Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Warning from Heaven : My last report from post-3/11 Tokyo
HANABUSA Masamichi  / Former Ambassador to Italy

September 28, 2011
Six months have passed since that tragic March 11. Rehabilitation has gradually been progressed; industrial production and distribution networks in the disaster-stricken areas swiftly have recovered. A number of youths gladly engage themselves in voluntary works in Northeastern Japan. The Japanese people have awakened to their tradition of mutual help. Resilience of the people is really remarkable. New-born national sentiment of accepting sacrifices may lead to the acceptance of more taxes in the name of overcoming national adversity.

Nevertheless, how to publicly support rehabilitation from the disasters do face tremendous difficulty in present-day Japan, where governance is almost lost due to "divided Parliament" in tackling with issues like local governance, deregulations, budget-deficits, etc. The huge scale of the disaster and terrain sinkings on coastal areas require more than reconstruction. There is considerable difficulty to arrive at required consensus for rehabilitation even among survivors in afflicted communities, as vested interests of fishermen, farmers, local constructors, et. al. are to be affected. It is easy to criticize the lack of "political initiatives", but to decide on how to respond to the tasks is time-consuming under democratic processes.

At Fukushima Power Station the "catastrophe" as rashly predicted by EU Energy Commissioner Oettinger, from whom the Japanese have not yet heard even a word of apology, did not happen. But it is clear unfathomably long time is needed before we are able to bring the damaged furnaces under control and close them down. It is assumed that no more additional emission into the air and the sea of a large volume of radioactive materials. Many Japanese are still very much afraid of the fear of contamination; tremendous work and cost will be necessary to eliminate the fear of "internal contamination," namely, taking into the body of radioactive substances.

In my first post-3/11 Tokyo Report , I wrote "We have never been more humbled by the wrath of nature." Six months later, I have come to think differently. The complex shocks surely were triggered by the violence of Mother Earth expressing its ire. However, now I do not regard the latest calamity simply as a irresistible natural disaster. Also dawning in my sentiment is a realization that the nuclear calamity at Fukushima was humanly created by low-assessing the risks involved with atomic power generation. But above all, I do feel I saw in this episode a future vision of the end of our civilization with absolute trust in science and technology. Now I do believe that the calamity this time was a "Warning from Heaven."

Looking back on Japan following the bursting of land bubble in the early 90s, we see we did not , even for a moment, stopped seeking the pursuit of comfortable life in spite of the distinct slowing-down of economic growth in these "lost twenty years." All-electricity serviced residential environment, speedy transportation systems, galloping communication services, nation-wide delivery systems which have enabled good cuisine using fresh materials from all parts of Japan, taxis whose door automatically opens, numerous vending machines which dot streets, etc. etc. Such comfortable life of the Japanese city dwellers is built on excessive use of electricity.

At the moment 43 out of total 54 atomic power stations are not generating a kilowatt in Japan, where 30% of electricity is dependent on nuclear power. It was amazing that in spite of the situation, no power stoppage occurred even at peak-usage time during the summer which was cruelly hot this year. The government request for the industry to save 15% of electricity use and voluntary efforts of the citizens to save electricity consumption did it. Even if this summer and the coming winter is tided over by self-restraint and leveling of power use by shifting production onto weekends, however, the respite is ephemeral. As for Japan, with population starting to decline, various trends indicate downward movements. But world population is still on a sharp increase, "limits to growth" remain as our fundamental problem.

Many scientists have predicted that civilization geared to mass-production and mass-consumption are not to be sustained, as mankind reaches the limit of growth in not so distant a future due to limited availability of natural resources. Most governments, including our own, have accepted as the well-considered conclusion, therefore, that atomic power generation is the only alternative to power generation dependent on fossil fuels, which will be exhausted sooner or later. Surely common sense makes us believe that it is unlikely that a power station loses all power sources at once. For nations without earthquakes, it may be assumed that the risks pertaining to atomic power generations can be reduced to almost zero thanks to scientific achievements. What we discovered is, however, the stark fact that "used nuclear fuels" are not at all as safe as cinders of coal. Another serious doubt is whether we are really sure if no serious accident, triggered either by human errors or certain natural phenomena, will happen, as nuclear power stations mushroom around the world.

The likelihood of the whole world dependent of nuclear energy for electricity generation is bound to increase, when the people in populous emerging nations seriously start to seek the lifestyle of the present-day Japanese who abuse electricity. More importantly the world will be faced with serious struggles for resources, extraordinary climate due to global warming and power shortage at home.

Under the present disconcerted circumstances, Japanese individuals are groping for "how wisely to consume" and factories "how wisely to produce." The new-born doubt about high-production/consumption society will hopefully form the basis of a new Japanese wisdom. Probably Japanese politics will have to take into consideration changes born newly on the part of citizens out of the latest experiences. As the consequence, exorbitant pursuits of conveniences by the Japanese and the trend of rapid urbanization in Japan followed in the past will at least be slowed and may even be
reversed in the aftermath of the triple disaster.

I am inclined to feel that the Japanese people are to be tested their collective wisdom on how they can change the future course of human civilization, having experienced certain catalytic visions of mankind's future in the form of "Heaven's Warning."

Writer is Chairman Emeritus of the English-Speaking Union of Japan.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

天からの警告 3:11後の東京からの最終報告
英 正道  /  元駐イタリア大使

2011年 9月 28日










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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Warning from Heaven : My last report from post-3/11 Tokyo