Disaster Re-silence? Disaster Resilience?

Today we had two lectures/discussions on 3/11 Fukushima disaster relief.

Sorry, that was a terribly uninteresting first sentence that in all honesty, I almost started with. I’m relieved (get it?) I caught that and it wasn’t a writing disaster.

Okay, joking and puns aside, I think our discussions today, led by Hijikata-sensei and Shinoda-sensei from Waseda University and later by Nakayama-san of Kuma Project Association, were a really interesting follow up to our meeting with Oguma Eiji yesterday. That is, Oguma Eiji provided a sort of historical sociological/activist/documentary filmmaker perspective or response to the path-dependency of Touhoku, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, and the “natural” vs “manmade” aspects of the disaster. Today, then, we approached this same event from the different lenses of information science and NPOs.

Information science takes the Environment as observed through the Five Senses to compile Data (i.e. record of the past), and uses that information and knowledge to generate Models (via induction and deduction), which then inform decision-making and action, which in turn changes that original Environment. In short, it’s a social process that goes into regional planning (though, Hijikata-sensei noted that “region” is a product of human perception). Hijikata-sensei used Kesennuma City in the Hashikami Area as a case study in discussing post-disaster regional planning and resilience. I was reminded a lot of a guest lecture in my Introduction to Environmental Studies course this past fall semester, where Professor Eileen Johnson talked about Coastal Resilience in Maine.


Keiji Nakayama actually visited Bowdoin last year and gave a similar talk on the NPO he founded, Kuma Project Association, which provides outdoor, experiential, and volunteer-based education programs. That’s not to say it was repetitive at all. Rather, it was really interesting hearing it again and being able to engage with Nakayama-san in a smaller group/discussion setting.

Nakayama-san is a close friend of Aridome-sensei and was a school refuser from the 4th to 9th grade because he disagreed with the emphasis on conformity placed in the Japanese education system. Though he didn’t go to high school, Nakayama-san decided to go to college and got a B.A in Economics because he was interested in the education quality discrepancy between “developing” and “developed” countries, which as political, cultural, and economic roots. He then pursued a Master’s in Outdoor Education and Recreational Therapy, followed by a Doctor’s in Sports Sociology. Besides his work with Kuma Project Association, Nakayama-san also, ironically enough, teachers teaching-training courses for students who want to become teachers, where he does everything he can to emphasize the importance of individuality in school settings.

Nakayama-san believes that many education systems focus too much on the knowledge component of education, which can come from family and formal (school) education. Kuma Project, therefore, aims to provide social and experiential-based education. He used a wonderful bike analogy, where “knowledge” and “experience” are the two wheels of the bike; if one is turning faster than the other, the bike can’t really move or be balanced very well. Following the 3/11 nuclear disaster, Nakayama-san realzed, driving around evacuation advisory areas, that many people weren’t getting the adequate relief they needed. Elderly people, people with disabilities, and families with children often left evacuation centers and returned home, often feeling guilt or that they were a burden or falling ill due to the stressful environment (and recovering upon returning home). Furthermore, many people in mountain areas were considered “non-affected,” even though they were without water and (especially elderly) had to walk many miles to get water and other supplies. In other words, they were considered “non-affected” from a physical damage standpoint and weren’t allowed to go to the evacuation centers. Finally, many children, but also adults needed stress-relief and social opportunities to talk about the disaster, in a setting where they could do so without feeling guilty (i.e. what if the other person suffered more than I did?).

Kuma Project Association, with the help of its college student “volunteers” (note, there is a fee, since government-based funding is tricky), seeks to meet all of these needs through its programs. It was interesting how Nakayama-san acknowledged that it’s now more accurate to call it “regional development” rather than “disaster relief support,” which might dredge up old, bad memories. As a bit of an aside, I thought Nakayama-san had this really fascinating, wonderful combination of sincerity and humor and pride and honesty in talking about his work that was a pleasure to listen to.


EDIT: I want to briefly explain this post’s title. I think “resilience” is a word tossed around a lot, especially in the face of climate change and natural disasters. I think there are worse “buzzwords,” but talking with Hijikata-sensei and Nakayama-san made me think a little bit about how events or disasters can fade from our memories, just as Nakayama-san mentioned in his talk. So I don’t want my title to evoke an idea of “silencing” disaster or climate change support efforts. Rather, it’s to point out that self-“silencing,” or memories or ideas fading into the recesses of our mind, I think can occur both with time and overuse (especially of words). I think there’s very real, valid reasons for and against letting such things fade (for instance, so as not to dredge up bad memories, as Nakayama-san said) but also reasons for and against keeping such ideas alive. It’s cliche, but as they say, we can learn from the past. Does forgetting help ease those who suffered back into everyday life or does it risk leaving that suffering unacknowledged, for lack of better words?