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Response Shows How Challenges Can Be Met

Author: Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies
March 5, 2012
Nikkei Weekly

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A year ago, the world watched in horror as the scale of the disaster in northeastern Japan became clear. The Great East Japan Earthquake took a heavy toll, with more than 19,000 lives lost and over 340,000 displaced from their homes. Beyond the trauma, the effort to recover and rebuild has revealed Japanese society's strengths. Yet it has also brought into sharp relief some of the nation's deepest challenges.

The immediate costs of rebuilding are now estimated to be at least $238 billion, making this Japan's costliest natural disaster. Rebuilding the physical communities will take time. The basic infrastructure has been repaired, with most trains, highways and ports back in service within months of the catastrophe. Although areas along Tohoku's ravaged coastline have been cleared of rubble, broad swaths of open land where houses and workplaces once stood remind us how much work is left to be done. For some, the prospect of restoration seems remote, as their land now sits underwater during high tide. Heaps of debris remain piled high in temporary lots, waiting for others in Japan to agree to help dispose of it.

The year revealed much about the resilience of the Japanese people and the civility of their society. So many demonstrated incredible courage at the time of the disaster, and the many stories of cooperation and kindness in its aftermath revived a sense of community that many Japanese thought modem society had lost.

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