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Coping with Disaster - Lessons learned from the tsunami

Principal investigator: Dr Brigitte Steger


Project (1) Life at tsunami evacuation shelters in Yamada, Iwate, 2011

Financial support from the Thriplow Charitable Trust, the Japan Foundation Endowment Committee and the Cambridge Humanities Research Grant Scheme.

In early summer 2011, Steger spent several weeks at a tsunami evacuation shelter, a temple in the coastal town Yamada (Iwate Prefecture). She lived with people who had lost their homes and interviewed them about their experience and current lives.

Brigitte Steger (forthc.): Life at tsunami evacuation shelters in Yamada, Iwate, 2011 (monograph; work title)

Brigitte Steger (2012):  ‘“We were all in this together”. Challenges to and practices of cleanliness in tsunami evacuation shelters in Yamada, Iwate Prefecture, 2011’Japan Focus, 17 September.

Brigitte Steger (2011):  ‘Secrets in a tsunami evacuation center’, Anthropology News (14 November) 52(8), 


Project (2)  Ethnographies from a Tsunami and Nuclear Devastated Japan

Co-investigators: Tom Gill (Meiji Gakuin University, Yokohama), David Slater (Sophia University, Tokyo), et alterae.

Financial support from the Japan Foundation

These books present some of the first ethnographies of the Japanese communities afflicted by the giant earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011, and the ensuing crisis at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant. They bring together ten fine-grained studies by experienced researchers of Japan, from field sites around the disaster zone in Tohoku, northeastern Japan. They follow the survivors in their flight for safety, through life in evacuation centers and flimsy temporary housing, to their long-term attempts to reconstitute their communities. The papers describe the affected communities and their encounters with the volunteers, aid-workers and journalists who poured into Tohoku after the disasters; they contrast the sudden brutal loss of life from the tsunami with the protracted anxiety from exposure to radiation; and they analyse the disaster’s impact on attitudes, lifeways, social organization and gender relations in the affected fishing and farming communities. The threat of future tsunamis or high levels of radiation mean they many of these communities will  never be able to go home. For them, the impact of ‘3.11’ is a permanent fact of life.

Tom Gill, Brigitte Steger and David Slater (2013 eds), 東日本大震災の人類学ーー津波、原発事故と被災者たちの「その後」Higashi-Nihon daishinsai no jinruigaku: Tsunami, genpatsu jiko to hisaishatachi no 'sono go' (Anthropology of the great earthquake disasters in East Japan: The victims and the 'aftermath' of the tsunami and nuclear accident). (Jinbun Shoin). The second edition of the book came out in late October 2014.

Tom Gill, Brigitte Steger and David Slater (2013 eds): Japan Copes with Calamity: Ethnographies of the Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Disasters of March 2011. Oxford et al.: Peter Lang. Coping with Disaster - Lessons learned from the tsunamiThe book launch took place on 20 November 2013 at the Japan Foundation office in London. A second launch was held at the Foreign Press Centre in Tokyo on 31 January 2014. A trade edition of the book was published in early 2015.


Book reviews:

Asian Anthropology 13/2 by Otani Junko

Social Science Japan Journal 18/1 (2015) by Peter Kirby

Contemporary Sociology 44/1 (2015) by Saito Hiro

The Journal: The Authority on Global Business in Japan by Vicki L. Beyer

Japanese Studies 36 (2016) by Susanne Klien