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    防災 II

    I know that a lot of us are heartily sick of this topic, but for those who can still take it, the following might be instructive.

    I write, of course, from Japan. You know, the Japan that makes social-democrat/third-way types feel all warm and fuzzy? The Japan in which enlightened technocrats, enshrined in the federal ministries in Kasumigaseki and insulated from elections and politicking and evil market forces and stuff, guide the nation toward a bright nationally-insured future? Yeah, the bloom is somewhat off the economic rose, but in social policy terms, a lot of my left-leaning acquaintances still swoon over the degree of ministry control here.

    Well, I will tell you as someone who has lived here for a decade: what you hear about disaster preparedness ALWAYS involves local intiatives. Sometimes, municipal governments are involved; other times, it’s smaller public institutions. 1 September, the anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, was Disaster Prevention Day here. Apparently, over a million people participated in demonstrations and drills and things. Our apartment building’s management company distributed leaflets to our mailboxes, outlining what would happen if a quake hit and our building were declared unsafe until inspection. New survival gadgets are always cropping up in human interest features on NHK.

    None of this means that the Ministry of Land, Transport, and Infrastructure, for instance, doesn’t get involved in a big-time disaster. What it does mean is that…I mean, read this at Q and O. Bruce McQuain corrals a lot of criticisms of response at various levels of government and weighs their merits. One in particular is–well, I was going to call it butt-stupid, but that would be an insult to butts everywhere. Not to mention to the average stupid person, who could probably be relied on not to say anything quite this inane:

    If Allbaugh were not an amateur, he would have known that communities, “faith-based organizations” and the private sector become overwhelmed by disasters more modest than this one. In a crisis the federal government should be the first responder, not the last, to take charge, not wait to be asked.

    I don’t know. Individual organizations may be feeling overwhelmed, but the overall response by private and local organizations seems to be working a damned sight better than anything the government has come up with. The issue isn’t just that the constitution doesn’t permit the President to barge in and tell a state governor, “Now, little lady, you just stand back and let the big boys handle this”–important as that is. It’s also that only locals know local conditions. Level-headed people who are prepared can find ways to keep going until the government does, in fact, have a chance to get to them if necessary (via Joanne Jacobs).

    In Japan, what we’re told is this: A disaster may render you unreachable. It may cut you off from communication networks and utilities. The appropriate government agencies (starting at the neighborhood level and moving upward depending on the magnitude of the damage) will respond as quickly as they can, but you may be on your own for days until they do. Prepare supplies. Learn escape routes. Then learn alternate escape routes. Know what your region’s points of vulnerability are. Get to know your neighbors (especially the elderly or infirm) so you can help each other out and account for each other. Follow directions if you’re told to evacuate. Stay put if you aren’t. Participate in the earthquake preparation drills in your neighborhood.

    If that’s the attitude of people in collectivist, obedient, welfare-state Japan, it is beyond the wit of man why any American should be sitting around entertaining the idea that Washington should be the first (or second or fifteenth) entity to step in and keep the nasty wind and rain and shaky-shaky from hurting you. Sheesh.

    Oh, and you have to read this post by Andrea. You have to keep reading even after you think all the funny parts are over. You have to read to the end. I second Ilyka’s comment, trans-Pacifically. I also get where Connie’s coming from.

    Added on 13 September: Thanks to Virginia Postrel for the link–not to mention the flattery. I can think of far better sources of news about Japan than my blog, but we’ll just let that pass for now. She adds a few points that differentiate earthquakes from typhoons and are worth noting:

    Of course, in an earthquake, you have no warning–not a couple of days to get out of town (assuming you have transportation, of course). And there’s always that question of where to store the earthquake supplies, since the house could collapse on them, making them inaccessible.

    They tell you to choose the corner you think is most structually sound, but, of course, you don’t really know what that is until the quake hits and your walls either don’t give or do. In a new building (such as ours, fortunately), you almost always have shear walls on the exterior. They can help ensure that the only things that are likely to fail are tall cabinets and shelves and things, so you have to find space for your stash that isn’t near furniture. That’s no contemptible feat in the average Tokyo apartment, but it’s better than expecting the ceiling to come down on your head. My own solution, if that’s the word, is to keep my major survival kit in the bedroom but to have supplies (bottled water and flashlights and things) in other places around the apartment also, under the assumption that if the quake is so strong it takes all of them out, I’ll probably be too dead to need them anyway.

    While I think of it, Dean linked (no trackback) and got a short but good discussion going about whether my comparison between the US and Japan is valid. Justin at Classical Values also linked, and he and Eric and Dennis have a great crew of commenters; it’ll be interesting to see what they have to say.

    Added on 15 September: Why, how sweet. This nice professor from Tennessee also linked to this post. I don’t know much about him, but a little digging reveals that he has a sister who lives in Sevier County. We know what that means, don’t we, boys? This guy’s sister lives in the county where Dolly Parton was born. And WE LOVE DOLLY TO TINY LITTLE BITS! So welcome, Instapundit readers.

    5 Responses to “防災 II”

    1. Suggestions for Improvement in Disaster Preparedness

      The government, since we rely on them so heavily, should tell us that we should prepare for a disaster. Any disaster. Assume that we will need five days of food, water, and whatever else we might want. Suggest an emergency med kit. Recommend addit…

    2. Wisdom From The East

      Sean Kinsell makes some interesting observations about disaster relief in paternalistic Japan… Well, I will tell you as someone who has lived here for a decade: what you hear about disaster preparedness ALWAYS involves local intiatives. Sometimes, municipal governments are…

    3. submandave says:

      In Japan this local assistance is greatly helped by the very formalized “informal” neighborhood associations. Just about family in a neighborhood has certain known and expected responsibilities. When Bon Odori (a kind of Fall Festival) comes up, it is mainly the neighborhood associations that plan, organize, finance and hold the event. When someone in the neighborhood dies, it is again people in the association that help plan support and help for the bereaved. It is only natural this sort of mutual support extends to disasters.

      In the US, though, the government (and increasingly the federal government) has assumed the roles similar neighborhood associations used to perform. But note that in the small towns of Mississippi and Alabama (and even small communities outlying NO) you don’t hear as much of the “Daddy, save me” chorus, as tighter community and neighborhood relationships seem to have largely filled in the gaps like they should in crisis.

    4. Gaijin Biker says:


    5. Sean Kinsell says:


      It’s interesting that you say that, because it really isn’t true of a lot of places in Tokyo the way it is in small towns. It’s not because the government has assumed a bigger role here; it’s just that people move apartments a lot, and neighborhoods tend to be full of transplanted families without roots where they’re living. Even given that, there’s still a sense of ground-level cooperation, though, with regards to disaster preparation. And you’re right that there hasn’t been as much carrying on from small towns in the states hit by Katrina, probably for the reasons you mention.

      Gaijin Biker:

      ありがとうございます。 本当に、 まるでナダレのようで衝撃的なんですよ。

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