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Politics / International Relations

Japan Copes with Calamity

(Peter Lang 2015)

Tom Gill, David H. Slater and Brigitte Steger

The events of March 2011 have been well documented, indeed there is a diverse literature on the tsunami and nuclear catastrophe. As noted in this important volume, the prevalence of social media, blogs and websites, as well as online newspapers and magazines means that no disaster has been quite so well documented. This book provides a human element to that documentation and is divided into three parts. The first section offers chapters on the ways in which survivors coped with life after the tsunami, the second on coping with life after the nuclear disaster. Whilst in the first instance a sense of shared victimhood brought people together, the nuclear melt down was a man-made disaster and issues such as whether to resettle contaminated land or request relocation were shot through with political considerations and the urge to blame. The final section of the book provides two chapters on encounters between volunteers and the people they sought to help-a not so straight forward exchange as it generated a sense of obligation.
The ethnographies presented in the book provide an emotional and wrenching insight into the nature and scale of devastation. Importantly, the book helps to challenge the perception of the events of March 2011 as happening in and to a largely homogeneous Tohoku and shows that surviving (and suffering) through disaster on such a scale is an individual as much as communal experience. Ultimately, there are as many ways of coping with calamity in Japan as there are people to experience it.

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