The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Newsletter
Newsletter No. 24. 2012   

June 11, 2012   
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In This Issue

We feature a series of important articles on the economic, political, social and environmental ramifications of the triple disaster of 3.11 and other economic and environmental changes for Japan.
Our APJ feature explores the tragic irony of eco-model city Kitakyushu's decision to accept radioactive waste from Tohoku for incineration; David Slater, Nishimura Keiko, and Love Kindstrand explore the role of social media in responding to 3.11 and its implications for political activism; Vaclav Smil examines Japan's economic and social prospects in the wake of 3.11 and the economic and demographic crises that the nation confronts. Piers Williamson reports on Japan's nuclear waste problem in light of its plutonium production; and Karen Thornber considers issues of environmental ambiguity in light of the writings of Ishimura Michiko's work on minamata disease. Be sure to check out a series of new Hots, which will be posted tonight.

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Our home page has two important features. One is a regularly updated guide to the more than 100 articles we have published on the 3.11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power meltdown which is transforming Japanese politics and society, and is reshaping issues of nuclear power and energy policy in that nation and globally. Articles are arranged topically. In addition, we have added a guide to some of the most important, and liveliest, online and print sources on 3.11 including blogs and websites.  Second, the list of articles now indicates all those available in Japanese translation or original, as well as other languages.

Many widely read articles appear in What's hot and they bring a diversity of sources and reports from Ground Zero in Tohoku and Tokyo. "What's hot" offers breaking stories and provides information beyond the headlines, to cast them in broader perspective. What's hot is regularly updated and we invite you to consult it and contribute to it. Find it at the top of the homepage.


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We invite authors, publishers and directors to bring their books, films and events on East Asia and the Pacific to the attention of our readers. See the home page for information about presenting relevant books and films at our site and for examples of authors, publishers and filmmakers who are presenting their work at the Journal. 

You can also support the Journal by buying books through our Amazon account by clicking on a book cover on our home page or in an article.  A small portion of the sales of books and any other products purchased when accessing the Amazon site through one of the book logos on our home page go to the Journal at no cost to you.   

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Asia-Pacific Journal Feature, Eco-Model City Kitakyushu and Japan's Disposal of Radioactive Tsunami Debris


Kitakyushu is home to just under one million residents, making it the 11th most populous city in Japan. It is roughly equidistant to Shanghai and Tokyo, and actually closer to Seoul and Pyongyang than the Japanese capital. As the largest Japanese port west of Osaka-Kobe, it positions itself as a commercial gateway to Asia. Over the last thirty years the city has also worked tirelessly to shed its image as a rust belt steel town, rebranding itself as Eco-Model City Kitakyushu, a centre for environmental technology and protection measures.1 This hard work threatens to be undone by decisions being taken right now. 


In March 2012, the central government in Tokyo stepped up pressure on local governments throughout the country to help dispose of radioactive debris generated by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster of March 2011. By dispersing the debris around the country, potentially as far as Okinawa, the government hopes to reinforce national unity and foster a spirit of collective reconstruction. Indeed, strengthening patriotism has been a recurring theme in Japanese politics during the last decade. While appealing to national unity, in early March 2012 Environment Minister Hosono Goshi belatedly promised financial incentives for any local government that disposes of rubble from Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. Less than a week after Hosono's comments, on March 12 all 61 members of the Kitakyushu Municipal Assembly unanimously passed a resolution agreeing to help dispose of the debris. Kitakyushu Mayor Kitahashi Kenji, a non-native of the city, has apparently been the driving force behind the policy locally. 


This article examines the consequences of government's policy on incineration of radioactive debris and the local and national resistance to it. 


The author is a concerned local resident.


Recommended Citation: David Adam Stott, 'Eco-Model City Kitayushu and Japan's Disposal of Radioactive Tsunami Debris,' The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10, Issue 24, No 6, June 11, 2012.


Read More. . .  

David H. Slater, Nishimura Keiko, and Love Kindstrand, Social Media, Information and Political Activism in Japan's 3.11 Crisis


At 2:47 p.m. on March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit Japan. A few minutes later, wave after wave of a massive tsunami struck the entire Pacific coast. As if the natural disaster alone was not enough, at 3:35 p.m., the waters from the tsunami - 15 meters high - damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Reactor, spreading rumors and fear of mass nuclear contamination. Almost everything we know now, and especially what we knew of the quake and tsunami in the hours and even days after the events, was significantly shaped by social media. In fact, the generation of information and images occurred at such a fast pace that social media not only represented, but also directly mediated, our experience of the disaster more than in any other event to date. If Vietnam was the first war fully experienced through television, 3.11 was the first "natural" disaster so fully experienced through social media.1 This is the result of a number of factors, some a function of the way that technology use has developed in Japan, especially the fact of mobility of hand-held media, others due to the particular ways that networks of people reacted in the time of crisis. But social media was also much more than a source of information; it was also a tool of social and political action.

David H. Slater is an Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Sophia University, Tokyo, whose work involves youth culture, social class and urban space. He is the co-editor with Ishida Hiroshi of Social Class in Contemporary Japan: Structures, Sorting and Strategies. Since 3/11, he has been doing the ethnography of disaster and relief in Tohoku, and was the Guest Editor of Hot Spots: 3.11 Politics in Disaster Japan: Fear and Anger, Possibility and Hope, in Cultural Anthropology (2010)


Keiko Nishimura is a graduate from the MA in Japanese Studies from the Program in Global Studies at Sophia University. Her article, "On Exhaustion, self-censorship and affective community," came out in Hot Spots: 3.11 Politics in Disaster Japan. Keiko is currently a research associate at Duke University.


A graduate student in Japanese studies/anthropology at Sophia University, Love Kindstrand studies emerging expressions of political subjectivity and struggles for representational space in Tokyo and Japan. His article, "The Politicization of Precarity: Anti-Nuke Protests in Japan since the Great Tohoku Earthquake" came out in Hot Spots: 3.11 Politics in Disaster Japan.  


Recommended citation: David H. Slater, Nishimura Keiko, and Love Kindstrand, "Social Media, Information, and Political Activism in Japan's 3.11 Crisis," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10, Issue 24, No 1, June 11, 2012.

Read More. . .

Karen Thornber, Environmental Ambiguity, Literature, and Ishimure Michiko


"We'd like to cut down the trees with nature in mind." So declared Suzuki Takehiko, director of the Shōsenkyō Kankō Kyōkai (Shōsen Gorge Tourism Association), in August 2008. Part of Japan's Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, Shōsen Gorge has for decades been labeled the country's "most beautiful valley." Years of deforesting meant that when the park was founded in 1950, little stood between tourists and the majestic rock formations for which the gorge is most famous. But by the turn of the twenty-first century visitors were frustrated that trees were now blocking much of the view. The park's laissez-faire approach to the valley's vegetation did not threaten its ecosystems-trees are hardly invasive species there. But this economically disadvantaged part of Japan depended on a steady stream of tourists who wanted to see cliffs, not trees; some even claimed that the trees were depriving the valley of its beauty. So Suzuki argued that "trees" (part of nature) should be felled so that people could have a better view of "nature" (the gorge). Despite Suzuki's appeal, most of the trees still stand and in fact are highlighted in the park's promotional materials.

The Shōsen Gorge Tourism Association's website features images of colorful trees growing beside, and out of, majestic crags; in some pictures trees effectively obscure the cliffs.  A banner running near the top of the website declares Shōsen Gorge the most beautiful in Japan, full of the [many] wonders of nature.
This episode encapsulates what my new book Ecoambiguity: Environmental Crises and East Asian Literatures (Michigan 2012) identifies as environmental ambiguity (ecoambiguity), the complex, contradictory interactions between people and nature.  Many parks, although established at least in part to protect ecosystems from human abuse, ultimately depend on the human footprint for their existence; areas that do not attract visitors risk being developed.  Likewise, calls to destroy one part of an ecosystem frequently stem from the desire to protect another; deer populations, for instance, are regularly culled so that vegetation can be restored.  But the ambiguity of people's relationships with Shōsen Gorge is particularly pronounced. The original requests for deforestation stemmed from the desire not to save but instead to see another segment of the landscape; some tourists wanted the trees removed not so the cliffs could be protected but so they could be photographed. Their calls have gone relatively unheeded; trees remain part of the appeal, their foliage, particularly in autumn, a highlight of visits to Shōsen Gorge. 



Karen Thornber is Harris K. Weston Associate Professor of the Humanities in the Department of Comparative Literature at Harvard University.  She is the author of Empire of Texts in Motion: Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese Transculturations of Japanese Literature.   


Recommended citation: Karen Thornber, "Environmental Ambiguity, Literature, and Ishimure Michiko," Vol 10, Issue 24, No 2, June 11, 2012.


Read More. . . 


Piers Williamson, Plutonium and Japan's Nuclear Waste Problem: International Scientists Call for an End to Plutonium Reprocessing and Closing the Rokkasho Plant    



On 31 May 2012, Professor Mizukami Tetsuo (Institute for Peace and Community Studies, Rikkyo University) hosted two lectures on the problems associated with reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. The speakers were Professor Frank von Hippel (Princeton University), former assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology and co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), and Professor Gordon MacKerron, Director and Head of SPRU (Science and Technology Policy Research) at the University of Sussex.
With recent revelations in the Japanese Press that the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) had been organizing secret panels, solely comprised of nuclear power advocates, to produce reports recommending a 'concurrent' policy of direct disposal and reprocessing to preserve the Rokkasho fuel reprocessing plant, the lectures were timely. Prof. von Hippel described the global situation of plutonium reprocessing, whilst Prof. MacKerron outlined the background behind the UK's decision to abandon reprocessing.

Piers Williamson is a research assistant to Professor Andrew DeWit at Rikkyo University. He holds a PhD in East Asian Studies from the University of Sheffield.


Recommended citation: Piers Williamson, 'Plutonium and Japan's Nuclear Waste Problem: International Scientists Call for an End to Plutonium Reprocessing and Closing the Rokkasho Plant,' The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10, Issue 24, No 4, June 11, 2012.

Read More. . . 



Kosuke TAKAHASHI , Japan and China Bypass US in Direct Currency Trade


Japan and China started direct trading of their currencies, the yen and the yuan, on the inter-bank foreign exchange markets in Tokyo and Shanghai on June 1 in an apparent bid to strengthen bilateral trade and investment between the world's third- and second-largest economies.

Direct yen-yuan trades also aim to hedge the risk of the dollar's fall in the long run as the world's key settlement currency and as the main reserve currency in Asia, the world's economic growth center in the 21st century. By skipping the dollar in transactions, the region's two biggest economies indicate their intention to reduce their dependence on dollar risk and US monetary authorities' leeway and prowess on the Asian economy. The move aids China's goal of undercutting US influence in the region while strengthening China-Japan financial ties.  



Kosuke TAKAHASHI is a Tokyo-based Japanese journalist. He currently works as Tokyo correspondent for Asia Times Online and IHS Jane's Defence Weekly. He also served as TV commentator for Nikkei CNBC (news television channel broadcast in Japan) from March 2009 to March 2012.


Recommended citation: Kosuke Takahashi, "Japan and China Bypass US in Direct Currency Trade," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10, Issue 24, No 3, June 11, 2012.



  Read More. . . 


Vaclav Smil, Japan's Economy in 2012: Multiple Challenges   


"Adding insult to injury" sounds like a lawyerly phrase compared to its painfully evocative Japanese equivalent 泣面に蜂 nakitsura ni hachi -- literally "a bee to a crying face". But even that stinging proverb fails to convey what Japan has been through during the recent past. In March 2011 its economy, slowly recovering from the worst global post-World War II downturn, was hit by a powerful earthquake followed by a massive tsunami. That twin disaster disrupted many supply chains of Japan's important manufacturing sector and caused a catastrophic failure of the Fukushima nuclear power plant; the ensuing fears led to the eventual shut-down of all of the country's nuclear generating stations, limited electricity supply, increased imports of fossil energies and the first annual foreign trade deficit in a generation.
But even without these setbacks the country's record during the past two decades would stand in sharp contrast to its 35 year-long rise from post-WW II destruction (pre-war GDP was equalled only in 1954) to the world's second largest economy whose accomplishments by the 1980s were widely seen as a foundation for further advances toward possible global leadership in the 21st century. Japan's economic face has not been smiling for more than two decades, since the early months of 1990 when the bursting of the real estate bubble and the falling stock market exposed the fragility of those seemingly solid pre-1990 achievements and ushered in decades of stagnation and uncertainty. This article assesses Japan's economic prospects in light of social and demographic problems.   

Vaclav Smil is Distinguished Professor, emeritus, University of Manitoba, Canada. His interdisciplinary research has roamed broadly over issues of environment, energy, food, population, economics, and policy studies. His recent books include Japan's Dietary Transition and Its Impacts (with Kazuhiko Kobayashi), Energy Myth and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate, Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next Fifty Years and Energy in Nature and Society: General Energetics of Complex Systems.  


Recommended citation: Vaclav Smil, 'Japan's Economy in 2012: Multiple Challenges,' The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10, Issue 24, No 5, June 11, 2012.



Read More. . .