While JSW often examines the role of the Self-Defense Forces, we haven’t looked too much into the other agencies involved (with the exception of the Coast Guard), so we offer a translation from News Post Seven, a weekly magazine. It discusses the concerns of the civilians involved in the disaster effort.It paints a very bleak picture: a lack of efficiency and purpose, and agencies in a total state of disarray. As with much of Japan’s weekly magazines, there is a lot of spin and exaggeration going on here, but still, if it is even half-true, it should be concerning reading for anyone with a stake in the future of the region.

For the firefighters dispatched to the disaster zone, the current meaning of their job is to wrapped in worries

Tents housing the personnel and equipment of dispatched firefighters from Hakodate (front) and Kitami (background) in Hokkaido in a make-shift camp in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.

Tents housing the personnel and equipment of dispatched firefighters from Hakodate (front) and Kitami (background) in Hokkaido in a make-shift camp in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture (Source: B-Grace)

We often hear from newspapers and the television that, following the Great East Japan Earthquake, every local authority  dispatched police and firemen to aid in the restoration efforts. While we don’t hear too much about their work, in practice when you speak with officials from the local authorities that dispatched these public servants, you hear that a lot of the time, these troubled attempts to provide aid have been fruitless…

First, the testimony of an police official. “The Metropolitan Police and all Prefectural forces assigned personnel to provide assistance in the disaster sites. Immediately after the earthquake, they worked to the bone in the search for the missing, but now, over three months have passed since the disaster, their duties mainly consist of only traffic control and night-time security. Leaving aside the traffic control, as the dispatched personnel aren’t familiar with the ground, speaking honestly, we have no idea how effective the operations are on the whole. They’re walking around in uniform, so I think they’re effectively preventing crime to some extent… However, if I was asked if the number of people assigned was as high as expected, then I’d have a bit of a problem answering. I guess when decisions come from above, we don’t have a choice.”

A fire service member commented, “Immediately after the disaster, we worked to rescue people trapped under the rubble. Being helpful to everyone in the disaster zone was a big morale boost for us. The dispatch of people are mostly planned to continue until July, but now it is over 100 days since the disaster and I wonder if there is any meaning to these dispatches. At the moment, the Self-Defense Forces are the main force in the search for the dead, and I think investing more SDF rather than us would be more effective on many fronts.”

At the moment, as member of the Board of Education and others in the towns and cities of the disaster zone are missing, there are inadequate staffing of administrative bodies. Because of this, there are calls stressing the necessity of dispatching specialists to cover the gaps, but dispatched local authority personnel are unable to hide the confused state of affairs.

One local authority staff member commented, “When the management are informed of an obstacle, they suddenly reply, “That’s some other authority’s responsibility!” It’s impossible to get things done! For a start, lots of documentation was lost in the disaster, we have no idea what is necessary any more, and in the middle of such disorder we cannot even grasp what might be necessary. As there is no unified information source, we’re all fumbling around.”

A member of a volunteer group working in the disaster zone said, “While other local authorities are sending personnel, they end up doing simple jobs like handing out food. After Golden Week, the number of volunteers dropped sharply, and while it’s recovered in part, we really want more experienced personnel volunteering in the disaster zone.”

Three months have passed since the disaster, and many people want to see the establishment of a Reconstruction Agency, but with everyone in Nagatacho in the middle of a power struggle, it seems out of the question.

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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