So Sorry Japan

Look, this has some sauce on it, so allow me to start by expressing my admiration for the resolve of the Japanese people, my aghast sorrow at what many here have had to endure, and especially my agnostic little prayers for those who spend (as in quickly) their lives working on the dying reactors to keep the rest of us as safe as possible.

From an article in the Japan Times on the ordered evacuation of Iitate village; downwind of Fukushima:

“We’ve been told to quit our jobs and move out by the end of the month,” said Miyoko Nakamura, 59, a clerk in the village office. She is near retirement and says she’ll manage. “A lot of people have no idea what to do. They’re just hoping everything will be OK somehow.”

Villagers snort at the initial compensation of ¥1 million [about $12,000 — hbd] offered by Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the ruined Fukushima plant. Farmers will be given another ¥350,000 [about $4,300 — hbd] in moving expenses this month. After that, there are no more concrete promises.

Here’s a sorry statement from a sorry spokesman of the sorry government of Japan on the sorry situation:

“Money is the biggest question people have,” explained Takashi Hamasaka, an official from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry seconded to the village to assist with the evacuation. “They want the government to pay more.

“If it was just a tsunami or earthquake we would pay, but the nuclear problem was made by Tepco so the situation is so difficult,” he said.


Now whenever I point out that management is uniformly bad in Japan, I am reprimanded and reminded that after all, in the original Japanese it makes more sense. Well no it doesn’t. When you lie about things, it does not matter whether it is a cultural virtue or not, and the same goes for when you are evasive, obfuscatory, combative, or just plain weak.

This is not to say that Japanese are bad people. I like Japan. I live here. I like the people, Heck, my wife is Japanese. My co-workers are Japanese, and as the saying goes, so are some of my best friends. So this is not about the worth of people. Accusations of that nature are a smokescreen for avoiding the unpleasant topic of appallingly poor management for decades, with its obvious results, being accepted, even lauded, and explained away as an illusion caused more by the ignorance of western observers than by the plain old facts-on-the-ground bad management.

I don’t buy it. I never have. I would confess to feeling a little schadenfrrrruckyoutoo over this, if I could find people who would finally admit that they were wrong. Well, good luck.

The government owns the liability for those reactors as surely as it does for those killed by ships and houses (also not owned by the government) careening about the landscape in the earthquake and tsunami.  This is the nature of infrastructure disasters.

It is not as though the nuclear reactors which dominate the seaside landscape in a score of Japanese towns were put there through the market-based forces of companies relying upon supply and demand, risk and reward, in order to maximize profits.  The government owns the liability for those reactors as surely as it does for those killed by ships and houses (also not owned by the government) careening about the landscape in the earthquake and tsunami.  This is the nature of infrastructure disasters.

The U.S. government bailed out New Orleans in more than one sense after Hurricane Katrina, which was right and good.  It did not bail out those afflicted by the BP spill, except as a pass-through agent, and this was also right and good.  The heavily regulated and core infrastructure nature of nuclear reactors placed in cities to power the national power grid, which were then knocked out by a one-two punch from natural disasters of biblical proportions, makes them a whole lot more like secondary damage in New Orleans than primary damage from the BP spill.


Even without the phenomenon of amakudari (“descent from heaven”, the steady stream of government-to-industry senior managers which short-circuit any effective regulation of industry), the separation between government and corporation with regard to nuclear power is hard to find in any country except in the most pedantic sense.  It is at best a chinese-wall type system, and with amakudari in the mix, we might as well coin a new term for it.  Shoji.

There is no way to foul up this fundamental misunderstanding in translation.  The government of Japan has had nearly two months to converge upon an approach toward administrative responses, and it has not.  Nothing about this (the administrative part) is difficult, despite what the very sorry Mr. Hamasaka says.  The right answer is for the government of Japan, when issuing mandatory permanent (face it) evacuation orders to say “We will take care of you”, to follow through in the short term, figure out the money later, and follow through in the long term.

I would imagine that the government can put up or make available medium-term housing with  lots of services baked in, pursue reparations from TEPCO along the way, and seek long-term solutions for the re-settlement or return of those in the medium-term facilities.  Who would object to that?  And the government right now desperately needs a plan that people do not object to.  Their political grace period is nearly through.  After seeing and abiding the well-intended emergent incompetence displayed for months, the Japanese public is in a mood like never before, and will not tolerate a return to the less-well-intended chronic and corrupt incompetence for which this country is famous, but has historically been given a pass.  Not any more.

Curiously-worded apologies from weak-kneed bureaucrats won’t cut it anymore.  Everybody knows how very, very sorry they are.  It may be the sorriest government in the free world.  What people want to know is what they will do about it.

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