Monday, June 13, 2011

More notes from the season of madness

We are in the midst of the rainy season here, and unlike most years in Japan, this one seems to be the real thing, with rain nearly every day, sometimes heavy. The humidity is rising too, which I find quite comfortable, but seems to drive the Japanese crazy with frustration, fear and fungal diseases.

The news is full of speculation about when - not if- Kan will resign. Having narrowly survived a no-confidence vote last month, he appears to be living on borrowed time. The opposition is demanding his immediate resignation. His own party wants him to name the time. Some are saying he will go as early as this month, others suggest August or at the latest sometime in Autumn. Kan himself has said he will work to ensure reconstruction in tsunami-hit areas is on target and the nuclear accident in Fukushima is under control before resigning. This pledge is ironically vague, because post-tsunami reconstruction is proceeding apace - the Japanese can clean up and reconstruct like noone else - and as for the accident at Fukushima Number 1, if it is not under control now it never will be. Kan is trying to leave himself an out.

Nevertheless it is almost certain he will go. We know the who, the how and even the when. The only thing I don't understand is the why. The opposition and many in his own party are saying things along the lines of 'It is impossible to expect the prime minister to put the nation back together; the PM is incapable of leading the country in this time of crisis.' But this is a self-serving line of thought that seems to bear little resemblance to what happened and is what happening.

The truth is, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the prime minister is taking the fall for the natural disaster itself, a Japanese tradition where the guy at the very top must take responsibility for any failure, no matter how remotely removed it is from him. The attitude of the public seems to be 'it cannot be helped'; a fatalistic approach that is also typically Japanese. In my opinion this is a sad loss. Kan didn't cause the tsunami, can't be held responsible for any real (or imagined) failings of TEPCO and didn't start the meltdown in Fukushima.

A meltdown, which, by the way, has killed or injured exactly zero people. It is true that the media has reported that six more workers (to make a total of 8) have been exposed to levels of radiation above that considered 'safe'. The unluckiest is reported to have received 497 millisieverts. However, there have been no adverse effects upon their health reported so far.

As a comparison of the 'twin disasters' as they are sometimes called:

1. Earthquake and disaster: 25,000 killed
2. Nuclear accident in Fukushima: 0 deaths or injuries

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