CA has been applied in some sensitive locations, but perhaps never in such a situation as Aug Nishizaka (Chiba University) describes – the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor disaster at Fukushima in 2011. In this guest blog Aug shows us that interaction research can be inspired by humanity and civic consciousness.
A huge earthquake (called the Great East Japan Earthquake) occurred in northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011. More than 18,000 individuals were killed in tsunamis triggered by the earthquake, and the subsequent explosions at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture (about 220 km northeast from Tokyo) forced more than a hundred thousand people to evacuate their homes.
What did this disaster bring to us? In fact, many people all over Japan began to talk about the importance of connections with others, when learning that numerous individuals lost their families, relatives and friends. However, talk of maintaining and creating connections with others sometimes concealed the fact that we already exist in a nexus of connections with people who we had never met or known and never had any opportunities to think about. The taken-for-granted ground of our life-world was violently shaken, and the revelation of these so-far hidden connections emerged as a surprise: connections to the people in Fukushima living very ordinary lives around the nuclear power plant that provided us, residents of Tokyo, with electricity, that is, the people who accepted the very existence of the power plant as part of their lives.
Research emerged from volunteering
My co-author, Masafumi, who was then a graduate student, was among those who volunteered in emergency shelters in Fukushima immediately after the earthquake. One of his activities was what was called footbath volunteering. While providing evacuees with a footbath and hand massage, volunteers conversed with them to listen to their experiences and determine what they needed in the emergency shelters. We visited emergency shelters and, later, temporary housing sites in Fukushima, carrying video cameras and wireless microphones.*
The article “Conversing While Massaging” (ROLSI Volume 48, Issue 2, pp. 200–229) was one outcome of our research on aspects of interaction in this particular volunteering context. We have since initiated a couple of new research projects* in Fukushima. One is an investigation of medical interactions after examinations for internal exposure to radiation, exploring how doctors explain the examination results to examinees and their families. How do doctors address examinees’ rather vague anxiety about the radiation emitted by the explosion of the nuclear power plant? Second is research on our interactions with residents who have returned to their homes after a long evacuation, exploring their practical reasoning about their perceptions of the resumption of life after their return.
Our connections to these people in Fukushima existed long before we met them. The question is how are we as, researchers who enjoy urban lives, to live with these now revealed connections that we cannot escape.
* The original members of the research project were Kaoru Hayano, Natsuo Iwata, Satomi Kuroshima, Masafumi Sunaga, and Aug Nishizaka (others were recruited later).