After the Quake: Student Research on the 2011 Japanese Earthquake

On March 11 last year, northeastern Japan was struck by a threefold catastrophe—a massive, 9.0 magnitude earthquake, a devastating tsunami, and level-seven nuclear meltdowns at three reactors. Sixteen thousand people perished in the disaster, and the country sustained economic losses equivalent to $235 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster in world history. The long process of recovery began almost immediately, and continues today.  Since the start of the Fall 2012 semester, William and Mary students have been researching the earthquake, its antecedents, and the recovery.  In April, these students presented the results of their research at a poster session and  student conference, ‘After the Quake: Japan Responds.’

Seven students gave presentations at the conference on various aspects of the disaster and the recovery efforts, including comparisons with the 1923 Kantō Earthquake and the 1995 Kobe; the US military’s relief effort, Operation Tomodachi; and the prospects for a greening of the Japanese economy in the aftermath of 3.11. The first panel comprised Elizabeth Denny, Michael Harrington, Allison Kennington and Sara Caudill; and the second panel, Steven Pau, Peter Dorrell and Wen Chen. Each panel was followed by a lively Q&A session.

During a lunch break, members of the audience had the opportunity to view a poster session, where the presenters as well as students from Ms. Tomoko Kato’s Spring course, The Culture of Nuclear Fascination, were available to discuss their projects on various aspects of the events of March 11 and the political and cultural history of Japan’s involvement with nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Presenters from Ms. Kato’s class included Roger Chesley, Kelly Constance, Shun Fukuda, Jiamin Ku, Adam Labriny, Callum Lawson, Kazunari Nakamura, Rhode N’Komba, David Ranzini, and Jessica Wang.

After lunch, Alex Bates, Assistant Professor of Japanese at Dickinson College, in Pennsylvania, delivered the keynote address entited ‘Fire Guns and Bear Gods: Fear of the Outsider in Disaster’. Doctor Bates discussed how authors have used literature to help process the trauma of catastrophe, citing literary works written in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 as well as last year’s Tohoku Earthquake.

The conference was only the latest event in the college’s continuing engagement with this disaster and its aftermath.  The Japanese section thanks all the participants, and hopes that everyone will keep the victims of the 3.11 in mind as the recovery proceeds. During the conference, a collection was taken for the Japan Relief Initiative, a project set up by William and Mary undergrads, alumni, staff, and faculty, which helps to support smaller, local relief agencies. The need remains great; if you would like to donate to the JRI, you may do so here.




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