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

Japan's Image One Year After 3/11
NUMATA Sadaaki  / Chairman, The English-Speaking Union of Japan

March 28, 2012
In his Op Ed article "A year after the earthquake, building a new Japan" in The Washington Post of March 10, 2012, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said that this period of difficulty must, and will, come to mark the start of a full-fledged revitalization of Japan. Paul Blustein, former Washington Post correspondent in Tokyo, was less sanguine in his piece on the same page entitled "Last year's tragedy failed to rouse Japan from its stagnation."
The jury is still out on whether Japan will succeed in revitalizing itself. But we need to grapple with some key issues that affect Japan's external image.

At the International Journalists Symposium 2012 held recently in Tokyo, a lady from a leading German newspaper said that the German people were shocked that a nuclear crisis of such huge proportions could have taken place in an advanced democracy like Japan, and asked if there had been any significant debate between the proponents of the "safety myth" of nuclear power plants and the citizens with anti-nuclear-power sentiments. As we contemplate the appropriate energy mix for the future, we will need to make sure that citizens play their part in deciding such issues as who will take the risk or pay the cost regarding nuclear power generation.

Millions of tons of rubble left by the tsunami have posed the challenge of risk-sharing. The much-lauded spirit of kizuna, meaning "bonds," which became a national catchphrase, has been eroded by the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome on the part of the citizens of communities outside the affected Tohoku region who refuse to accept some of the rubble. As pointed out by the senior editors from Tohoku at the Symposium, it is essential that the central and local governments concerned make all-out efforts to persuade the citizens in these communities by objectively demonstrating just how massive the volume of the rubble is as well as how little the attendant risk of radiation is.

The discussion on the lack of transparency on the part of the Japanese government and TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) regarding the nuclear crisis brought out some differences in communication culture. A British senior editor emphasized the media's responsibility to hold power to account as well as the responsibility of those in power to provide the plain facts as they are without editorializing or hiding them. This does pose a difficult challenge to the conventional mindset of the Japanese officialdom, which tends to be cautious for fear of creating panic. The problem is compounded by the fact that there is a fierce competition with the social media inundating the information space with rumors, speculations and allegations. The upshot of all that is that the spokespersons for those in "power" have to be prepared to jump into the information space and say something first even though they may have only incomplete information.

Prime Minister Noda said in his Washington Post Op Ed article, "I would not tolerate the politics of indecision. A propensity to delay difficult and weighty decisions has been hurting our country." He himself no doubt feels the need for strong leadership in launching Japan on the path of revitalization. But how can such leadership come about?
Recent polls suggest that people feel that too much time is wasted by politicians on myopic partisan as well as intra-party squabbling, and have become disaffected by both the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party. As if to step into the void, Toru Hashimoto, the outspoken 42-year old mayor of Osaka, Japan's third-largest city, has emerged somewhat like the leader of a Tea Party movement in Japan. It remains to be seen whether he will succeed in his ambitious plan to make his two-year-old local party the largest voting bloc in Parliament. Some fear the populist bent in his exhortations may imply a diversion from accepted democratic norms.

It is ironic that as Japan's democracy matures, it seems to be groping for a choice thus far not offered by the major two parties. Should there be a national election in the not-too-distant future, it is hoped that the voters’ choice will not mean a prolonged inward-looking stalemate.

The writer is former Foreign Ministry Spokesman and Ambassador to Pakistan and Canada.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

沼田 貞昭 / 日本英語交流連盟会長

2012年 3月 28日



津波が残した数百万トンの瓦礫は、リスク分担の大きな課題を投げかけている。国民的キャッチフレーズとしてもてはやされた「絆」の精神は、被災した東北以外の地域の住民が瓦礫の一部受け入れを拒否するとの「ニンビー(英語のNot In My Back Yard)」現象によって損なわれてきている。上記会議で東北紙の編集幹部が指摘したように、中央政府および関係自治体が、瓦礫が如何に大量に存在するか、および、それに伴う放射能汚染のリスクは如何に小さいかを客観的に示して、これら住民を説得すべく渾身の努力を払うことが肝要である。





一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟