Japan is the world third largest country. On March 11, one year after the serious nuclear accident in Fukushima and the tsunami on the northeast coast, memorials were held all over Japan. According to the latest official data, 15,854 people died in the disaster. More than 3,100 people were still missing and close to 27,000 were injured. More than 380,000 buildings had been seriously damaged by the tsunami. One year after the disaster, some 340,000 people were still living in temporary housing.
In a televised speech on the occasion of the one-year anniversary, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda promised to intensify the clean-up work on the beaches of Fukushima and other affected sites along the coast north of Tokyo, where over 20 million tonnes of debris from destroyed buildings and other landed. At the one-year anniversary, no more than one-twentieth of the beaches had been cleared because they feared the debris was contaminated by radioactivity from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
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Since the disaster in March 2011, Japan had had more earthquakes, some of which measured over 6.0 on the Richter scale. On the anniversary, anti-nuclear demonstrations also took place in the capital, Tokyo, among others. Opinion surveys after the disaster showed that a majority of the Japanese wanted to phase out and abolish nuclear power. Following the Fukushima accident, 52 of the country’s 54 nuclear reactors had been shut down in anticipation of an investigation.
In the spring of 2012, the last two reactors were closed for inspection and maintenance. This posed a great risk of electricity shortages, which the authorities managed to avoid through increased oil imports. Prior to the accident, nuclear power had accounted for one-third of Japan’s electricity supply, after the accident, that share had fallen below 2%. However, the increase in oil imports led to Japan having a large trade deficit for the first time in 30 years. The authorities therefore initiated a large energy saving program to, among other things, switch off air conditioning and lamps in offices. In the summer of 2012, the beaches in the Fukushima area were re-opened to bathers.
At the same time, the authorities began to put the closed nuclear reactors in operation again. In early July, a first reactor, at the Ohi nuclear power plant, was set in motion, leading to demonstrations outside Prime Minister Noda’s office and near the nuclear power plant. On July 16, up to 170,000 nuclear demonstrators demonstrated in Tokyo. It was the largest demonstration held in the Japanese capital of over 50 years.
At the same time, two important investigations on the Fukushima disaster and disaster work were presented. A parliamentary inquiry concluded that it was the human factor that had caused and further exacerbated the disaster, which could not be considered a natural disaster. A number of errors and intentional negligence had caused the disaster, which according to the investigation could have been foreseen and prevented. In addition, the effects of the accident could have been mitigated. The failure to do so was due to a lack of governance and control from both the government and the company TEPCO, which was responsible for the operation of the nuclear power plant, the investigators said. When the disaster was a fact, it was aggravated by lack of efficiency, communication failures and unclear division of responsibilities between authorities. The investigation went deeper than expected in its criticism, saying that the authorities and TEPCO:
The second report, commissioned by the government, criticized TEPCO for taking “completely inadequate” security measures before the disaster.
In April, the United States and Japan signed an agreement to relocate about half of the U.S. Navy soldiers from the island of Okinawa to areas outside Japan. About 10,000 American soldiers would be left on Okinawa, where US forces have been stationed since World War II. Among the Japanese, there is resistance against the American soldiers. In the fall of 2012, the residents’ anger flared up again when a girl was raped by two soldiers and one boy was beaten by another soldier.
In April, a Tokyo court acquitted the experienced and influential politician Ichiro Ozawa from charges of violating the election campaign finance laws. He had founded the Democratic Party (DPJ) government and been its party leader until the charges of illegal funding forced him to resign in May 2009, a few months before he was expected to win the DPJ election. In August 2012, Ozawa was also released by an appeals court.
A proposal by Prime Minister Noda to double the VAT led to a split in the DPJ government party. In February, the government began to negotiate with the opposition to get through the proposal, which was to gradually increase VAT from 5 to 10% by 2015. Increased VAT was a way of raising money for the Treasury to manage pensions and other social payments. benefits in a situation when Japan’s population is declining and pensioners are increasing. Two-fifths of the Japanese are estimated to be pensioners by 2060, while forecasts show that the country’s population has shrunk by close to one-third at the same time. Japan has the world’s fastest aging population. Moreover, Japan’s economy was severely strained after the 2011 Fukushima disaster and the country had a foreign debt equivalent to about 200% of GDP.
In early June, Noda replaced five of its ministers in an attempt to improve relations with the opposition and get through the VAT increase in parliament. At the end of the month, Parliament’s lower house approved the proposal by 363 votes to 96. The government was supported by the two largest opposition parties, but 57 of the government’s own MPs voted against the proposal. Among the internal opponents was the party’s founder Ozawa, who after the vote suggested that he should form a new party.
At the beginning of August, the opposition-controlled upper house also approved the VAT proposal. Noda’s prize for getting the opposition’s approval was that he promised to announce new elections.
A faction of 50 MPs left the DPJ government party in early July in protest of Noda pushing through the VAT increase a few days earlier. Of the jumpers, 37 came from the lower house and 12 from the upper house. The outbreak meant a blow to Noda and the government even though DPJ retained its majority in the lower house. A week later, the leader of the breakaway faction, Ichiro Ozawa, formed his own party called People’s Life Comes First. The party became the third largest in Parliament’s lower house. Ozawa said the government’s deal with the opposition to raise VAT was undemocratic, and with the new party he wanted to give voters an alternative.
In August, a diplomatic dispute broke out between Japan and South Korea for the president of South Korea to visit the archipelago of Dokdo (in Japan called Takeshima), controlled by South Korea but also claimed by Japan. In protest, the Japanese government called home its ambassador from South Korea.
In late September, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda won a party leader vote within the DPJ government party. Three candidates challenged him. Votes on leadership are held every two years in DPJ, according to the party’s statutes. A few weeks later, Shinzo Abe was elected LDP’s new leader of the opposition party. Abe, who was prime minister in 2006-07, was expected to become Noda’s main opponent in the next presidential election.
In October, Keishu Tanaka resigned after only three weeks in the post of Minister of Justice, which was a setback for the Prime Minister. He officially resigned due to illness, but it was also known that he had received illegal financial aid a few years earlier and that he had contacts with a criminal gang in the 1980s.
In November, Prime Minister Noda dissolved Parliament’s lower house and announced new elections until December 16.
Nine people died when a road tunnel west of Tokyo collapsed on December 2. Cement blocks began to collapse and a fire broke out in the Sasago tunnel. A police investigation was launched and inspections of road tunnels were ordered across the country.
As the opinion polls have shown, the Conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won the House of Assembly election on December 16. It became a landslide victory for the LDP, which took home 294 seats, while the party’s ally New Komeito received 31 of the House’s 480 seats. Together, they had a two-thirds majority in the lower house. Support for the DPJ government party fell sharply, from 230 to 57 seats, which caused Noda to leave the party leader post. A newly formed nationalist right-wing party, Japan’s reconstruction party (Nippon Ishin no Kai), received great support and became the third largest party in the lower house. The party wants to arm Japan militarily.
Ten days after the election, Shinzo Abe took office as new prime minister and was thus back on the post he had held from 2006-2007. As Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Taro Aso, who had also been Prime Minister, was appointed. Shinzo Abe promised investment in infrastructure and weakening the yen to regain the economy. Shortly before the election, statistics had been presented that showed that the country was in a recession again with declining growth and inflation. Abe also wants to arm the military and strengthen relations with the United States. He pledged more hard on China and said the government would step in to stop China’s challenging actions on the Senkaku Islands, controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan.
According to countryaah, the population of Japan in 2012 was 127,985,022, ranking number 10 in the world. The population growth rate was -0.090% yearly, and the population density was 351.0722 people per km2.