Debito’s SNA Visible Minorities column 8: “No Free Pass for Japan’s Shirking Responsibility”, Mar 16, 2020


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Hi Blog. I know everyone’s talking about the Coronavirus (and I do here too, for a bit). But my latest column backs the lens up to see this all in a larger context of Japan’s perpetual bad habits, and how they get a “free pass” even when those habits have adverse effects on the rest of the world. Especially when Japan is being held up as a model by many as a system that helps the powerful evade responsibility and transfer blame. Have a read.

One more note: Nowhere else in Japan but an independent news press like the Shingetsu News Agency would publish an article like this. This article will be behind a paywall in a few days, so please chip in $5 a month (I pay more) at the venue for access.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.


Visible Minorities: No Free Pass for Shirking Responsibility

SNA (Tokyo) — There’s an oft-used expression in Japanese: sekinin tenka. Best translated as “passing the buck,” it’s a reflex of dodging blame for one’s own actions by transferring responsibility to others. For too long, Japan has done so on the world stage with impunity—even when it affects the world adversely.

Let’s start with, since it’s timely, the 3.11 Fukushima nuclear meltdown that took place nine years ago this month. While the earthquake and tsunami are not Japan’s fault, situating a nuclear power plant so perilously close to the coastline is; as is the perpetually-botched response of containment and leakage (even the willful dumping) of irradiated water into the Pacific Ocean.

Contrast that with the attention and criticism (and even a TV series) Russia got for Chernobyl, where the situation has finally been contained in a sarcophagus. In Japan, officials instead blamed world standards of safe radiation levels for being alarmist (adjusting them upwards for domestic political purposes) and declared Fukushima produce safe for consumption.

Even more timely is how sekinin tenka influenced Japan’s Covid-19 response…

Read the rest at

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4 comments on “Debito’s SNA Visible Minorities column 8: “No Free Pass for Japan’s Shirking Responsibility”, Mar 16, 2020

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    This was a really good read Dr. Debito.
    When faced with a ‘tough decision’, institutionally Japan prefers to procrastinate and waste time, allowing themselves to be ‘overcome by events’, rendering the original decision (or lack thereof) as irrelevant in the light of the newer, worse situation which requires (wait for it)…more procrastination. They all look very busy whilst procrastinating though (and everyone assumes, since the Japanese are so (warning! ‘Japan myth’) ‘efficient’ that much is being done and done ‘properly’).
    I was struck by your mention of the Fukushima triple melt-down.
    I recall how NHK constantly reassured that there was not meltdown’ whilst at precisely the same moment, BBC World News was talking about the triple melt-down as a fact.
    I can’t help also wonder if in the same way that the national SPIDI atmospheric radiation system was showing where the Fukushima radiation was spreading in real-time, and the Japanese government withheld that information to ‘prevent confusion’, putting the health of residents at risk, the Japanese government is now aware that it has a serious Covid-19 outbreak but is seeking to ignore it because it would cause ‘confusion’ and upset the business-as-normal ‘dreamy day’ (and of course, lead the public to question the government’s handling of Diamond Princess)?
    I guess we’ll see in a couple of weeks.
    Only today, the governor of Tokyo is asking people not to gather ‘or else’ and threatening a lockdown;

    Maybe now that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are off, the five doesn’t have to be embarrassed by having an outbreak- it looks like Japan may go from ‘isolated cases’, skip widespread testing and self-isolation, and proceed directly to the ‘lockdown’ stage.

    I wonder how many elderly and vulnerable will die at home alone after being refused testing or unable to go through all the hoop-jumping to get testing?

  • Two points. First, the issue of locating the Fukushima reactors is not that they were close to the coast, but that the 30m high cliff the reactors were originally planned for was cut down to 5m at the command of the GE contractors building it. Landlocked US engineers who had never experienced a tsunami overrode Japanese engineers to save on the costs of pumping water. In addition, there was zero historical record of a tsunami reaching higher than 5m so even the Japanese engineers can be forgiven somewhat for not having been more firm in their objections.

    Second, dumping the radioactive tritium last year is a non starter. The official disposal technique for tritium at labs is to pour it down a regular sink. Drinking tritium will have no effect on the body. Ergo, the trope, “Japan is endangering everyone by disposing nuclear waste into the sea,” is just plain bs.

    If the Fukushima disaster is going to be laid at Japan’s feet then I would say the problem is the engineers’ and disaster simulation managers’ lack of imagination—that a tsunami would never be higher than 5m. And even then, everything would have been fine if the emergency generators would have been located somewhere other than the basements. Or, at the very least, protected from flooding.

    I would also blame the regulatory system for allowing the reactors to remain on line long after their initial best by date.

    As for the claim that the media hid facts. Yes, that’s true. However, in the book, “On the Brink, the Inside Story of Fukushima,” the scientific advisors closest to the PM claim to have been well aware very early of the meltdowns. They understood because of what requests were coming from the reactor staff through the one of two working telephones at the PMs office, if and when anyone was able to get through.

    You can imagine the pandemonium in those first few days. If the govt decided to downplay events at the time, one can understand their reluctance to panic the population until they had a handle on the situation. If things had gone south, there was no way to evacuate 20+ million people anyway.

    There are issues where Japan seriously falls short, but their handling of Fukushima after the event is not one of them. The author is just disingenuously Japan bashing with zero relevance to the issues at hand. And if he wants to drag up Fukushima, he should have at least done the research instead of regurgitating the hysteria-laden talking points unexamined. Just my ¥2.

    —- Source on the GE contractors? And do you have a picture of the gun they put to the poor Japanese government’s head to force them to abide by the 5m guideline? Nothing like a bit of foreigner bashing to continue to let the GOJ off the hook.

    As for the author’s research on Fukushima, start here and here. We’ll just have to agree to disagree about the GOJ’s handling of Fukushima falling short.

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