The crisis that has engulfed Japan since the massive earthquake on March 11 looks likely to become a defining moment in Japan’s history. Politician Masuzoe Yōichi looks at some of the possible repercussions of the disaster on the national lifestyle and government policy.
The Third Major Crisis in Modern History
At the moment, Japan is doing its utmost to bring relief to the many thousands of people whose lives have been affected by the unprecedented earthquake and tsunami that devastated the northern Pacific coast. Work is underway to rebuild decimated communities. At the same time, anxiety continues to mount about the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
The current disaster is the biggest crisis to hit Japan since World War II and counts as one of the three defining moments in the country’s modern history.
The first of these was the encroachment of the Western imperial powers, which threatened to colonize Japan in the years before and after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Japan responded by transforming itself into a modern state, and thereby succeeded in maintaining its independence. The second crisis came with Japan’s defeat in World War II and occupation by foreign forces for the first time in its history. The country rebuilt itself again, this time as a democratic state, and went on to achieve rapid economic growth.
The Political and Social Effects of the Disaster
The situation unfolding in the Tōhoku and Kantō regions in the aftermath of the recent disaster marks the third major crisis in Japan’s modern history. How will Japan react to this latest challenge? The tragedy has served as a painful but important wake-up call for a nation that had begun to bask complacently in the glow of its postwar success.
Politically, the ruling and opposition parties are temporarily putting aside their differences as momentum builds for the establishment of a “national salvation” cabinet. The lack of a majority in the upper House of Councillors has tied the hands of successive coalition governments in recent years and resulted in political paralysis. Overtures have been made several times about a possible grand coalition, but none of these plans has ever come to anything. This time, though, the rivals are drawing together in the face of national calamity. These developments could eventually lead to a realignment of political forces.
In terms of land development policy, new disaster-resilient cities will need to be built in inland areas to accommodate displaced people from decimated coastal communities. The disaster is also likely to give impetus to those who argue in favor of dispersing some of the many functions that have become overly concentrated in Tokyo.
A More Environmentally Friendly Society?
The nuclear accident in Fukushima has resulted in radioactive fallout and caused severe power shortages. The government will have to rethink its current energy policy, under which a fourth of the nation’s electricity needs are met by nuclear power. Many Japanese people have already begun to reconsider their energy-hungry lifestyles, and it is likely that further measures will be adopted to promote recycling and a more environmentally friendly society.
In the New Renaissance Party, at the same time as working to address the immediate needs of people displaced by the disaster, we are also formulating a long-term vision for rebuilding Japan in the aftermath of this latest crisis in its modern history. (Written on March 29, 2011)
In This Series
A Prime Minister on Life Support (June 28)
Kan Survives Vote of No-Confidence, but the Chaos Continues (June 5)
A Dangerous Approach to Crisis Management (May 11)
The Kan Administration Reveals Its Incompetence (April 26)
Doubts About Japan’s Crisis Management (April 12)
Facing Up to a National Crisis (March 29)
Graduated from the University of Tokyo, where he majored in political science. Has been a research fellow at the University of Paris and the University of Geneva and an associated professor at the University of Tokyo. A member of the House of Councillors since 2001. Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare 2007–2009. Is now head of the New Renaissance Party.