'Crisis in Japan: The Way Forward' at Harvard [live blog]

I’m going to be blogging my notes from Harvard’s “Crisis in Japan: The Way Forward” event, ongoing now with live video here. Usual caveats apply: this is an unedited draft; notes not in quotes are paraphrased; quotes not checked against recording. Starting at 4:09 p.m. EDT.

  • Working to create a digital archive. Prof. Andrew Gordon notes that they are gathering Twitter posts and data, as well as other online documents.
  • Gordon asks for people to send notable documents to [email protected]. They will work on permissions and archive it when possible.
  • Prof. Susan Pharr notes it’s only been 12 days. Notes the event is an opportunity to gather efforts together and to understand what this will mean for the future of Japan, for Japanese leadership, and for the future of Japanese democracy.
  • First speaker will be Consul General Takeshi Hikihara northeast U.S., based in Boston.
  • Second will be Yoji Koda, senior fellow with Harvard’s Asia Center. Formerly a vice admiral with Naval SDF.
  • Third, Prof. Michael Reich of the Harvard public health school.
  • Fourth, Kotaro Tamura, a former member of the Diet’s House of Councillors.

Now Consul General Hikihara.

  • According to police as of yesterday, 9,500 dead, 16k missing, many more injured and evacuated. Numbers still increasing.
  • Nuclear power problem. As of yesterday, each of the six reactors reconnected to external power.
  • Rescue teams from seventeen countries and regions in Japan. Most have left.

Now Admiral Koda

  • Opens with images of devastated areas. Including Natori City in Miyagi Prefecture.
  • Those buildings made of heavy materials such as concrete that were also oriented parallel to the direction of the tsunami’s advance were more likely to survive.
  • Lost 28 expensive fighter jets.
  • Search and rescue operations are manpower-intensive because in some areas no mechanized help can be used. Notes long lines for water in some areas, but no one fighting.
  • Currently, a joint task force commander is in charge of all branches. This is unprecedented. Deployed force strength from 37 to 62 percent depending on branch.
  • 19,300 people rescued so far.
  • Operation “tomodachi” (“friend”): U.S. forces and others. Often dirty jobs. Mud, debris, etc. 17k U.S. military involved.
  • Japan had built a 10m network of breakwaters after the 1960 Chilean earthquake struck Tohoku region with 6m tsunami.

Now Michael Reich

  • Despite being on the faculty of the School of Public Health, he is a political scientist who has studied Japanese environmental disasters. Offers reflections, not analysis, of human and social dimensions of ongoing events.
  • Three-way disaster: earthquake, tsunami, nuclear. Interconnected problems that have to be dealt with at the same time.
  • Real challenges trying to figure out which crisis to deal with first and how to deal with tradeoffs where one aspect of response may interfere with another.
  • Stages of disasters: “it’s clear we’re now entering a new stage in how this disaster is evolving in Japan.”
  • “It’s no longer on the front page of the Times, or of the Globe.”
  • Moving out of “emergency response” and into the challenge of returning to patterns of life and provide basic goods and services on an ongoing basis.
  • Notes a quote by a man named Sasa in NYT: This isn’t management of a crisis, but a crisis of management.
  • Problems of regulatory capture “amakudari” (ph) where regulators work for regulatees. And problems of planning for the unimaginable.
  • Three points (1) Loss of social trust. Lack of belief in government, in TEPCO, public conflict between government and TEPCO, conflicting stories for example between US and Japan. People trying to come to terms with how to assess radiation. It’s invisible. So trust and measurement or understanding.
  • (2) Destruction of community. References study of Buffalo Creek disaster. Destroyed not only infrastructure but also social fabric. “I would imagine that some of those same challenges of rebuilding a coastal … community in Japan are devastating.” Already had structural problems, shrinking population, etc.
  • A way to describe to those unfamiliar with Japan that this is like something happening in Maine. Small communities, close to environment.
  • (3) Importance of Public Communication. Challenge of providing a story in ways that people can understand for the public.
  • A kind of odd panic buying in Tokyo, with a kind of calm in Tohoku. Public disagreement among scientific experts and government officials continues today. In some sense this is an inevitable part of scientific disasters.
  • The current crisis as seen through history. Of course, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and discrimination and challenges of hibakusha. Also, wartime destruction by firebombings etc. As well, the environmental disasters of ’60s and ’70s.
  • This will all raise questions of responsibility. How do you take responsibility for things that you didn’t previously have responsibility for. Challenges for the current government, which is not shall we say a strong one, as the first opposition government.
  • “The relative political calm of today is not likely to persist.” Kan’s proposal of unity government with LDP dismissed.

Now to Tamura

  • Focusing on restoration plan: “disaster is a mother of reform.”
  • Directly hit area accounts for no more than 7 percent, BUT the economic damage is happening in the center of the economy. Tokyo megalopolis, the largest economic concentration in the world. More than 30 percent of pop and 40 percent of GDP. And there, they have problems:
  • (1) electric power at less than 30 percent capacity in Tokyo even now.
  • (2) purchasing power: coordination to save energy will also fuel a mindset of saving not just energy but everything. Shopping, dining, etc., will suffer.
  • (3) production power: Toyota cutting production by largest margin ever. Similarly with others.
  • On Radiation: harmful rumors challenge production and consumption; people stay home; international business personnel fleeing; thus a deflationary spiral.
  • Tokyo real estate market, largest in the world. If this collapses, which wouldn’t be likely to happen he thinks, the banking crisis could deepen.
  • Insurance payment issues might create a problem in JGB market.
  • First bankruptcy: entertainment companies that organize big events. If people aren’t going out or gathering, they have no business. Plus, stadiums occupied by refugees.
  • Comparison with Kobe: production recovered in 15 months. GDP then and now, slightly smaller now. National debt almost twice as big. Stock market is 1,500 instead of 19,000 in 1995.
  • Argument in favor of a fiscal stimulus. Kobe was 10 trillion yen. What now? Perhaps two ro three times bigger.
  • One country, two systems: let the central government give more discretion to local governments on taxation, legislation, and regulation. Producing several special economic zones in Japan. Notes that this reminds us of China, but it’s different of course.
  • Specific proposals from a PowerPoint slide called “strategies”: “0% consumption tax like New Hampshire, 0% income tax like Nevada but with gaming business, 8% corporate tax and management friendly corporate law, English as official language, favorable asset tax to invite elderly wealthy, more support to invite single mother, Chinese as official language”
  • [Comment on above: wow!]
  • Ends with ありがとうございます,感谢, and a Churchill quote “Never give in … never, never, never, never.”

Now Q&A

  • Question from president of Harvard Club of Japan. People want to go help, and the government is telling people the government is doing what they can. Susan Pharr adds that there is a shortage of medical personnel, etc. — Koda, among other things, says Tohoku expressway has just reopened. — Hikihara points people who want to help to the website of the consul general, but adds that for more human kinds of help they are receiving help from all over and are not refusing help. On the other hand, it is still the emergency stage and fundamental problems still exist. Food, water, yes: but also gasoline.
  • Pharr pushes further: Is it really the radiation that’s keeping rescue teams from elsewhere out? Noting that the New Zealand quake recently had more teams immediately. — Hikihara: nuclear only in the immediate area. — Koda: Japan government may be to strict about the safety of rescuers.
  • Reich notes that it’s hard to know what to do to help. Often the wrong kind of help is offered or sent. Shutdown of highways that would take people through the nuclear area of concern meant that civilian and private supply lines hit. Also, need to take enough fuel to get back if you’re going to drive north. Another interesting element, the yakuza sends trucks north to help. Also an elaborate process to get help from elsewhere, but as far as he knows not in coordination with the government.
  • Question on whether the “sympathy budget,” Japanese payments for U.S. military base maintenance is in question. — Hikihara says no knowledge about change in host nation support budget, and notes that the new arrangement for the next five years has been recently settled between U.S. and Japan.
  • Reich attempts to answer a general question about nuclear risk. People looking at Japan and saying “Oh my god,” what can we do in our country about this? Radiation: not only is it invisible, but there are multiple different kinds. And with the used fuel, because they can’t get them stored securely they stayed on site in pools. A low probability high cost event, several of them at the same time.
  • Ending soon. More notes only if something especially interesting happens. Thanks for reading! (5:45 p.m. EDT)





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