I walk this empty street
On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Where the city sleeps
And I'm the only one and I walk alone...
My shadow's the only one that walks beside me
My shallow heart's the only thing that's beating
Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me
'Til then I walk alone
- Billie Joe Armstrong, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (2004)
Today is the fourth anniversary of the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor meltdown in Japan's northeast. The television news broadcasts will be full to the brim with reports on commemorations and the current situation of the residents of Eastern Tohoku.
One reality the reports will not be able to avoid is the modest amount of rebuilding and resettlement completed. Few buildings have be restored in the devastated areas; even fewer businesses have been established. Over 200,000 persons remain displaced, scattered all over Japan or still huddling in tiny, cold temporary housing units.
The delay in or lack of revival (fukko) of the Tohoku despite the cubic kilometers of hot political aired spewed over it is not indicative of a lack of resolve or resources. The minor communities of the Tohoku seaboard were political clients and mendicants, surviving into the contemporary era not due to their ability to generate livelihoods for their inhabitants but due to their ability to attract subsidies and development funds from the nation's core areas. They were, for the most part, places that were not habitable save under severe government intervention.
Which means that Daniel Aldrich may have to provide a modification -- and not a very big one -- to his illuminating thesis on recovery from disaster. High levels of social capital in a community and social exchange in between local residents do seem to be of vital importance in speeding up recovery from disaster. However, for reconstruction to take place, the affected communities have to have had real socio-economic value for the nation in the first place.
Which the seaside communities of the Tohoku have not had for decades...and under any and all reasonable scenarios never will.
So if today you see or read a report condemning the lack of reconstruction as a sign of political failure, feel free to say, "No, the failure to reconstruct is not the political failure. The political failure was the continued existence of these towns and villages."
As a coda, if a public official or former public official comes on lamenting about the communities lost to the rain of radiation from the explosions of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, you can say, "Phooey! The reason why the nuclear power stations were even there" -- this is from another one of Aldrich's books - "was because those municipalities were NOT communities! Communities would have banded together and rejected the plants!"
Later - Please, please, please read the comments where I am excoriated for the above.
Original image courtesy: Mainichi Shimbun