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Report From Tokyo: A 'Japan Spring'?

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Unlike displeased masses in the Middle East who are rising up to demand domestic change, the Japanese people have traditionally preferred a milder form of protest. In fact, the idea of mass demonstration is unheard of in the land of conformity. Yet the crisis in Fukushima is encouraging groups of concerned citizens, worried about environmental pollution, to realize the path to change begins with becoming visible.

One group of concerned mothers in Tokyo has initiated policy change through determined effort on behalf of their families. The group, Protect Children in Koto, is seeking to reduce the level of radiation emanating from a nearby sludge-treatment facility to within government established levels. Why levels exceed acceptable targets in the first place is an important question. One wonders what would be happening if "Protect Children in Koto" did not press their case?

It is astonishing how many keepers of the truth here endeavor to treat the populace as brainless commodities -- truly amazing.

The Japanese government has just announced new locations which are under consideration for additional evacuation near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant as radiation levels exceed internationally recommended benchmarks. Bravo. Yet such decisions are all too often being made after citizens complain about being in harm's way. Patience is a virtue in Japan -- but people are rapidly losing both patience and faith in their leaders.

Mild-mannered Japanese are increasingly reaching their limit for good reason. There is clear evidence that institutions tasked with informing the public about the truth have been choosing which truths to tell.

Distrust now runs at all levels of society including the government. In the early hours of the crisis, Prime Minister Kan did not trust information relayed to his aides from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) as they had been known to lie in the past.

Even the Daiichi Fukushima plant manager, Masao Yoshida, did not trust his superiors at TEPCO to make decisions in the best interest of the people of Japan. His decision to keep pouring sea water on the reactors, against the wishes of his superiors, is credited with saving Japan from even more dire consequences. Mr. Yoshida is now a hero for defying what he was told to do.

So it is no wonder the mothers of Japan do not look to the powers that be for salvation. Who could blame them? A poll conducted by the Kyodo news agency last month confirmed that only 1.3% of the people asked felt the Prime Minister was exercising "sufficient leadership".

But Mr. Kan can hardly be blamed for lacking leadership when many in the position to accurately advise him are more concerned with maintaining their fiefdoms than doing what is best for Japan.

There may indeed be a 'Japan Spring' emerging not only due to being told partial truths, but also because a comprehensive system for measuring radiation in food does not exist. How long will be before everyone has their own Geiger counter at the dinner table?

I would venture to guess that as the months go by and increasing amounts of radiation spew from the four reactors at Fukushima, a citizen's movement to protect not only individual families, but communities as a whole will gain traction.

David Wagner is Director of Crisis Communications for Country Risk Solutions, a political risk consulting firm based in Connecticut. He has lived and worked in Japan for 25 years.

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