Tripartite Discussion

The Power of the University and Recovery

Tripartite discussion. Photo: Junichi Kaizuka.

Tripartite discussion. Photo: Junichi Kaizuka

Since the Great East Japan Earthquake, many organizations and institutes, including the University of Tokyo, have been implementing measures to deal with its impact. Specifically, the University established a Headquarters for Disaster Countermeasures and an Office for Relief and Reconstruction Assistance, gave special assistance to its International Coastal Research Center at the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, which is located in an area affected by the earthquake (in the town of Otsuchi, Kamihei-gun, Iwate Prefecture), and organized volunteer activities by members of the University.

How should we use the power of the university to help the affected areas recover and to recover their vitality?

How should we use the power of the university to help the affected areas recover and to recover their vitality? In the following discussion, three directors of the University in charge of responding to the disaster (President Junichi Hamada and Executive Vice Presidents Yoshiteru Mutoh and Masafumi Maeda) talk about what universities should do to contribute to the recovery and revitalization of the affected areas.

Hamada: First, let’s look back at the day of the earthquake—March 11. Immediately after the great earthquake, we set up a Headquarters for Disaster Countermeasures. Professor Maeda, would you explain the background to that?

Maeda: At 2:46 p.m. on March 11, when the great earthquake hit the eastern part of Japan, most of the directors, including President Hamada, were in the executive room, which I think is unusual in itself, because we directors are not usually there. We are often out attending meetings or for other purposes. The shaking did not feel so intense, but it lasted for a considerable time, so we left the building as set out in the University’s emergency rules. All faculty members evacuated the facilities and gathered at the allocated meeting place between the Administration Bureau Building and Administration Building 2. Then we moved to the area just in front of the Administration Bureau Building, where a roll call was taken to confirm the safety of all members. I happened to be standing next to President Hamada, and was eventually appointed to work on behalf of the then Director Akihiko Tanaka, who was in charge of general affairs and risk management but who was absent that day because he was abroad on a business trip. Subsequently all faculty members moved to the Sanjo Conference Hall (facilities for international conferences located on the Hongo Campus) in line with the emergency rules.

Hamada: It was a very cold day and we could not stay outside for long, which was one of the reasons why we moved to the Hall.

Maeda: Following the University’s emergency rules, lots of people came out of the buildings in a hurry without their jackets, and they must have felt very cold. If an earthquake with a seismic intensity of 6 or stronger occurs, the rules require us to set up an emergency response headquarters. According to the information available from the media at that time, the seismic intensity was 6-lower or 5-upper in Tokyo, and so we decided to establish an emergency information headquarters instead of an emergency response headquarters at the Sanjo Conference Hall, but to take action following the protocol for an emergency response headquarters. Gradually, however, as we obtained more information about the damage caused by the earthquake, it became clear that the damage was much more serious than expected. Although we had expected some interruption to public transportation facilities in Tokyo, in the event, all railway transportation services in Tokyo were suspended, including the services provided by JR and other private railway companies. By the evening all members had left the Sanjo Conference Hall, and we transferred the headquarters to the first floor of the Administration Bureau Building 2. On TV, the damage caused by the tsunami had not yet been widely reported and most of the reports were about the situation in and near Tokyo.

Masateru Mutoh. Photo: Junichi Kaizuka.

Masateru Mutoh. Photo: Junichi Kaizuka

Mutoh: Then we began to receive information about the tsunami from the media.

Maeda: Yes we did. After we moved from the Sanjo Conference Hall to the Administration Bureau Building 2, we established the Headquarters for Disaster Countermeasures in place of the disaster information headquarters, and I was appointed head of the headquarters because I was the director in charge of the University’s facilities, which were reported to be damaged by the earthquake, albeit not seriously. At that time I did not expect the activities of the headquarters to continue for such a long time. At any rate, we continued to confirm that all members of the University were safe on around-the-clock basis.

At around 7:00 p.m., the Japanese government established a headquarters to deal with the damage caused by the accident at the nuclear power plant and then, little by little, we began to receive information about the accident. On the day of the earthquake, the University of Tokyo Hospital sent a disaster medical assistance team (DMAT) to Miyagi Prefecture in line with the protocol the hospital follows in the event of a disaster.

As you know, on the day of the earthquake, a great many people in Tokyo, including faculty members of the University had difficulty getting home because all public transportation services had been suspended. Late that night, the government asked us to provide shelter for some of these people. We accepted their request, although we could have refused since it was not an order. The Hongo Campus had been designated as an evacuation center in the event of emergencies such as fires, but we had assumed it would only be used as a temporary shelter and had not prepared any food or bedding for evacuees. From around 10:00 p.m. we began to accept people in the Sanjo Conference Hall, the reception room of the hospital, and the Gotenshita gymnasium, but we could not provide them with the things they needed. It was very cold that day and although we collected as many blankets as possible, they were not enough to keep all the people staying in our facilities warm. I think there are many things we need to do to make the Hongo Campus better equipped as an evacuation center.

On the day of the earthquake and the following day we discussed two important topics: the entrance examination that had been scheduled for March 13 and the need to reduce the amount of electricity being used.

We decided to conduct the entrance examination on the 13th as planned, but two hours later than the original schedule and to hold an additional examination. We announced this on the University’s website on the 12th.

To reduce the amount of electricity being used, we discussed the necessity of saving electricity on the night of the 11th, after hearing that nuclear power generation had been suspended in the affected areas. On the morning of the 12th, I sent a letter to all departments of the University asking them to turn off all their power sources except for emergency power. All the research projects that were using electricity were stopped, including the supercomputers. Later I checked how much electricity this saved and found that we had almost halved the University’s consumption as a whole.

For the first three days after the earthquake, we were unable to communicate with the staff at the ICRC

While discussing these issues on the day of the earthquake, we continued to confirm the safety of members of the University. At that time there were nearly 40 members whose safety could not be confirmed, including both teachers and students.

For the first three days after the earthquake, we were unable to communicate with the staff at the International Coastal Research Center of the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, which is located in the town of Otsuchi, Kamihei-gun, Iwate Prefecture. We were also unable to communicate with four students who were then in Rikuzentakata City attending a local driving school. Additionally, we could not contact a student who was attending a driving school in Ishinomaki City. We were really worried to hear the news that 1,300 people were isolated in the terminal building of the flooded Sendai Airport. Finally we were able to confirm the safety of all University members, but it took us a long time to complete it.

Masafumi Maeda. Photo: Junichi Kaizuka.

Masafumi Maeda. Photo: Junichi Kaizuka

Hamada: It really took a long time before we could get through to the people in Otsuchi.

Maeda: On March 15, four days after the earthquake, Professor Mutsumi Nishida, then Director of the Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, finally received a phone call from Director Tsuguo Otake at the International Coastal Research Center. Professor Otake said to Professor Nishida that local people were facing a very difficult situation, unable to obtain enough medicines, food, blankets, or fuel, and so some members of the Administration Bureau promptly left for Otsuchi by car to deliver antibiotics and blood-pressure drugs supplied by the University of Tokyo Hospital as well as gasoline in portable containers. Professor Otake, who had been leading the search and relief activities at the International Coastal Research Center, was driven to Tokyo in the delivery car. Professor Otake was unwilling to return to Tokyo because the local situation in Otsuchi was still unstable, but we strongly advised him to do so. Then we listened to Professor Otake’s explanation of what had happened in Otsuchi to get a clearer picture.

On the 14th, in the middle of the continuing emergency measures, we were informed that there was a hydrogen exposition at Unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. In light of the difficult situation at the nuclear power station, I asked Director Yoichiro Matsumoto to form two teams under the Headquarters for Disaster Countermeasures: a team to deal with power shortages and another to deal with airborne radioactive contamination.

The team that was dealing with power shortages began to post the University’s daily consumption of electricity on its website to encourage members of the University to save electricity as part of the efforts we were making to reduce overall consumption, which I have already mentioned. The team dealing with airborne radioactive contamination began to disclose, also on the University’s website, data on the airborne radioactivity levels measured every day at each of the University campuses.

President Hamada’s April visit to Otsuchi, which was devastated by the disaster

Maeda: You visited Otsuchi in April, after coming through the confusion of March.

Hamada: Yes, I visited the town from April 7 to 8. I first hesitated to visit the devastated town because everything there was still in confusion, but finally I decided to make a visit, since as President of the University I thought I should visit the town and inspect the situation there in person to satisfy the expectations of people who were thinking “What can the University do to help the affected areas?” I also thought that I would not be able to set out suitable policies for the local volunteer activities that would involve our faculty members and students unless I myself had firsthand information about the area. When I visited the town and the International Coastal Research Center, I took badly needed relief goods with me, including office desks.

I was stunned to see the tremendous damage to the town. It was, as many people said, beyond description. I felt it would be very difficult for the town to recover from the devastation. The city had to start again, not from zero, but from, as it were, a minus number. Not only buildings and facilities needed to be rebuilt, also people’s entire lives needed to be rebuilt, including their emotional lives and community ties. It did not seem realistic to say simply “Let’s make efforts for the recovery.”

Carrying out volunteer activities from a long-term viewpoint through the Office for Relief and Reconstruction Assistance

Maeda: Several days after visiting Otsuchi, instead of giving the kind of around-the-clock emergency support as that provided by the University in March, President Hamada gave instructions to establish the Office for Relief and Reconstruction Assistance under the Headquarters for Disaster Countermeasures to support the areas affected by the disaster from a long-term viewpoint. In April, professors at the University had already begun taking action to help the affected areas on an individual or laboratory level. We asked them to provide us with information on their support projects and created a list of projects with a map showing the project locations. We will link the multiple projects implemented by members of the University in the affected areas to improve their efficiency. Some of our members suffered damage in Otsuchi. The town was devastated by the disaster and lost all administrative functions. We are therefore giving support mainly to the town, but also to other affected areas. To this end we have established a branch of the Office for Relief and Reconstruction Assistance in Tono City located in the inland area of Iwate Prefecture as a base to give support to the areas affected in Sanriku, including Otsuchi. We have also established a liaison office in Otsuchi to help our International Coastal Research Center recover from the damage.

The local breakwater was destroyed by the tsunami and the International Coastal Research Center was flooded. The building, however, was not completely destroyed and the third floor turned out to be usable after being cleaned up. We cleaned the floor first and restored the electricity and water supplies. We finished repairing the inside of the building just before the supply of electricity to the Akahama district (where the center is located) was resumed.

Junichi Hamada. Photo: Junichi Kaizuka.

Junichi Hamada. Photo: Junichi Kaizuka

We also collected monetary donations. After receiving proposals to donate money from overseas to victims of the disaster through the University of Tokyo, we decided to collect support money for victims of the disaster and distribute the donations to Otsuchi, Kamaishi and Tono Cities, and also to other prefectures affected by the disaster.

Mutoh: At the end of March, when I was still head of the Faculty and Graduate School of Education, I was told by President Hamada to think about what volunteer activities could be conducted by the University. I began to read reference materials, and was impressed by the volunteer activities conducted by students of the Tokyo Imperial University after the Great Kanto Earthquake, which were introduced in a document describing the 100-year history of the University of Tokyo. The students took the lead in those activities, supported by the University. There was also a document that pointed out that support should be given to victims of a disaster step by step, from the life-saving stage, relief, restoration through to the recovery stages. We need to provide people who have barely escaped with their life with shelter first and then relief supplies such as food and water, before helping them put their lives back to normal. As President Hamada has already said, it will take much time and efforts for people to make a new start. We must help the affected areas and the people there to reach the start line as the first step in recovering from the disaster. Reading through the material, I realized that the Office for Relief and Reconstruction Assistance needed to give support to the affected areas on a long-term basis.

How can universities and the academic world contribute to that recovery?

Hamada: We have decided to give long-term support to areas affected by the disaster, and it is important to think about how universities and the academic world can contribute to their recovery as a crucial issue.

long-term support to areas affected by the disaster

Mutoh: I visited Otsuchi three months after the disaster and was shocked to see the debris, much of which, however, has been removed since then. I think Japanese people traditionally have the idea that nothing is permanent, and this is implied in old Japanese literary works such as Hojoki and Heike Monogatari. Victims of the disaster who witnessed their hometowns being destroyed must have felt discouraged, seeing how fragile and impermanent the world is. I think it is necessary to focus more on the psychological recovery of individuals than on the physical recovery of the affected areas and Japan as a whole. The academic world should contribute to the psychological recovery of the victims if it wants to continue providing value to society at large. In this regard I think it is wonderful for Director Akira Suehiro and Professor Yuji Genda of the Institute of Social Sciences to continue developing the “social sciences of hope” for society. I believe that teaching students and conducting research while supporting victims of the disaster as they recover from the psychological damage will in turn help the University review and develop its educational and research activities.

Hamada: As I mentioned in my farewell message at the graduation ceremony, it is unfortunate that it often takes a tragedy to enable us to develop and expand our knowledge. By pursuing the meaning, role, and form of knowledge to the utmost limits in an extreme or tragic situation, we learn and develop something new that will be useful for people in the future. My subject is law, and that makes me think in this way. Specifically, when we create a law, we consider if the provisions of the law can be applied even in an extreme situation. Only when the provisions can be applied in extremis do we regard them as appropriate legal provisions. We need to take up extreme situations in our experiments and training to polish our ideas. In doing so, we can develop our studies into something that will be really useful for people. This is my fundamental belief.

I think that we need to place ourselves in “extreme situations” in our research activities, while considering the feelings of other people, as Professor Mutoh has just said. The disaster in March has brought about a range of issues that need to be studied and developed further, including issues related to community development and countermeasures against radioactive contamination. I think it is essential for universities and the academic world to start dealing with such issues while giving full consideration to victims’ feelings, and this will eventually contribute to their recovery.

While always taking other people’s feelings into account, we need to really ask ourselves seriously what the academic world can do for society, and this in turn will drive the cycle and thus help us make a bigger contribution to society. We need to establish this kind of cycle now while developing human resources in the process. It will take a long time for the affected areas to recover from the disaster, and we must make it an important task in academic circles to steadily develop the human resources to help them recover, in addition to improving the academic world’s own response to the disaster. It is important to train new categories of talented individuals able to respond appropriately to meet the true needs of the victims, not only for the affected areas but also for Japan as a whole.

Academic world expected to contribute to a speedy solution to the problems

Maeda: Researchers’ attitudes and views about their research activities are also changing since the disaster. Specific research methods, however, will not change from those that have been adopted. For example, my field is engineering, which is closely related to industry. We are studying systems of production processes implemented by industry as one major target. Changes in the processes will therefore cause changes in our engineering studies. In fact the industrial situation has changed due to the disaster and so our engineering studies will also undergo change. At present, people are focusing on the damage caused by the disaster to primary industries such as agriculture and fisheries, but the Tohoku region is also home to a lot of semiconductor and semiconductor material manufacturers, who support the high-tech industry. Because of the damage these manufacturers have suffered, companies located in other regions in Japan and overseas are now supplying alternative products to the high-tech industry, and we hope that this is just a temporary situation. Will Tohoku become once again a center for semiconductor and other manufacturers or the center for a new industrial field? It is important for Japan’s future to decide which industries should be kept in the region. Research methods have not changed but the conditions to be taken into account in conducting studies have changed due to the disaster.

Hamada: I think that problems that were implicitly present in society even before March 11 have become explicit now. Problems that should have been solved before, such as regional disparities, the aging of society, and issues related to primary industries and energy now stand out due to the disaster. The academic world has been greatly affected by this change. In the past we did not have specific deadlines for solving problems but now there are people who are urgently in need of help and we must help solve the problems faced by these people as quickly as possible. The academic world is in a sense in an “extreme situation” right now. The pressures being put on the academic world are probably the biggest impact the disaster has had on the circle.

Maeda: I agree with you one hundred percent. In the past, we were conducting our research thinking that we would get some results sometime in the future. From now on, however, for example in the world of engineering, we will have to set more specific deadlines for the development of a technology, and depending upon the length of the time required for that development—whether it is one to two years or 10 years—I think we will have to make different choices. If the speed of research has to be accelerated, researchers will become more pressured and might have to review their research fields.

Mutoh: Problems which we were ignoring in the past are now becoming urgent.

The academic world must start to “coexist” with ordinary people

Hamada: Now we are running out of time. Before ending this talk, I would like a final comment from each of you on the title of the talk—Using “the Power of the University” to Recover from the Disaster.

First let me give you my own opinion. In May when the University of Tokyo’s full-scale relief and recovery support began, my message emphasized the importance of “coexistence.” Since the earthquake, many people have been emphasizing the significance of thinking and doing things together, and actually a lot of people are following this idea. I think it is also important to recognize once again the importance of life itself. In the world of research, we have been taking for granted the fact that we are alive. The disaster, however, has forced us to recognize how important our lives are.

Also it was widely seen as matter of fact for people to “live together” in communities, but in fact even before the disaster, interpersonal relationships had become disconnected in various parts of society, and people were forced to fundamentally rethink the relationship between themselves and other people. We have now also become disconnected from nature, although Japanese people have traditionally been living with nature, including keeping in harmony with nature in how we study science and technology.

These issues are challenges for post-3.11 Japan and for Japanese society as a whole. I communicated these ideas in my message “coexistence.”

Maeda: For scholars, research is a way of pursuing the truth, but as President Hamada has said, the pressures presently imposed on us will have a major impact on our attitude to research. Scholars need to become aware of the importance of studying specific measures to solve existing problems, instead of just conducting studies in pursuit of the truth.

Universities need to maintain a diversity of academic studies, and a range of research activities take place at our University, not limited to those that will directly contribute to recovering from the disaster. While keeping that diversity, we need to maintain the “tension” in each research field.

Mutoh: It is indeed important to “live together with nature,” but this phrase implies that human beings and nature exist as two separate entities. In fact, human beings are part of nature and live not with but in nature. I think it is necessary for us to keep this in mind in contributing to the recovery of the affected areas.

The importance of coexistence

Nature provides us with a range of blessings, including beautiful things, but it also threatens us with its unbridled forces, as demonstrated by the great earthquake and tsunami. Professor Emeritus Koya Matsuo made an impressive comment in a speech he gave at a public seminar arranged by the University when he was serving as Dean of the Faculty of Law. He said, “Everything has both a bright and a dark side.” This applies also to nature and to academic studies. In this process of recovery, we need to keep his words in mind.

Hamada: It is natural for human beings to coexist in communities, and indeed it is unnatural to have to emphasize the importance of coexistence. However, we are in an abnormal situation now. We must face that fact as we contribute more to the recovery and revitalization of the affected areas and of Japan as a whole.