“Crisis management.” This phrase has been used frequently in Japan since the Great Hanshin and Awaji earthquake of January 17, 1995, and the Sarin Gas attacks in Tokyo which began a few months after.
On the day of the earthquake, Hyogo Prefecture Governor Toshitami Kaihara was late coming to work. Without the governor’s dispatch, the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force couldn’t be mobilized. By the time the JGSDF received an order from the prefecture, it was four hours after the disaster had unfolded.
If only the dispatch had come a little earlier, perhaps more people would have been saved, critics said afterwards.
Since then, there have been a number of natural disasters in the Japanese archipelago, including the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, when the Self-Defense Forces reached the disaster locations promptly.
However, the question remains whether the bitter lessons learned 25 years ago are being shared with governors and local governments all over Japan.
This is of even greater concern if you consider what happened just last year, in September 2019, in Chiba, when Typhoon Faxai hit. Shockingly, while the prefectural office was in full-on crisis management mode, Chiba Governor Kensaku Morita was out of the office on personal business.
The author Akira Yoshimura remembers feeling strongly irritated watching the television reports on Chiba, as they uncannily reminded him of the Hanshin Earthquake.
Twenty-two years before the 1995 Great Hanshin and Awaji Earthquake, Yoshimura documented the disaster that befell Tokyo in the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923). In his accounts he pointed out that the real cause of the disaster was fire. There were carts and wagons, full to the brim with household goods, which were crammed into the streets and squares. These acted as tinder when some of the goods caught fire, causing sweeping damage and aggravating the disaster.
Then in 1995 on a live TV broadcast, in the aftermath of the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake he saw automobiles crowding the streets, hindering the life-saving efforts of the firefighter brigades. Among them were cars full of people who had come from other prefectures, gawking to see what was happening. In the column Yoshimura wrote immediately after, he commented that those people had no idea how frightening their automobiles can be in such a situation.
There is another important lesson from the Hanshin Disaster. Are we prepared to protect ourselves without relying on the government in the event of another major natural disaster? Many of us live in the capital city of Tokyo, which could be hit by an earthquake at anytime, according to some experts.
This is the day on which we should all ponder this important question.
(Click here to read the article in Japanese.)
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Author: Sankei Editorial Board