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2012 Global Seminars

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Hope as the New Normal: Tokyo after the Disaster


“Hope as the New Normal: Tokyo after the Disaster” will be taught in Tokyo, Japan, at the University of Tokyo from June 11 to July 21. It is led by David Leheny, the Henry Wendt III ’55 Professor of East Asian Studies.

The seminar introduces students to the issues facing post-tsunami Japan. Particular attention will be paid to the creation of a postwar narrative about Japan's rise from the ashes of defeat to become the world's second-largest economy and popular views of the country's cultural vitality in the midst of its economic decline. The debates currently facing Japan not only involve the difficult and delicate balancing of needs in the disaster-ravaged regions but also address the kind of country that will emerge from the catastrophe. Do Japanese observers envision a progressive country leading the world in alternative energy and green technology? A more proudly nationalistic country unified by the tragedy and committed to recovery? What do these different projections mean? The course will feature guest lectures from politicians, artists, scholars, farmers, NGO workers, and others as it aims to understand what the new normal is for an advanced industrial nation dealing with an unprecedented set of challenges. While the seminar is concerned with the policy issues facing post-disaster Japan, the key goal is not to explain what Japan is doing wrong or what it could be doing better but rather is an examination of how the disasters are understood and debated in Japan. Those findings will be used to consider what disaster and decline might mean more broadly.
The seminar begins with memories of postwar Japan, focusing on how images of an egalitarian and communitarian powerhouse laid the groundwork for the debates that evolved in the 1990s. It next turns to Japan’s recession and in particular to the consequences for labor markets and employment expectations for the young. Week 3 examines the implications of Japan’s recession for Japan’s foreign policies, particularly with the rise of decisive “maverick” Prime Minister Koizumi in 2001. Week 4 examines the challenges facing rural Japan, where the consequences of the 2011 earthquake/tsunami/meltdown are concentrated.  Excursions include a week-long trip to Kamaishi, in Iwate Prefecture, one of the cities devastated by the tsunami and one that had previously served as model for rebuilding Japanese hope in the recession. The seminar uses comparative literatures to conceptualize how “disaster” might be understood differently, and how judgments about national or local decline might interact with the specific challenges associated with Japan’s 2011 catastrophes. Week 6 examines the political, social, cultural, and economic consequences of the disasters as well as the proposals designed to resolve them.
Classes are held four days a week, with mornings devoted to lectures and discussions with faculty and guest speakers. The afternoon program includes required daily Japanese language study and a community service component.
This course fulfills the Social Analysis (SA) general requirement and is open to freshman, sophomores, and juniors. Admission is by application and interview.

The Global Seminar in Japan, “Hope as the New Normal: Tokyo after the Disaster,” was supported by an endowment established by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Wendt ‘55 and by a gift from Michael L. Lerch ’93.