Disasters have come increasingly under the focus of academics in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. One of the seminal works in this area is Dennis S. Mileti’s Disasters by Design: A Reassessment of Natural Hazards in the United States (Joseph Henry Press, 1999). Mileti uses the phrase ‘disaster by design’ to refer to losses from natural and related technological hazards that are ‘the consequences of narrow and short-sighted development patterns, cultural premises, and attitudes toward both the natural environment and even science and technology’. Whilst Mileti’s study was focussed upon the United States, this paper will consider the case of Japan.
On 11 March 2011 world attention turned to Japan as the country was hit by a huge earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Whilst most buildings withstood the initial quake, there appeared to be little to stop the devastation of the tsunami. One of the places struck by the tsunami was the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The damage to this plant led to power failure, damage and ultimately significant radiation discharge. Whilst the world media portrayed the people’s response to the natural tragedy as being ‘stoical’, questions were being raised about the government’s handling of the problems of the man-made disaster in Fukushima. Was this disaster designed by the Japanese?
This paper will look at the way in which Japan has responded to a number of different events and question why it would appear that there have been problems in each case. The paper will begin by clarifying what a ‘disaster’ is and what is meant by a ‘natural disaster’ or a ‘man-made disaster’. The paper will then focus on events such as the JAL flight JL123 crash in 1985, the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 and the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.
Christopher Hood is a Reader in Japanese Studies at Cardiff University. His research interests cover memorialization, symbolism, death studies and transportation. His most recent book, Dealing with Disaster in Japan: Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash, about the world’s biggest single plane crash was published by Routledge in 2011. His other publications include: Shinkansen: From Bullet Train to Symbol of Modern Japan (2006, Routledge), Japanese Education Reform: Nakasone’s Legacy (2001, Routledge) and (as editor) the four volume Politics of Modern Japan (2008, Routledge).