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:

"Syunsuke Doi, 22, left, mourns after finding the bodies of his wife and two children at a makeshift morgue built after the earthquake in Higashimatsushima on March 14, 2011. " Photo by Shiho Fukada, via Time Magazine Asia.

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.


  1. A very thoughtful post Adam, particularly in relation to the two individual biographies. So, to a couple of points.

    Re: the development of a transnational Asian environmental consciousness. I would like to think that this would develop as a majority voice, but fairly unlikely given that this century is the age of diminishing fossil fuel resources and nation states very urgent search for energy security.

    Living in Oz, where we recently experienced two massive floods and an even more destructive typhoon with a loss of about 20 lives, I’ve concluded that only those countries with well considered disaster planning and response mechanisms will survive the future consequences of climate change and weather instability. Countries which fail to build the social infrastructure to deal with this new equation have little future. Here I include the US (Katrina) and China to an even greater degree.

    South Korea (I suspect) would survive a major catastrophe, while the present efforts of the Japanese people – stoic, disciplined, sharing and very practical – are to be applauded in an unreserved manner. (Posted on CMP about the salt rush in China, and what this tells us about the thin line existing between social cohesion/acquiescence in their CCP political order and outright rumour-based mob disorder. )

    You can use digital technologies in all their shapes and forms to monitor and surveill your domestic population, or you can embed them in your disaster planning and response mechanisms. For example, citizens in the eye of the typhoon were given ** very precise ** advisories, . eg when to flee, lists of basic supplies to take, location of their nearest shelters (incl GPS street directions out) and, importantly advice when to bunker down and wait it out (which is to say, this is the limit point of your govts capacity to respond to your situation).

    Its all about genuine social cohesion and a general majority belief that govt is there for benefit of its citizens. This is the smell test for China.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, King. OZ is New Zealand? Definitely another important perspective on Japan events…as well as China comparisons.

      1. Sorry Adam. New Zealand is Kiwiland or the Land of the Long White Cloud. Oz is the big landmass close by…. kangaroos, great topless beaches and surfing. Heck, I better send you some tourist literature.

        TyphoonYasi, which I mentioned and which hit the northern part of the state, reached speeds of 215 km per hour when it hit the coast. You could watch it on the radar viewer as it approached …the Third Eye from Hell…amazingly beautiful to behold in some ways.

        Australian emergency response teams are among the best and most experienced in the world….floods, typhoons and especially truly massive bushfires. Subsequent to Yasi, they went to the Christchurch earthquake and are now operating in Japan.

        Most importantly, general vox pop sentiment here is that Japan has acquired really massive respect. Sort of like a Nye soft power win for Japan arising out of truly dreadful circumstances. And this is a nation with a strong residual dislike of Japan among older folk, due to their treatment of prisoners during WW11.

        After this peasant like salt mob rush in China, my assessment of Mainland society is simply too scathing to put in print.

        Finally, your reference to the possibility of new blended families being created out of fractured ones in Japan is a tremendous idea. Possibly there will be mass wedding for these new familial arrangements, similar to those which took place after ww11 (pace Dower).

        1. Fang Zhouzi, a Beijing-based scientist famous for educating the public about scientific facts, wrote in his microblog that “you’d have to take 5-13 pounds of salt to have enough iodine to resist the radiation.”

        2. That’s a big paradox, isn’t it? Major soft power victory after the hard edges of the earthquake….but your point makes plenty of sense, certainly that seems to be the case thus far in China. Some reports in Chinese-American newspapers recently about runs on iodine at Shanghai outlets….and cool graphics of all the reactors along the Chinese east coast.

          China Daily has had a few howlers lately about how great nuclear energy is lately, no mention whatsoever of the waste storage problem. Where does the PRC store its radioactive waste, anyway? Is that what Xinjiang is for, among other things?

          Thanks for the enlightenment as to Australia!

  2. He may have spoken too soon on the nuclear issue, who knows, but his main point stands tall;
    (h/t to a friend)

    Interestingly, the Korean media asserts that the South Korean people have, for the most part, reacted infinitely better to this disaster than they did to the Kobe earthquake in ’95, after which there was an unsightly degree of pleasure taken at other people’s misfortunes. This they are calling maturity.

    If I can dig out an editorial or two to back the point, I will.

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