Japan still rebuilding after last year’s tsunami

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By Sonia Ryang
Guest Opinion for the Press-Citizen

On March 11, 2011, a rising tide of dark water wrapped Japan’s northeastern coast.

The world was gripped by Armageddon-invoking scenes from this highly industrialized nation in east Asia.

After the visual impact of the unprecedented tsunami, there came news of nuclear meltdown in the Fukushima nuclear plant. Japan’s vast northeastern coast — the coastal villages as well as sizable inland areas — was nearly destroyed by the hand of the nature.

In addition to more than 15,000 dead, close to 100,000 missing, and an estimated $300 billion in damage, people lost their children, children became orphans and thousands became homeless.

The fact that U.S. cable news outlets, prone to thrive on catastrophic visuals, stopped talking about Japan does not mean that the disaster is over — far from it.

People still are struggling to rebuild, regroup and restart their lives. They’re fighting with depression, financial difficulties, irrecoverable loss (including that of loved ones) and their sense of despair that continues even as the victims are slowly being relocated to temporary pre-fabricated housing.

The one-year anniversary is about to pass. So, what about Japan? Why are we not hearing about it? And what else should we know about it?

In response to these questions, Joan Kjaer of the University of Iowa International Programs is hosting a WorldCanvass television and radio program focused on Japan. The broadcast will be at 5 p.m. Friday in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol Museum. The public is encouraged to attend.

To get a fuller picture of Japan, the program will start with history and culture and then move to religion, tradition and the state. WorldCanvass guests will take a close-up view of Japan’s post-war economic boom and more recent economic troubles, as well as the tragic “triple” disaster in 2011 and its aftermath.

Among topics to be discussed are:

Japan’s postwar national myth-making.

Representations of Japan and Japanese people in Hollywood cinema.

Buddhism and Japan’s new religions.

Japan’s business models and its connection to the global economic crisis.

The challenge of delivering international disaster relief in times of national crisis.

To bring Japan closer to home, the program will conclude with an examination of connections between Iowa and Japan, introducing the audience to Iowa’s work with its sister state, Yamanashi, and International Programs’ engagement with Japan through the work of the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies.

Through the evening’s discussions, the program will offer brush strokes of Japan’s past, present, and future. Japan’s disaster is not over yet. Precisely because of this, knowing about Japan and thinking about Japan’s connection with Iowa will offer a first step toward getting involved with Asia.

Sonia Ryang is a University of Iowa professor of Anthropology and International Studies and the director of the UI Center for Asian and Pacific Studies.

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