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(Mainichi Japan) May 13, 2011
Are disasters in low-profile Japan a harbinger of modern civilization's darkness?

It was shortly after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 25 years ago that I arrived in France as the Mainichi's Paris correspondent.

Located downwind from the stricken Soviet nuclear power plant, Europe was enveloped in fear, and France was no exception.

News programs warned consumers to protect themselves from rain and avoid giving milk to young children.

While Europeans were terrified of radiation, they appeared largely uninterested in the accident itself.

This was probably due to the line of thinking that the accident was possible only in a "rigid, Communist regime" like the Soviet Union.

It was obvious to everyone that Soviet society and economy had stagnated, and the Chernobyl accident was seen -- to some extent -- as having its roots in Communism's shortcomings.

The nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, on the other hand, has had a much greater emotional impact on the rest of the world than Chernobyl did years ago. That the latest accident has taken place in Japan -- known around the world for the quality, safety and reliability of its facilities and products -- has made people elsewhere feel that such a disaster could happen right in their backyard.

By proving that nuclear disasters are a universal phenomenon, the Fukushima accident has given us a peek at the deep abyss that exists in modern civilization.

Another occasion in which Japan captured the attention of the world was the cult AUM Shinrikyo's 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system.

After the attacks, the world came to know that in prosperous, industrialized Japan, there were financially-comfortable and well-educated young men and women who devoted both mind and body to a single leader, developing sarin nerve gas and anthrax and faithfully obeying orders no matter how antisocial their actions.

U.S. authorities expressed a strong interest in the attacks at the time, even sending an anti-terrorism team to Japan to conduct their own investigation. The incident was a case of asymmetric conflict -- in which two parties whose resources and strengths differ significantly fight each other, in this case a state and a religious cult -- that predated the asymmetric war that followed the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.

Japan, unlike the U.S., is not at the forefront of modern civilization, nor does it, like France, pride itself on having a global mission.

But this low-profile country, albeit infrequently, experiences incidents and phenomena that seem to foreshadow the deep darkness of modern civilization.

Why is this the case? Is it that our blind devotion to efficiency has driven something essential to our lives to the sidelines?

Or is it because the quality, safety and reliability that we pride ourselves on exist merely on a superficial level?

Furthermore, the subway attacks and the ongoing crisis in Fukushima both took place soon after major earthquakes. (While the AUM Shinrikyo cult did not have a direct connection to the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, captured members have said that the cult tried to capitalize on the instability of Japanese society following the temblor.)

Since March 11, I can't help but keep asking myself, over and over again: "Why Japan?" 3・11以降、「なぜ日本が」という問いが私の中で続いている。

(By Megumi Nishikawa, Expert Senior Writer)

毎日新聞 2011年5月13日 東京朝刊

by kiyoshimat | 2011-05-14 09:25 | 英字新聞

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