3.11 Politics in Disaster Japan: Fear and Anger, Possibility and Hope

On March 11th, 2011, the largest recorded earthquake in Japan’s history rocked the country. Within minutes, a tsunami that reached 30 meters in places was heading to the northeast coast into Tohoku. Boats, building and whole towns were wiped out in a matter of minutes. More than 23,000 people have been reported dead or are still missing, and as many as 40,000 are displaced, living in shelters or temporary housing. Among the effects is the destabilization of the nuclear reactors. Since March, the danger zones have progressively been expanded to as far away from the reactor as 25 miles, and although new areas are being added even today, many claim that the Japanese government is underestimating the danger. Today, it is unclear if and when broad segments of Tohoku will ever be safe.

The horrific experience of natural crisis has been compounded by repeated political failures—to gather, analyze and release relevant information; to provide relief response for those victims in Tohoku in a timely and effective way; and to insure that the danger of radiation containment and leakage has been accurately and fully represented. In fact, it has been the threat of radiation that has allowed many to mount the critique of the handling of earthquake and tsunami, to see the political expediency and the often grotesque protection of capitalism in the face of everyday needs of the people.

These failures have given rise to a critique from a citizenry that is often thought of as passive, if not always content. The scope of the disaster in Tohoku and the threat of radiation to the rest of the Japan, and even outside of its borders, have provided a platform for many voices and positions to find common ground and to speak in collective voices. Emerging are themes of shared concern such as ecological sustainability, corporate and state responsibility, and the survival of citizens and society in times of increasing precariousness for everyone, not just those in Tohoku. This convergence has brought together Fukushima farmers and Tokyo housewives, school children and senior citizens from the ‘old left,’ leaders from industry and the government but also labor unions and activism. At the center are “autonomous” activists—young, dispersed, do-it-yourselfers—who had been dismissed by the country as too inward-looking and self-absorbed: the same young people who have been at the forefront of much of the relief and volunteer efforts. In Japan, a country with a history of leftist fragmentation in the face of a dominant and fully-entrenched conservative right, the range and momentum of this moment is a remarkable turn. That this had to come from such tragedy is as sad as it is surprising.

We solicited entries now, as events are still unfolding, from those who are at the center of these shifts. We asked them to address in 500-700 words some aspect of the unfolding crisis that has become known as 3.11, as Fukushima, We have collected those entries that cluster around a common theme: what are the political implications, from international to intimate, of the shifting relationships between nature, culture and society since 3.11? The entries here document both the fear and anger of these past months, but also the hope and possibility that these fragile and emergent forms might lead to a new 3.11 politics in post-disaster Japan.

Related Links


2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami

Aftermath of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster

Timeline of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster

Japanese Government Website

Earthquake in Japan - Japanese Government Information

Summary NGO Report

Japan March 11 Tsunami, Earthquake Report

Video Clips

Tsunami Video Clips (archive)

World News Videos

Other Political Sites

Japan Focus

Japan Nuclear Crisis

Japan - Fissures in the Planetary Apparatus


Posts in This Series

Neoliberal Radio/Activity and Contagion

From the Ground Up: Implications of 3.11

From Shaking Islands, A Nation Divided

A Letter From Okinawa

Representational Discontent

On Exhaustion, Self-Censorship and Affective Community

Conjunctural Inventory

Cows and Farmers

Mapping Anxiety

A Movement of the People vs. Elite Panic

Relief Work-On the Ground

The Politicization of Precarity-Anti-Nuke Protests in Japan Since the Great Tohoku Earthquake

The Age of Meta/Physical Struggle