Marie Anchordoguy, Chair UW Japan Studies Program
Though the first anniversary of the March 2011 earthquake has passed, its reverberations continue to shake Japan. This event, together with two decades of sluggish economic growth and recent political volatility, leaves Japan at a turning point in several ways. All nuclear power plants are expected to be off-line by late April, since local citizens will not allow them to be restarted after required off-line safety checks every 13 months. Cutbacks in electricity use, the restarting of conventional power plants, and huge fuel imports mean nuclear power is not an absolute necessity. Going without nuclear energy is much more expensive, but most Japanese citizens oppose it, though the government and business sector strongly support it. Energy uncertainty, together with the historically high yen, is accelerating the movement overseas of manufacturing firms, which need a stable supply of cheap electricity.
While no country could have dealt well with the earthquake and its aftermath, leaders’ neglect of warnings about the reactors’ design and age and a possible tsunami, as well as decision-making after the quake, have led to a rise in distrust of the government and government-business relations, and growing doubts about the consensual decision-making process. People are questioning authority in ways not seen since the early postwar period. While great for Japanese democracy, this adds to political and economic uncertainty.
There are concerns about low radiation in the Tokyo metropolitan area. A few hot spots and tainted food have been found. There is little data on the impact of low rates of radiation over long periods. This, together with uncertainty about where radiation is and isn’t, continues to impact people’s sense of well-being, especially those with young children or of child-bearing age.
The earthquake also hit the economy hard. GDP had almost returned to the pre-2008 global financial crisis levels. Production dropped 10%, but most firms bounced back by autumn 2011, although auto and electronics firms were subsequently impacted by floods in Thailand. Growth in 2012 is forecast around 1-2%. Spending some $250 billion on clean-up and rebuilding will stimulate the economy over the short-run. But Japan’s growth rate depends very heavily on exports, which are expected to continue to suffer due to the sluggish global economy.
Japan’s national debt is over 200% of GDP and still growing. The 2012 government budget means that for three years in a row, borrowing slightly exceeds tax revenues. By comparison, the U.S. borrows about 36 cents of each dollar it spends. U.S. credit rating agencies’ downgrades of Japan in January 2011 and again in August after the earthquake were not so much about government debt per se, but rather reflected a lack of confidence in leaders’ capacity to get debt under control.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is proposing to raise the consumption tax from the current 5% to 8% in 2014 and to 10% in 2015. This is political suicide and his party is against it. If by some chance he can get it through Parliament, it will help convince the markets that Japan has the political will to start curbing government debt. But raising taxes when the economy is fragile will hurt domestic consumption. And studies suggest that the rate needs to go to 15-20% to cover the costs of the rapidly aging population.
In 2011 Japan had its first annual trade deficit since 1980, largely due to increased fuel imports and lower exports as a result of the earthquake. This may be the beginning of Japan moving toward annual trade deficits, which would increase national debt over time. Still, including the government, corporations, and citizens, Japanese have some $3.3 trillion (251 trillion yen) more in foreign reserves and investments than other countries hold in Japanese investments. That is, Japan has a bigger capital surplus than any other country.
Japanese people showed how resilient they are by acting admirably after the earthquake, helping each other rather than looting. Still, with uncertainty about electricity, instability on the Korean peninsula, and the slowing Chinese, U.S., and European economies, Japan’s economy is likely to experience sluggish growth for the foreseeable future. We are seeing a decoupling of Japanese firms from the Japanese economy. It used to be that if Japanese companies did well, Japan’s economy did well. Now Japanese firms, with their growing operations overseas, may do very well even though the Japanese economy as a whole will likely continue to grow only slowly.
At the University of Washington, we are covering many of these issues in our courses, and also in special lectures given by visiting scholars, with the intent to educate not only our students but the broader community as well. This year we partnered with the Japan America Society, Japan Business Association, and UW Foster School of Business to host a business roundtable aimed at exploring the impact of the 3/11 tsunami on Washington businesses. We are hosting many scholars and others, including most notably Gene Park, political scientist from Loyola Marymount University; Japanese literature scholars Haruo Shirane, Melissa McCormick, and Joshua Mostow in partnership with the Seattle Asian Art Museum; and, through our Japan Consulate Series, former ambassador from Japan Tadahiro Abe, Masaki Kaifu of Wowmax Media, and the Consul General of Japan in Seattle, the Honorable Kiyokazu Ota. To see upcoming events, please visit our Japan studies events page at DEPTS.WASHINGTON.EDU/JAPAN/EVENTS.
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Global Ends – Towards the Beginning
Professor Ken Tadashi Oshima of the UW College of Built Environments published GLOBAL ENDS – towards the beginning (Toto, 2012, 351 pages) based on his curation of the 2010-11 exhibition commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Toto Gallery Ma in Tokyo and two-day symposium held at the exhibition’s opening. The seven represented architectural practices from Tokyo, Melbourne (Australia), Madeira Islands (Portugal), Santiago (Chile), Seattle (United States), Singapore, and Olot (Spain) are rooted in their respective distinct local regions, cultures, and environments in an era following global economic and social changes in the period between the tragic events of 9/11/01 and 3/11/01. UW alum Tom Kundig FAIA (BA Environmental Design ‘77; MArch ‘81) of Olson Kundig Architects was the only North American architect to participate in the project.
The featured architectural practices can each be seen to look to the primordial past and to the future to critically examine the potential of the present through the experience of everyday life–however different it may be from their seven different vantage points. GLOBAL ENDS – toward the beginning illuminates the rich, realizable potential for design in the coming years by juxtaposing local standards and highlighting their own particular rich characteristics—both in the exhibition and built work captured in the photographs drawings, and narrative of the book.
Student Helps With Relief Efforts
I had planned to intern in the Kansai area during the summer between my first and second years of graduate school. However, when the tsunami struck Japan in March 2011, I began searching for organizations providing direct aid to the people of Tōhoku.
I spent the summer in Kyoto fundraising and working for a non-profit organization that gathers food and supplies for survivors of the 3/11 disaster. Pooling resources from the Osaka and Kyoto areas, our organization was able to make 11 trips to the disaster area in 2011. I went on the September trip to Minami Souma, north of the exclusion zone, to deliver fresh water, rice, and canned supplies in temporary housing settlements.
Driving through the area around the disaster zone, I was struck by the vastness of the disaster; a small downtown area previously inhabited by a few thousand people was empty with doors taped shut. I was also struck by the determination of people in temporary housing to rebuild their lives. Children were going back to school and their parents were seeking work.
One woman’s words in particular have stayed with me. During an interview (by one of our members), one of the residents of a temporary housing community said: “I want every nuclear plant in Japan shut down; we need to find another way.” Her sentiments have become a reality: most of Japan’s 54 plants are off-line for safety inspections (as of March) and may be indefinitely shut down as nuclear power is reevaluated in Japan.
More than four months after the disaster, the landscape was still messy and chaotic. Fishing boats remained on the sides of roads, beached where the tsunami left them. Not all roads into the exclusion zone had been properly marked to prevent people—including aid workers—from getting lost. Survivors had medicine, food, water, and shelter, but I saw no signs of coordinated efforts to relocate residents away from the affected areas.
Upon returning to Kyoto and sharing my experiences with friends, I was surprised by the seeming ambivalence of many people outside the disaster area concerning the suffering in Tōhoku, not unlike U.S. attitudes toward Hurricane Katrina victims once their story left news headlines. However, some were willing to help, including students and other young people who donated funds and helped our organization develop new relationships and expand its network. One man donated his truck 11 times for us to drive to the disaster area. These are just a few examples of Japanese citizens pulling together to respond to those in need.
Sam Timinsky (MAIS Japan 2012)
Alumni in Sendai
On March 11, I was teaching at a language school in Sendai when the earthquake hit. It went on for longer than I ever imagined one could, but its strength was deceptively modest where I was. There was little visible damage at first, and it would be more than two hours before I was even aware of the tsunami threat. Even so, I had to spend the night at the school where I worked. It wasn’t until the next morning that I saw the newspaper and truly understood.
Since then, I have been asked many times how I am, how Sendai is, how the recovery is progressing. It’s a hard question to answer. Despite our position, Sendai was affected most by deprivation – lack of fuel, food, electricity, gas, and water, not by physical damage. We were fortunate because once those things were restored, normal life returned with surprising speed. The earthquake is a rallying point for people, but it’s also something that this city, at least, wants to put firmly in its past. Few if any speak of the dangers of the radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, which is a little more than 80 km south. I cannot pick out the students who lost everything and are living in temporary housing. I know of one student whose house was destroyed, yet despite several conversations about his experience with the tsunami, I didn’t know he had been living in an elementary school for months until another teacher told me. I still don’t know how many other students had, or still have, similar experiences.
I worry sometimes about this silence. We celebrate every new victory, whether it’s our soccer team’s best finish ever or a new fishing boat donated from Mie Prefecture, but we don’t speak much of what has been lost. It seems to me sometimes that to do so is to show weakness and vulnerability instead of the tenacity everyone strives for. I admire the strength of the people around me, but I hope it does not leave the wounds underneath unhealed. So much of what I have seen has made me proud to live in Sendai. My hope is that the road to recovery will include more discussion and reflection even as the past grows more distant.
Nicole Rehorst (MAIS Japan 2007)
Steffani Bennett (MA Art History, Japanese) received the 2011 Dean’s Medal in the Arts, UW College of Arts and Sciences.
Issac Meyer (MA Japan Studies) received the Richard and Christine Kitto Fellowship, a Japan Studies Summer Travel Grant, and a Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship 2011-12.
Derek Schlieps (BA International Studies-Japan) was awarded a Mitsubishi Corporation International Scholarship 2011.
Sachi Schmidt-Hori (PhD candidate Japanese Language and Literature) received the Elizabeth Kerr Macfarlane Endowed Scholarship in the Humanities, 2011-12, and the Graduate School Presidential Fellowship, Winter 2012.
Lisa Sticka (BA International Studies-Japan) was awarded a Mitsubishi Corporation International Scholarship 2011.
Cindi Textor (MA Japanese / Korean) received the UW’s Schwartz Foundation Graduate Fellowship 2011-12. In 2010, Columbia University Press published her translation of Kim Sok-pom’s work The Curious Tale of Mandogi’s Ghost, a central work of postwar Japanese fiction.
Sam Timinsky (MAIS Japan Studies) was awarded the Ayako Betty Murakami Scholarship and a Mitsubishi Corporation International Scholarship 2011.
Congratulations to the Mitsubishi Corporation International Scholarship 2011 recipients: Sam Timinsky, graduate award; Lisa Sticka and Derek Schlieps, undergraduate award.Thank you Mitsubishi International Corporation for supporting the University of Washington Japan Studies students. This is the first time the Mitsubishi Corporation has granted scholarships to students in Japan area studies at the University of Washington. Mitsubishi Corporation has granted scholarships to students at five U.S. universities since 2009, in addition to students at 48 other universities in 28 countries since 2000. (Pictured at the November 8, 2011, award ceremony from left to right: Mikiya Hioka (MIC Seattle branch General Manager), Derek Schlieps, Sam Timinsky, Lisa Sticka, Consul General Kiyokazu Ota and Mrs. Ota, and Ellen Eskenazi and Professor Gary Hamilton of the Japan Studies Program.)
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Farewell Bogel, Welcome Jesty
This year the UW Japan Studies Program loses Associate Professor Cynthea Bogel (School of Art) and gains Assistant Professor Justin Jesty (Asian Languages and Literature). Bogel is moving on to a position at Kyushu University spring quarter after 12 years at the University of Washington where she has shared her deep knowledge and insight into the history of art in Japan, particularly in Buddhist sculpture. Bogel will teach regular courses both in Japanese and in English as part of the Kyushu graduate program. We wish her well!
Justin Jesty (Ph.D. University of Chicago) has been a lecturer at UW for the past 12 months teaching first-year Japanese language. His areas of study are modern Japanese literature, Japanese film and visual culture, and modern and early modern Japanese and Asian history. Welcome, Professor Jesty!
Jon Holt, PhD in Japanese, assistant professor of Japanese, Portland State University.
Robert Hoppens, PhD in History-Japan, assistant professor, Department of History and Philosophy, University of Texas Pan-American.
Shannon Quinn, BA Japan Studies, MA Higher Education Administration, manager of student services, CIEE Tokyo Study Center, Sophia University, Japan.
Yuki Shigeto, PhD in Japanese, assistant professor of Japanese, Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington.
Renowned anthropologist William W. Kelly of Yale University gave this year’s talk which was entitled “Will Soccer Be Japan’s 21st Century Sport?” Kelly is known for his work exploring the significant influence of baseball in the modern histories of Japan’s nationalism, ethnicity, schooling, corporate organization, and the media. His talk was a springboard for considering the ramifications of the meteoric rise in popularity of soccer in Japan for society and Japan’s place in East Asia and the world.