Fukushima, One Year On

Aren’t They Angry Yet In Japan?

It’s been a year since the Greater East Japan Earthquake, the Tsunami and the Nuclear disaster at Fukushima. I thought I would have a better picture of how Japan would recover from the triple punch, but inevitably it is taking time. If one thing is clear, the entire sequence of events exposed how the system was beyond the control of the government executive. Reading of the events that took place in the days after the events, it is clear that incorrect information was presented to the executive branch of the Japanese government, and this delayed and confused the response no end. In other words, it looked like there was a functioning system until it got blown to bits by the sequence of events, and what was left was just totally inadequate.

The most notable of these misinforming of Prime Minster Naoto Kan was the Nuclear Energy Agency of Japan not telling him there had been multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima plant. In fact radioactive Caesium had been found outside of the plant as early as the 13th of March 2011, and the only conclusion that could be drawn from this was that the reactors must have exploded. By the time the Prime Minister got his facts straight – that there had been meltdowns, there were already people in place on the assumption that the meltdowns had not happened.

The institutional resistance of both the bureaucrats and TEPCO executives was also a factor in making things worse. And the irony of all things is that Naoto Kan had made his name fighting such bureaucratic complacency and the kind of injustices that come from these; now that he was Prime Minister, he had no way of dealing with these people who viewed him with an institutionalised suspicion. The vested interests all stuck together – from the bureaucrats to the TEPCO brass to even the media and essentially chased Naoto Kan into resignation through their intransigence. To illustrate just how awful the vested interests were, the media lined up to criticise Kan for yelling at the TEPCO brass who came to tell him they wanted to pull out. It is clear that Prime Minister Kan did the right thing by making TEPCO hold their ground. He might have made many a mistake  in other aspects of dealing with the enormous chaos that ensued the triple-disaster, but he got one decision right.

Indeed, if TEPCO personnel weren’t going to stay on, just who was going to go in and shut down the reactors?

For me, it was absolutely logical and de rigeur of a condition of his Prime Ministership that he had to yell at them to make them stay. The media in Japan reported it as Naoto Kan losing decorum and therefore being unfit for his office. It was infuriating.

As I read news-sites from Japan, the overwhelming and prevailing position mounted by the old newspaper bodies is that the current DPJ government in its incompetence has made everything an insurmountable problem. It strikes me that this is self-serving balderdash dished out by a Japanese media that has a relationship that can only be described as being too cozy with the bureaucrats. In my view, the problems that brought about the triple disaster finds itself in the absence of the sense of responsibility,  the further you go up authority structures in Japan. What really depresses me about is that this might actually be something cultural.

The media are trying to characterise the triple disaster as the “second time” of losing a war. That is to say, the collective failure of government and industry and “The System” that parallels the leadership that led Japan to lose World War II. If indeed that is the case, then I would posit that the kind of absentee leadership endemic in Japan got played out in exactly the same way as the way they worked out in World War II. The British used to laugh at the Imperial Japanese Army for their predictable strategems, but they rated the NCOs of Japan very highly for their ability to make tactical decisions stick – Even the bad ones.

In exactly the same manner, the top brass of TEPCO turned out to be predictably incompetent, but the actual people on the ground exhibited incredible courage, endurance and guile to bring the reactors back under control. Old men who had once worked at the site but retired, came out of the woodwork to offer themselves up to the dangerous task. The people on the ground made the best of a bad situation through typical Japanese valor and dedication and self-sacrifice. Sort of like the incredible selflessness of the Kamikaze pilots who gave their lives on the orders of an incompetent command group.

To see this pattern repeated brought nothing but a numbing, glum, dark, disgust.

Maybe because I have a firsthand feel for how things are couched and how things are decided and how things are done in Japan that I can’t help but see problems not only with the elites who come from top universities, but the system that decided these ethical midgets, these moral cowards, these mandarins of no personal responsibility were the people to promote.

The worst thing is that these bureaucrats as a block, form a massive vested interest in how the government of Japan works and how it is run. And the only prime minster in the last 50years who had a shot at changing things had to be buried by the triple disaster, and then the bad advice of these ‘elites’.

It’s an awful business that shows no sign of getting better.


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