The Japanese disasters. Earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns

The Japanese disasters. Earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns

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By Gary Leupp

What will happen if the Dai-ichi and Dai-ni power plants, on the Sendai coast in Fukushima prefecture, suffer nuclear meltdowns? Shall we say shikataganai? Or will we ask for the heads of the planners, politicians, and corporate bosses who made it happen? Public opinion polls have shown that many Japanese are opposed to nuclear power. In 1990, 9% of Japan's electricity was generated by nuclear plants, while in 2000 the figure was 32%.

It is nicknamed Mori no miyako, "the tree-lined capital." Or maybe we should present it as –Sendai– the “Kyoto of the forests”. Lord Date Masamune's castle, built in the 1600s, is called Aoba-jo or “Green Leaves Castle” and the main street of the castle-city is Green Leaves Avenue. When I visited it for a week in 1986 - an extended visit as typhoons prevented travel by rail - I was struck by the vegetables so absent in most Japanese cities, fed by the Hirose River. I fell in love with her, and compared her in many ways to Sapporo, where I met my wife.

I will always associate Sendai, as many Japanese do, with the song Aobajo koi uta, a pitiful ballad that begins with this very representative verse of Japanese art, which always finds a moving beauty in the fleetingness of life:

"Hirosegawa nagareru kishibe
Omoide wa kaerazu
Hayase odoru hikari ni
Yureteita kimi no hitomi
Toki wa meguri
Kill natsu ga kite
Anus hi to onaji nagare no kishi
Seoto yukashiki
Mori no miyako
Year milestone wa mo inai "

"On the bank of the River Hirose that flows
I remember what can not return.
In the dancing brilliance of the rapids
I see your eyes full of tears.
Time goes by.
Summer returns.
As on that day the rapids between the banks
the delicious sound of the rapids
In this wooded city.
That person no longer exists "

I wonder if Sendai still exists. "Many areas of the city," according to CNN, "just disappeared, mud and boards cover an area where there used to be a row of houses; a vehicle overturned between tree branches. A school that had 450 people when the tsunami hit, with its doors smashed and a jumble of furniture and a truck in the hallway. Some teachers and students were able to escape from the building, but officials said others did not. "

Located just 100 miles from the epicenter of Friday's earthquake, Sendai suffered more damage than any other major city in Japan. They speak of their neighborhood, Futaki, as "ground zero" of the disaster. Sendai, in Miyagi Prefecture, is the most populous city in the vast Tohoku or Northeast region. It had a population of one million people before the earthquake and tsunami. The nearby fishing town of Minamisanriku is thought to have lost about 10,000 of its 17,000 residents. Kasennuma, also in Miyagi, a city of 74,000, is totally submerged. Entire towns and villages have been swallowed up by the sea. The official death toll remains relatively low, 10,000, but the number of missing is immense. How many has Sendai lost?

First came the violent shaking, which lasted for more than three minutes. When it started, people must have thought: "You have to turn off the gas stove." All schoolchildren know that. Then: "Worry about a tsunami."

But there was no time. In a few minutes, as houses were burned, the sea level dropped drastically only to rise fiercely again. The waterspout attacked the city, submerging the treetops, and flooded almost the entire Tohoku Pacific coast. The Sendai airport runway was flooded. Entire city blocks burned overnight as firefighters lay idle, unable to reach through the flooded streets. The perfect storm of fire and water, a catastrophe of biblical proportions. A snowstorm made life even more miserable for those without a roof.

On the coast, the police found the bodies of between 200 and 300 people who had been swept out of the sea and returned to shore. It has been the biggest disaster, not just the biggest in 140 years of historical record, but probably in the last 1,500 years. And it's not over yet; Aftershocks of magnitude 6 or more have occurred within a few hours.

I suffer for Japan, where I spent six years, in total. The earthquake on Friday affected a huge area of ​​the country. My mother-in-law in Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, felt it clearly. He told my wife (who contacted her after three attempts as many phone lines have been disrupted), that he thought it was another normal earthquake. (It was actually magnitude 6.8 in Sapporo.) He was watching television when it happened and saw that an earthquake had occurred in Tokyo, 800 kilometers to the south. What a strange coincidence, he thought, that there had been earthquakes in Saporo and in Tokyo at the same time. He did not realize that it was the same earthquake, which by the way was felt even in Beijing.

Like most Japanese, my mother-in-law has a very pragmatic attitude towards earthquakes. They are shikataganai koto, something that cannot be helped. Treat them rationally (even if perhaps you try to explain them with reference to the earthquake god Nai no kami, or the legendary giant catfish Namazu, who lives in the mud underwater and hits hard when uncontrolled).

She believes that the earthquake is a divine punishment to Japan for political corruption and factionalism. But the religiosity and fatalism of that steely 78-year-old woman coexist with a lot of practicality. Your modern prefab home is programmed so that when the ground shakes the kitchen cabinets automatically lock so dishes don't fall out. And the stove goes out. It is organized, like the Japanese in general when it comes to earthquakes. But this was not normal.

I cry for the whole country, but specifically for Sendai. Sendai with its unique dialect that I find incomprehensible, Sendai with its exceptionally beautiful women, Sendai with its rich history. The elite samurai Date were for a time friendly towards the Roman Catholic missions, protecting them even when the central power persecuted the Christians. In the 1610s Date Masamune sent emissaries to the Vatican to establish links; they traveled across the Pacific to Mexico and continued across the Atlantic. (In 1617 seven members of the samurai mission decided not to return home and settled in a city near Seville where hundreds of people still carry the surname "Japan").

The envoys returned with letters, paintings and maps preserved in the Sendai City Museum. At least I hope so. And I hope that the monument to the great Chinese writer Lu Xun, who studied in the city from 1904 to 1906, has not been damaged.

The Japanese know Sendai as the base of Tohoku University, one of the best public universities in the country. They also know about the city's Tanabata Festival, which is held in early August every year. The population increases to double the population of Tohoku to celebrate the Chinese myth of the love of the Princess Weaver (the star Vega) and the Shepherd (the star Altair). The princess's father, a powerful deity who presided over the Milky Way, allowed her to meet the shepherd and marry. But then he was enraged when she neglected her silk-weaving duties and he let the cattle wander skyward. He separated them and only allowed them to see each other once a year, when the magpies helped the princess cross a heavenly bridge to meet her husband.

The August festival, which celebrates this divine relationship, is marked by the display of countless decorations throughout the city, spectacular fireworks, dances and other events. Think of it as a kind of attenuated Mardi Gras, and Sendai flooded like New Orleans after the hurricane. Will the festival, which celebrates the persistence of love, survive under the most unfavorable circumstances?

Despite the opinion of my mother-in-law, we cannot attribute the movements of the tectonic plates off the coast of Honshu to divine or human action. It's just - shikataganai - that's the way things happen on our vigorous young planet. But it may happen that the worst part of this disaster is the work of man. When some human beings, seeking profit and prosperity, stupidly treat the environment, we need to hold them accountable.

One third of Japan's energy supply comes from nuclear reactors. Most are located on the narrow strips of coastal land where the vast majority of the Japanese live, vulnerable to inevitable cataclysms. When an earthquake or volcanic eruption wreaks havoc on the supply of electricity needed to pump the water that cools the reactor, there can be nuclear fusion that releases lethal doses of radiation. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster is thought to have caused many thousands of cancer deaths out of the 57 immediate deaths from radiation exposure.

What will happen if - as now seems very likely - the Dai-ichi and Dai-ni power plants, off the Sendai coast in Fukushima prefecture, suffer nuclear meltdowns? Shall we say shikataganai? Or will we ask for the heads of the planners, politicians, and corporate bosses who made it happen? For years public opinion polls have shown that many Japanese are opposed to nuclear power. In 1996, half the electorate of Mie Prefecture signed a position opposing the construction of a nuclear plant. But as a study of public opinion and nuclear power in Japan published by Rice University in 2000 noted, a minority argued that nuclear power was the key to Japan's energy independence. “Those views allowed those responsible to dismiss the protests as greed for selfish short-term economic interests. They effectively used financial rewards and compensation to quell discontent. Little attention was paid to the legitimacy of the public's security concerns. "

Despite public opposition and Level 2, 3, and 4 accidents (in 1995, 1997, and 1999 respectively), dependence on nuclear power increased. In 1990, 9% of Japan's electricity was generated by nuclear plants, while in 2000 the figure was 32%.

In the 1990 film Yume (Dreams) by Akira Kurosawa, based on the great film director's own dreams, there is a short passage titled "Mount Fuji in Red." In the nightmare people flee the earthquake over a bridge. Several people - a woman and her two young children, a man in a suit and another casually dressed man - stop to look at Mount Fuji and realize to their horror that it is erupting. (It's perfectly conceivable. The last time it erupted was in 1707 and it has done so about 75 times in the last 2,200 years). A huge red radioactive cloud appears on the horizon as huge columns of flame engulf the mountain. The man in a suit points out that the mountain is surrounded by six atomic plants. They flee, although he declares that there is no escape because Japan is small.

The scene changes to a desert cliff covered in rubble overlooking the sea. The man in casual dress asks where the people have gone and the other tells him that everyone has jumped into the sea. Then he points to the sky and explains: “Red is plutonium 239. One hundred millionth of a gram causes cancer. Yellow is strontium 90. It enters the body and causes leukemia. Purple is cesium 137. It affects reproduction and causes mutations. Produces monstrosities. The stupidity of the man is incredible. Radioactivity is invisible. But because of the danger they colored it. But that only makes you know what it is that kills you. It is the visiting card of death. "

He bows politely, says “Osaki ni” (a phrase that literally means “me first”), turns toward the cliff, and prepares to jump into the sea. The other man tries to hold him back, pointing out that radiation does not kill immediately, but he replies "waiting for death is not living."

The woman holding her children yells: “They told us that nuclear power was safe. The human accident is the danger, not the nuclear plant itself. There will be no accidents, there is no danger. It's what they told us. What liars! If you don't hang them for this, I'll kill them myself! " The man who is about to jump into the sea says the radiation will kill them in his name. Again he bows down and confesses that he is the one who deserves to die. He throws himself off the cliff as radioactive winds surround the living.

Was this nightmare scenario just the bad dream of a great Japanese director? Japanese officials are dismissing the possibility of a great calamity. Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio "assumes the possibility of nuclear fusion" in one of the Fukushima reactors. “At the risk of causing further public concern,” he says, “we cannot exclude the possibility of an explosion. If there is an explosion, however, there would be no significant impact on human health. "

It reminds me of the woman in the movie: There is no danger. I don't want to predict the worst, knowing little about nuclear power. But it is obviously not safe whether to evacuate 180,000 people as a precaution, when workers have to fight to avoid disasters and countries urge their citizens to leave Japan because radiation is the main concern. There is already a significant influence on the mental health of the Japanese, prey to anxiety about explosions and leaks. As we mourn the dead we should, on behalf of the living, fight for safe, sustainable, green energy.

Gary Leupp is a professor of history at Tufts University, and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of "Servants, Shophands and Laborers in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan"; "Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan"; and "Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900". He also contributed to CounterPunch's ruthless chronicle of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia: "Imperial Crusades." For contacts write to: [email protected]


Translated from English for Rebellion by German Leyens -

Video: Japan Earthquake Pictures, Video. Disaster in the Pacific 3112011 (July 2022).


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