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Natural Disaster and Nuclear Crisis in Japan: Response and Recovery after Japan's 3/11 (Nissan Institute/Routledge Japanese Studies)
The official publication date of this book is roughly 1 year after the quake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown of March 11, but the contributions were written much earlier: no later than July or early August 2011. In other words, the articles were written about 4 months after the disasters, but another 7 or 8 had gone by between writing and publication. As a result, very few authors were able to form a perspective that remains meaningful today. While some essays are still useful as chronicles of events close to the time of the tsunami, most of them, or at least big chunks of most of them, have been superseded by subsequent events, revelations and changes of administration. (All of the essays, other than the editor's, were written while Naoto Kan was prime minister; the editor's seems to have been completed a couple of weeks into the Noda Administration.)
[MODIFICATION, 2012/07/08: In several comments on US Amazon.com and in separate emails, the editor of this book has taken me to task for the original version of this review, on the grounds that it "misinformed" readers about the book's "prescience." Although I live in both Tokyo and Tohoku, and have visited the areas affected by the tsunami, including both last year and shortly before reading this book, I don't claim to have expertise in the subject matter. On the other hand, I'm not entirely new to it either, and have read some earlier books, articles and reports about 3/11 -- including one from the same editor -- in addition to living through it. I don't write from the perspective of, say, a college student or overseas person who's learning about this for the first time; their reaction to the book might be different. So let me clarify the purpose of this review:
Pace the editor, I don't have any interest to dissuade you, the prospective reader, from buying this book, to which I have given a roughly 4-star review. My point is rather to help you to set your expectations appropriately. To the extent I am uninformed about events in Tohoku, this will be the condition of typical reader, too, unless this book will have only a few readers. "Prescience" won't be obvious to the non-expert reader. Many articles in the book express uncertainty about the future and the possibility of change in Japan, but this sort of prescience was shared throughout the Japanese population in summer 2011, not just among experts. The only way a reader might know the book really is "prescient," to the extent it is, would be to already be quite knowledgeable about the current status of the various topics -- in which case the need to read this book would be reduced.
What *will* be obvious to any reader of the book, though, is that all of the articles speak only of events during the first few months after the tsunami, even though many do so with some authority. This narrow time frame could make most unsuspecting readers in 2012 want to put the book down and look for something more recent. Since there wasn't any review when I read the book, this was exactly my own reaction. I resisted the temptation to set it aside, though in the end I can't say my persistence was richly rewarded -- merely somewhat so, by a few articles.
To the extent some articles in the book remain relevant, that speaks well of the contributors. And perhaps for some future reviewers, more expert than I, "prescience" will be enough. But if your interest is in more current factual information, prescience is not an adequate substitute. And if your interest is in analysis that considers significant pre-publication events, such as Noda's effective reversal of Kan's post-3/11 nuke pronouncements, or the delays in distribution of aid that persisted through the later months of 2011 (and today), your confidence in the book's analysis may be tempered, as mine was. Which is more reliable: an expert's opinion when you know he or she hasn't considered some important facts, or an opinion that you know has been rendered after those facts have been taken into account, even if the conclusion doesn't change? At least for this reviewer, the latter.
You may reasonably be interested to know, then, that the present book adds less than its April 2012 publication date might suggest to the June 2011 e-book from the same editor ("Tsunami: Japan's Post-Fukushima Future"), to other materials from some of the present book's contributors published during 2011 or earlier, and to various expert reports released in English in recent months. But as I stated in the original version of this review:] One can't blame the authors, of course, for this rapid aging of their chapters: the misjudgment seems more to have been on the publisher's side. It might have been better to have made this book available as an e-book last summer or fall, or else extended the deadline for submissions until the first anniversary of the disasters, say, and published as an e-book soon after, with a print version for libraries to follow a bit later.
A couple of contributions would not have been very useful at any time, such as a "content analysis" of Japanese newspaper websites and "international news websites" (in reality, only CNN US and CNN International). The analysis is based on only 3 days close to the disaster (March 17, 24 and 31, 2011). It also omits discussion of the discourses of the news stories in any depth, totally ignores non-English language sources (such as in the French and German press, where coverage was heavily refracted through local nuclear debates), and even ignores the New York Times (whose coverage was a psychodrama of its own). The three background articles about energy, by Daniel Aldrich, Paul Scalise and Andrew DeWit and co-authors, stand up somewhat better than average because of their longer historical perspective, but much of the content was already available from other sources by the same authors. I did find the article by Tokyo-based architect and planner Riccardo Tossani to be quite interesting, both for its description of how the reconstruction project is being pursued, and its attention to Onagawamachi in Miyagi Prefecture -- far and away the scariest place along a couple hundred kilometers of coast that I visited in May 2011. The stand-out, though, is the first-person account by J.F. Morris, a long-term resident of the Miyagi coast who might have died on 3/11 if bad weather hadn't led him to suppress his hankering for some of the wonderful French-style pastries so ubiquitous in this country. In addition to hardship and humor, Morris includes many pertinent observations on being "saved" by NPO volunteers, and on the overlooked heroism of local governments. Overall, this book could be useful if you need to research what people were thinking soon after 3/11, but if you'd like a longer perspective you may find only a few of the 16 chapters satisfying.