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xi Preface Brett L. Walker At 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake devastated northeastern Japan and caused Earth’s most threatening nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. The quake was 9.0 on the Richter scale, the most powerful to ever strike the oftenhit country, and it unleashed a tsunami that swept away entire communities. As of July 2011, the death toll and missing had exceeded twenty-four thousand, with thousands of others housed in makeshift shelters. The Japanese archipelago sits precariously on a subduction zone between the Philippine Sea Plate and the Pacific Plate, a tectonic reality that the Japanese are reminded of some fifteen hundred times annually. The March 11 shaker, however, was different than most of these minor ones. The quake and accompanying tsunami crippled the cooling system at the sprawling Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, eventually causing three of the reactors in the complex to suffer fuel meltdowns. In a desperate effort to cool the plants after the disaster, the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) pumped and dumped thousands of gallons of water onto the plants, buying important time but also creating a pollution problem on a colossal scale. In June, when TEPCO installed filters to siphon oil, cesium, and salt from the radioactive water pooled at the plant, the system broke down within hours because high levels of cesium depleted the filtration system. The siphoning system was deployed by TEPCO because the company was quickly running out of space to store the radioactive water from the plant. As of the writing of this preface, Japan was still struggling to come to terms with its new nuclear reality, one that will likely destroy miles of coastline, render hundreds of square miles uninhabitable , expose people and animal life to dangerous levels of radiation, leave tens of thousands of lives in concrete rubble, and spark renewed global concern about the safety of nuclear power. By September 2011, morphological abnormalities had occurred in such insect life as lycaenid butterflies, suggesting that the fictional world portrayed in the film Godzilla (1954), one rooted in the anxieties of the atomic age, has become a biological reality, if on a different horizon. xii Brett L. Walker The earthquake and tsunami highlight many of the themes discussed in this volume. Indeed, on March 11 it was hard to discern where Japan’s natural disaster ended and where its manmade one began. When the thirty-foot wall of water careened onto Japan’s northeastern coastline, moving at the speed of a jetliner, it flooded a highly engineered space, one constructed of cement retaining walls, coastal fishing ports and loading docks, airports and department store parking lots, carefully tended farmlands and plastic greenhouses, and other man-made landscapes. The wall of water washed away people and their pets and farm animals, cutting across the striations of species, social class, ethnicity, gender, and occupation . When the wall of water entered Japan’s social and engineered landscape, it was channeled, directed, and twisted by this man-made space, making it not a natural disaster at all. The Japanese ideas of engineering and controlling nature, of inhabiting coastal floodplains and utilizing harbor areas, and of redirecting and dispersing water all determined the direction of this tsunami wave. The natural and the man-made blurred in the churning swell, becoming essentially useless categories . The wall of water was never shown flooding natural landscapes, because there were none. Rather, the wave flooded man-made landscapes. It is the making of this and other engineered landscapes, the exploitation and control of marine and terrestrial environments, and the high environmental toll of these and other practices that are the subjects of this volume. This volume is about the environmental context of a global power. From its inception, I have viewed Japan at Nature’s Edge: The Environmental Context of a Global Power as potentially having the same intellectual importance as the five books published for the Conference on Modern Japan (1958) by Princeton University Press (which started with the Changing Japanese Attitudes toward Modernization volume), or the Japan in Transition from Tokugawa to Meiji project (1986), which featured conferences at the Lake Wilderness Conference Center at the University of Washington (1981), the Quail Roost Conference Center at the University of North Carolina (1981), and White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia (1982). These volumes, which focused on themes surrounding modernization, set the tone for scholarship on Japan for a generation. Japan at Nature’s Edge expands this previous...


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