Health and Education Ministries issue directive to place controls on research going on in Tohoku tsunami disaster zones

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Hi Blog.  This is a very interesting development that has been uncovered and discussed on the H-Japan academic public listserv (which I include in full below to show the context).

The Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare Ministry has issued a directive, written by the Education Ministry’s Department of Life Sciences, Bureau for the Promotion of Research, to all related research industries, universities, and tertiary-education associations regarding health surveys and research conducted within the Tohoku disaster area.

Dated May 15, 2011, a little more than two months after the tsunami, the directive (full Japanese text below) essentially tells academic researchers 1) there are “ethical guidelines” (rinri shishin) for epidemiologists to follow, and that research guidelines must be passed by ethics committees and approved by their research institution’s head; 2) these health surveys and research must also sufficiently (juubun) be run by the local governments (jichitai) in the disaster areas beforehand, and afterwards the results of the research (if I’m reading this odd and rather vague sentence right) must “take into due consideration” (hairyo) the disaster victims and the appropriate systems providing them health and welfare (better translations welcome); 3) in order to not to cause any undue stress to the disaster victims, health surveys and research must avoid repetition by “not surveying and researching in more detail than necessary”, and with sufficient understanding of the situation on the ground.

Well, it might sound sensible at first read.  But given the history of lack of accurate and timely information being issued by the Japanese authorities concerning the whole Fukushima debacle, there is another way to read this ministerial directive:  1) All research must be tracked and approved by somebody above you in the research workplace, 2) All research must be tracked by the local governments and health departments before and after, and 3) All research must not ask too many questions.

The point is, in the name of “ethics”, the government is inserting veto gates into what might become research independent of the GOJ, and making sure that information tracked before and afterwards stays under central control.  Which means, in practice, that if there are research lines or inquiries or results unpalatable to the GOJ, they might not be seen by the public.

My read of this document is that this is primary-source evidence of GOJ central control over the scientific method regarding a politically-sensitive issue.  And this will control the information flow out to the world regarding the effects and aftermath of Fukushima.  Arudou Debito


Starts at

From: H-Japan Editor (j-edit@MAIL.H-NET.MSU.EDU)
Editor’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E): Teaching the Crisis: some reflections
Author’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E): Teaching the Crisis: some reflections
Date Posted: Tue, 10 Oct 2011

October 9, 2011

From: JFMorris (

Dear List Members

I would like to thank David Slater for his open call to bring together
people working on the disaster in Tohoku.

However, reading his proposal, I cannot help but feel a certain disquiet
about it. I think that this stems most directly from the fact that I
cannot find Tohoku involved in this proposal in any but a passive way. If
you want to reflect the voices of people from Tohoku, then why not get us
involved from the outset? Tohoku University had set up one of the major
world class interdiscipinary research projects on natural disasters some
years before this current disaster (we all knew that a big one was coming,
and were already gearing up for it): outside of Tohoku University,
numerous scholars within Tohoku are involved in dealing with it a
multitude of ways. One thing that has really bugged me watching reporting
on this disaster unfold is that we of Tohoku are there to be talked about,
but not to be seriously allowed to go much beyond eyewitness accounts, the
more heart-rending the better. If you want to deal with topics such as
trying to reframe Tohoku history (this requires you to reframe crucial
junctures of “Japanese” history…), interdisciplinary approaches to
studying disasters, experiences learnt from this disaster, then there is a
wealth of academic experience here. Is the problem that the overwhelming
portion of this is available in Japanese? This list was originally set up
with the high ideal of bringing Japanese and non-Japanese scholars
together in a truly bilingual list, where posting in 2 languages was meant
to be the norm… How many years is it since I saw anything on this list
written in Japanese, let alone any other language?

While on my high horse, I would like to add a little word of caution about
barging in and doing research here. I am as much aware of the need to do
this as anyone else. As IKEDA Ken’ichi pointed out in his posting of 3rd
October, (1) Japan does have ethical standards to be maintained in
conducting research, and (2) the Ministry of Education and Science has put
out effectively a blanket ban on doing research unless this is specifically
at the request of the local government of the relevant area: there are that
many people crawling through this area that this kind of restriction is
necessary (well, up to a point…).

I do not want to start a flame; that is furthest from my intention. From
his postings to this net, I am seriously impressed with David’s commitment
to acting both as a rank and file member of humanity, and as an academic,
to reacting in a constructive way to this disaster. However, if you want
to start some kind of a summing up, if you leave the major research
centres of the region out, then I think that you are going to miss
something very important. If I have misconstrued David’s posting, then I
apologise in advance.

John Morris
Miyagi Gakuin Women’s University


From: H-Japan Editor (j-edit@MAIL.H-NET.MSU.EDU)
Date: 12 October, 2011
Subject: H-JAPAN (E): Research ban?
Reply-To: H-NET/KIAPS List for Japanese History

On-line editor: Janet R. Goodwin (

October 12, 2011


From John Morris’ post appearing on October 9th :”(2) the Ministry of Education and Science has put out effectively a blanket ban on doing research unless this is specifically at the request of the local government of the relevant area: there are that many people crawling through this area that this kind of restriction is necessary (well, up to a point…).”

Could you provide more information about the research ban? Is it for certain designated districts or certain research subjects? I was surprised to read of a ban because the government has been encouraging tourism as a means of economic recovery. Recently, I caught a few seconds of an NHK clip showing students taking a boat on coastline tour of a tsunami hit area and snapping away with cameras. From what little I saw, this activity was being presented as an edifying experience. I hope that researchers do not interfere with recovery. However, it seems odd that the government would allow school children to visit an area from which it banned researchers.

Greg Johnson



From: H-Japan Editor (j-edit@MAIL.H-NET.MSU.EDU)
Author’s Subject: H-JAPAN (E/J): Ban on Research?
Date Written: Wed, 12 Oct 2011 22
On-line editor: Janet R. Goodwin

October 12, 2011

From: J.F.Morris

Dear Greg and List Members,

The directive issued jointly by the Ministry of Education and Science and is as
follows. Please note that to display the rest of this mail on your screen, you
will have to set your “View” settings to display in either Japanese or
Universal font. It is not a total ban, but a very limiting one.

John Morris
Miyagi Gakuin




大学等          御中






1 「疫学研究に関する倫理指針(以下、疫学指針)」が適用される疫学研究を実施する場合等においては、疫学指針等にのっとり、当該研究計画について、倫理審査委員会の審査を受け、研究機関の長による許可を得るなど、適切な対応を行うこと。

2 被災者を対象とする調査・研究は、当該被災地の自治体と十分調整した上で実施すること。また、調査・研究の結果、必要と考えられる被災者には、適切な保健医療福祉サービスが提供される体制を整備する等配慮すること。

3 対象となる被災者に過度な負担とならないよう、対象地域において行われている調査・研究の状況を十分に把握した上で、重複を避け、必要以上に詳細な調査・研究が行われることのないように配慮すること。


From: j-edit@MAIL.H-NET.MSU.EDU
Date: 13 October, 2011
Subject: Re H-JAPAN (E/J): Ban on research?

—————————- Original Message —————————-

On-line editor: Janet R. Goodwin

October 13, 2011


Thanks. So the Health Ministry is restricting research on human subjects,

not all research as I mistakenly assumed. The 対象となる被災者
refers to people in the 被災地, but I wonder if the Ministry
shouldn’t consider whether people displaced by the disasters and no longer
in 被災地 require a clause in this memorandum, however difficult it
would be to enforce. Even if the government is incapable of keeping tabs
on extra-district research, in the end the scholarly community has to
police its own research ethics.

Needless to say, I hope the responsible agencies are also giving those
被災者who do not become research subjects this consideration in
sufficient measure!

Greg Johnson

—————–End H-Japan message———————-


11 comments on “Health and Education Ministries issue directive to place controls on research going on in Tohoku tsunami disaster zones

  • I think you’ll find that reputable universities across the world have policies of prior review for ensuring that ethical standards are maintained when their staff and students conduct research concerning human subjects.

    Here’s one rather prominent example:

    Some major universities in Japan seem to have ethics policies too (, but they seem to be far less detailed, and they also do not seem to require prior approval from the school for potentially damaging research. I bet a lot of what Japan calls “universities” don’t have ethics codes at all.

    I find the notion of seeking approval from local government a bit spooky, but it seems to me that the ministry is, in the absence of widespread ethics policies at the university level, merely adopting a widely held international norm of research at the national level.

    At a sensitive moment when people are suffering badly, this is understandable. Would you prefer that people were able to do research that is unethical?

    — No, but if ethics seems to be less focused upon in Japan as you intimate, then why suddenly is it so important now? (Japan has had lots of other disasters that have occasioned research; wait, this time it’s nuclear, right?, and thus more intensely political.) Or if ethics and prior review is an international norm of research as you also say above, why does this process suddenly now have to be clarified by no less than two ministries (one that does not govern education) thusly?

  • Whilst I am sure that the argument will be made that these directives are in place to prevent undue suffering on the part of the victims of the disaster due to duplication of research (e.g.; survivors are not being asked to recount the loss of loved ones over and over again to different researchers), I think we all know that they will be used to ensure that nobody does research along the lines of ‘How satisfied are survivors with the Government response to the disaster’, and ‘Do you believe that you received accurate and timely safety information from the government (in the Fukushima evacuation zones)?’.
    Come on everybody! Ganbatte! Get on message! Japan is a peaceful country with a unique culture! If any researcher tries to show any different, he will be accused of undermining the national ‘reconstruction by ganbatte’ narrative.

  • I would like to see research conducted on the dispersal of radiation and radioactive materials countrywide, including the movement of radioactive waste to remote locations. Also, I would like to see if any of the contaminants are just being washed out to sea, which would seem to be the ultimate consequence of cleaning up by washing down.

    None of this wold be of any burden to Tohoku residents, but it might prove highly embarrassing to the Japanese government. I am afraid that this directive is intended only to prevent embarrassment to the government and mitigate against the reasonable fears of an informed public.

  • Japan should work with Russia and study the disaster in Chelyabinsk in the Urals area.


    and the contamination near Novaya Zemlya Island.


    This would be more useful, perhaps, than fruitlessly re-examining effects that have been studied and in place for decades.

    Moreover, Japanese media should conduct meaningful coverage of these areas, to show what the effects on marine organisms, rivers, lakes, etc are, in addition to human effects.

  • @Doug,
    As far as I know (I look at Japanese news and newspapers once a day), many ‘hot spots’ have been found in and around Tokyo. After these hot-spots were found by members of the public with hand held radiation detection devices, official investigation has generally found that the equipment the public was using was either not very accurate or not used correctly (NB; this does not exclude the possibility of an official cover-up, nor does it confirm one). At least one radiation hot spot was allegedly due to storage of vintage florescent paint under the floor boards of a house. The occupants had no idea it was there.
    One apartment building in Yokohama had the dust on it’s roof tested by a private company (last week, I think), and reported high levels of ceasium, that must have come from Fukushima, considering weather patterns at the time of the melt-down. Of course, when it was falling on the apartment building roof, the JGov was denying a melt-down was occurring, and the ‘Speedi’ system contamination map wasn’t available to the public (in fact I think the JGov denied that they even had such a system at that time, and were ‘outed’ when a worker in the Japan Meteorology office said that they did have a system, but it was broken, and later changed positions to say that they did have a system, but didn’t release information in order to avoid a panic).
    I am sure that Debito has blogged about this. If you search the Japan Times you should be able to find English language sources to back this up.

    — No, it’s incumbent upon you to find the sources to back up your own assertions. Please do so.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    To me, the GOJ’s standardization of ethics–regardless of research genre–leaves almost nothing but politics of control and surveillance. This move is so weird. The GOJ has been reluctant to install a formal protocol–such as the IRB(institutional Research Board) approval for conducting any social-scientific research involving human subjects (I don’t know the reason, though). All they need to do is mandate all researchers and universities in Japan the IRB approval for conducting the research if the study truly involves human subjects and/or becomes abusive, and hence poses the risks of affecting the participants physically and/or mentally.

  • So why is it Debito, that the nuclear disaster has become such a hot button issue in Japanese politics? I heard that the protest group Occupy Tokyo is making the nuclear thing their main issue. I think you should add a section that dives into details so we can see how this hot political issue might affect foreigners living in Japan since its a national issue.

    — It affects everyone, regardless of nationality, and fortunately the hue and cry to try and blame foreigners for something (cf. the “flyjin” phenomenon) seems to have died down. Regardless, is dealing with this because 1) I don’t think we can trust the official information coming out of the GOJ, 2) some people may not have access to insightful information or discussion on this issue in English, and 3) this is symptomatic of so much of what’s wrong with the Japanese system and why it’s not sustainable (e.g., official lying and failure to disclose information, disingenuousness, and people still believing that activism is a problem — because everything will be all right if people just keep their mouth shut and their head down — all anathema to what was designed for). Anyway, we’ll keep discussing it here as long as there are issues to discuss.

    As for why this is a hot button issue, simple: Money. There are a lot of vested interests in nuclear power in Japan, and anywhere else where it’s a significant power source. There is a lot of fast-breeder corruption going on here.

  • I like how Debito got right back into the saddle instead of stooping to the freaks level. I see nothing here about attacks or revenge etc. Most of us dont stoop to that level and find it childish and embarassing. I always admire somebody like that, even if I dont always agree with him/her. Good work, Debito, keep it up.

    — Thanks. Probably best to repost this under the appropriate blog entry.

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