The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Newsletter
Newsletter No. 42. 2012   

October 15, 2012   
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Two articles offer new perspectives on Japan and the environment pre- and post-3.11. Shoko Yoneyama offers a wide-ranging excursion linking the destructive impact of Minamata Disease and the post-Fukushima meltdown world through the philosophy of Ogata Masato, the most profound environmental thinker to emerge from the Minamata experience. The issues are cast in light of German sociologist Ulrich Beck's conception of World Risk Society. Carin Holroyd addresses issues of environmental sustainability through an examination of two cities that have pioneered in rather different ways in this field: Osaka and Kitakyushu. She suggests that in the wake of 3.11, many of the most promising innovations in the fields of energy/environment are emerging from the localities.

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Shoko Yoneyama, 'Life-world': Beyond Fukushima and Minamata  


Ulrich Beck, a German sociologist, writes that Japan has become part of the 'World Risk Society' as a result of the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima. By World Risk Society he means a society threatened by such things as nuclear accidents, climate change, and the global financial crisis, presenting a catastrophic risk beyond geographical, temporal, national and social boundaries. According to Beck, such risk is an unfortunate by-product of modernity, and poses entirely new challenges to our existing institutions, which attempt to control it using current, known means. As Gavan McCormack points out, 'Japan, as one of the most successful capitalist countries in history, represents in concentrated form problems facing contemporary industrial civilization as a whole'. The nuclear, social, and institutional predicaments it now faces epitomise the negative consequences of intensive modernisation.


The stalemate over nuclear energy - the restart of Ohi reactors and the massive citizens' protest against it - suggests that we are indeed at a significant crossroad. But what is the issue? A quick look at the anti-nuclear demonstrations shows that the slogan, 'Life is more important than money!', is ubiquitous, suggesting that many citizens see a problem not only with nuclear power generation but also with something more fundamental: the prioritisation of economy over life. The fact that such an obvious proposition has to be raised as a point of protest indicates the depth of the problem. How is this rather extreme dichotomy between life and the economy to be faced at this point of modern history? And what will be Japan's contribution, if any, in envisaging a new kind of modernity?


This paper explores these questions by drawing upon the notion of 'life-world' presented by OGATA Masato, a Minamata philosopher-fisherman whose ideas developed in response to the Minamata disease disasters in the mid-1950s.5 It discusses this concept in order to reflect on the relationship between nature and humankind in an attempt to envision a new kind of modernity that does not generate self-destructive risks as denoted by the notion of 'World Risk Society'.  


Shoko Yoneyama is Senior Lecturer in Asian Studies, School of Social Sciences, University of Adelaide, and the author of The Japanese High School: Silence and Resistance, London & New York, Routledge, 1999 (paperback edition, 2007).


Recommended citation: Shoko Yoneyama, " 'Life-world': Beyond Fukushima and Minamata," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10, Issue 42, No. 2, October 15, 2012.  


 Read More. . .  

Carin Holroyd, Local Economies and the Future of Environmental Sustainability in Japan and Asia: Osaka and Kitakyushu



With a growing sense of crisis, tied to the reality of rapid climate change, the debate over global energy supplies and the conflicting imperatives of economic growth and environmental sustainability, the question of how to align national policy with ecological stewardship has become ever more essential. Japan's effort commenced with the now-standard approaches to reducing consumption, reusing materials and recycling products, producing some results but falling far behind goals and aspirations. This was followed by efforts to capitalize on the promise of science and technology-driven change. While national policy in Japan as elsewhere lagged behind political rhetoric, community level initiatives have been more effective in advancing the cause of environmental sustainability. Policies adopted and implemented in Osaka and Kitakyushu, two cities formerly synonymous with the environmental disasters of Japan's early industrial economy, illustrate the constructive potential of local solutions in addressing a global challenge, but also the structural obstacles to success. They are emblematic of a growing effort by cities and regions to combine innovation, social priorities and wealth creation. Both Osaka and Kitakyushu were once major industrial polluters and their citizens lived with the resulting poor air and polluted water. Both cities have committed to becoming low carbon, sustainable cities, and are working with national and prefectural governments, the private sector and the general population to do so.  


Carin Holroyd is Associate Professor, Department of Political Studies, University of Saskatchewan, Canada. She is the author of Government, International Trade and Laissez Faire Capitalism: Canada, Australia and New Zealand's Relations with Japan, co-author of Japan and the Internet Revolution, Innovation Nation: Japanese Science and Technology in the 21st Century, Digital Media in East Asia: National Innovation and the Transformation of a Region, and co-editor of Japan in the Age of Globalization.


Recommended citation: Carin Holroyd,"Local Economies and the Future of Environmental Sustainability in Japan and Asia: Osaka and Kitakyushu," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10, Issue 42, No. 1, October 15, 2012.