- Animals and the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster by Mayumi Itoh
The Great East Japan Earthquake occurred on March 11, 2011, mainly in the Tohoku region of Japan, causing unprecedented damage [End Page 106] to human beings, animals, and flora and fauna, more so, owing to a severe accident that took place subsequently at the Fukushima nuclear power plant located there. In those days, there were no binding guidelines in Japan that obliged the local government to assist those with companion animals in the event of a disaster. As a result, many companion animals and farmed animals were left behind (within a 20-kilometer radius of the meltdown plant), and a countless number died of dehydration and starvation (p. 12).
Mayumi Itoh narrates “the story of the animals who became victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and of the people who tried to save them” (p. 8). The book also traces the events following the nuclear accident, from 2011 to 2016, and provides an account of the plight of some of the rescued animals. The author also makes observations about the general plight of animals that frequently encounter disasters. The readers of the book may be aware that since 2016, Japan’s preparedness toward animal rescue operations has witnessed an improvement in favor of animals.
Itoh’s account is a reflection of a society that is not inclusive of animals, and she compels us to imagine the nature and scale of a tragedy that could occur with animals in the event of a large-scale disaster. Although the Great East Japan Earthquake has been the subject of several English-language publications, none provides a comprehensive report of the plight of animals in the calamity. Books that reflect upon such critical topics in the English language are highly useful for readers belonging to diverse cultural backgrounds and espousing differing ethics related to animals.
The strength of this book lies in the engaging narration, which is highlighted not only by the records of those who actually rescued others (especially the Hoshi family and the three families that were praised on social media) but also in the author’s style of writing. In Part 2 of the book, the author narrates the close-up story of the animals being rescued. The focus on specific characters, both animals and humans, and their individual experiences will appeal to many readers and makes for a powerful narrative. The heartrending pictures of the animals who suffered in the disaster, which accompany the text, invoke empathy. In recent years, the theory that empathy is the fountainhead for altruistic and ethical behavior has attracted attention of experts from many fields, including ethics, psychology, and political philosophy, as argued by several thinkers (Slote, 2007; Batson, 2018; and Morrel, 2010). Considering this trend, the mood of this book should not be regarded as merely sentimental. It would, however, be useful to know the perspectives of the people who were present in the difficult situation, such as the rescuers, including local government officials, veterinarians, and volunteers.
One area in which the book fell short of my expectations was the insufficient discussion regarding the character of Japanese society in terms of its relationship with the vulnerable sections. The author concludes that as a nation, Japan does not treat its animals well. To quote from the book, “Even if the Japanese government or Japanese society is frequently hit by natural disasters, treatment of animals does not change much” (p. 11) She quotes Mahatma Gandhi, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” and concludes that as the Japanese government has yet to learn this, its treatment of animals is not something to be proud of (p. 226).
While I agree with the author’s criticism of the Japanese government, I disagree with her stance of placing responsibility for the poor treatment of animals solely on the government. “The Japanese government” reflects the consciousness of the citizens of Japan. It...