Shaking up Japan’s political system (literally)

In recent years Robert D. Kaplan has been writing about the potentially disastrous consequences of urbanization and climate change: the number of deaths due to climate change will increase because of the concentration of people in high-risk zones for natural disasters. What about the political effects of natural disasters? This week’s Banyan column in The Economist posits a similar theory for Japan:

Tokyo’s quake of 1855 came just after the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry and his “black ships” which forced Japan to open to the world. The two traumas were conflated. The 1923 quake and its economic consequences hastened military rule and war. The coming quake may reverberate politically, too, particularly affecting the public paternalism that prevails in Tokyo’s approach to disaster management as in so much else.

I myself have often argued that expansive domestic political change in Japan has historically been the result of external stimuli (e.g. guns in 1500s, “black ships” in the 1800s, nukes in the 1900s). I had not thought of climate change as a potential catalyst.

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
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4 Responses to Shaking up Japan’s political system (literally)

  1. Eddie says:

    In the context of Japan, Joshua Hammer’s book “Yokohama Burning” claimed there were more than economic consequences to the 1923 quake. He went into significant enough detail (especially Japanese accounts of opportunistic violence against Koreans and even locally sanctioned violence against foreigners) that it got me thinking about the future, especially in Asia and Latin America, where natural disasters (exacerbated by urban planning failures, millenarian/xenophobic religious & political groups and/or climate change) become incubators of serious violence and upheaval.

    When you consider all the major population centers with few earthquake preparations and safety regimens, in countries not known for their long-term stability (Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan, Venezuela, etc), the picture is dark for even a moderate (in a historical sense) earthquake’s impact.

  2. UNRR says:

    This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 7/7/2009, at The Unreligious Right

  3. Jupiter says:

    Japan’s economy is hobbling and it’s political structure is stagnant; a major Tokyo earthquake would drastically exacerbate the first problem and highlight the severe ramifications of the second as the government lurches through what promises to be an ineffectual and uncoordinated response. During the Kobe earthquake, the government was castigated for its slow response, while the media reported on relief helicopters being swiftly dispatched to disaster regions by the Yakuza– that’s right, during the last earthquake, organized crime managed to organize relief efforts better than the Japanese government, and I’m not sure there is any reason to suspect an improvement since then.

    Depending on the severity of the earthquake, political ramifications are bound to follow. In the short-term, Japan is going to become even weaker, which in itself will serve to make them more skittish and insecure of their place in the world. The longer term effects are anyone’s guess, but I’d personally like to see Japan led by a strong, directly elected American-style President (anything to end this conveyor belt of weak, bumbling prime ministers).

    Consider some of the things that we can reasonably expect to happen over the next thirty-ish years: the reunification of Korea, peaceful or violent, possibly a nuclear state but definitely as a strong and antagonistic competitor. A strong and nationalistic China dominating the Pacific. A major natural disaster scheduled for any day now, and demographics promising more economic hijinks down the line.

    In a way, I almost wonder if Japan might not need something to shake things up in the immediate future, because the present path does not seem to bode well for Japanese prospects in the years to come.

  4. Michael says:

    So much of Japan’s political and economic activity is concentrated in the Tokyo metropolitan area. A serious effort to redevelop their outlying cities and towns would have the effect of reducing the impact of an earthquake, eruption of Mt. Fuji or other disaster.