Last year, a report commissioned by the Japanese government on the institutional causes of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and nuclear disaster blasted the country's regulatory system, the cozy relationship between industry and government, aswell as "ingrained conventions of Japanese culture" that encouraged conformity and deference to authority.
The disaster, now often referred to as "3.11" in Japan, certainly provoked a round of brutal soul-searching for the Japanese media and government, but how much really changed as a result of the disaster? In the new book 3.11: Disaster and Change in Japan, MIT political scientist Richard J. Samuels argues that Japan's political institutions quickly returned to the status quo:
In the first two years after the disaster, politicians busied themselves with long-standing power rivalries. Votes of no confidence were threatened and sometimes held; cabinet ministers came and went as parties formed and slip for reasons unrelated to 3.11. Normal politics never gave way to crisis politics. In short, we saw in 3.11 what we saw in previous crises in Japan and elsewhere: postdisaster periods do not exist in a separate domain. Normal constraints continued to operate, even during the crisis, even when social and political equilibrium was supposed to have been dislodged.
Samuels also notes in another section that the U.S. military's quick mobilization as part of the rescue effort didn't change the minds of many Japanese nationalists about the military's presence in Japan -- many saw ulterior security-related motives behind America's actions.
Samuels argues that its still too early to judge the full impact of 3.11 on Japanese society and politics, but thus far, the effect seems less pronounced that we might have imagined on 3.12.
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