The chairman of the Diet's special commission investigating the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is labeling it as an accident "Made in Japan."
“This is a disaster 'Made in Japan' in a way, and its root causes stem from ingrained conventions of Japanese culture,” Kiyoshi Kurokawa said at a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on July 6.
Repeating his preface message in his committee's report, released on July 5, Kurokawa pointed out that Japanese people’s “reflexive obedience, reluctance to question authority, devotion to ‘sticking with the program,’ groupism and insularity” as the root causes.
“Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same,” he added.
The Japanese public, long used to bureaucratic obfuscation from politicians, government technocrats and others in power, must have been taken aback by the bold conclusion by the special commission that the nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant last year following the Great East Japan Earthquake was a “man-made disaster.”
In the official report released by his Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission on July 5, Kurokawa channeled much of the public frustration by blatantly blaming the government and the utility that run the plant for neglecting their responsibility to “foresee and prevent” the accident.
However, Japanese may be further surprised to read the official English translation of Kurokawa’s preface message in the report. While he targets his criticism against the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant operator, Kurokawa, professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo’s School of Medicine, blamed the accident on the collective Japanese mind-set.
At the news conference, reporters from the foreign media asked the straight-talking Kurokawa questions not only about technical errors by the government and TEPCO, but institutional and cultural problems of Japan’s bureaucracy. They seemed puzzled at the generous treatment of the foreign media by the commission, such as its release of the executive summary in English the same day as the Japanese report and the holding of the news conference at FCCJ. Kurokawa spoke in English during the packed 90-minute FCCJ session.
“We owe the world an explanation on how could this happen in Japan,” he said.
“The truth is very painful for us to admit, but it is difficult to grasp without intimate understanding of how our society works. That’s why I am making an effort to explain this to the global community.”
Kurokawa explained that the “collective mind-set” that led to the Fukushima accident is not unique to TEPCO or the government agencies that promote nuclear power. Rather, “they can be found at workplaces throughout Japan.”
The 75-year-old renowned renal researcher said that as a physician, he is well acquainted with the culture of the “nuclear village” or what he calls the “iron triangle” of bureaucrats, academicians and the utility industry.
He said he has been surrounded by “professional chauvinism” all his working life, and this mind-set is “so strong that it often causes bureaucracy to neglect their sacred duty to safeguard Japanese citizens.”
The Diet’s first independent investigative commission in history and its epoch-making report may be one ray of hope in post-3/11 Japan, which can set a good example to bring more openness to Japanese democracy, Kurokawa said.
“I think I would like to make this (commission) a step to change Japan into a more functional democracy and to do that, the media plays a very important role.”
“Admitting the truth (in the eyes of the rest of) the world is painful for Japanese, but it’s therapeutic,” Kurokawa said. “Only by exposing the root causes of this accident, can we ensure that nothing like this will ever happen again.”
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