January 29, 2015/ 12:30 PM - 2:00 PM

UCLA Haines Hall Room 352

Colloquium: The Distribution of the Who

Subjecthood in Japanese disaster preparedness

Presentation by Ryan Sayre, Terasaki Postdoctoral Fellow

Although Japan has been assailed for millennia by earthquakes, typhoons, and floods, contemporary Japanese disaster preparedness draws its lessons largely from the 1995 Kobe earthquake. The government’s lackluster response to that urban catastrophe led to the broad consensus that the state is fundamentally ill-suited to address large-scale catastrophes on its own. It is in the context of this realization that civil disaster preparedness in Japan has taken its current form. How exactly the burden of preparedness should best be divvied up between the state, civil society, and the individual is of central importance in Japanese preparedness discourse. This concern is captured succinctly in the widespread disaster motto "self help, together help, government help.”

This paper examines the disproportionate focus on the doer over the deed in Japanese preparedness. If Japan is less concerned with what must be done than with who it is that must do it, what can be said of the ways in which the state, the community, and the individual take shape when observed through the lens of disaster preparedness? Who, I ask, is the ideal ‘self’ under the aspect of disaster preparedness? What is the nature of the ideal ‘community’ in preparedness discourse? And, lastly, what constitutes the ideal government within the purview of preparedness discourse?

Ryan Sayre is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies at UCLA. He received his Ph.D. in socio-cultural anthropology from Yale University in May 2013 with an ethnographic examination of administrative, civil, and scientific earthquake disaster preparedness in urban Japan. Ryan’s most recent work, To See Once More the Stars: Living in a Post-Fukushima World (2014), is a co-edited volume published by New Pacific Press.


(Photo credit: Alao Yogoki)


Free and open to the public


Sponsor(s): Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, Anthropology

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