Japan from the inside out


Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 11, 2011

ACHIEVING the national objective of rebuilding the Tohoku region after the earthquake/tsunami requires that the rubble from the disaster be removed first. That will be no mean feat — the events of 11 March created an estimated 25 million tons of debris, 21.83 million of which is strewn throughout the three prefectures of Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima.

As of 28 June, however, nearly four months later, only an estimated 32% of the rubble had been hauled to temporary collection sites. The rest of it is still lying where it’s been the whole time. Several reasons have been cited for the lagging effort. First, the law states that private property owners, either residential or commercial, are responsible for their own garbage. Second, municipalities are responsible for handling the refuse of residential households, while prefectures are responsible for industrial material. (It is of course impossible to differentiate which is which in this situation.) Third, the immense amount of debris has overwhelmed the ability of all local governments to pay for its disposal.

It’s been apparent from the start that these extraordinary circumstances would require extraordinary measures by the government to deal with them. Such measures would include temporary exemptions from/suspensions of the law. In addition to the obvious ones, other measures could include providing temporary authorization to deal with the debris for those businesses not licensed to handle refuse, such as construction companies.

Despite the need for this legislation, and despite the opposition parties urging them to get on with it already, the Democratic Party government of Japan unintentionally modeled itself after a character from the Uncle Remus stories: Tar Baby just set there and don’t say nothin’. The difference is that the Tar Baby was created for a specific reason by a character with country smarts. That disqualifies the DPJ.

As we’ve noted before, the municipalities in the region did ask — desperately — the national government for help. The Kan Cabinet told them to handle it themselves.

Mr. Kan’s government managed to rouse itself in some sectors, after a fashion. They created a Cabinet Ministry for Conserving Electricity after the Fukushima disaster and handed the portfolio to a former model/TV personality. It was a waste of time, both the nation’s and the airwaves, because the Japanese knew what to do without any government urging at all. But they didn’t appoint a minister to handle the cleanup until nearly four months later. The man they did appoint, Matsumoto Ryu, disgraced himself in a matter of nine days and had to resign. His name is now so synonymous with mud his daughter is afraid to go to school.

After the Hyogo earthquake, it took fewer than nine days for the Socialist/LDP coalition government of Murayama Tomiichi to appoint a minister responsible for the cleanup and reconstruction.

To get the Kan Cabinet to get off its duff, four opposition parties — the LDP, New Komeito, Your Party, and Sunrise Party Japan — formulated legislation of their own to allow the government to handle the cleanup. It was introduced in the Diet by one of the LDP MPs.

Then, and only then, did the Cabinet finally agree on the bill they’ll submit to the Diet. Last week.

But they haven’t submitted it yet. Their bill and the opposition bill need to be reconciled. The opposition parties think the national government should assume all the expenses for cleanup because it is a national emergency. The Kan administration still thinks local government should pay for some of it, to be partially offset by grants.

That’s not surprising in the least. After all, they still insist on keeping their worthless child allowance payments despite the lack of money to pay for them. Voters won’t see the money the government spends on cleanup — the people in the three prefectures will just notice that somebody finally hauled the crap away. They do see the money the government deposits in their bank accounts every month, however. Thus, there’s no profit in it for the DPJ.

Even the Japanese news media has glossed over the facts of the situation. Kyodo’s article on the Cabinet’s bill devotes only part of one sentence to the legislation “the opposition already introduced”.

Among the rubble that won’t be cleared away are the articles and website postings assuring everyone that the DPJ would be so much more efficient dealing with the disaster than the “hapless” Murayama government, in the word of one academia grover writing at The Diplomat. Indeed, academics with an agenda to flog or with mochi to paint into pictures are the ones primarily responsible for this detritus. They won’t suffer for their willful ignorance, however; they’ve got tenure, and the journos will still call on them to serve as credentialed mouthpieces when they need to peddle their papers.

They also told us that the DPJ/Kan government would be the model of openness compared to the LDP, but we haven’t seen much of that line since it became apparent that Mr. Kan and Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio began lying to the people on 11 March about the 11 March Fukushima accident.

I feel sorry for those people interested in Japan who can read about the country only in the English-language media, and thereby think they know something about what is happening here.

During the Cultural Revolution, the Maoists sent the intellectuals to the countryside for a healthful stint of bracing farm labor to assist their reeducation. My reeducation program for some of the Nagata-cho flybait, however, would start with this video.

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4 Responses to “Rubble”

  1. toadold said

    Mean while individuals, private organizations, and companies are doing what they can to help the devastated area. From comments that I’ve read by them, both foreign and translated domestic, the lack of action on the governments part has been noticed.

  2. toadold said

    Also, Japan has a rather some rather large construction companies, and it manufactures a considerable amount of quality civil engineering construction equipment that is sold to internally in Japan. The government has built so many roads, dams, bridges, concrete lined water channels, and erosion control tetrapods(which are now illegal in a number of US coastal states.) That it has been said by some inhabitants that Japan is protecting its environment by encasing it in concrete. Yet all that equipment and employees that work for government money can’t be redirected for clean up work????
    T: The people who complain about being encased in concrete seem to be unaware of the flooding problems throughout the country. There is a network of small creeks running throughout the city where I live, and it is not unusual for them to overflow their banks during the heavy rains of the rainy season.

    – A.

  3. Jeffrey said

    T: The people who complain about being encased in concrete seem to be unaware of the flooding problems throughout the country. There is a network of small creeks running throughout the city where I live, and it is not unusual for them to overflow their banks during the heavy rains of the rainy season.

    – A.

    However, the excessive use of concrete only exacerbates the problem by increasing the flow rate when streams and rivers are high and decreasing the level of stream bed absorption, which helps mitigate flooding. But the main problem, as along the Mississippi in the U.S., too much of Japan is built in known flood plains or tidal estuaries.

  4. toadold said

    Of course it seems any place flat in Japan is likely to be a flood plane. I read somewhere the farthest you can get from the sea is about 80 miles, and you’d usually be in hills or mountains.
    The suspicion is that the government has routed too much money into construction projects in rural areas. Now construction has become the primary job provider in those areas and hence they are overdoing the landscape. In the US areas that weren’t flood prone have become that way because of excessive damn building and mismanagement of the amount of water behind them. Some upstream areas got flooded to save downstream areas, Also some of that flooded land was snapped up cheap by a big agricultural company with suspicious political connections.
    Meanwhile I’m sad because my efforts to console the members of the US women’s soccer team have failed.

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