This panel introduces continuing field research on the East Japan Disaster of 2011. Examining methodological, theoretical and practical questions, the panel seeks to identify a role for public anthropology in the complex process of restoring communities after the disaster.
On March 11, 2011, a mega-earthquake of 9.0 magnitude struck East Japan, followed by a huge tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown. This was an unprecedented disaster. There were approximately 20,000 fatalities, including missing people, and the damage was estimated at 17 trillion Japanese yen. The members of this panel have been studying the East Japan Disaster since its earliest stages and have already published some urgent ethnographies. But though the disaster was sudden, recovery from it has been a lengthy process. By the end of 2013, there were still about 270,000 evacuees and displaced people, and the local economic situation remained shaky. Relocation from temporary housing to new settlements has proved a protracted, soul-destroying process. In Fukushima, contaminated water has been steadily leaking into the sea, and the nuclear power plant remains in critical condition. Reconstruction is patchy; the future of the devastated communities, opaque. This panel raises methodological, theoretical and practical questions regarding how anthropologists should engage with the disaster over a longer time span, and what anthropologists can do sustainably in collaborative research projects toward the future. Putting anthropology to work in the public sphere, we hope to practice a public anthropology that contributes to the understanding and solution of contemporary public issues beyond the narrow discipline of anthropology, while collaborating with various actors and organizations involved. The East Japan Disaster is exactly the kind of challenge we have to respond to.