Insight: Japan Missed Tsunami Wake-Up Call for Change

Tomasz Janowski and Linda Sieg | NewsDaily | March 6, 2012

Three months after Japan's March 11 triple disaster, a long-time expert on the country arrived in Tokyo to research a book he intended to entitle "Rebirth of a Nation." Months later, Richard Samuels is calling his work "The Rhetoric of Crisis." A year after a the huge earthquake, deadly tsunami and the world's worst nuclear disaster in a quarter century jolted the country, it is clear that even a shock of such magnitude failed to snap it out of its economic and political torpor.

"So far it seems there was more talk of change than change itself. It is all still being sorted out," said Samuels, director of the Center for International Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Japan's mammoth government debt keeps piling up while critical decisions get pushed back, referred to various panels, lodged in elaborate rituals of "consensus-building" or political horse-trading in a gridlocked parliament.

Mainstream political parties, torn by conflicting group loyalties, proved incapable of setting aside their differences and providing the leadership for which the public longs. Instead, politicians reverted to business as usual: parliamentary trench warfare and the annual "ditch the prime minister" exercise that gave Japan its sixth leader in five years and now threatens to block vital tax and welfare reforms...