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Issue No. 303
Thursday January 6, 2005 TOKYO
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@@ VIEWPOINT: Remembrance of Japan in 2004
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@@ VIEWPOINT: Remembrance of Japan in 2004
Now that the 16th year of the reign of the present emperor is
history, I wonder how people will remember Japan in 2004.
Foremost in memory will be the Niigata earthquake. It was a
natural disaster. But not all of the destruction can be
attributed to an unexpected natural phenomenon.
Much of the devastation wrought by the Kobe earthquake, in
1995, was due to defective construction and inadequate
disaster planning. The Japanese learned from the experience
of the Kobe earthquake; they could have learned more.
They continued to build rickety houses in places vulnerable to
quakes and typhoons, a number of which struck Japan last year.
The Central Disaster Prevention Council scripts a worse case
scenario in which a temblor with an epicenter in the capital
region kills 13,000 people and destroys 800,000 buildings
(including structures consumed in post-quake fires).
The year will also be remembered for the Koizumi Cabinet's
engineering the first-ever dispatch of the Self-Defense
Forces to an overseas war zone. It was an epochal first step
toward Constitutional revision. The revision of the "Peace
Constitution," jointly proposed by a majority of legislators
from both the party in power and parties in opposition, is,
in the words of the noted critic Shuichi Kato, "a manmade
disaster the preparation of which involved a succession of
de facto unconstitutional actions."
From the standpoint of security, the threat of earthquakes
and military threats from abroad should be compared with
respect to probability, estimated damage, priority of
countermeasures, and allocation of resources. However,
there has been no persuasive discourse regarding these
points. An earthquake or war cannot be predicted with
certainty. But the potential scale of those threats
can be compared.
Neither can earthquakes be prevented. But the probability of
being attacked by a foreign power can be reduced through
a reasonable foreign policy. History reveals that in
eliminating a military threat appropriate diplomatic
transactions are often more effective than bolstering
For example, in the 1970s the "China threat" did not
diminish as a consequence of the Self-Defense Forces'
sudden augmentation of their fleet of fighter planes but
as a result of the signing of the Sino-Japanese Treaty of
Peace and Friendship. It would not appear that there was a
discourse with reference to relevant lessons of history
before the prioritizing of earthquake countermeasures and
Admittedly, however, the threat from the madcap Kim Jung Il
does not lend itself to quantitative analysis, so mercurial
is the Great Leader, so protean and inscrutable the North's
political landscape. He ceases to be styled such, and experts
scramble to decipher the meaning of the epithet's demise...and
draw a blank.
Kim did release the Japanese abductees' children and
Charles Jenkins, the husband of abductee Hitomi Soga. Japan
in 2004 will also be remembered for the saga of
this family finally arrived at Sado Island, in Niigata
Prefecture, to begin a life that will seem an idyll compared
with the hell of North Korea.
Ending on two positive notes: Japanese judoists
shone at Athens, garnering a record eight gold medals, and
Ichiro Suzuki broke an 84-year-old record for hits in a single
season in the Major Leagues.
Wishing you a Happy 2005.
-- Burritt Sabin
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