Japan Earthquake Overview and Future Possibilities


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An overview on the March 11th Tohoku Offshore Earthquake and following tsunami, concentrating on how information was spread during and after the immediate crisis. Also thoughts on what implications this disaster can have for technology and society in the future.

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Japan Earthquake Overview and Future Possibilities

  1. 1. The Tohoku Pacific Offshore Earthquake March 11th 2011Observations on the impact of a natural disaster on society and technology in Japan, including thoughts on possible future developments A Mobile Observations Report, March 2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  2. 2. Contents Copyright Information 3 Foreword 4 The Events, As They Were Reported 5 Possible Future Implications 15 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  3. 3. CopyrightInformationThis work is licensed under the Creative CommonsAttribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. To view acopy of this licence, visithttp://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street,Suite 300, San Francisco, California 94105, USA. 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  4. 4. ForewordI am writing this from the luxury of a warm home with runningwater and electricity. The earthquake and tsunami whichstruck northern Honshu eleven days ago did not affect medirectly, and all friends and family are safe. This isunfortunately not the case for millions of Japanese.At the time of writing the rescue efforts are still ongoing, andthe huge toll on human lives and property is only beginning tobecome clear. The purpose of this document is in no way toattempting to gain profit from the misery experienced inJapan at this time. It is available free of charge under a CCAttribution license, meaning it can be spread freely by anyand all means as long as the sourcewww.mobileobservations.com is mentioned.The purpose of this document is to offer an early overview ofthe events which have unfolded, and to provide some insighton what implications these events have on Japanese society.My sincere hope is, that this overview of the situation cananswer some questions, dispel some myths and perhapsoffer inspiration for the reader to help in rebuilding Japan,whatever that may entail.Mikael LeppäHelsinki, Finland, 22. 3. 2011 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  5. 5. March 11th, 201114:46 JSTWhile a normal morning was beginning inHelsinki, Finland, a 9.0 magnitudeearthquake struck under the seafloor eastof the Tohoku region in northern Japan. Agood friend was on a train in Tokyo at thetime, and got away a quick tweet:”Earthquake. Scary” as the train made anemergency stop.As earthquakes are commonplacethroughout Japan they are rarelymentioned, unless they are serious.Adding that ”scary” was a chilling hint ofwhat was to transpire. 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  6. 6. Information VacuumAfter 15:30 JSTIn the first hours there was very little informationavailable in western media. Twitter, however,was being flooded by messages from the groundall over Japan, and the situation did not soundvery good.In Tokyo @stevenagata took great initiative intraining his webcam on his TV running aconstant emergency news broadcast fromnational broadcasting company NHK, andstreaming it on Ustream. In a time of uncertaintyabout the safety of family and friends, this wasan invaluable source of much neededinformation for anyone outside Japan (NHKstarted their own Ustream channel later). 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  7. 7. No ConnectionsEvening, March 11thWithin minutes of the earthquake twoof the three major mobile carriers,NTT DoCoMo and Softbank, ran intotrouble, seeing their voice callservices go down in Tokyo and in thenorth. The third major carrier, AUseemed to come off better, beingable to continue providing someservices over increasingly congestednetworks. With mobile voice callsand SMS nearly impossible, andpublic phones (which quickly weremade free to use) swamped bycrowds, Twitter came through shiningas an efficient, instant and low-data-intensive form of communication fromthe very start of the events. Image Source: tokyobling.wordpress.com, published under CC license 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  8. 8. Twitter ProvidesEssentials in a CrisisIn times of great change and uncertainty informationis the most valuable asset. With all major newsorganisations scrambling to cover what was still avery confusing and developing situation, Twitterusers were already sharing and forwardingeyewitness accounts and links to vital emergencyinformation. Twitter has continued to be highlyrelevant in the areas struck by disaster, providinghomeless and displaced people with information onemergency shelters and other services.Twitter has also become a serious contender tomainstream media in sensitive times such as this,allowing people to fact-check and challenge articlespublicly. During the first hours of the disaster a CNNanchors unfortunate Godzilla remarks over freshtsunami footage were quickly noted and spread, anddays later FOX News inclusion of a Tokyo nightclubin a map of Japanese nuclear power stations wassoon very well known and ridiculed. 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  9. 9. Still, Twitter is NothingWithout ContentAfter things settled down a bit during the first days andforeign media managed to gather, there began to bemore in-depth analysis of the situation also for non-Japanese speakers. The English language Twitter-sphere soon became a competing ground for newslinks, and for discussion how reliable or unreliable thesewere.Officials took notice, and soon the Japanese primeministers office, the Japanese Self Defence Forces andTokyo Electric Power Company had Twitter accountsalso in English trying to deliver their official statementsto an international audience increasingly affected bysensationalistic headlines,;especially with regards tothe reactor cooling trouble and subsequent radioactivefallout caused by the quake-tsunami dual punch to theFukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.Naturally these same patterns were to some extenttaking place in the Japanese language Twitter-sphereas well, but in general the local media gave a muchmore balanced view between the human catastrophe intsunami-hit areas and the nuclear power plant troubles. 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  10. 10. So Which ContentsShould We Trust?Initial uncertainty and gaffes aside, a few days into thenon-stop coverage it began to seem as though somemedia outlets wanted to get all possible drama out ofthe disaster, even if it meant stretching the facts.During the first week the worst hit areas in Tohoku, notto mention the troubled Fukushima nuclear plant, weredifficult to access, preventing news crews from going onsite in convenience.Those journalists who did venture into the disaster areaduring the first week made in general good reportsunder difficult circumstances, but in contrast perhapssome found it easier to stay close to all comforts inTokyo, and from there try to create the stories theythought would catch readers attention.Bloggers quickly took upon themselves to rectify thisshoddy journalism conducted by some (though not all)foreign media representatives, and a stark contrast tothe stories describing people fleeing elevated radiationlevels and empty food shelves in Tokyo started toemerge for those who were interested enough to look. 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  11. 11. An Irradiated Ghost Cityin Panic? Not ReallyWhile the true crisis was up to thenorth of Tokyo, a disproportionateamount of media coverage wasdirected on life in the capital. Tokyowas indeed affected, with localssaying the earthquake was thestrongest they’d ever experienced inthe city. However, material damagewas relatively minimal, and mainlythe citizens have only sufferedinconvenience through some cutsand shortages in utilities, acontinuing need to save electricity,and less punctual and frequentcommuter train services. Apart fromthese locals report that life hascontinued quite normally, and theoverbearing concern is for those intrue danger and need up in Tohoku. Image Source: tokyobling.wordpress.com, published under CC license 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  12. 12. The Internet DeliversWith the (mostly) western mediahaving a field day with crisisreporting local bloggers have beendoing their best trying to convey amessage of normality. Whenheadlines were touting impendingdoom in the form of radioactiveclouds heading for Tokyo, orelectricity, water and food shortages,local trend office CScout postedtongue-in-cheek accounts of theirsuccess in ordering mineral waterhome delivered directly from e-commerce site Rakuten, andworrying about serious shortages ofthon crudités and mozzarella at thelocal deli.To their great credit the CScout crewdid not only indulge in their webpurchases by themselves, but alsoput in a highly commendable effort ingathering and delivering aid suppliesto disaster struck areas to the northof the capital. Image Source: www.japantrends.com 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  13. 13. In the Aftermath;CaringWith the true magnitude of the disaster becoming evident, theJapanese seem in general to have taken it all in stride and buckledup for the rough ride ahead. Twitter messages have shown there isa strong we’ll-get-through-this attitude, which is warranted by thecountry’s long history of living with natural disasters.Amid all the tragedy a feeling of general caring has spread amongthe public even up to the level of government: Chief CabinetSecretary Yukio Edano, the government’s main spokespersonduring the continuing crisis management efforts, reportedly didn’thave time to sleep properly for over 100 hours after the quake andtsunami, being required to make official statements on the situationoften a many times per hour. The Twitter hashtag #edano_nero(Get some sleep Edano) quickly became a meme spread by peoplewho admired his strong commitment, but were ultimately concernedfor Mr. Edano’s health.On a more sour note another hashtag #kan_okiro (Kan, wake up)started appearing, referring to the rarity of seeing prime ministerNaoto Kan appear at critical news conferences. After a quitestrong aftershock close to the still active iconic volcano Mt. Fujiwest of Tokyo #fujisan_nero (Go to sleep, Mt. Fuji) soon appearedin tweets. At the time of writing Fujisan has still heeded this order. 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  14. 14. It’s Not Over YetIt will take years for the material to be restored, andas for the human aspect there are those who willnever find restoration. Still, if any nation on earthcan take a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and rise upstronger from it, that would be Japan. We can seethe first steps taken in that direction already now.The following pages will cover some themes set inmotion by this disaster, which might deeply affectJapan as a nation and as a society in the years tocome. 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  15. 15. Possible FutureImplications Media Domestic media has definitely been regarded as To be fair, the general media focus seems now to be more honest, albeit vague, by the Japanese turning more towards the human suffering compared to major foreign news networks. experienced in quake and tsunami hit areas, as the Comments indicate Al Jazeera and BBC are still emergency cooling efforts at the Fukushima Daiichi trusted, but especially CNN has let many down with nuclear plant apparently begin to take effect, and their sensationalistic angle in Japan’s time of need. In connections to the worst hit areas in Tohoku are Japanese media the seriousness of the problems at being established. the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the western media’s darling disaster, has not been Still, there are those in Japan now who feel the downplayed in any way, but equal emphasis has western news networks were out for a quick story of been put on reporting the suffered trauma of the disaster, and latched on to an easy one of nuclear struck Tohoku Pacific coast. catastrophe, which ultimately can be very harmful for the image of Japan and Japanese products abroad, The nuclear fear-mongering by some western media, instead of the more slowly developing and harder to and resulting panic among ex-pat groups leaving access human tragedy. Tokyo, has not been appreciated in Japan. 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  16. 16. Possible FutureImplications Social Networks Social media networks have played a very significant Local well established social networks like Mixi, and role during the whole crisis, and will continue to do so newer entrants like Facebook also played their part in far into the future. Especially Twitter, already popular the critical information sharing, but the low data in Japan before the earthquake, proved to be an requirements of Twitter made it the best available invaluable medium for communication and for sharing medium in this crisis. critical information during the first chaotic hours of the disaster, when most voice calling and SMS services However, Twitter based emergency-related services were down. are still far from mature, and this is an area which designers and developers probably will start tackling In the aftermath, Twitter has effectively been used to in the near future. Already an open development spread information about emergency shelters and event, supported by several major web companies, other facilities, and for example for services such as called Hack For Japan has taken place over the locating and connecting displaced and homeless three-day holiday 19th to 21st of March, with the aim people with others who can offer them temporary of creating better disaster information services. accommodation. 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  17. 17. Possible FutureImplications Robotics As news reports were showing pictures of large The simple truth may be that robotics still just isn’t hydrogen blasts and speaking of elevated radiation advanced enough to reliably handle a situation like levels at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear this. The incentive to develop robots to handle power plant, many certainly wondered why a world- disasters like this will certainly be strong, however, leading country in robotics like Japan still was relying and as Japan already has a strong R&D effort in on humans to carry out the dangerous crisis place there will almost certainly be progress in this management efforts there. field within some years. Media sources indicate there was indeed a remotely Another task robots might be called to perform in a operated or semi-autonomous radiation measuring near future is search and perhaps rescue operations vehicle operating on the plant grounds, but the actual in natural disaster areas such as those experienced emergency containment and repair work seems in Tohoku now. A tireless rescue force able to indeed to be done by a crew now iconized as the operate in all weather and lighting conditions would Fukushima 50 (though the number of people involved certainly be a welcome addition to the already has varied from about 50 to several hundred efficient Japanese disaster response organisation. throughout the crisis). Cutting-edge development like this will naturally create an eventual trickle-down effect of robotics into the consumer goods category. 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  18. 18. Possible FutureImplications Energy Needless to say, trust in nuclear power has been Meanwhile, people and companies in Tokyo and badly shaken in Japan. After the earthquake 11 Tohoku are learning to conserve electricity. Some reactors are off the grid in north-eastern Japan, say this is not such a bad thing after all, since electric totalling about 9.7GW worth of output. As a historical consumption has been rampant until now. Already for curiosity started by two rival electrical companies, several years before the earthquake Japan has been one in Tokyo and one in Osaka, in the late 19th experiencing an ongoing Eco-trend, and this natural century, Japan is divided into two grids: One at 50Hz disaster might just give the push needed for creating covering Tokyo and the north of the country, and one a less energy hungry infrastructure and society. at 60Hz covering the rest. Japan’s car industry has invested heavily in electric This incompatibility is bridged by only three vehicles, driving the research and development of converting stations, having a combined capacity of advanced battery technology. This, combined with 1GW. This has led to a situation where Tokyo and existing renewable energy sources like wind, solar the north are currently facing a severe and possibly and geothermal energy can become a possible future prolonged shortage of electricity, while the rest of the development path for Japan, not to mention probable country can offer little but sympathy. Creating a renewed interest and sense of urgency in other new unified national electric grid for Japan will certainly be energy research. Still, for the near future the solution on the agenda sometime in the future. might just be to remember to switch off the extra lights and keep the existing nuclear capacity going. 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  19. 19. Possible FutureImplications A New Start Ultimately, the earthquake and tsunami will be a test of Now that modern and prosperous nation has perhaps Japan’s national unity and collective will to rebuild. come to a new watershed moment in it’s history: One There is no question that Japan has managed huge could sense the younger generations struggling against rebuilding efforts several times throughout it’s history, the glass roof set by their seniors in the Japanese but this time the demographic outlook is slightly society before the quake. Parents had enjoyed stability different: An ever shrinking working age population is and material prosperity, which the recent graduates and trying to take care of an increasing population of elderly, students felt they would never be able to achieve. and now facing the challenge to rebuild after the biggest quake since records began in Japan on top of that. A Now after the quake, Japan will need all the brain and rising national debt and an economy trudging on in muscle available, and if both young and old can stagnation for two decades according to some overcome the gap between them and cooperate for the observers were only some of the discussed problems greater good, then this catastrophe can perhaps in the Japan faced even before the quake. future be seen as the starting point of a truly new post- industrial society. A society which has learned the hard Prime Minister Naoto Kan has said the earthquake is way to live with the forces of nature, and prevailed. A the biggest disaster to hit Japan since the Second society, which because of tragedy became more caring, World War. Accordingly, the aftermath faced now communal, innovative and open, and which can serve as should need a something similar to the combined effort a model for other developed nations facing the same by the nation in the 1950’s and -60’s, when Japan got challenges which Japan was facing before the earth picked up from the ashes of defeat and transforming it moved off the Tohoku coast at 14:46 on March 11th to a modern and prosperous nation. 2011. 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com
  20. 20. Thank YouFor further information, comments and opinions, please contactmikael@mobileobservations.com 22-3-2011 www.mobileobservations.com