Foreign Policy Blogs

Gov't urges transparency from nuke co.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano urged Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to be more transparent and provide information to the government more quickly. The government revealed a series of missteps taken by TEPCO Saturday, including sending workers into the radiation-leaking plant in Fukushima without protective foot gear. Two workers at the Daiichi plant suffered skin burns when they stepped into water that was 10,000 times more radioactive than normal wearing boots that only came up to their ankles.

I do not find TEPCO’s lack of transparency or incompetence in handling the nuclear crisis surprising. As I mentioned two weeks ago, I have been watching for mistakes similar to the handling of the 1999 explosion at a plant in Tokai, Ibaraki, in which fire fighters rushed in without protective gear, or the 1995 attempted cover-up of a three-ton leak at the Monju plant.

In the aftermath of the quake-tsunami-nuclear crisis, we are seeing two sides of Japan’s wa coin. “Wa” is Japanese for “harmony,” and the Chinese ideogram for “wa” is often used as an abbreviation for Japan. (“Wa” actually has a fascinating etymology. “Wa” is a homophone of the classical Chinese word for Japan, the ideograph of which is made up of the radicals “person” and “bent”–implying that the Japanese were a lower people. The Japanese retained the name “Wa” for their land, but replaced it with the more flattering ideograph for “harmony.”) We have seen the value the Japanese place on harmony in their reaction to the Mar. 11 disaster. While we’d expect looting and riots following a natural disaster in some other countries, reports of rampant crime did not materialize in Japan, despite what Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara expected.

The flip-side of that coin is that the Japanese also maintain harmony by avoiding confrontation at all costs, even when one party is clearly in the wrong. This is why Japanese academics don’t debate their peers’ postulations, even when one is clearly a fraud. Or why most groping victims on trains never confront the pervert. This usually leads to no one taking responsibility for mishaps, and why Japan tends to make the same mistakes over and over again.

This is why I find Edano’s confrontation of TEPCO surprising. Could this mark the beginning of a new era of reason and common sense in Japan, in which the Japanese demand accountability from their officials?



Dustin Dye

Dustin Dye is the author of the YAKUZA DYNASTY series, available through the Amazon Kindle.

He lived in Okayama, Japan, where he taught English at a junior high school through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program for three years. He is a graduate from the University of Kansas, where he received a bachelor's degree in anthropology.

His interest in Japan began in elementary school after seeing Godzilla fight Ghidorah, the three-headed monster. But it wasn't until he discovered Akira Kurosawa's films through their spaghetti Western remakes that he truly became fascinated in the people and culture of Japan.

He lives in Kansas with his wife, daughter and guinea pig.

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