The earthquake and subsequent tsunami that thrashed the northeastern Japanese coast has generated a great deal of thinking from me, not much of it coherent or of use to readers. Thus the silence. At some point, I would imagine that some discussion of the following questions would emerge:
To what extent have regional responses to the catastrophe intensified transnational goodwill? Does this forceful reminder of natural catastrophe bring about a less nationalistic, more humanistic, outlook in the region wherein environmental and other less traditional issues finally assume a leading role in foreign relations? How has Chinese news coverage of this catastrophe encouraged thought (or precluded thoughts) among PRC readers of the positive role played by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces? Are the North Koreans capable of doing anything more than attacking Japan for crimes committed in the 1590s in the same week when the country is encountering its worst earthquake ever? What is it going to take for a new transnational, pan-Asian, global consciousness [what we might call “environmental transnationalism”] to develop in East Asia, or will national boundaries and discrete historical sensibilities always prevail in the region? What about the balance of power in East Asia? Is Japan now more reliant on American force than ever? Is there a new regional consensus on nuclear energy?
At some point, tendering answers to these questions will be appropriate, but everyone, including my rather sheltered self in Seattle, is still in a bit of shock and very much in observation/digout mode, so we shall have to wait.
To the extent that I can be helpful to readers in piecing things together, it’s in interpreting what I’m seeing in the Chinese-language media about Japan. Purely from the Huanqiu Shibao, normally a leading organ of anti-Japanese nationalism, we see the following (taken and adapted from my Twitter site, a microblog which has of late been far more active than the present webiste):
Educating Chinese re: US occupation in Japan: Huanqiu photo gallery of 1948 earthquake
China takes note of Japanese report – NE earthquake could wipe out 1% of GDP
Chinese ambassador in Japan: no reports yet of Chinese students harmed in quake
Chinese news media appears not to be censoring much as regards nuclear leaks in Japan
Striking photos of Japanese air force bases under water
Finally, there is the question of how Japan will recover from the quake and the historical resonance of a new postwar movement for reconstruction and unity. As a historian who writes about postwar Japan, and the Chinese views of it, this sad photo (taken outside of a school which has become a morgue), brought a particular historical episode to my mind:
In the American archives of the U.S. occupation of Japan, a story is told about another young man in his 20s who was a sailor on the battleship Yamato when it was sunk in 1944. He returns home to Japan only to find that his fiance has been killed in American airraids and that his parents’ home has been destroyed in the same conflagration. He runs across a young woman, also in her early 20s, with three young children; her husband having been killed in battle. Amid these circumstances, the seven of them create a home together out of the rubble of Tokyo, creating a new marriage, new life, and a new family. The young man, trying to provide for his six dependents, gets involved in the Shibuya black market, but that is another story entirely in that difficult year of 1946….
I have been fortunate not to have any loved ones or very close acquaintances who have been directly harmed by the earthquake and tsunami, and thus my own statements of shock and compassion have been rather generally directed toward Japan, a country toward which (I hope) I have a long-standing affection and respect, if not even the beginnings of a complete understanding. But the suffering is now specific, and I am going to need to focus my thoughts for this small period of time on this young man, Syunsuke Doi, because he, like Japan itself, is going to have a very, very tough haul ahead of him.