Update on Japan, one month after the disasters

April 22, 2011
Dental industry veteran Jiro Masuda gives his view of his home country one month after a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Editor's Note: The following was written by Jiro Masuda, advisor to the Osaka Dental University, active member of the dental industry, and a dear friend of mine who lives in Japan. He wrote the following notes regarding what he has seen in Japan following the horrific disasters that struck that country.

Lesson Learned from the disaster:

Think the unthinkable!
Never say never!
Foresee the unforeseeable!
Negligence is unforgivable!

About a month has passed since a massive earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern parts of Japan on March 11, 2011. The earthquake was officially named The Tohoku Pacific Offshore Earthquake by the Japan Meteorological Agency on March 11, 2011 and the great disaster was named The Great East Japan Earthquake on April 1, 2011 by the Cabinet. According to the National Police Agency, as of April 10, 2011, 13,013 people were confirmed dead, and 14,608 were reported missing. 151,115 people have been evacuated to 2,360 shelters in 18 prefectures, while as many as 460,000 people were evacuated to shelters at some time. Some 158,000 households have no electricity, 249,000, no city water, and some 115,000, no city gas. It is quite regrettable that an accurate grasp of damages is not possible even after a month, as the scale of the calamity is so huge.

There have been many unfortunate record-breaking facts and worrisome reports, which tell how overwhelming and extensive, damages and negative effects of the great disaster are.

The twin disaster and the nuclear crisis = a complex disaster
The Great East Japan Earthquake is a result of the twin disaster (Tohoku Pacific Offshore Earthquake and subsequent Tsunami), and the nuclear crisis which occurred right after the quake.

The largest earthquake (magnitude 9.0) in the nation’s history
The Tohoku Pacific Offshore Earthquake (magnitude 9.0) is the largest in the nation’s history since seismic observations have been made and recorded. The Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 was magnitude 7.9, and the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, was magnitude 7.3.

The 9.0 magnitude earthquake probably caused enormous changes in the force exerted by the tectonic plates in the eastern part of Japan. There have been at least 430 earthquakes measuring 1 or higher on the Japanese seismic scale of 7 since March 12. Those include many strong quakes with a magnitude of 5 or higher. Experts say there are more shocks to come, possibly as strong as magnitude 8 and scientists say aftershocks are far from over.

Unprecedented massive tsunami
An unprecedented massive Tsunami generated by the quake flooded areas several kilometers inland, swept away whole cities and towns and destroyed thousands of houses, buildings, factories and corporate facilities. According to surveys by experts, the tsunami was more than 10 meters high at many points along the Sanriku coast. In Ofunato, Iwate prefecture, it reached as high as 23.6 meters. The tsunami waves roared up the slopes in Miyako, Iwate prefecture, to a point 37.9 meters high.

Nuclear accident rating of seven (7)
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency on April 12, 2011 raised the provisional severity level of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant to the worst rating of seven on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), up from the previous level of 5. The only other nuclear crisis to have been rated level 7 was the 1986 Chernobyl accident in the former Soviet Union, although the amount of radioactive material released so far is estimated to be only about 10% of that released in the Chernobyl accident.

It is the first time in the world for four nuclear reactors to face severe troubles simultaneously.

The crisis at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant has released large quantities of radioactive substances into the air and water, raising serious concerns over possible health risks. The government and plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), have repeatedly said that there will be no major health impact “for the time being” and that there will be no “immediate” effects.

The enormous vastness of the devastated area
Damages have been observed and reported in 12 prefectures of eastern Japan, and Tokyo as well as Hokkaido. According to the report by the Geographical Survey Institute on April 18, the submerged space by the tsunami turned out to be 561 square kilometers in the six prefectures (from Aomori to Chiba prefectures) along the Pacific coast.

Liquefaction damage widespread
Areas hit by soil liquefaction are about 400 kilometers from the focal point of the Tohoku Pacific Offshore Earthquake. The length and force of the magnitude 9.0 temblor was so strong it set off soil liquefaction on the largest scale ever recorded in this country, experts said. Most severely stricken was Urayasu, in Chiba prefecture, where 85 % of the land was affected by soil liquefaction. An estimated 33,000 households in the city had their water supply cut off. Reclaimed land around Tokyo Bay including Tokyo Disneyland was damaged.

Confronting endless sea of debris
An expert says that estimates of the volume of tsunami and earthquake debris range from 80 million to 200 million tons. In a typical year, the entire country generates about 71 million tons of household waste and more than 400 million tons of industrial waste, according to the Environment Ministry.

There are serious questions about where, in an already space-challenged island nation, the trash can be disposed of.

Tsunami devastated fishing industry
The March 11 tsunami dealt a crippling blow to fishing industry in Tohoku region, sweeping tons of debris into the sea and destroying thousands of fishing vessels. It changed the shape of coastline and destroyed fishermen’s cooperative buildings as well as production facilities. It may take as long as two or three years to remove the debris in the sea and rehabilitate the ports.

Because of the seawater contaminated by radiation, there have been restrictions set by the government on fishing and selling some seafood products. This, along with rumors on food safety, has placed the local fishing industry in a very difficult situation.

Farmland restoration urgent
Farmland and irrigation facilities must be restored with the greatest urgency. Farmland submerged under seawater will remain salty even after the water is removed, which will stymie crop cultivation. Making rice paddies and other land arable again will require this salt to be washed away with freshwater. Soil contaminated by radiation will have to be dealt with. The Fukushima prefectural government has suggested agricultural work to be suspended in parts of the prefecture.

Another source of worry is the crisis at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant, which is threatening to drag on for some time. Shipment of spinach and other vegetables from Fukushima, Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures and some parts of Chiba prefecture have been restricted after radioactive substances exceeding regulated levels were detected in them.

Land in tsunami-hit prefectures sank
The Geographical Survey Institute has said that all 28 benchmarks and triangulation points in the three northeastern prefectures ravaged by last month’s earthquake and tsunami have fallen from 20 to 84 centimeters. The largest fall of 84 centimeters was observed in Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate prefecture, followed by 78 centimeters in Ishino-maki, Miyagi prefecture. The drops were caused by a sharp movement of plates below the Tohoku region.

Supply chain disruption(domestic & international)
CHINA (Beijin-AFP-Jiji)
Electronics and automakers in China are facing a severe shortage of components after Japan’s twin disaster disrupted production. The earthquake and tsunami on March 11, shattered infrastructure, caused power outrages and forced temporary factory shutdowns- meaning shipments of key parts to China also stopped. Japan is a key supplier of components and equipment used in the assembly of cars, laptops, iPods, refrigerators and flat-screen televisions.

USA (Washington, Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent)
The economic impact of the March 11 disaster has been particularly felt by retailers and manufacturers in certain parts of the United States, as supplies of high quality parts and materials from Japan have been cut off, a recent report from the U.S. Federal Reserve Board has shown. It said deliveries of plastic resin, material important to the strong automobile-related and electric industries in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, were behind schedule. The report said Japanese products ranging from automobile parts to paint were in short supply throughout the United States. The report also said the flow of Japanese products would not be normalized until September.

USA (New York, AFP-Jiji) /(Mexico city, AFP-Jiji)
Toyota announced on April 8, that it will suspend production in its North American plants for several days this month because of problems supplying parts from earthquake-rattled Japan.

Nissan Motor Co., plans to close for up to 15 days its two assembly plants in Mexico because of a shortage of parts from Japan, the Company said on April 8.

EUROPE (The Associated Press)
Toyota Motor Corp. said it will suspend production for eight days due to parts shortages following last month’s massive earthquake and tsunami. The magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuring tsunami destroyed auto parts factories in northeastern Japan, causing severe shortages for Toyota and other automakers.

Ban on Japanese food due to radioactive contamination (domestic & international)
The government had restricted shipments of some agricultural products from four prefectures following the release of radioactive particles from the tsunami stricken nuclear plant. Spinach, kakina (a green leafy vegetable) and raw milk are included in restricted products. At a later date, the government will impose restrictions on a town-by-town basis and stipulate that products will not be banned from being shipped if their radioactivity data stay below safety limits for three straight weeks.

At one time, Korea, China, India and a few EU countries banned all or some food imports from Japan.

Some countries asked for certificates to prove that products were processed before the nuclear accident.

Considerable financial losses have been caused by harmful rumors and questionable information on radioactive contamination domestically and abroad.

Other negative aspects
270,000 vehicles hit by tsunami in three prefectures
The March 11 tsunami damaged nearly 270,000 vehicles in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, according to an estimate by an industry body. Its breakdown is 125,000 vehicles in Miyagi, about 102,000 in Fukushima and about 40,000 in Iwate.

Tourism industry is suffering
As many as 560,000 people have canceled hotel reservations nationwide since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, according to the Japan Tourism Agency. According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey, at least 80,000 foreigners have called off visiting Japan and canceled hotel booking and tours since the Great East Japan Earthquake. Some foreign airlines have also canceled flights to this country.

Property loss (Daily Yomiuri 110416)
The Cabinet office has estimated that property worth about 25 trillion was lost in the March earthquake and tsunami, including private homes and public roads.

Many foreign workers left Japan
Many foreigners returned home soon after the nuclear accident, which has resulted in a labor shortage for the fast food industry, IT industry and language teaching business. The Chinese government evacuated about 9,300 Chinese back to China.

Help disaster victims find the job they want
As one month has passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, moves to provide employment assistance to victims of the disaster are spreading nationwide. Companies in the railway, video game, food, medicine and financial service sectors, among others, have come out with job offers for victims of the March 11 catastrophe.

About 170 firms have posted job offers with an online employment information service company.

An estimated 800,000 people worked in the coastal regions of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, which were pummeled by the tsunami. It is not known how many people lost jobs because of the disaster, but more than 26,000 people had sought consultations about employment at local government offices in the three prefectures as of early April. Priority should naturally be given to local companies in disaster-hit areas when awarding contracts for construction of temporary housing and debris removal. It is also important to help find jobs to retirees and elderly disaster victims. It is suggested to create a system that can match the needs of disaster victims with the available job openings.

Government must offer world accurate nuclear information (The Daily Yomiuri Editorials 110417)
Distrust is growing in countries around the world over the Japanese government’s handling of the crisis at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant. The nuclear accident is the common concern of the international community.

The government should release accurate information about it as quickly possible, not only to the Japanese public but also to people around the world to ease their anxiety. What the international community views as the single biggest problem is the government’s delay in notifying countries near Japan of the release of water containing low levels of radioactive material into the Pacific Ocean from the crippled nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture. At a recent meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, one member country after another expressed concern over Japan’s release of the radioactive water into the sea.

Favorable information
Medical support quickly provided (Daily Yomiuri 110417)
In the month following the massive quake and tsunami on March 11, more than 15,000 medical experts from across Japan have provided care in areas hit by the disaster, a Yomiuri Shimbun survey has revealed. This will make it the largest ever post-disaster operation in terms of medical support, which has been improved since the 1995
Great Hanshin Earthquake. Medical teams dispatched by the Japanese Red Cross Society, the Japan Medical Association and other medical organizations, medical societies, universities and prefectural governments still remain in these areas. Dentists dispatched by the Japan Dental Association have identified quake victims based on their dental record.

People around the world have been offering their generous support to Japan
As of April 14, 2011, 135 countries and regions and 39 international organizations had offered assistance to Japan, according to the Foreign Ministry. One of the biggest as well as most effective contributions is the one offered by the United States, which was named “Operation Tomodachi”. Some 16,000 personnel have been mobilized for this operation from the American Navy (US 7th fleet), Air Force, and Army. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged “steadfast support” for Japan in the process of rebuilding the nation from what she described as “a multidimensional crisis of unprecedented scope.” The Diet adopted a resolution on April 15 expressing gratitude to the international community for providing strong support since a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck the Tohoku region on March 11. The support has been a source of hope not just for the victims but for all people in Japan.

Economic outlook
Economic outlook downgraded (Kyodo 110414)
On April 13, the government downgraded its basic assessment of the nation’s economy for the first time in six months, saying the March 11 earthquake and tsunami have caused serious downward pressure on exports, production and consumption.

The quake and tsunami devastated infrastructure and manufacturing facilities in the Tohoku region, disrupting nationwide supply chains. The nuclear crisis in Fukushima prefecture caused shortages in electricity supply in Tokyo and surrounding areas. Food contamination fears due to radiation leaks from the atomic power plant are hurting exports, as a number of countries have already moved to limit their imports of Japanese foodstuffs.

G-20 offer aid to Japan, but fear crisis is risk to global economy (Kyodo 110417)
On April 15 Financial chiefs from the Group of 20 nations expressed solidarity with the Japanese people over the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, pledging to offer any support they could. The joint statement stressed the G-20 countries’ recognition that the Japanese economy and financial sector are basically “resilient”.

But with the troubles at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant continuing, the G-20 officials warned that Japan’s economic downturn is a downside risk to the global economy, underscoring their concern over the aftermath of the nation’s worst postwar crisis.

In closing, we have learned the following from this huge disaster:
Think the unthinkable!
Never say never!
Foresee the unforeseeable!
Negligence is unforgivable!