Category Archives: 東日本大震災

UBC Workshop: Reconstruction after Japan’s Triple Disaster: Lessons for British Columbia

My colleague from UBC’s Geography Department, David Edgington, has put together a terrific workshop with funding from the Japan Foundation to discuss lessons from the aftermath of the triple disaster of the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis.

Presentations on March 15


Hirokazu Tatano, Disaster Prevention Research Institute, Kyoto University: “The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami: Implications for Infrastructure Planning and Management”

Panel 2

Theme: Learning from Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Japan and North America

Hirokazu Tatano, Disaster Prevention Research Institute, Kyoto University “The Japanese Emergency Management System”

John Oakley, Snr. Regional Manager, Emergency Management, BC “The British Columbia Emergency Management System”

Moderator: Ilan Vertinsky, IAR and Sauder Business School, UBC.

Panel 3

Theme: Community Reconstruction after Disasters

Masahige Motoe, Architecture and Urban Design Course, Tohoku University “Housing Transitions after the Japan Quake and the Activities of Architects – ArchiAid

Julian Dierkes, Director, Centre for Japanese Research, IAR, UBC “Small and Medium Education Businesses in the Economic Recovery of Tohoku”

Moderator: Chihiro Shimizu, International School of Economics and Business Administration, Reitaku Univeristy; Advisor to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Japan.

Panel 4

Theme: Film: Social Media and Disasters

Jamie Williams, School of Journalism, UBC “The Evolving Role of Social Media in Emergency Management”

Peter Anderson, School of Communications, Simon Fraser University “The Evolving Role of Social Media in Emergency Management”

Moderator: David Rummel, Visiting Professor at the School of Journalism, UBC; Senior Producer for News and Documentary at the New York Times.

Presentations on March 16

Panel 5

Theme: Economic Reconstruction after Disasters

Stephanie Chang, School of Community and Regional Planning, UBC “Economic Impacts and Recovery in the Great East Japan Earthquake Disaster

Glen Magel, Director, Safety and Security, BCIT; Board Chair, Emergency Preparedness for Industry and Commerce Council “EPIC: The Emergency Preparedness for Industry and Commerce Council

Moderator: David W. Edgington, Geography, UBC

Panel 6

Theme: Universities and Cities in Disasters

Masahige Motoe, Architecture and Urban Design Course, Tohoku University “The Reconstruction Process at the Tohoku University Campus

Ron Holton, Chief Risk Officer, Risk Management Services, UBC “Enhancing Disaster Response Preparedness at UBC

Moderator: Kevin Wallinger, Director, Office of Emergency Management, City of Vancouver

Reflecting on Tohoku Trip

If you follow me on twitter you know that I recently spent some days in Tohoku  with the intent of looking at post-disaster recovery from the perspective of juku as a small service-oriented business. I am now mulling over some of my observations from this trip in preparation for a March 15 presentation in a workshop organized by my colleague David Edgington at UBC.

During my visit, I was able to meet with 1o juku operators in the region, from Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures to Fukushima.

Here is a loose list of some of the things I will talk about:

  • in terms of the situation that juku find themselves in, the clearly most significant determinant of this situation is whether the operator has access to a teaching space, i.e. whether his/her home/teaching space had been destroyed
  • differences in the impact of the triple disaster by geographic zones:
    • coastal regions: tsunami impact severe, but it largely ends at where ever the water rose to
    • inland: some damage to buildings, but only sporadic
    • Fukushima: radiation impact pervasive
  • relatively few juku operators have abandoned the business
  • while economic opportunities were limited in the country-side pre-disaster, even rural Tohoku was not in as dire a situation (in terms of economic decline, out-migration) as I’ve seen in Shimane Prefecture, for example
  • while there were many casual throughout the region, the number of children who perished was limited and there are also many families who were not impacted materially to any great extent. This has meant that for many juku, business is down (in terms of the number of children taught), but not dramatically so
  • juku are eligible for reconstruction funds as small businesses and these public monies are appropriate to the reconstruction needs of a small service business
  • there is clearly a disaster bubble (震災バブル) in progress, evidence of which could be seen in the many (truck) traffic jams, busy eating establishments, and reflections by locals
  • while the physical clean-up continues apace and the situation for small business seems to be normalizing, there is massive human suffering in evidence all around
  • relief and support efforts are fraught with traps. Offer free tutoring for local students? You’re killing local business opportunities. Offer subsidies for local businesses, non-local chains, etc. will also be eligible.
  • some fascinating volunteer projects in place that are trying to make the best of a very difficult situation and are innovative in doing so
  • the operators of small juku overwhelmingly reported that their corporate cousins (大手塾) have abandoned the region

Some of these observations will come as no surprise to colleagues who have conducted research on post-disaster areas before and I am still trying to organize these thoughts in a more coherent fashion.

Juku as Engines of Post-Disaster Recovery?

My geography colleague, friend, and predecessor as director of the Centre for Japanese Research at UBC, David Edgington, has put together a group of researchers at UBC who will conduct research on post-disaster recover in Tohoku leading up to a March 2012 workshop. Under David’s leadership, we have received a grant from the Japan Foundation under its “Critical Issues Emanating from Japan’s March 11th Disasters” funding envelope.

Our group includes David, the Institute ‘s Stephanie Chang, and Journalism student Jamie Williams.

Given my experience in Fukushima and Miyagi this summer, naturally my main interest in the post-disaster situation in Tohoku involves education.

Thus I am planning a trip to Japan in January and hope to spend about a week on Tohoku’s coast. I’m hoping to meet juku operators there who have re-opened their juku, and also others who have not done so.

Why talk to juku operators? Well, juku are a business with virtually no capital needs other than a room or building. No machinery, no fridges, no subscriptions to pay. Even in a post-disaster situation – as long as some buildings remain and a juku operator has access to them -, a juku could reopen very quickly after a disaster.

The reopening of various public facilities was seen as a significant milestone in many Tohoku communities, whether it was the return to normal train schedules or the closing of emergency shelters. Can a service industry with low capital needs serve as an anchor of social and economic recovery?

The complicating factor for the Tohoku coast (as opposed to Sendai, for example) is that many of the coastal communities were already facing a social and economic decline before the Tsunami struck. As  many people perished in coastal communities and many people who survived left the area, especially in greater proximity to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the potential customer base for supplementary education services may have disappeared. Remaining inhabitants may also not have the funds to pay for juku while juku operators are unlikely to be in a business position to offer significant discounts. While conventional schools may be receiving a variety of donations and other support (possibly even from here in BC, see an Natural Resources Canada announcement to this effect), there is unlikely to be very much support for for-profit juku and their customers.

The social decline certainly extended to the supplementary education industry as well, as I have observed in Shimane Prefecture where the de-industrialization and de-population dynamic was comparable to pre-3/11 Tohoku.

Looking for contacts in Affected Areas of Tohoku

If you know anyone who operated a juku pre-3/11 in Sendai or in coastal communities, I would be very grateful if you could put me in touch with such people, whether they have re-opened their businesses (if they were directly, i.e. physically affected by the Tsunami or not), or not. julian{dot}dierkes|at|ubc(dot)ca

Social Repercussions of the 大震災 in Coastal Tohoku

While driving around with Billy McMichael in Tohoku it emerged clearly that there’s no consistent policy as to whether property and former house owners will be allowed to rebuild their houses in areas that were swept by the Tsunami. The arguments for/against are clear, I suppose.

No, don’t allow rebuilding: It might have been a once-a-millennium Tsunami, but that’s just an average, so re-building should not be allowed so as not to raise the expectation that they state/municipality backs homeowners up when there are recurring disasters.

Yes, allow rebuilding: a) It’s private property, owners should be allows to do with it what they want to do.  b) It’s their home and returning to a rebuilt home may be an important part of grieving and recovery.

In Soma and Shinchi it seemed that rebuilding would not be permitted while in Nattori it seemed like there were preparations under way for rebuilding.

If there’s any rebuilding, will more protection against Tsunamis be built? 10-15 years ago, the Japanese government would have enthusiastically said, “Yes, let’s build a 40m dyke, that will show the waves!” and would have begun mixing the concrete. While the current government is not noticeably smarter with these kind of decisions, it has noticeably less financial leeway, so that is not an option. Improvements to the Tsunami warning system are being considered, however.

As an aside, my new prepaid phone that AU made me get as the old one was using a CDMA generation that is about to go out of service, has an earthquake warning function built in. No good, if you’re a prepaid (i.e. cheap) customer as prepaid doesn’t include any data traffic, but imagine the warning before a quake is about to strike. Presumably phones buzzing all around…

The other big questions regarding rebuilding is not about private residences, but about the economic bases of towns. Some of the towns on the coast were obviously highly dependent on specific industries or employers. Some fishing towns may have been deriving as much as 70% of the overall residents’ incomes from fishing (fishermen themselves, longshoremen, harbour operators, packers, freezers, shippers, etc.). With harbours entirely out of commission, many of the under- or un-employed are hiring on with the construction crews that are cleaning up Tsunami debris.

The situation in towns closer to the nuclear plants is even more tragic in that jobs have been lost as adding insult to the injury suffered from radiation.

Any agricultural or fishing products will obviously also suffer from the spectre of radiation for some years to come to the extent that consumers in Japan or elsewhere will be able to identify produce/products from Fukushima and Miyagi.

So, should towns, prefectures and the national government encourage re-building when many of the affected areas were already in demographic decline? What’s the alternative to encouraging economic rebuilding? If there was a serious push for green energy (unclear whether PM Noda will continue PM Kan’s recent anti-nuclear rhetoric), wouldn’t it be terrific if some of the r & d or production could be located in Tohoku? But will that really revive these towns on the coast?

I am contemplating some limited research to investigate the role that juku (as low capital-cost, high social integration potential for communities) might play in the revival of some rural towns. One of my main juku contacts in Tokyo lost his mother in the Tsunami while his older brothers still reside in Kesennuma. He is eagerly waiting for some local leadership to emerge (no one has any illusions about any of the DJP (or LDP for that matter) leaders becoming true leaders in the sense of charismatic visionaries) to (re)consider the future of these towns. I hope that juku might give me a little bit of an angle to examine the future development of Tohoku.

Impressions from Tohoku

On Aug 18, I made my way to Fukushima City and then headed toward the cost with Billy McMichael from Fukushima Univ. After some hours of volunteering, Bill was kind enough to drive me to the cost to see some of the devastated communities there. I felt a bit uneasy as a bit of a “disaster tourist”, but I’ve spoken to several people from Tohoku since then and they are actually very eager for visitors to see the current situation which made me feel a bit better about visiting.

Before I even arrived in Fukushima, I noticed from the Shinkansen, especially in Koriyama, that many of the houses looked like they had blue tarp “band-aids” on their roof. I first couldn’t quite figure out what was going on, especially since I kept seeing more and more tarps weighed down by big rocks, but one particular house made the explanation quite obvious, i.e. individual roof tiles that had been dislodged in the earthquake or aftershocks and holes that were now covered up to keep the rain out. Billy confirmed that Koriyama had seen  much more severe shaking than Fukushima City, due to differences in the rockbed in their specific locations.

The next things I noticed in the drive toward Soma city that Japan really is quite jungly in the summer. I had not been here in July-August since the late 1990s, having simply avoided travel to Japan during this hot and humid season. With frequent visits in the late Fall and early Spring, my mental image of Japan had slowly become that of dry rice paddies or bare trees. Summer is not that by any stretch. I mention this because the verdant growth everywhere clearly has begun to cover up some of the earthquake/tsunami scars. This vegetation cover lends some areas an immediate air of normalcy as it requires at least a second glance to notice signs of the recent destruction.

I saw an unusual number of freshly planted sunflower beds. It appears that the fast weed-like growth of the sunflower means that it absorbs some of the cesium out of the ground (can anyone speak to this with any expertise?), but I wonder what will happen to the dry plants at the end of the Fall. Certainly no dumping of radioactive sunflowers in my backyard!

When we came closer to the coast in Soma (some 15km or so from the radiation exclusion zone), some大 震災 damages became more visible quickly. It was very obvious quickly that a massive clean-up effort is under way on the Tohoku coast. Backhoes dotting the landscape as far as the eye can see in affected areas. Clearly, construction and clean-up crews are busy and this must be an economic relief as it also must offer employment opportunities to local residents who may have lost their livelihood in the 大震災. For example, towns that are within commuting distance from the No. 1 nuclear plant may be suffering from the after-effects of the 大震災 and the on-going nuclear crisis, but their harbours as well as the many jobs associated with the two large nuclear complexes in Fukushima have also been eliminated.

Most of the clean-up effort currently seems to be directed at scraping debris together into large piles for later disposal. In residential areas near the cost, this means that all that remains are foundations. Having visited coastal towns like Soma and Shinchi in the past, I can imagine what these residential areas may have looked like before the 大震災, but entire streets with mere foundations in place certainly do not look like vibrant coastal towns.

In most areas, there are often individual structures that remain standing, though typically with broken windows or otherwise damaged. I can only imagine that specifics of topography may have redirected Tsunami water masses away from such structures to allow them to remain standing. Clearly, some houses have chunks taken out of them where something else must have smashed into them.

The closer to the shore and the further up north, the more visible debris and damage I saw. We ended up driving past Sendai to Natori (名取) where the clean-up is in full swing but hasn’t progressed as far as further South. There are still lots of boats and other debris in rice patties and some neighbourhoods are still standing in their destroyed states.

Near the Ocean in Natori (名取)



We got out of the car near this spot to walk around a little and apart from the obvious destruction to houses, a lot of the human losses were also immediately visible when walking around. We found house keys, toys, and insurance ID of some kind, simply strewn about, who knows where it was from the immediate area or from much further away. While the immediate visible impact of the destruction is already powerful, it is when thoughts turn to the people and their suffering that it becomes quite overwhelming.

名取, August 2011

One of the more startling visual clues to the power of the tsunami is the highly compacted cars that can be found everywhere. The car in the picture was a ミニカー as made clear by the yellow plates, but that refers to the size of the engine, not necessarily of the car body.

Driving toward Sendai we saw lots of stretches of dry, salty rice paddies with the earth cracking is is usually seen in pictures of droughts. The contrast with the jungly vegetation everywhere else was particularly stark in these areas.

Clearly, the on-going clean-up and reconstruction on the Tohoku coast will take years. What long-term damage has been caused to the local population beyond their immediate material losses, we’ll only likely know in decades.

Volunteering for the Day in Fukushima

I had grand ambitions for a kids’ summer camp co-organized with juku in Tokyo earlier this year. Unfortunately, my limited organizational resources prevented this from becoming a reality.

However, through the facilitation of Billy McMichael of 福島大学 I was able to make at least a tiny contribution to the much larger volunteering effort.

Billy picked me up in Fukushima and we drove to a town called Soma towards the cost and in the general direction of the No. 1 Nuclear Plant in Fukushima. On the way, I was able to lean a lot about developments in Fukushima since 3•11 and on the current situation from Billy.

Due to accidents of wind directions and rain, Fukushima has been the hardest hit by radiation. This has meant for kids, for example, that parents are generally not letting them play outside. Favourite summer pasttimes like swimming in the rivers (which accumulate radiation due to the soil and other sediments being washed down from hills and then deposited in the river). This lack of outdoor play is compounded by the fact that children who live in coastal towns are additionally hit by a number of circumstances.

Virtually everyone lost a car or cars that were swept away by the Tsunami. Many people have lost their livelihoods and compensation claims seem to be relatively slow in making their way to affected families. Many children have lost a friend or relative in the disaster. For families who lost their homes, they have generally moved from evacuation centres to temporary housing, but this temporary housing is often far removed from their original home. Many families have also left the area to stay with relatives elsewhere in Japan if only temporarily. Children have thus been separated from their friends, their schools are damaged, destroyed or had been evacuation centres until recently, their are living in remote locations with parents who are struggling with their own post-traumatic stress and don’t have cars to take kids anywhere, AND they can’t play outside. This is obviously a pretty devastating mix of circumstances for most children.

Billy and his fellow volunteers are trying to remedy this situation at least slightly by offering to host children in community centres for a day of games and hanging out. This strikes me as a really low-key but very important effort and I was thrilled to be able to contribute in a tiny way by joining Billy.

The group of volunteers consists of Fukushima-based JET teachers from around the world and a group of lifesavers from around Japan. It is particularly good to see the JETs volunteering to make up for some of the perception that non-Japanese residents of Japan abandoned their fellow citizens after the disaster struck.

The lifeguards had planned a series of games, most of which involved Janken in some way. After that there was some free play time that led to a lot of balls being kicked around, face-painting (one of Billy’s friends was terrific in drawing Totoro, Pikachu and other characters), and some lunch. About 25 children, mostly of elementary school age, participated, and days like this were going to be offered to the children (who were picked up by a community bus and brought to the community centre from their temporary housing) on a regular basis, certainly throughout the summer vacation.

Note that the situation for many of these children will most likely not improve for some years. I am therefore hoping very much that the failed effort to organize some kind of camp will be more successful later this year or next.

Relief Idea: Summer Camp for Evacuated Children in Japan

As a community of students and researchers with strong links to Japan from the University of British Columbia, we would like to volunteer our services to contribute to relief efforts in the regions affected by the triple disaster of March 11.

Through long-standing connections with juku teachers and operators as well as through inclusion of JET-alumni with teaching experience in Japan in our efforts, we are hoping to organize a recreational summer camp for evacuated children during the upcoming summer vacation. Ideally, this would accommodate a significant number of children in a location away from Tohoku to give the children an activity to look forward to during the summer, as well as to offer their parents some time to attend to pressing matters associated with their evacuation.

Planned activities would include teaching and learning activities designed in collaboration between experience juku teachers and JET alumni, as well as structured play activities. We hope to draw on the advice or participation of post-traumatic counselors in designing activities that would be appropriate as well as helpful to participating students.

We are now seeking direct links with municipalities and/or schools in affected regions to discuss the possibility of such a camp. In addition to the volunteering of project participants as teachers, we hope to be able to raise the funds to offer free participation (including transportation and room & board) to students in a three-day camp.

If you have any comments/suggestions/donations for this still-evolving project idea, please contact me directly.