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Japan after the tsunami: in March, a deadly earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear disaster. Despite their fears, the people of this island nation are forging ahead.

The first reaction was terror. Then came anger. Now, six months after a devastating earthquake and tsunami--and the worst nuclear crisis since atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945--the Japanese people are rebuilding their country. But fear remains a constant.

On March 12, the day after the tsunami rocked a nuclear power plant in the Japanese prefecture (district) of Fukushima, thousands of residents evacuated the nearby town of Namie (see map, pp. 14-15). Fearing that radiation leaking from the damaged plant would end up in their food and water, they took shelter in neighboring Tsushima.

Two months later, the people from Namie learned that the wind had actually carried radiation to Tsushima. Government computers in the capital, Tokyo, had detected the danger, but the people hadn't been told.

"We were in the worst place but didn't know it," Yoko Nozawa told The New York Times. "Children were playing outside."

Namie's mayor likened the government's silence to "murder."


In the months since, the people of Fukushima have had more to be angry about. After local officials assured them that their communities were safe, residents tested rice paddies and forests on their own and found high levels of radiation.

In August, authorities admitted that continued leakage may make large areas around the Fukushima plant uninhabitable for decades. "The effects might emerge only years from now," said a resident of Namie. "I'm worried about my kids."

The government's mishandling of the situation forced Prime Minister Naoto Kan to step down last month, leaving the Diet (Parliament) to choose a new leader.


Deep Distrust

The trouble began on March 11, when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck 80 miles off Japan's northeast coast. It was the country's strongest earthquake ever, triggering tsunami waves that surged as far as six miles inland and flattened entire towns. As of late summer, more than 20,000 people were counted as dead or missing.

The crisis in Fukushima reinforced a distrust of nuclear power among older Japanese. Many of them lived through the aftermath of the atomic bombs the U.S. dropped in 1945 to end World War II (seep. 13). Yet, with few energy resources of its own, Japan relies on nuclear power to meet 30 percent of its energy needs--compared with 20 percent in the U.S.

"I don't think nuclear power is safe," says Genya Takagi Davis, 10, from his home in Kamakura. "The accident at Fukushima showed me that it's dangerous."

Many Japanese agree. In August, at their annual commemoration of the bombing of Hiroshima, survivors were especially anguished. "Is it Japan's fate to repeatedly serve as a warning to the world about the dangers of radiation?" 81-year-old Masahito Hirose asked a reporter.



Recently, the Japanese learned from their government that radiation from Fukushima has been detected in beef, rice, milk, and other products in the country's food supply. "It's a matter of serious concern," says Naoki Sakakibara, a student at Tokyo Institute of Technology. "Almost all Japanese no longer trust nuclear power."

The question is: With no oil, how can Japan meet its energy needs?

A Better Quality of Life

After World War II, the U.S. and its allies occupied Japan, rebuilding the country and helping to establish democracy. About 35,000 U.S. troops are still stationed in Japan to help provide for its defense.

By the 1960s, the country's outlook seemed bright. For decades, companies like Sony and Toyota had helped turn Japan into a manufacturing empire, which created a booming middle class. Steady, well-paying jobs were easy to find, and consumers had plenty of money to spend. When Japanese investors bought Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall in New York City in 1989, many Americans feared that Japan's economy would surpass that of the U.S.--much as they feel threatened by China's rise today.

But much of Japan's wealth was based on overvalued real estate and inflated stock prices. In the late 1980s, those bubbles burst, plunging the country into a long period of stagnation. Recently, China overtook Japan as the world's second-largest economy, nipping at the heels of the U.S.

Japan's confidence suffered a huge blow. "For those who came of age in the 1970s, there was a clear sense of destiny," says Rebecca Copland, a professor of Japanese language and literature at Washington University in Missouri. Now everyone, including college graduates, has a much harder time finding permanent employment. "The certainty of hard work and fixed roles has crumbled," Copland adds.

This has led to a shift in Japanese society, with a greater focus on everyday pleasures, says A. Maria Toyoda, head of the political science department at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. "There is greater openness to ways of deriving satisfaction from life."

Genya Davis's father, Jeremy, an American who relocated to Japan several years ago, agrees. People are paying more attention to their lives outside work, he says. "Japanese are intensely loyal to their families. Loyalty to a company is a thing of the past."

In the wake of their greatest natural disaster, the Japanese people are encouraged by stories of resilience. When the tsunami struck, Little League players on baseball fields in northeastern Japan ran for their lives. Some players lost family members to the flood. Many others were among the 80,000 residents who were evacuated from their homes near the Fukushima plant and dispersed to temporary shelters.


Yet when it came time for the annual Little League tournament in Osaka, boys from Fukushima schools put together a team. It became a symbol of hope for the nation. "The players don't feel sorry for themselves," one of their coaches said. "They just acknowledge the reality of what they can do right now."


Such an attitude is widespread, as the Japanese begin to rebuild their damaged cities. Because they may not trust the bureaucrats in Tokyo to look out for them, they're trying to look out for themselves. "The efforts to save energy, become more efficient, and reconstruct after the disaster come from the grassroots [people]," says Toyoda.

Another shot of national pride came in July, when Japan's underdog soccer team beat the U.S. in the Women's World Cup. "Japan is coming back, and this was our chance to represent our nation and show that we never stopped working," Homare Sawa, the team's top scorer, told The New York Times.

Copland agrees. "The disasters have actually helped draw the nation together--across class and region and generation," she tells JS.

"Japan in general is a culture of survival, of adaptation, and hard work," Copland adds. "Japan is going to survive and be stronger for it."


AREA: 146,000 sq mi (U.S., 3.7 million sq mi)

POPULATION: 128.1 million (U.S., 312 million)

PER CAPITA GDP*: $34,000 (U.S., $47,200)

RELIGIONS: Shintoism, 84%; Buddhism, ?1%; Christianity, 2%; other, 8% (The total exceeds 100% because many people observe both Shintoism and Buddhism.)

LANGUAGE: Japanese LITERACY: 99% (U.S., 99%)

LIFE EXPECTANCY: males, 80 years; females, 86 years (U.S.: 75/80)

*GDP stands for gross domestic product; per capita means per person. The amount is the value of all items produced in a country in a year, divided by the population. It's one measure of a nation's wealth.


* bureaucrat [n]: one who follows rules in a mechanical way, usually in government

* class [n]: a group of people ., at the same economic arid social level


1. Why do many Japanese distrust their government?

2. How might Japan meet its energy needs without nuclear power?


Japan's nuclear disaster is an eerie reminder of a tragic past. On December? 1941, Japanese planes attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, crippling the fleet and killing more than 2,000 people. The next day, the U.S. declared war on Japan and officially entered World War II, which had already begun in Europe.


For years, the U.S. and Japan fought bitterly across the Pacific. At the same time, the U.S. developed the atomic bomb--a weapon more powerful than any the world had ever seen. On August 6,1945, President Harry S. Truman ordered U.S. planes to drop an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, destroying it within minutes. Three days later, the U.S. dropped a bomb on the city of Nagasaki as well.

Japan surrendered a few days later, bringing World War 11 to a close. In addition to war casualties, 150,000 to 225,000 Japanese died either directly from the bombs or from radiation-related illnesses. MapSearch
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Title Annotation:WORLD STUDIES
Author:Brown, Bryan
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Sep 19, 2011
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