by Shi-Lin Loh
Ph.D. candidate, Dept. of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University

Themes and rationale:

Fukushima is a disaster that implicates multiple histories; there is no single narrative that can encompass the causal factors of its impact and significance. This unit aims to provide students with knowledge of the some of these histories – namely, the introduction of nuclear power to Japan via America and Japanese agents after WWII (Yoshimi 2012), as well as the twentieth-century trajectory of Japan’s northeastern region, where Fukushima is located (Oguma 2011). Finally, the concept of ‘sociotechnical imaginaries’ is also offered as a way to think about the motivations for and stakes of why states choose to adopt certain kinds of science and technology, and the broader connections between politics and S&T (Jasanoff and Kim 2009).

The readings below offer three different perspectives from which to consider histories around Fukushima. Yoshimi (2012) writes from a transnational context of U.S.-Japan relations during the Cold War; Oguma (2011) delves into the national context of the legacies of WWII on the socioeconomic infrastructure of Japan’s northeast. Finally, Jasanoff and Kim (2009) discuss the comparative international contexts in which the U.S. and South Korean governments adopted nuclear power.

Students could be asked to discuss which perspective they find most useful or compelling. For instance, are they convinced by Jasanoff and Kim’s argument that “media packages” are distinct from “sociotechnical imaginaries”? (p.123) What about countries where the state is actively involved in the media? (China, Singapore, Japan’s ‘press club’, etc.)

Students might also be asked to think about what other angles or kinds of data give a fuller picture of the causes and impact of Fukushima vis-à-vis these pieces – for instance, oral histories or interviews with residents of northeastern Japan. How does learning about the legacies of WWII and the Cold War change their understanding of nuclear power in Japan?


1. Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun Kim, “Containing the Atom: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and Nuclear Power in the United States and South Korea.” Minerva 47 (2009): 119–146.
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2. Shun’ya Yoshimi, “Radioactive Rain and the American Umbrella.” Trans. Shi-Lin Loh.The Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 71, No. 2 (May) 2012: 1–13.
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3. Oguma Eiji, “The Hidden Face of Disaster: 3.11, the Historical Structure and Future of Japan’s Northeast.” Trans. Kyoko Selden. The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 31 No. 6 (August 1) 2011. Available at
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Educational Module: Multiple Histories of the Fukushima Disaster

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