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Japan's Ambassador Depicts 3/11 Recovery

October 14, 2011

Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki returned to Brown this week after several decades to lecture on the progress Japan has made after the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami. He spoke to a packed Joukowsky Forum, also addressing foreign policy questions and sharing anecdotes.

The ambassador had attended Brown in his early 20’s and was back on campus for a talk co-sponsored by the Watson Institute and Office of International Affairs.

After a brief anecdote about what it was like to be a first year foreign service officer living with freshmen in Keeney Dormitory, Fujisaki became more somber and addressed the state of Japan “seven months after 3/11.” He spoke to the intensity of the disaster, its toll on human life, and the effect on the Japanese economy.

The event caused 15,000 deaths and leaves nearly 4,000 still missing, Fujisaki said. He described the damage to buildings and infrastructure of the combined earthquake and tsunami, with waves as high as a four-story building.

The effect of 3/11 on the economy has also been immense. Fujisaki provided numerous charts comparing the pre- and post- 3/11 GDP growth of Japan. Specifically he said the real GDP growth rate forecast prior to 3/11 was 1.6 percent for 2011 and 1.8 percent for 2012. After 3/11 the percent for 2011 fell to negative 0.5 percent, but is projected to reach 2.3 percent in 2012.

He also touched on the effect the related nuclear accident has had on tourism. “This was a 7th level nuclear event,” said Fujisaki, citing an International Nuclear Event Scale rating for the Fukushima plant explosion, as high as Chernobyl’s.

Today, however, Fujisaki emphasized that the current radiation level in Japan “is comparable” to that of the United States and France. He said that some products are still restricted for distribution, such as raw milk, but that tourism is expected to begin returning to normal, especially for the Cherry Blossom festival in the spring.

He also touched on Japan’s current distribution of energy use and the change in earlier plans that would have increased the use of nuclear power.

“People do not want to increase nuclear [energy use] at this juncture,” Fujisaki said, citing a survey showing that 80 percent of Japanese oppose it.

He ended his presentation on 3/11 by speaking to Japan’s plans for reconstruction. According to Fujisaki, the Japanese government has four key concepts for reconstruction, including “open reconstruction welcoming foreign participation.”

After presenting, Fujisaki proceeded to answer audience questions, as well as “hardball” questions that he himself had formulated. Among them: Is Japan falling behind its peers because of slow growth? Watch the Q&A unfold in the video below.

By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Brittaney Check ‘12