Monday, November 7, 2011

3/11 as covered in Contemporary Japan and Globalization class

We had our 3/11 class last week and here I want to give a report of what we did. Four students offered presentations and had different topics within the very broad theme of the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear accident disasters. I began the class with a brief overview of the disaster – the usual facts and statistics. I then recalled my own surreal experience of feeling the quake, seeing the tsunami on live TV but not really being directly affected in Osaka. Other students who were here on 3/11 gave similar accounts. The disaster was far away and didn’t really impact our lives at the moment other than people recalling their experiences with the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and empathizing with the people of Tohoku.

MS gave his presentation on the media portrayal of the disasters in Japan and abroad. He had examples of perpetuations of Japanese stereotypes and reporting errors that made it difficult for viewers to have an understanding of the actual situation at the sites of the disasters and in other areas of Japan. The effect here at our university was exchange students being forced to leave Japan whether they wanted to or not.

We then turned to the Fukushima nuclear situation with a discussion of the Murakami speech questioning how Japan became so dependent on nuclear energy resulting in the current crisis, which he referred to as “our second massive nuclear disaster.”

We then watched the Nuclear Boy video clip from YouTube.

JM, a former member of the U.S. Navy who worked for 4 years on a nuclear powered submarine, was able to explain how the nuclear power plant works and questioned the extreme and scientifically unfounded concerns of the dangers of Fukushima. For him, the Nuclear Boy anime could not be more true.

JR gave an overview of the tsunami-affected area at the time of the disaster and how things have changed/improved in the last 7 months. DB discussed the disaster in terms of globalization – how a local area of 561 square kilometers resulted in the support and assistance of individuals, corporations and countries from all over the world.

I presented a sampling of the news from the previous 3 days: stories of nuclear decontamination, changing elections methods in Fukushima, donations for reconstruction, searching for missing victims, volunteer efforts in the affected areas, cesium detection on food, tsunami safety drills, protests of nuclear energy... The majority of Prime Minister Noda’s policy speech dealt with 3/11. So it seems as time goes on, the effect of 3/11 resonate all over Japan as well as abroad.

I was extremely happy with the presentations and the discussions they generated. What was missing, I feel, were personal and ethnographic accounts of victims and eye-witnesses. We were able to read about such experiences but to actually hear from people who were directly affected would have added so much more. We did what we could with our distanced experiences. 3/11 is a major influence in the changing Japanese society and culture. I congratulate my students for their desire to study this subject and their efforts to make sense of the disasters and the repercussions that follow.

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