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The Great Forest Wall: A plan to protect Japan from future mega-tsunami 

Author: Michael Shackleton

Source: Global Perspectives on Japan (GPJ), No.1 (2017), pp.209-236
Publisher: Forum Tauri Press
Keywords: 2011 Tohoku Disaster; Ecological Anthropology; Disaster, Anthropology; Anthropology of Religion; Anthropology of Japan


Disaster Anthropology is often prefaced on a phrase such as, ‘First there was the eruption/earthquake etc., then came the disaster’ meaning that much of what was experienced as a disaster must be blamed on the lack of human preparedness and failures in the human response. The three-fold disaster that hit Japan in 2011 (mega-earthquake + mega-tsunami + plus nuclear disaster almost compatible with Chernobyl) was indeed such a mixture of natural disasters compounded by human failure. This paper focuses especially on the important role of religion and ritual in successfully responding to the disaster and the difficulties that have arisen because the government is constitutionally obliged to be tone-deaf to both. The government and many local people found they had seriously different assumptions and priorities. The welcome to foreign aid volunteers is used to highlight such differences. Enormous concern about the survivors and victims was coupled with the anxiety of survivors themselves and growing criticism of government, for not doing enough either before or after the disaster. Against the backdrop of so many complicated and conflicting sentiments and obligations, the paper introduces The Great Forest Wall project as not only a green solution that would protect against future tsunami for hundreds of years or more, but also as so far the only enterprise that hopes to enable the whole country to come together in a single testimony of all their powerful feelings about the victims, and collective concern for future generations. It seeks to enable a concept of Japan and being Japanese that avoids the awkward politics of nationalism. It links past, present, and future by promoting traditional wisdom that ‘It is the trees that protect us.’ It offers a mixture of the latest science with traditional religion and an understanding of how ritual and ‘religious-like’ concepts can bridge social divisions and express a great variety of contradictory sentiments at the same time.