To take us through the holiday weekend (and shortly before I vacation this blog for the summer), let’s have a discussion about this article by Peter Tasker which achieved a prominent spot in a prominent policymakers’ magazine.
The article offers hope that Japan will rebuild. But it also cherry-picks economic statistics to show that Japan isn’t as bad economically as all that (he even dismisses the “Lost Decade(s)”; does Mr. Tasker get out of Tokyo much?). And, more oddly, he takes the opportunity of Japan’s worst postwar disaster to swipe at the “Revisionists” (the contrapose to the “Chrysanthemum Club”), particularly the late Chalmers Johnson. The C-Club, a group of scholars with great sway in US-Japan Relations for just about the entire Postwar Era, generally tends to explain away most of Japan’s disinclination to follow international rules and norms by citing their own conjured-up sacerdotal cultural oddities and esoterica (or, less charitably, “intellectual chicanery” and “uncritical apolog[ism] for Japan”). It preys on the fact that it knows more Japanese words and concepts than most Western readers do, and cites them even if they aren’t grounded in much. And woe betide any competing point of view to come in and spoil the US-Japan Relationship love-in.
True to form, in the best rewarmed Reishauer, Mr. Tasker acclaims the country’s “extraordinary social cohesion and stoicism” in the name of “social stability” and “national self-respect”, thanks to “mutual respect, not victory in competition”, and of course, “gaman” and “shimaguni konjo”. This overseas school of thought once again portrays poor, poor Japan as perpetually misunderstood by the West, not as a corporatist state that serves its citizenry at times pretty poorly and seeks little consent from its governed. As Japan’s per capita incomes keep dropping, people (particularly new employment market entrants) find themselves less able to advance or improve their lives, while the flaws of the state have come ever more into stark relief thanks to Fukushima.
For this time, Fukushima’s increasing radiation exposure is not something that can wait like a regular disaster (such as the slow recovery efforts after the Kobe Earthquake of 1995). Meanwhile, the ineffectual state keeps covering up information, shifting safety standards for radioactivity, and exposing more people and the international food chain to accumulating toxin. Yet it’s this much-vaunted public “stoicism” (as opposed to feelings of powerlessness and futility) that is precisely what will do people in. Mr. Tasker’s citing of the alleged common belief that “the janitor in your apartment building is not a representative of ‘the other’. He is you.” may be something the Japanese are being told to tell themselves (although I can’t find any sources for that), but I don’t believe this attitude is going to be a constructive source for recovery this time. Fukushima will, however, eventually become a source of “grand-mal victimization”, as a substitute for solution and revolution, as the malcontents who might do something will give up and/or just flee. We will quite possibly see an exodus (if there isn’t an unreported one going on already) of Japanese (which has happened periodically before during the other times Japan’s economic system broke down; hence the immigrant Japanese communities in places like South America, Hawaii, and California) from this system which quite simply cannot fix itself, and the people feel powerless to demand better even as they get slowly poisoned.
The difference this time is that the breakdown in the state is spreading toxins beyond its own borders, unabated four months later, with no end in sight. I wonder if Mr. Tasker would offer any revisions to his article now. But I doubt it. His politics come through pretty clearly below.
Finally, in contrapose to the media’s much vaunted “Japanese earthquake without looting” canard, I enclose at the very bottom two articles for the record substantiating ATM machine and convenience store theft in the earthquake areas. A friend also noted a Kyodo wire entitled “684 million yen stolen from ATMs in hardest-hit prefectures” that made the July 16 Japan Times but he says can’t be found archived anywhere. “Stoicism and social cohesion”? People are people. Shit happens and people react. Let’s not obfuscate this with cultural canards aiming at advancing the outdated politics and analytical rubric of the Chrysanthemum Club.