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Disaster, Law and Social Justice in Japan: The Tsunami of Debt and Homelessness

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Julius Weitzdörfer.

1h talk, then Q&A, followed by drinks reception

It is often said that it takes crises to reveal the true character of a society. This paper analyses Japan’s disaster response in the wake of the world’s costliest natural disaster, and critically discusses the resulting questions of distributive justice: The Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 unleashed unprecedented tremors and a devastating tsunami, damaging one million buildings and rendering 300,000 victims displaced and dispossessed. Former home-owners and businesspeople found themselves in the position of seeking loans to rebuild and invest, while being unable to pay off pre-disaster mortgages and debts. Largely unnoticed outside of Japan, this so-called “double-loan crisis” (nijû saimu mondai) promoted private and corporate insolvency, threatening financial institutions, jeopardising disaster recovery and entrenching social inequality. Based on a legal analysis, this talk critically discusses normative concepts underlying disaster relief, disaster capitalism, and social justice in Japan. This highlights conflicts between competing classes of victims and between competing policy aims. Finally, based on the socioeconomic situation, the legal analysis, and the justice considerations, it attempts to provide policy recommendations to improve the way in which burdens of uninsured risk and recovery are shared between victims and society – in Japan and beyond.

Julius Weitzdörfer is Director of Studies in Law at Darwin College and an Affiliated Lecturer teaching EU Environmental and Sustainable Development Law at the Faculty of Law. He is a full-time Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER). His expertise lies in the governance of extreme risks, in including through disaster-, environmental-, and nuclear-law. Adopting comparative, economic, socio-legal and policy-focussed approaches, he explores these topics in dynamic fields of law in Japan, particularly the legal case of Fukushima. Before reading law in Hamburg (Bucerius Law School, Max-Planck-Institute), Shanghai (Fudan University), Kyoto (Kyoto University) and Cambridge, Julius studied journalism and Japanese in Leipzig and Tokyo (Waseda University), and previously worked as an editor and a television co-host at NHK Japan.

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