Alumna, Kumamoto University professor talks about post-Fukushima restorative justice

Akiko Ishihara MA ’11, a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, discusses conflict resolution following the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster in Japan. She is a professor at Kumamoto University in Japan. (Photos by Macson McGuigan)

Akiko Ishihara MA ’11 returned to Eastern Mennonite University in late fall to talk about her research with graduate students and faculty at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. Ishihara is an associate professor at Kumamoto University’s Graduate School of Social and Cultural Sciences in the southernmost prefecture of Japan, teaches peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

One of her research interests is Japan’s growing population of elderly people with dementia. Her topic of the day, however, reintroduced research from her 2011 capstone project on peace building through restorative dialogue and consensus building after the TEPCO Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster. [To read more, view a similarly titled paper co-authored with Professor Carl Stauffer, Elmer Malibiran MA ’13, and then-Kumamoto University graduate student Annia Keosavang.]

Professor Akiko Ishihara of Kumamoto Unversity, Japan.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPKO) Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster occurred after a earthquake and tsunmi on March 11, 2011, in the northern area of Japan. More than 15,000 people died in the natural disasters, while ensuing melt-downs of three reactors forced 160,000 people from their homes, many never to return, and destroyed businesses, fisheries and agriculture. [For an update from the Japan Times, click here.]

Conflicting post-meltdown reports from the Japanese government and scientists, as well as the international scientific community, about the safety of the region created intergenerational and cultural conflict between those residents who stayed in the area and those who left.

“These public health issues are essentially issues of justice,” Ishihara said, “ and the hierarchies created and manipulated by the powerful corporation and government are structures by which violence can be enacted.”

How information is gathered and interpreted also played a role in regional conflict: In this area of Japan, many younger male residents attend universities away from home, and then meet and marry women from urban areas. These women gathered their information about safety issues through different and non-local media than their husbands and their in-laws.

Other, often overlapping tensions played out between those who were compensated by the electric company and decisions regarding whether to leave the area or remain: Ishihara identified conflict between groups of residents who remained in the area, those who evacuated to reside elsewhere, (including subgroups of families that split up, children who were sent away, etc.), and then, those who returned.

“There is a view among those that remained that evacuees ‘abandoned’ Fukushima, and those who left felt guilty for leaving,” Ishihara said. “All of this created conflict in a traumatized community. There was lots of aggression and conflict.”

One of her roles was to examine victim-offender relationships, to analyze conflict and create a plan for implementation of restorative justice concepts.

“In this situation, it was important to ask in all situations ‘who is the victim and who is the offender, and how can we build justice?” she said. “There was an extremely adversarial negotiation process for compensation and basic human needs, and restorative principles were important in moving forward through that process.”

During her travels, Ishihara was also an invited speaker by the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance in the McCormack Graduate School of the University of Massachusetts, Boston.