japanese state, on both occasions facing deep crises, seem to have deployed the emperor to similar ends: to soothe public fear and desperation, deflect anger from the pursuit of those responsible into a national sentiment of unity, and confirm the emperor's own place as healer, restorer, and axis for change.


The Akihito address used form and content that subconsciously linked the two occasions in listeners' minds. Through it, the Japanese state implicitly called on the people to appreciate that, beyond the disaster unfolding in northeastern Japan the country itself faces a shift in direction comparable to that of 1945. Then, Hirohito's role was to shift Japan from militarism and war to the acceptance of defeat and drastic change; now, Akihito's address may be construed as a concession that the nuclear path chosen by post-war Japan, like the militarist path of his father's generation, has ended in catastrophe.


Successive generations of Japan's bureaucratic, political, corporate, and media elite have insisted that Japan pursue the nuclear power path at all costs. In retrospect, they drove the country forward, as the elite of the Kwantung Army drove it in the pre-war era, towards disaster, ignoring, coopting, or crushing all opposition. Only now, facing the costs-human, environmental and economic-the long-postponed debate opens.

Gavan McCormack is a coordinator of The Asia-Pacific Journal and an emeritus professor of Australian National University. He is the author, most recently, of Client State: Japan in the American Embrace (New York, 2007, Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing 2008) and Target North Korea: Pushing North Korea to the Brink of Nuclear Catastrophe (New York, 2004, Tokyo and Seoul 2006).


Recommended citation: Gavan McCormack, Hubris Punished: Japan as Nuclear State, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 16 No 3, April 18, 2011.

  Read more . . .  
Makiko Segawa,

Fukushima Residents Seek Answers Amid Mixed Signals From Media, TEPCO and Government. Report from the Radiation Exclusion Zone

Mistrust of the media has surged among the people of Fukushima Prefecture. In part this is due to reports filed by mainstream journalists who are unwilling to visit the area near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. But above all it is the result of contradictory reports released by the media, TEPCO and the government.


On the one hand, many local officials and residents in Fukushima insist that the situation is safe and that the media, in fanning unwarranted fears, are damaging the economy of the region.By contrast, many freelance journalists in Tokyo report that the central government is downplaying the fact that radiation leakage has been massive and that the threat to public health has been woefully underestimated. While the government long hewed to its original definition of a 20 kilometer exclusion zone, following the April 12 announcement that the Fukushima radiation severity level has been raised from a level 5 event (as with Three Mile Island) to a level 7 event (as with Chernobyl), the government also extended the radiation exclusion zone from 20 kilometers to at least five communities in the 30-50 kilometer range.


In recent weeks, many Fukushima residents who fled in the first week of the nuclear crisis have begun returning home and attempting to resume normal activities. For example, some local people in Iwaki city, 40-50 km from the Fukushima Daiichi reactor, are convinced that it is now safe to return despite the high radiation levels recorded. Here is one example. This article tells their story from the radioactive front line.



Makiko Segawa is a staff writer at the Shingetsu News Agency. She prepared this report from Fukushima and Tokyo. She can be reached at


Recommended citation: Makiko Segawa, Fukushima Residents Seek Answers Amid Mixed Signals From Media, TEPCO and Government. Report from the Radiation Exclusion Zone, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 16 No 2, April 18, 2011.

Read more . . . 

David McNeill, 

Back from the Brink: A city in ruins looks to the future

As Japan's government gets set to expand a nuclear evacuation area, the mayor of a city inside the radioactive zone speaks about his fears.


Like most Japanese men, Sakurai Katsunobu read apocalyptic comic book stories about the future when he was a boy.  He never expected to live through one of those stories himself.


A common plot sees a modern city reduced overnight to a ghostly husk as fears of nuclear contamination empties it of people.  Businesses shut and food, water and petrol run out.  Old people left behind begin dying. The city mayor makes a desperate televised appeal for help. Such is real life in Sakurai's city of Minami-Soma.


Over 71,000 people lived here before March 11. Today there are fewer than 10,000.  About 1,470 are dead or missing, the remainder are scattered throughout Japan in over 300 different locations, "as far as we can tell," adds Sakurai, who took over as mayor in January. Dangling from his neck are two radiation counters, a reminder that the nightmare that descended on his city last month has yet to end.



David McNeill writes for The Independent, The Irish Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education. He is an Asia-Pacific Journal coordinator. This is a revised and updated version of an earlier article published at The Asia-Pacific Journal.


Recommended citation: David McNeill, Back from the Brink: A city in ruins looks to the future, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 16 No 1, April 18, 2011.

Read more . . . 
Emilie Guyonnet,Young Japanese Temporary Workers Create Their Own Unions

From the early 2000's onwards, a new kind of trade unionism has been steadily gaining ground in Japan. While the country's major trade unions are stagnating or losing workers, temporary workers, especially young people, have begun to create their own structures.


In contrast with the trend of deunionization prevailing in Japan (and many other countries) since the 1970's, the number of unionized temporary workers rose from 400,000 to 700,000 between 2005 and 2009. Marginal though this may seem - Rengo, the country's main trade union claims 6.8 million members - this trend is breathing new life into a defeated union movement: after membership remained stagnant at just over 12 million between 1975 and 1995, during the "lost decade" from the mid 90's to the mid 2000's labor unions' member base declined by 2 million to level off at 10 million people today. Moreover, the percentage of union members in the labor force declined steadily throughout the entire period from 35  percent in 1975 to less than 20 percent by 2008.


These precarious workers - many of them young people - assemble into rather small organizations. Some of them remain independent, while others affiliate with the major labor unions, which are beginning to seize upon the issue of precariousness in an attempt to curb their decline. That is the case of the Shutoken Seinen Union in Tokyo (SSU), the Tokyo Young Contingent Workers' Union, which is affiliated with Zenroren, the second largest trade union federation in the country, closely linked to the Japanese Communist Party. Shutoken Seinen is among the 

most active of the new unions and well illustrates their mode of operation.

Emilie Guyonnet is a free lance journalist whose has frequently published in Le Monde Diplomatique. She is the winner of the France-Japan Press Association's journalism prize.


Recommended citation: Emilie Guyonnet, Young Japanese Temporary Workers Create Their Own Unions, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 16 No 4, April 18, 2011.

  Read more . . . 

APJ editors, Japanese Energy Options After Fukushima

On April 11, the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability published a report entitled The Path from Fukushima: Short and Medium-term Impacts of the Reactor Damage Caused by the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami on Japan's Electricity System (Executive Summary). The document, authored by a team headed by David von Hippel and Kae Takase, looks at an issue that has been frequently overlooked amid radiation concerns and attention to the tsunami-ravaged north - demand for electricity. Will Tokyo and surrounding regions have enough power to fuel revival? How will Japan's energy industry change in the wake of the Fukushima disaster?


The report predicts:


Under all but the most optimistic supply recovery/expansion scenarios, TEPCO and Tohoku will be unable to meet summer peak power demand in 2011 if peak demand is close to 2009/2010 levels.


Read more . . . 
Matthew Penney, "Science" and "Nature" on Fukushima

On April 12 it was revealed that the Japanese government is deliberating raising the level of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster to 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale of the International Atomic Energy Agency. This is the highest level and the same as the 1986 Chernobyl accident. At the same time, the Japanese government has made moves to evacuate high radiation areas outside of the 20km radius. This move is welcome as critics have decried the original evacuation zone as arbitrary. Discussion has also begun on compensation for victims in the evacuation zone, with talk of 1,000,000 yen per family. 


In this context, accurate information or honest acknowledgement of blind spots and areas for which there is no scientific consensus is necessary. This article will survey recent assessments of the Fukushima Daiichi crisis from leading international journals Science and Nature which provide detailed information and insight into what the scientific community does and does not know.

 Read more . . . 
David McNeill,  Why I love Japan even more since the earthquake

A personal account highlighting the response of Japan's citizens to the earthquake catastrophe.

 Read more . . .