Seminar - Justin Whitney on Resilience and Crisis Response in Japan


Okite Minai to Wakaranai – “We won’t know until it happens”: Resilience and Crisis Response in Japan

Justin Whitney, PhD Candidate, Department of Political and Social Change

Following numerous significant natural disasters between 1900 and 2011, Japan’s civil society has been lauded as being the key to Japan’s relief efforts and rapid recovery. But how does civil society learn resilience, and what role does government play in the complex, trans-generational process of ‘learning’ between major disasters over time? Is civil society resilience an outcome of the failure of government to learn? Or is civil society a repository of learning that government integrates into disaster planning only when it is too late for each disaster cohort to benefit? Why do governments fail to learn, and how does civil society shape that inadequate response?

In an attempt to better understand the role civil society plays in emergency management in Japan, I conducted a series of interviews with a range of stakeholders throughout Japan in 2008 and 2009.  The existence of formal cross-sectoral and cross-jurisdictional “compact” type arrangements was made apparent to me by information generously provided by my informants.  Even though some of the areas surveyed had only recently experienced significant disasters, my informants were unable to tell me whether these arrangements worked or not.  The comment from one informant within Iwate in particular stayed with me and was the first thing I thought of as I watched the live footage of the 2011 Tsunami:  Jissai ni Okiteminai to Wakaranai “ We won’t know if these measures will work until a major disaster hits”.

In this seminar I will examine two disasters that preceded the Tohoku quake and tsunami of 2011, and ask how both effective and ineffective learning took place. We will then make some preliminary observations about pathways to effective learning, and how this was integrated into the preparations for and initial responses to the disasters of 2011 in northeastern Japan.

About the Speaker

Justin Whitney is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political and Social Change. Justin is conducting his doctoral research on Resilience and Crisis Response in Japan 1959-2011 with particular focus on the role of the not-for-profit sector and neighbourhood associations.  Justin has spent approximately 14 years in Japan during which time he worked as a volunteer in a not-for-profit organisation and a researcher in a university research centre which specialised in legal assistance to transitional economies.  Currently, Justin is studying part time at PSC and is a full-time policy officer in the Australian Public Service, where he has been involved in the development and implementation of Commonwealth disaster relief and recovery policy and arrangements.



Updated:  27 November 2018/Responsible Officer:  JI Management Group/Page Contact:  Japan Institute