Beyond reality – or – An illusory ideal: pro-nuclear Japan’s management of migratory flows in a nuclear catastrophe via Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus

By Cécile Asanuma-Brice

Three years have passed since the earthquake and consequent tsunami of March 11, 2011, which led to the explosion of a nuclear power plant in Northeastern Japan. Since then, a central concern in managing the damage is how to handle the relocation of people displaced by the destruction of the earthquake-driven tsunami and the dangers of radiation. In December of that year, we wrote up a precise assessment of the damage caused to the housing sector, the system for rehousing victims of the tsunami, and also the nuclear contamination that has spread widely in part of the Fukushima region and neighboring districts.1 The government reported the existence of 160,000 displaced persons, of whom 100,000 came from within the prefecture and 60,000 outside of it. Since the government adopted a policy favoring the return of the displaced to their home districts, which are still heavily contaminated, the official estimate today is 140,000 refugees: 100,000 within the prefecture and 40,000 outside it. However, these official figures are the fruit of an extremely restrictive registration system, to which a not insignificant number of inhabitants have refused to submit.2 The displaced population is in fact appreciably greater than the official statistics would have us believe. What is the situation of nuclear refugees in Japan today? What local policies have been put in place to protect the inhabitants during these three years, as the government sought to manage a disaster of global proportions? What are the motivations of the authorities in seeking to compel the population to return to zones that are still partly contaminated, despite the ongoing risks and in the absence of any request to return? These are a few issues that I will seek to clarify in this paper.
The politics of controlling population flows in post-3/11 Japan can be divided into three phases, in accordance with the directives formulated by the government in its annual priority plans.
A Management policy to reverse migratory flows
While this measure constituted a form of emergency relief, within Fukushima Prefecture, attempts to reassure the population created rather an illusion of protection: temporary lodgings were built partly in contaminated areas, radiation measuring stations installed were tampered with, and decontamination efforts were largely ineffective.
The distribution of emergency temporary housing vs. the distribution of radiation
The second stage in state abandonment of its responsibilities to victims consists of transferring responsibility to individuals who have been forced to adapt their lives to a contaminated environment or are faced with choosing exile under conditions of extreme adversity. Specifically, the government offered no financial or material assistance to those who wished to seek refuge or rebuild their lives elsewhere.8 An aggressive public relations campaign was devised to discourage exile or resettlement elsewhere by widely disseminating images depicting how onerous it is for Japanese to leave their local areas and ancestral homes. While leaving one’s home is particularly traumatic for those who have farmed that land all their lives, this feeling is hardly limited to Japanese farm families. A number of people that we interviewed during our research expressed the desire to leave despite their attachment to the land, only to be confronted with the impossibility of this course in the absence of government financial support.9

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Japanese translation here.

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