SDF members stood in silence one week after the tsunami in memory of the dead. Their dedication to their solemn duty has earned them the respect of their country.

SDF members stood in silence one week after the tsunami in memory of the dead. Their dedication to their solemn duty has earned them the respect of their country (Source: Sankei)

A recent Pew Research Center poll evaluated Japanese public opinion following the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters – it makes for an interesting read. The poll was released on June 1st, but was conducted over April and May – but necessarily excluded the worst hit areas (Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and parts of Ibaraki). Among the most interesting results were:

  • The poll found that the effects of the quake extended far beyond the disaster zone: “41% of Japanese across the country report being affected by the earthquake and tsunami in some way. Roughly a quarter (26%), for instance, say that as a result of the earthquake and tsunami they had trouble obtaining food or clean drinking water, while 18% experienced electrical blackouts. Overall, 13% of Japanese say they lost time at work, while one-in-ten reports physical damage to their homes or property.” As someone based in Tokyo, I don’t find it all that surprising, but it’s a quote-worthy statistic that shows just how hard the country was hit. What is surprising, though, is that only 13% lost time at work. Most people I know were unable to work on the following Monday – I would have expected that figure to be higher simply for the simple reason that 25% of the population of the country is in Tokyo (where my anecdotal evidence holds true).

  • 95% of the respondents said that the SDF’s response to the disaster was good – ranking it significantly higher than the media, government, Prime Minister and the Tokyo Electric Power Company. This is great news for the SDF who need the public’s support now more than ever. The psychological and physical trauma the dispatched soldiers are suffering will require a significant amount of after-care – with the public’s support (and boosted recruitment intakes) the SDF might come out of the earthquake not only more popular, but also more vital.

More than nine-in-ten (95%) say the SDF has done a good job responding to the crisis, including 62% who say the force has done a very good job. A smaller majority (54%) give Japan’s news organizations, such as television, radio, newspapers and magazines, favorable marks for their handling of the disaster. However, only 10% describe the media’s response as very good.


  • Operation Tomodachi paid off, the US was seen as the most helpful international aid giver when compared to China, the EU and UN. The dispatch of forces from China and other states would have been hastened by allowing them access via Misawa Airbase, but it is generally believed that due to the sensitivity of US equipment, Japanese too, only US and British humanitarian relief workers passed through Misawa. Other teams came through Haneda and Narita delaying their deployment by hours. China sent 15 members of its International Search and Rescue Team. To see the location and size of the international teams, download this PDF from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

US Perceived as Giving Most Assistance


  • Do you think Japan will become stronger or weaker?58% of Japanese believe that the country will emerge from the earthquake stronger than it had been before. This fits in with the broad kizuna (restoration) narratives being seen all over the media, but also with the possibility of stronger security – a subject that has raised its head many times on JSW. On the other hand, however, 52% believe the economy will worsen over the next 12 months – compared to 33% last year – this is not a good sign for the country which needs economic stability to fund the nation’s recovery.


  • On the nuclear crisis, there were some interesting trends: 59% are worried that they or some in their family may have been exposed to radiation from the plant, 31% are very worried about this possibility. This fear is more pronounced among the elderly (72% of over-60s expressed concern compared to 46% of 18-39 year olds), women (64% compared to 54% of men), and the less educated (64% of those with only a high school degree or less, compared to 48% of college-educated respondents). The effect on support for nuclear power is also interesting: 46% favor maintaining nuclear power at current levels, while 44% wish for it to be reduced (8%, perhaps turned-off by the thought of a summer with poor air-conditioning, favour greater reliance on nuclear power plants). While women, who are more likely to response as worried about radiation, are more likely to support a reduction (53% compared to 34% of men), those with a university education (unlike the trend for concern) are more likely to want to see reductions (52% compared to 40% with education up to high school level).

One thing that is clear from the poll is that the earthquake has had repercussions across the whole country, and these will shape domestic and national foreign policy in unforeseen ways. The people are unhappy with how their representatives have acted (perhaps more so given last Thursday’s no-confidence debacle in the Diet), but they need leadership more than ever.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch