Cesar Harada

Director - Principal Investigator, Protei.org

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Japan, Tohoku : after an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, how can the people overcome political inertia and implement new ideas ?

Can Japan’s aging society re-invent its relation to nature and technology after the earthquake - tsunami - nuclear disaster?
What should the role of both Japanese and international forces to rebuild Tohoku?
Should local people be in charge of the reconstruction & revitalization of their region?
I'd love to hear the TED Conversations community's thoughts -- and I'll be bringing your ideas to TEDxTohoku on October 30th 2011, when the people of Tohoku will be discussing these issues in Sendai.

For this conversation in Japanese, please visit: http://www.ted.com/conversations/6160/日本_東北_地震_津波_原発_政治的な無力感に打ち勝ち_新し.html

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    Oct 6 2011: As one of the organizers of TEDxTohoku there is something I would like to share.

    A question that is often asked about Tohoku is "How" we are going to rebuild Tohoku.
    However, there is two essential questions we must ask beforehand:
    One is "Why" to rebuild and the second is "For who" the result of the rebuilding is.

    Experiencing these two questions make us a lot easier to think
    about the "How".

    We then realize who is the subject of the recovering process and who is going to support it.
    We then know which idea to choose when it come to new designs for Tohoku.
    And most of all, these questions state our role in the future Tohoku,
    and our relationship to Tohoku.

    This swift in the way we see the recovering process can lead to great ideas,
    I believe.
    (Let me share my opinion about the theme of this conversation later)

    Jun Kamei
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    Oct 6 2011: Coincidentally, I had a long conversation today with a gentleman who is an advisor to the township of Minamisoma and also sits on the reconstruction committee so I guess this information is pretty current.... he confirms that no funds have been recieved from central government as yet but the township has drafted a Yen1tn ($10bn) plan over 10 years (this figure is enormous and is a minimum value since the township expects it to increase over the years - it is approximately 10% of the entire reconstruction budget). He confirms that no reconstruction has started yet due to lack of availability of funds but they are ready to start as soon as funds are released. As to the nature of the reconstruction, the plan is to get a balanced mix of small businesses and huge conglomerates involved; they recognise the need to engage the local population in the reconstruction process not hand it off to mega-corporations with their headquarters in Tokyo (for example). He was very positive about the final result - he feels that a lot of experimental technology will be given a chance to succeed. Specifically he mentioned wind farms, sea generators, latest advances in networks, fibre and wireless. He painted a picture of a very technologically advanced township emerging from the wreckage. As to other townships, he thinks that they will take a similar approach. Physically, some will rebuild where the towns used to be, others will move the towns inland to higher ground but this will all be done based on the wishes of the local population. Sounds so good I might want to move there in a few years....
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    Oct 5 2011: continuation... Ryu Matsumoto, Japan Minister of Reconstruction, who made these ridiculous comments, was later forced to resign after making equally inappropriate denigrating remarks, caught on tape, to Miyagi prefecture governor Takuya Tasso. This was after only a week in the job. Now Prime Minster Naoto Kan is gone ushering in the fifth Prime Minister in the space of five years - Yoshikiko Noda.

    So what? In a country that is highly ordered, nothing happens without official permission. In many cases, it not true that there are rules prohibiting certain activities but people still assume that nothing out-of-the-normal can be done without someone above them saying that it is permissible. As a result, indecision at the top creates stagnation down the chain. The instability in the higher echelons of Japanese government has, with regard to Tohoku, a singular result: the stymying of decision making. The situation in Minamisanriku is a classic example of this - a dangerous structure left over from the tsunami remains in place because no one in authority has passed a judgement that it should be removed. Thus, the local citizens are incapable of making their own decision regarding this structure. Much of the clean-up was accomplished through individuals and groups self-organising and just getting on with it but that activity has ground to a halt now that the communities are faced with problems that they can't make decisions for.

    If this disaster is to change the face of Japanese society, I hope and pray that it is in empowering individuals to stand up and make decisions for themselves. It would be easy for the government to plan and execute everything behind closed doors and present the community with the result of their endeavours but it is infinitely more powerful to bring people into the planning thought process, allow them determine how the township is going to look in the future, allow them to design their own homes and hire who they wish to build it
    • Oct 5 2011: Andrew, you've nailed it in my opinion (probably because you also were in Japan). The unwillingness to do anything without official permission, even if it's abundantly obvious that something needs to be done, is a huge obstacle to recovery. In a similar way to buildings that can't be torn down without the proper records (and in many cases, the records may not even exist any more), there are cargo containers littering the coastal villages which no one is allowed to touch, because they are some company's property. But the companies refuse to take responsibility for the wreckage, meaning nothing can ever be done about these massive chunks of metal until someone decides to take responsibility for them.

      I fully believe Japan has the resources to recover fairly quickly... it just lacks the willingness (or perhaps the freedom) to innovate, which is necessary in the face of something unexpected like a natural disaster of this magnitude.
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    Oct 7 2011: This is such a great conversation so far. I want to contribute more thoughtfully soon, but in the mean time I thought this other TEDdiscussion was very relevant to the Tohoku issue: What do organized communities achieve more effectively than government? http://www.ted.com/conversations/6136/what_do_organized_communities.html
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    Oct 6 2011: Bluntly, people can overcome much more than they realize. It is always a matter of perspective. The proof of this is in the human race as a civilization.
  • Oct 6 2011: Can they re-invent its relation to nature & technology? Yes. They already are, but slowly. It's hard to reinvent yourself when you don't have a home or the daily rythmn that we call life. As these things come back, people are questioning "old ways" and making appropriate changes. Now that most people are in individual living spaces (albeit dismal ones) they have room to think and evaluate decisions that need to be made for the future.

    What should the role of Japanese and international forces be? Tread lightly. Listen before you speak. Rather than offer radical new ideas that change the way they will live, listen to them explain the life they want to go back to, and then offer suggestions of ways they can adjust their old ways of living to address aging population problems and make their communities more sustainable. Again, Listen Before You Speak. Tohoku doesn't need "saving." They do, however, need an outside perspective sometimes.

    Should local people be in charge? Of course. This is and has always been their home. First and foremost. The people of Tohoku are uniquely in tune with their environment and can re-think their fishing industry and living spaces better than anyone else.
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    Oct 5 2011: I'm not sure if there are cultural differences that would make this more or less effective, but from an American perspective, here's my two cents:

    First, the public needs to be brought in to determine how this can be turned into an opportunity for innovation. What changes (from the way things were pre-quake) do they want to see in their community? Ask citizens to contribute ideas for making things safer if something similar happens again AND that would make day to day life better. This should spur some immediate action.

    Second, ask community organizers (it doesn't matter what their favorite cause is) to organize volunteers for the most pressing problems. They have Twitter followers, Facebook friends, email lists, and mailing lists that can be activated. Again, give volunteers the opportunity to offer ideas and solutions, it helps them become more invested in the outcome, and as they see the power they have to impact their community, they will do more.

    Third, create a public campaign to let people know what they can do. Everything from donating money, helping a neighbor, specific small tasks that don't seem overwhelming, to becoming a leader in their town or neighborhood to organize other volunteers. Make it clear that no experience is needed.

    Finally, add a Community Organizing How-To section to govt web pages. Give people step by step instructions for finding volunteers and how to get started. Many people want to help but don't know how. Give them the tools to organize (see Pres. Obama's House Parties and Website from '08 that allowed people to network) and a place to post what they've done and what they want to do and you will be amazed at the outcome.

    I'm a Disabled Veteran and managed to do so much from my home in the 08 election with little more than an internet connection and determination to start. With today's social networking tools, anything is possible when the will is there!
    • Oct 6 2011: Good ideas, but they seem to be for an area that has yet to be hit by a disaster, unfortunately.

      The reality of the situation right now is that many communities simply do not exist any longer. Any young people that survived have mostly fled to larger cities and any other remaining citizens are often put into temporary housing that is generally far from any sort of convenience. And internet? These people don't often have enough to eat. The internet is a pipe dream; not to mention many are of the age where they wouldn't know what an intarweb was if it were staring them in the face.

      I've been on the ground with these people for almost half a year now. I'm the first one in line for wanting these people to be self-sufficient. But there just are not any easy answers.
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        Oct 6 2011: This is the thing.

        Some of the ideas people say are good, but until you have spent a significant time on the the ground, so to speak, you can't properly assess what ideas are viable or not.

        In some towns the younger (not young) citizens have started their own initiatives and that's great. But in the really badly hit areas, the majority of people aren't using internet or anything like that.
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        Oct 6 2011: Thank you for doing such important work. The internet aspect I was referring to would obviously only be possible where there is internet, but I think it's useful to empower those that might be willing to go help if only they knew how. One person, in an area that isn't devastated, can easily organize to bring what's needed to areas that don't have it. Government can ask those who have fled to cities what it would take for them to return and what they are willing to do to make it happen. I would love to hear of any solutions you may have and help in any way I can.
        • Oct 6 2011: >"One person, in an area that isn't devastated, can easily organize to bring what's needed to areas that don't have it."

          That is something that volunteers here in Japan have done on their own- we assemble in a group called Foreign Volunteers Japan. As there is quite a mixture of Japanese abilities (from very low to absolutely native-level), it's done in mostly English to allow those with lesser abilities in the Japanese language to participate. Although it is named "Foreign," there are many Japanese people involved.

          The purpose of the group is to help the people of Tohoku regain a semblance of their former lives. Information from many different individuals and disparate groups is pooled here, allowing anyone with internet access to have a better understanding what is necessary from the perspective of people that are actually on the ground working with the people.

          Is it perfect? No. But it's been an amazing system so far. I don't know if there are any similar type groups in Japanese or not. Of course, in a perfect world, we would find them and merge. But at some point, the language barrier becomes a bar to entry.

          If you're interested, please check the group out. If nothing else, just reading the various posts will give you access to thoughts of the many people who are out there doing what they think needs to be done.

          Given that it's Facebook, there's not a great structure for information in place. One just has to scroll down and search. However, worth pointing out is that there have been lists made of the different groups helping out. If you can find that, it will give you an idea of the myriad teams that have popped up naturally out of this crisis.
    • Oct 8 2011: As the posts below Stephanie Schiffman-Marushia suggest, the situation on the ground, esp the level of community disorder and local political disconnect, works against the ideas so effective in other contexts that aim at the delegation of responsibility to local activists. (Some groups, notably Peace Boat, are working to develop this local base, but it is a long way to go.)

      Ironically, the Japanese governments is sort of hiding behind some of these same arguments--waiting to provide aid until local townships can provide evaluation of needs and proposals for money use. It is a little like a doctor asking a bleeding patient what the doctor should do for him.
      • Oct 21 2011: Well, that is a good comment! Soo, the Japanese government is sort of hiding?
        All governments hide. This is, pretty close to, hide and seek? The Japanese government screwed up! Humans are hurting over, them! (yea!, gotta love the human race!) With Respect to Ya David!!
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    Oct 5 2011: I'm sure the government has teems working on clean-up & reconstruction of the infrastructure, but I'm not so sure about the community.

    The people of the community need to organize. (If they hadn't already.) To help with the process. There isn't much an untrained hand can do, but a few hundred helping hands can go a long way in any capacity.

    The community could go out once a week for a couple hours & hold an event where everyone picks up debris. But only small non-dangerous stuff. They could throw it into big piles to be hauled off.

    It could be a fun, bonding experience for everybody.
    • Oct 6 2011: Great idea. Except for the fact that, as I mentioned to Ms. Schiffman-Marushia above, most of the younger crowd have fled the areas in search of jobs and anyone left over is generally the elderly.

      It's a Catch-22, unfortunately. Once there is some sort of future in sight, the younger generation will start to come back. But until then, I think it will be a difficult balance getting locals active. Yes, there are definitely others of middle age who want to rebuild their businesses and resume their lives as they were, so all is not lost. But it's truly a complex situation.
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    Oct 25 2011: I think that Japan has a perfect opportunity to learn from this, and take a stand.

    When rebuilding they should build underground and above, make maximum use of space and build the new buildings to be strong enough and stable enough to withstand the forces of nature often experienced by Japan.

    They could build stone walls, barriers of large waves and strong enough to thwart or slowdown a tsunami. depending on how much man power they have they could possibly build up from the shore line across large sections of Japan, the most susceptible to "danger" sections of Japans coast would be the right place to put them. The structures could be among some of the greatest achievements accomplished by mankind. What happens to an irrisitable force when it hits an immovable object?

    It is also a perfect time for them to implement the use of green technology. I do not have to go into much detail here.
    Wind, solar and water. Japan is completely surrounded by it and small enough to be powered by it. Entirely!

    I am sure that they can get more than enough help to make those things possible. :)
  • Oct 25 2011: Reading through the many insightful comments below, what strikes me most is the general inertia that frustrates the ability of the people of Tohoku to choose a path and take bold steps to implement it. This is certainly a cultural issue in Japan, but in the face of so much devastation any culture would have difficulty making decisions about what should be done. Leadership in these circumstances is crucial, otherwise everything drifts.
    Thus I would take the germ of Ms. Schiffman-Marushia's commuity organizing idea, but slant it towards organizing the key issues (as identified by Mr. Martin - trash, housing, re-location & rebuilding, etc.) and developing a viable plan to tackle each, on a local community by community basis, and then organizing the local leadership to make decisions and to start implementing them. Additionally, I think each local community should appoint someone to act as its representative at the central government to push their plan, get the stamp of approval from Tokyo, and make sure there is access to govt funding. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as we know. But if Tokyo doesn't support their plan, they should be ecouraged to move forward with it anyway.
    Problems need to be identified and solutions developed for each local community, prioritized based not only on importance but on achievablility. Decisions need to be made, and then concrete action taken to implement them. This is the only way large and complex problems can be solved. When so many lives are at stake, it is better to move foward with an imperfect plan, and modify as things evolve, then to wallow in indecision.
    I think a TEDx gathering that focuses on these points will be able to make a significant contribution.
    Having spent 15 years growing up in Japan, I wish I could be there to help.
  • Oct 20 2011: No doubt local communities must participate in conducting assessments, setting objectives and monitoring the whole reconstruction. We are speaking about decisions that will affect their lives (wrong or right). Moreover affected people after the initial shock and trauma may be the biggest contributor of labor....

    On the other side Government's most important task is to understand what community wants and is capable of doing, then it should facilitate and supervise all community-based efforts. This is critical for coordinating reconstruction and make it effective.

    I think and I hope that Japan government's stall is due to their effort of involving affected communities in reconstruction. Organizing all those people in emergency situation is hard work indeed, but it will help reestablish community cohesion and increase satisfaction with results...

    So I wonder what could empower people and government work together...
    A two-way information is fundamental: communication rather then information, questions and answers, suggestions and agreements... but how? How to put thousands of people around a "table" and get to a solution as fast as possible?
    Maybe a system to implement feedbacks. Or a platform/social network where people and Governments are enabled to make policy together and develop a collective vision for their future...

    I think that Design could have a strong impact also in emergency response...
  • Oct 8 2011: Hey folks. I just go the word from Jun Kamei, a founder and organizer of TEDxTohoku, that they would be very happy to organize a trip into effected areas, OR that is, they would allow me (us?) to do so. Is there anyone who might want to help out here? Please reply to me off-list: dhslater@gmail.com
  • Oct 8 2011: There seems to be an interesting schism here--those who have worked in Tohoku, on the ground, and those who have not. New to the tread, just reading down the line, it is pretty clear.

    Trip into relief areas? I would welcome put in from Andrew Coad, Michael Martin, Pat Newell and Jamie El-Banna--all mud diggers and organizers--but I wonder there a chance we could bring some TEDx types into even Ishinomaki? This would give some of you all a chance to see what is going on, or what is not going on.

    I would be more than happy to organize it
    • Oct 11 2011: I'm willing to help in any way I can as well. I'm all for getting people on the ground into the affected areas and, if possible, into contact with the people who have survived the disaster.

      I'm currently looking for a job and place to live in Sendai, so I may not be able to help as much as I'd like, but will do what I can.

      Just met up with Jamie El-Banna and his group the day before yesterday in Ishinomaki. Good crew. I work with Andrew Coad in the Save Minamisoma Project and can vouch for him. Mr. Slater, apparently I just missed you at the FVJ: Face-to-Face a few evenings ago. Unfortunate. Anyway, my point is that I've met a fair number of people on the ground, so if you need any help contacting them, please let me know.

      My Gmail is friedtoast. Feel free to drop me a line.
      • Oct 11 2011: Hello Micheal,
        Sorry I missed you at the FVJ.
        I do know those guys and once I get the go-ahead from TED, I will try to secure transportation. I thought I would bring them over to Jamie (as a smaller operator) and Peace Boat or JEN (big) and then maybe talk to some of the city folks in Ishinomaki.... That should be a full day. Any other ideas? dhs
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          Oct 12 2011: Also willing to help in any way I can.

          I think that until you have spent some time on the ground, so to speak, it's impossible to form any sort of accurate picture of what it's like. Experience with other disasters only go so far, as each has their own set of challenges.

          This is even true of towns in the area. Just because you've worked in one town in Tohoku, doesn't mean you will understand the needs and challenges of another town. Ishinomaki/Onnagawa/Minami Sanriku are all geographically close to each other, but they are like different worlds when it comes to the work which is required there.
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    Oct 7 2011: Although there are many things I have in mind to answer this question (most of them already covered by other thoughtful TEDsters in this Conversation), I would like to stress one thing you mentioned: Japan's ageing society. So I think that one way to overcome the current inertia, insecurity, and partly hopelessness is to think about the future generations and to improve the conditions for fruitful... uh, well, for families with children. Having children or even being in touch with them can show the people what it is they need to overcome inertia for. Children facilitate social contacts (parents talking to each other while waiting for their kids at the kindergarten), they motivate, and they are THE synbol for the future. People should rebuild Tohoku by turning it into a place where children can live safe and happy lives -- and thus become a model for the rest of Japan. Nature, sustainable energy, clean technologies -- and hope. Use children as a symbol for a new beginning, just like you would maybe use the Phoenix.
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    Oct 6 2011: My dual posting this morning has not sorted very well - the two continuation articles are discontiguous. So, I posted the whole thing here for ease of reading: http://andrewcoad.com/joomla/
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    Oct 6 2011: ... continuation ...
    Every week this newsfeed brings stories on fundamental advances not only in the world of physics but also in medicine, astronomy, agriculture, chemistry, life sciences etc. You can find many news articles on, for example, advances taking place in solar energy and energy storage technology. I don't want to state the obvious but in case the symbiosis was not clear, the efficacy of any energy generation mechanism that is not continuous (e.g. wind, sea, solar) is highly dependent on the efficiency with which you can store energy. Advances in battery technology, therefore, are equally important as developments in, say, solar cell technology. Articles on these topics abound in the archives of PhyOrg.com. To put it into common terms, there's a lot of stuff going on out there.
    The most important point in this dialogue is that, today, research and development is rarely confined to a single institution. More and more you will find that key technological advances arise from the collaboration of multiple institutions globally. The increased focus on research into renewable energy sources, on improved agricultural techniques that will arise (has arisen) from the Fukushima disaster will be (is) international in nature. A recent advance in nanotechnology that promises to increase battery capacity by 10 fold (mental note - find the article) is likely to be rushed into prototype and deployed/tested in Tohoku. The speed-up in commercialisation of emerging technologies, while immediately benefitting Japan, will ultimately benefit the world.
    While nuclear energy will be with us for some time to come, the search for viable renewable energy sources will take (is taking) an upsurge in activity. Japan re-inventing itself and concurrently stimulating global advances, off the back of the suffering of its people, is Japan's New Day. For the rest of the world, you can expect a New Dawn where our dependence on nuclear and fossil fuels is diminished.
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    Oct 6 2011: Friday Oct 7th and a new day for me. Awaking after a good night's sleep and I am brimming with confidence that Japan's "New Day" is on the horizon. Taking a patently optimistic view on Japan's future, and that optimism might not be that misplaced, I can foresee not only a "New Day" for Japan but also a "New Dawn" for the world. For what reason am I so optimistic this fine morning?
    In a previous post I had mentioned the expectation from a Japanese businessman that a lot of new technology will be given a chance to prove it's worth in the coming years. It is just that I hadn't really appreciated the scale of what this could mean.
    There is a long list of technological advances that have been made during times of acute human suffering. The classic example is the invention of radar during WWII but the list goes on (mental note - research this and make a list). An example of a significant invention that has resulted purely because of the Fukushima disaster can be found in the work of Kyoto University professors Dr. Hidehito Nakamura and Dr. Sentaro Takahashi (http://www.kyoto-u.ac.jp/en/news_data/h/h1/news6/2011/110629_1.htm). Here, a low-cost radiation detection material that uses the same plastic as does PET bottles, has been invented. Drs. Nakamura and Takahashi in fact have a long list of inventions and patents and have been working with plastic scintillators for many years. Yet it was the Fukushima disaster that focused them on deeper research into a plastic that they already knew had scintillations properties. They found, quite quickly, that by adding more oxygen to the plastic the scintillation efficiency increased dramatically. Necessity is, as they say, the Mother of Invention.
    The amount of fundamental scientific advancement that is going on today is quite mind-boggling. If you doubt this bold statement, get yourself a Facebook subscription to www.PhysOrg.com and sit back and watch.
    ... to be continued in next posting...
  • Oct 6 2011: Before we can arrive at any conclusions on what needs to be done, we need to figure out what is broken. What needs to be fixed. What needs to be changed. What sort of future do the people of Tohoku want/expect.

    - Home destruction. Housing needs to be rebuilt. Rebuild in a possible tsunami danger zone? If not, where to relocate? For people who have land in the now uninhabitable area, are they to be reimbursed? If they are financially unable to relocate, then what?
    Another issue with home destruction is the fact that many people owe money for home loans. If I understand correctly, these are not/have not been forgiven and people must pay these back. This also goes for automobiles. Where does the money come from for these people?

    - Work destruction. Similar to the above scenario, does a company rebuild on the original site? Possibly in danger once again? Relocate further out? Relocate to a different area of Japan completely?

    - Age. Before the disaster, Japan was looking at a continuously falling birthrate. After the disaster, it's magnified due to the lack of young people in the hardest hit areas.

    - Trash. Garbage. Gareki. Whatever you want to call it, there is a LOT of it and something needs to be done with it.

    - Jobs. Need to rebuild in order to create jobs. But until someone makes a decision on whether or not to rebuild on tsunami-hit lands; or decides that it's untenable to do so, it puts everyone is a twilight zone- a sort of holding pattern where nothing moves forward.

    - Money. As mentioned above, many people are dealing with outstanding loands, etc. But beyond that, who pays for the rebuilding? The gov't? Private citizens? TEPCO (where applicable)?

    There are many, many more problems/issues. I just wanted to start out a list so we were all on the same page as to what hurdles there are to get past. For those of you who've been on the ground, feel free to add more problems as I know my list is nowhere near comprehensive.
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    Oct 6 2011: When crisis happens, you see more clearly what is important to you, your family, your neighborhood, your town, or even your country.

    Many people, Japanese and non-Japanese (and even both, Nikkei people) had a strong urge to go to Tohoku to help right after the disaster happened. That is because they had somewhere that strong urge or need to go.
    For volunteers, it was more of an emotion to go rather than logic.

    Will the Tohoku area re-surge like Kobe and become a mega city? The radiation problem makes me doubtful,
    but yes I think it is the best time to find and implement new ideas with methods like TEDx or any other way which gives local and non-local people the space and opportunity to better things.

    After all, crisis in Japanese is written like this (危機),
    危 meaning danger or risk
    機 meaning opportunity or chance

    It is time to change the rules. Change what is not working and support what is.

    I am so sorry I cannot go on the 30th but I will be watching online every second of it
    and hopefully help and support any of the interesting projects that come out of it.
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    Oct 6 2011: Thank you all for your great comments.
    The conversation is also happening in Japanese here :
    http://goo.gl/z9TEP
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      Oct 6 2011: @Dulini: ...they are grown in an area where the radiation in the soil is greater the 2msv/hr.... wrong unit of measurement I'm afraid.... for foodstuffs you measure in becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg); for soil contamination, Bq/m2
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    Oct 6 2011: It will be interesting to see how Tohoku redefines its self. TEDxTohoku will be a wonderful hub for many conversations... please join.
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    Oct 6 2011: After reading some of the insightful and intelligent comments below it has lead me to find it inexcusable that countries/governments, in general, do not to have a set disaster strategy in place, as well as a fund that is in place to at least begin a recoup/ clean-up effort.

    This is just a suggestions, although I'm not sure if Japan has one, but in the US we pay National Guardsmen/women to be ready in the defense of our country at home. Why not make them 'Emergency" National Guardsmen/women who assist in disaster situations which can include clean-up, rescue and defense (ie preventing looting etc)?

    They can all be trained very easily to handle these situations, as they are already receive training and have skills that could be useful in disasters, war or natural--for example there are some guardsmen/women who have 'medical personnel' training.

    I would also like to add that part of our "Emergency Plan" (or any country's Emergency Plan) can include trained volunteers (unpaid) who are willing to help out but all this has to be planned ahead of time. We have no excuse now!
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    Oct 5 2011: In the regions of Japan struck by this multi-fold disaster, especially those regions with a low to moderate population density, the Japanese people are very resourceful because they have learned to live life with a high degree of self-sufficiency, which those in the more heavily populated regions cannot. Everyone affected by this disaster can benefit from triage aid and support, however, many Japanese find that working with people who are not familiar with Japanese culture, or working with people who are well intentioned but incapable of speaking Japanese, a hinderance to the rebuilding process.

    In many instances, well meaning but generally unskilled assistance workers, have been sent back to their country of origin. While their heart is in the right place, they have nothing substantial to offer in the rebuilding effort, and end up placing a drain on already limited resources.
    To aid any region struck by a natural disaster, those people offering assistance must be skilled in areas which need attention, but also well versed in the culture and language of the region, otherwise their efforts to rebuild will be more of a hinderance than a help. Regional Japanese communities will rebuild, on their terms, and the best possible assistance that can be provided them, are resources, not inept yet well intentioned hands.
    I believe you will find that the resilience of Japanese communities will far surpass the willingness or ability of the Japanese government to rush to the aid of smaller communities, primarily because these smaller Japanese communities are not going to wait for their government to rebuild them. These same small Japanese communities are also not sitting on a pile of rubble waiting for a check from the Japanese government to "save" them, in stark contrast to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. They will instead rely on the assistance of others from their communities, and as resources such as building materials become available, they will rebuild.
    Just my two cents
    • Oct 6 2011: >"many Japanese find that working with people who are not familiar with Japanese culture, or working with people who are well intentioned but incapable of speaking Japanese, a hinderance to the rebuilding process."

      Perhaps you have had different experiences in the Tohoku area, but I've been volunteering in Tohoku since April and have yet to find a single person that has issues with foreigners. Rather, the Japanese people tend to denigrate their own people for not helping (which isn't true- but many feel that way) while people from across the world come to their assistance. Also, I have not heard of a single instance of any foreigners being a hindrance in the eyes of the tsunami survivors. That's not to say it hasn't happened- just laying out what my personal experiences are.

      I will say that there are some city halls that may feel that way towards aid groups. I believe there is a bit of pride involved when aid groups can be small, mobile and well-directed to hit certain problems head-on whilst a city government may be bogged down by bureaucracy, untrained staff, staff that are not used to thinking outside of the box and as a result, may resent the very groups that are helping the people of Tohoku. That's the only case where I can imagine that foreigners may not be welcome.
    • Oct 8 2011: Early on I discouraged people travelling to Japan to volunteer if they didn't already have a strong connection. I read some pretty dopey posts like, "I'm in Japan for the weekend (in March). Who wants to venture out and feed the survivors?" Later on I found out about All Hands (hands.org) which has done an amazing job coordinating volunteers. I spent 10 days with them and was very impressed. They have mixed teams providing assistance to local people according to local wishes. They are not a burden on local resources and they can take in totally green volunteers and find useful work for them to do. The people of Oofunato had very little exposure to foreigners before the disaster but they have become welcoming and grateful through working together.

      Although many people expressed concern that volunteers might take paying jobs away from Japanese people I don't think that has happened. The disaster was so huge that Touhoku needs all the help it can get. Volunteers are speeding up recovery by supplementing the paid workers rather than supplanting them.
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    Oct 5 2011: The situation on the ground here in Japan is complex. Two phases have already been completed (with some exceptions discussed later): Phase 1 was the search for, and clearing of, victims. This was undertaken exclusively by goverment resources. Phase 2 was the general cleanup which included the removal of debris and cleaning of standing houses to enable rehabitation. In many areas this phase is also complete with piles of debris, neatly sorted by type (concrete, wood, metal, cars etc), but there are exceptions: Ishinkomaki, for example, has such widespread devastation that the amount of debris is estimated to be that which the township would have generated in 100 years. Naturally, there is nowhere to put all the debris and this will hamper reconstruction. In Minamisanriku, the entire local government was wiped out and there is no one there to make decisions anymore. The result is stagnation; dangerous structures have not be destroyed and removed; general debris still lies thick on the ground. In Phase 2, a huge amount of the clean up was done by volunteers; individuals or groups organised themselves to go to the region and help. The government provided assistance in the way of heavy equipment to shift the large items and volunteer centers were mobilised to channel all the volunteers. It is probably accurate to say that the nitty gritty of going house-to-house, door-to-door to clean up was done exclusively by volunteers.

    In terms of reconstruction, there is no evidence that I have seen of any reconstruction having been started at this point in time. For sure, planning sessions have been had but progress here has been stymied by confusion, discord and disarray in central government. Central government took the stance that the local municipal governments should "come up with ideas for reconstruction" with the caveat that funds would not be made avalable unless they were "good ideas" - whatever that is supposed to mean.

    can't write anymore - no space
    • Oct 6 2011: Well, if any of the pundits want to say that reconstruction is underway, we have to give them the fact that a 7-11 has been built in Minami-Sanriku. And a couple gas stations are operating as well. Beyond that, I don't know that 6 months of cleaning up of garbage qualifies as "reconstruction".

      So like Andrew, I'm not a fan of "reconstruction" being used in the present tense. Still seems premature to me.
    • Oct 11 2011: I just spent the night in Ishinomaki and can definitely say that a lot of work has been done by businesses to get back to normal. There are, of course, still areas where it's a desolated wasteland, but was impressed by the amount of small businesses that were getting back up and running as well as the number of people living in their damaged houses, rebuilding them little by little, one day at a time.

      So in a sense, "reconstruction" is going to be a term that one cannot use as a blanket term across Tohoku until everyone is on the same page (or at least has reached Page 1).