First of all, I would like to express my sincere thanks as a Japanese citizen for the warm messages, assistance, rescue efforts and financial aid that were extended to us from around the world in the wake of the March 11th earthquake. The natural disaster was a tragedy of unprecedented scale and magnitude, one that has never been experienced by the majority of the Japanese people. During this difficult time, nothing was more heartening than the helping hands from the international community, and the Japanese people including myself were comforted to know that we do not stand alone.
Effects of the Earthquake and Tsunami
I believe that this was probably the first time that the destructive force of the tsunami was broadcasted live throughout the world. We are likewise shocked by the devastation caused by the tsunami and feel deep sorrow for the fellow citizens who lost their lives in the tsunami. The intensity of this earthquake was tremendous, with a magnitude of 9.0 (fourth largest in human history) but the majority of the deaths were caused by the tsunami following the earthquake. The current status of the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami is as follows:
Major damages are concentrated in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, the 3 Prefectures of the Tohoku region (300km to 700km north of Tokyo). Accordingly, there is virtually no physical damage in Tokyo.
Missing—approximately 11,000 (cf. Japanese population 120 million)
Total GDP in Affected Areas:
Approximately 4% of total Japanese GDP.
Costs for Reconstruction:
At least 20 trillion yen (approximately 170 billion euros)
Effects of the Nuclear Accident
The explosion at the Fukushima nuclear power plants was caused by a “hydrogen build-up” within the nuclear reactor building. Failure of the entire cooling system after the tsunami resulted in a partial melting of the fuel rods and zirconium used to coat the rods, letting off massive amounts of hydrogen. The explosion was accompanied by radiation leakage, and images of the explosion shook the whole world. Anxiety filled the air in Tokyo as well (subsequent research has revealed that radiation detected in Tokyo were not of a level that would affect human health), and as you may all know, many foreigners evacuated from Japan. According to both Japanese and foreign experts, the nuclear accident is still ongoing and developing but further radiation leakage is not expected as long as serious incidents such as explosion of the nuclear reactor building do not occur, if by any chance. With respect to the nuclear power plants, plans are underway to restore the cooling systems and cover the reactor buildings with giant tents in the next 9 months. If this is accomplished, the threat of radiation will be contained within the premises of the Fukushima power plants. However, experts are saying that areas within a 5-10km radius of the power plants will permanently be “off-limits”.
Current situation and future outlook
Japan is currently facing serious fiscal problems, with the largest debt burden among the G8 countries (900 trillion yen, or approximately 7.5 trillion euros). The earthquake struck amidst this difficulty, but I have a feeling that the general public has come together to overcome this national crisis. The real problem lies with the lack of leadership in the political scene. People are feeling that this is largely due to Japan’s culture of hereditary politics and self-serving politicians (i.e., nobody can be entrusted to govern the nation).
In any case, this does not mean that Japan will entirely be reduced to piles of rubble. People in Tokyo, for instance, are going about their daily lives as usual immediately after the earthquake and at present. There are no major disruptions in businesses either. The only difference probably is that hopes for a prompt resolution of the nuclear accident are always lurking at the corners of people’s minds.
Last but not least, I would like to stress that Japanese products are free of nuclear radiation. Japanese food produce in the market is also safe. Tokyo is regaining its lively atmosphere again, and I believe that Japan’s swift recovery is vital in stabilizing the world economy.