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Japan After The Quake

How the quake and its trauma may reshape Japan.

Members of Japan's Self Defense Force search the rubble of Shizugawa, in Northeastern Japan. (AP)

Members of Japan's Self Defense Force search the rubble of Shizugawa, in Northeastern Japan. (AP)

Japan is no stranger to natural disaster and struggling back.  From shogun, samurai days and far earlier, the Japanese have faced earthquake and tsunami and war, and famously persevered.  

But some epic events have changed Japan, within that perseverance. The shocking arrival of Westerners in steam ships and the pummeling, atomic end of World War 2.

What about this time?  The triple blow of quake, tsunami and melting, belching nuclear plants?  Will this change Japan? 

This hour, On Point:  Japan, after the quake.

- Tom Ashbrook


Ian Buruma, professor of democracy, human rights, and journalism at Bard College, and author of “Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents.” Read his essay, “Japan’s Shattered Mirror,” in the Wall Street Journal.

Richard Samuels, professor of political science and director of the Center for International Studies at MIT, and founding director of their Japan program.  Author of “Securing Japan: Tokyo’s Grand Strategy and the Future of East Asia.”

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  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Here in the US we learn from experience that we don’t learn from experience.

    I hope Japan doesn’t suffer from the same “learning disability.”

  • Worried for the country(MA)

    “A top official at Japan’s nuclear-safety regulatory agency sees no slowing in the country’s campaign to expand atomic power”

    Japan gets 30% of its electricity from nuclear fission and they have a plan to get 40% by 2020. They are still committed to this plan. They will learn from this disaster, improve safety and continue the expansion.

    They understand the limitations of these old plants and the improved safety of the latest nuclear plants with passive cooling systems (they still work when the power is cut).

    What will we do?
    Maybe we can start by re-opening the Yucca MT project where we’ve already spent $12B.

  • Worried for the country(MA)

    An excellent interview on CNN with a radiation expert MD.


    The media has over hyped the dangers of the current radiation release. Yes, things could have been much worse but once the evacuation was in force there was very little danger to the general public. To put things in context, if there was NO evacuation AND there there was a major release of radiation (did not happen) the estimate would be a total of 400 cancer deaths due to the radiation.

    There is no danger to the general public and only 6 workers at the plant have been exposed to radiation greater than the new emergency limits. [I don't want to diminish what these workers are doing. They are clearly brave and should be commended for their heroism.]

    Will the media admit that they over hyped this story? History shows there will be NO mea culpa.

    • Anonymous

      The Media over hyped a story???? LOL

    • ThresherK

      Hey, didja see the Fox News Blonde (so many-can’t tell difference) argue with the meteorologist? She wouldn’t stop trying to get him to say that the fallout was inevitably spreading 5000+ miles to the US west coast.

      Let’s all wait for Fox News to put something into perspective.

      • LinP

        Nancy Grace. She looked and sounded flippin’ ridiculous.

  • bill

    personal sources in japan, reputable and aware and if needed they are highly educated and informed, wrote about MOX just one day after the Japanese govt and media began hiding the truth.
    Plutonium was used recently in the Fukushima plants.
    Radiation has reached Tokyo and people are leaving that city.
    Radiation is emanating from airplanes and passengers at Narita.
    People like Glenn Beck seem giddy at the prospect of the demise of Japanese people.
    It all benefits the Federal Reserve, the IMF and futuristic austerity measures to have Japan at the mercy of the expansion or demise of the dollar.
    Even NPR likened the whole thing to a previous over half a century ago atomic bombing as if the Japanese people should be used to dealing with nuclear damages and fallout.
    Sanguin observations of a horrific event that no one seems to relate to the bigger picture.

  • bill

    Forgot to mention: South Korea received a massive order of potassium iodide from Canada a little while before the tsunami and nuclear event.

  • Lesley

    The disaster will definitely have strong effects on the Japanese people psychologically, but given their long history, strong culture and experience with tragedy, the culture will definitely not change as a result of this disaster, and this is an important point for understanding Japanese society. All people feel shock, fear, and pain, and can react by buying up all the bottled water in Tokyo after learning of contamination by radiation, but Tokyo is relatively unaffected in this case. In the hard-hit areas, where people have lost eveything and just trying to survive, they are just working together to do everything they can to get through this. This reflects the strong value of working for the benefit of the group, and a very practical attitude toward life. Disasters happen, people do everything they can to prepare for them and respond to them, but we cannot prevent them, so people just have to manage their situation as best they can. Japan will recover, will rebuild with some improvements to their defenses against the sea, and will remember this event with great sadness for many years, but the people and the culture will keep their essential character, and this is perhaps their greatest strength as a nation.

  • Lee

    The sound played at the beginning of the segment, identified as a radiation monitor, was actually a radiation detector. A monitor measures radiation over time, and is silent. A detector measures at the moment, and makes sound as an alert.

  • Rkohorn

    Great discussion BUT a correction. The United States remains the largest economy in the world by far and will be for at least a decade at current trajectories. China has become number two and Japan is now number three.

  • Desmith

    I feel that the media would do more service letting the people of Japan deal with this disaster.I am tired of talking heads thinking up (oh I don’t know) points that can make an hour of programming.We are all interested and worried about these poor people but my point is your program talking it over and over does nothing but make hype!

  • David Mcook

    The time frame of the radiation in plants doesn’t make sense. If the plants are contaminated then wash them off. Surface contaminations are from particulate materials. If the plants are giving radiation off, then they have had to have some kind off source that entered the system i.e. water soil fertilizer etc. and the time it takes for a plant to grow with the result from it. The time it takes to do that suggests that the plants were growing in some form of contamination before the accident. I know this is difficult to understand for most, I have over 25 years experience in the nuk industry and am currently engineering fuel processing facilities. I also have extensive experience in decontamination and decomissioning of nuclear facilities. These stories are not making scientific sense and no one is pointing this out!

  • Anonymous

    What is this talk about blame?

    Who should the Japanese blame for their nuclear calamity? I hope they don’t blame anyone. Japanese tourist take courses on how to vacation in the USA. One of the things they are taught is that if they are ever in a car accident, don’t apologize, because it can be used against you in a court of law.

    National Geographic once described the busiest fish port in the world long ago. It was in Japan, and in the story two couriers on bikes collided at high speed. Both got up, bowed and apologized to each other, gathered their belongs and went on their way. The Japanese will just fix things.

    Societies recapitulate the moral ontological development of the individual. It appears to me, that the Japanese culture is beyond the blame game. Compared to us, the USA, their culture is old and very wise.

  • Carlo Danese

    Perhaps this event could inspire the entire world to cooperate in a way we have never done in terms of weaponry. This sort of event affects many neighboring countries; if it had happened in France a good part of central Europe would be affected. Maybe it is time for a world design to be generated;Russia had Chernobyl, the U.S. had 3 mile island, now Japan has it’s own tragedy. The entire world is affected and the entire world needs design a nuclear reactor which will incorporate all we’ve learned after all these disasters. Computers could be used to create any number of possible scenarios. Maybe I’m a dreamer, but an event like this could unite the world in a way that nuclear weapons never did.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

    With respect for those affected by the devastation in Japan, and for all who will be afflicted by the aftereffects of radiation from the damaged nuke plants, I’m appalled by a comment from one of the callers.

    “They just peel off the skin until you’re clean”. OK. So, now we’re looking at a nation of skinless people instead of folks with radiation poisoning? I fail to see reason in this remedy. The caller- a lifelong participant in our government’s radiological experiments- employed a common tactic known as “minimizing” a threat. Americans are fantastic at elevating imaginary threats for thrills and cash, yet, pose a real threat and Americans will stick their heads so far under the sand that all you can see is ….well…you get the picture.

    This is no laughing matter. Peeling the skin off hundreds of thousands – millions- of people will not make the nuclear industry any safer than it was on the day of the first reactor explosion. Again, the nuclear industry causes a massive threat to all life on Earth and ordinary people pay for it with their lives- or their skins. Same thing in my book.

    • Worried for the country(MA)

      He was a nuclear plant maintenance worker talking about going into the hole of a plant. There is no danger to the general public. The media has done a large disservice to the public in hyping the dangers.

      There was a host on CNN yesterday incredulous that there was no danger of radiation from Japan,… in LA.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

        Thanks for the clarification, Worried.
        I only heard him speak about working at Hanford (which became a notoriously “hot” place for the entire surrounding community, not just for workers at the plant) and figured that he might have been employed by either the government or one of the massive corporations that run the government. Same thing.

        Ann Coulter, aside, I really do not believe that I’d like to receive a dose, myself. Nor would I wish it on anybody else (or any living being) either.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

          Wikipedia link to info RE: Hanford nuclear site.

        • Worried for the country(MA)

          Agreed, radiation can be scary and real.

          However, everything needs to be in context. There is natural background radiation everywhere. Your body is emitting radiation now from natural K radiation. Banana s have relatively high radiation because of the K levels. None of this is harmful.

          Just because we have sensitive equipment that can measure radiation doesn’t indicate the danger.

  • Stan

    Interesting show. I lived in Japan as a child (1956-67) when the country moved from WWII devastation toward technological world leadership. Government, military, and nuclear experts aside, traditional Japanese culture still widely shared by the common citizenry is resilient enough to face and overcome the problems it confronts today. Gov. Ishihara’s comments are not unfounded. The Japanese have sometimes been prone to a degree of arrogance and self-pride (especially in cross-cultural relationships–e.g. Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, WWII, pre-recession world economic boom). But the culture also has a more refined degree of interpersonal humility, respect, and acceptance of responsibility rather than blaming difficulties on others. That’s the side of the Japanese people that shined bright after WWII and also characterized Japanese Americans when they endured their utterly needless WWII internment in North America. Terrible trouble tends to strengthen people with that kind of outlook on life.

  • Rick H.

    This show felt shallow. The guests were asked questions about nuclear matters and economics, but it was obvious both were out of their depth with respect to these issues. It was a show of talking points.

    There must be others out there who truly understand what is happening in Japan in terms of the science and economic impact.

  • Anonymous


    I would like to suggest a new show topic of “Union Leader Proposes Economic Terrorism — Where Is The Department of Justice”

    If you are not familiar with the story, you might want to look into a speech at Pace University in New York City, by prominent union leader Steven Lerner that calls for economic terrorism in effect to crash the stock market.

    This topic would make for some lively conversation.

    • Jim in Omaha

      Haven’t we already been subjected to economic terrorism by the global financial sector which, most definitely, did not involve union activity? I read the real story, not the propagandized version, and it primarily calls for those who have already been subjected to terrorism to fight back against those forces. As for the DOJ, just who have they held responsible for what ALREADY occurred? I’d say go after the ones who have already done the damage, not make-believe right-wing nightmare conspiracy scenarios.

      • david

        jim, it sounds like you have bought into their plan. I read the real story too. What part of calling for a boycott against banks you owe money to, inorder to cause a collapse, seems okay with you. What if this action comes true and if does cause another economic collapse worst than the latter. What say you then?? There are elements in our society that are working for the collapse of our way of life. The foolish are the ones who dismiss this as a possibility.

        • Jim in Omaha

          I realize you don’t really believe in a market not manipulated by a select elite, but what part of exercising your rights under the contract and forcing the other party, who screwed you in the first place, to work for the remedy the contract provides for, don’t you understand? Big business does it all the time.

          I do,however, agree that “there are elements in our society that are working for the collapse of our way of life. The foolish are the ones who dismiss this as a possibility.” And they have let those elements get pretty far down the road to ruin. Time to stop ‘em.

          • david

            Jim, I would ask your opinion. Do you feel the group at Pace needs to be looked at by the DOJ? If their intent is to bring down our system and they accomplish it, double dip will be a mild phrase for what is in store. It is wrong for a person to default on their contracted payment of a loan in order to collapse a business. Two wrongs does not make for a right.

    • david

      Brandstad, a good suggestion that will go unnoticed. It is like the blind leading the blind, sooner or later they both fall into the hole. I hope they do not drag us all in with them! Keep an eye on May.

  • GTThrasher

    Suggestion for a new program – our energy future beginning with Japan’s power industry rebuilding. PLEASE consider inviting the folks from MIT who authored the US DOE/MIT study in 2006-2007 that shows the ability of the United States to power our entire electrical grid from deep well geothermal energy. This method of power generation is not a science project – there are presently 10,000 MWe ( that’s megawatts electrical ) worldwide and approximately 6000 MWe in the US producing power in Calif., Utah, Nevada, and Arizona ( look up Nevada Geothermal Energy) for a real company producing electric power from hot rocks. The irony of this whole approach is that only since the oil & gas crowd started deep well drilling has the drilling technology progressed to the point that we could get deep enough to make serious baseload electric power a reality. Let’s stop all the talk about oil, gas, coal, boimass and uranium – geothermal needs none of these. At come at this subject as a graduate engineer (WPI class of ’67) with a completed career in power plant engineering , construction, and maintenance which includes 7+ years at PilgrimStation in Plymouth,MA and includes a ’97-98 six month assignment at Fukushima Daiichi Unit #3 with GE rebuilding the reactor internals. We can make nuclear safer no doubt but we can’t afford the cost and why bother when geothermal will be cheaper and much much safer. Contact Professor Jefferson Tester at MIT ( he may have moved to Cornell but he was the lead researcher on the 2006 Study – the study is available on the net as a 300-400 page PDF )

  • Keiko

    I certainly can see the resilience of Japanese people very much this time regardless the size of the disasters. I live in the States not seeing the effect in person and only see them on the both Japanese and Western media or hear from my family and friends who live in and near Tokyo. I am amazed by how calm my family and friends seem and what a great courage the survivors are showing. A lot of us among Japanese people even compare this cluster of disasters to WWII and believe that we will recover. “If we were able to rose above the rubble post war and atomic bombs to one of the largest economy in the world, we can do this and come out even stronger.” Experts said Hiroshima and Nagasaki wouldn’t grow any trees for 50 years? My grandfather was in Hiroshima only 2 km away from the epicenter and lived till 90. We can believe in people, spirits and culture of Japanese.

  • guest

    I’m kind of tired of hearing everybody harp on how terrible nuclear power is. I’m an environmental consultant, and I’ve spent my life trying to clean up our air by improving the existing and trying to get renewables introduced as much as possible. However, I’m also aware that that will not happen over night and that as part of the solution, if we don’t include nuclear we will end up with more coal and oil used. Now air pollution may not be as sexy as radiation, but the fact is that on average, EVERY coal or oil power plant in the US kills 29 people EVERY YEAR. Not once in a while when there is a terrible disaster. Every plant, every year. And that’s before we start talking about climate change.

    So obviously we need to require the highest possible safety standards. And obviously we should phase out all of the non-renewable sources INCLUDING nuclear, but in the interim, when faced with the choice of coal or oil v. nuclear, as scary as it may seem, I vote for nuclear. Why? Because it is SAFER.

    • GTThrasher

      What if we didn’t need oil, gas,coal, or uranium at all ? Would that be a good way to go? PLEASE take a look at deep well geothermal for grid electricity and then for all energy use except perhaps truck transportation.

      • Worried for the country(MA)

        That would be exciting. From what I hear it isn’t economic and is only viable in certain regions but I’d like to hear otherwise.

        • Worried for the country(MA)

          Oh, I see your details below. Yeah have the experts on.

    • TheHempChick

      Am I hearing an “environmental” consultant… in the year 2011, where values such as sustainability and green living is KNOWN WORLD WIDE to be PARAMOUNT when considering how we move forward IF we wish to continue the human species making claims that our only answer to nuclear power is oil and coal? If so, you are not very researched.

      What about water/heat “combustion”? Perfecting the steam engine? Geothermal? Wave Power? Wind Power? Solar? Light Rails? Fuel alternatives like veggie oil, ethanol… What about magnetics? Do you know of the world’s greatest scientist/engineer/innovator of all times, Nikola Tesla?

      Did you know Henry Ford, from Ford Motors, made a car from Hemp; the most versatile, economical, and sustainable PLANT known to humankind? Whose engine also ran on Hemp? Prior to the industrial revolution. Do you know we can also build a year round temperature controlled house made from Hemp in only four days? Replace all plastics with biodegradable hemp…

      We can grow our cars, our fuel, our food, our homes, and even our medicine, right in our own backyards. We’ll be in production within 4 months. Give all dirty energy employees jobs in the new Hemp Industry, don’t change any salaries or positions (of course alter the production/machinery/engineering a bit, where necessary) and viola, a New World is born.

      Yes. It really is THAT simple. It’s time to reclaim Earths most Sustainable, Renewable Treasure… Industrial Hemp!

  • guest

    Oh, and in case you were wondering, there are about 5,400 power plants in the US, so thats about 800,000 people killed in the US only every year by power plant related air pollution.

  • tom

    Hi Tom, have you thought about doing a show on regulatory capture in the US’s nuke industry and the regulator that pretends to keep an eye on it?

    We’ve seen what regulatory capture did to the finance industry; what about nukes?

  • http://www.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com Douglas Brooks

    I felt this was an excellent show, but having spent over twenty years doing research in rural Japan documenting traditional Japanese boat building, I can also say that there are a lot of disaffected young and middle aged Japanese for whom corporate jobs are impossible to find, and who are rediscovering, in their own way, the rural ways of life. Its fascinating to see a burgeoning back-to-the-land movement in Japan (I live in Vermont, ground zero for the same kind of movement in the 1970′s). Perhaps as Japan rebuilds this region it can attract and incorporate some of these new, progressive, eco-minded values. Also, the tsunami hit a stretch of coastline I know well, a region that was a mecca of traditional wooden boats. Its tragic to think of the cultural losses of this disaster, and I hope the Japanese can preserve and document the ways of life that have been affected. If you would like to know more about my research, visit the Japanese Boats page of my website: http://www.douglasbrooksboatbuilding.com

  • Vehemente

    I listened to this discussion and was very disappointed that the discussion centered around how the quake and its aftermath affects Japanese-American relations or Americans period. Disturbing that even in the wake of such a catastrophy the discussion was all about “us.” I was really hoping the talk would be about the changes to Japanese coast line, the effect on farming and fishing, the possibilities of rebuilding the port towns and the like. Maybe you can do a show on that. Also these two fellows both seemed to assume that our current relationship with Japan should continue with us playing big daddy to the Japanese. I am afraid I don’t get that. But then I don’t get Iraq, Afghanistan and oppose the destruction of infrastructure in Libya coyly called a “no fly zone.”

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