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Black Wave

How Networks and Governance Shaped Japan’s 3/11 Disasters

Black Wave

How Networks and Governance Shaped Japan’s 3/11 Disasters

Despite the devastation caused by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and 60-foot tsunami that struck Japan in 2011, some 96% of those living and working in the most disaster-stricken region of Tōhoku made it through. Smaller earthquakes and tsunamis have killed far more people in nearby China and India. What accounts for the exceptionally high survival rate? And why is it that some towns and cities in the Tōhoku region have built back more quickly than others?
Black Wave illuminates two critical factors that had a direct influence on why survival rates varied so much across the Tōhoku region following the 3/11 disasters and why the rebuilding process has also not moved in lockstep across the region. Individuals and communities with stronger networks and better governance, Daniel P. Aldrich shows, had higher survival rates and accelerated recoveries. Less-connected communities with fewer such ties faced harder recovery processes and lower survival rates. Beyond the individual and neighborhood levels of survival and recovery, the rebuilding process has varied greatly, as some towns and cities have sought to work independently on rebuilding plans, ignoring recommendations from the national government and moving quickly to institute their own visions, while others have followed the guidelines offered by Tokyo-based bureaucrats for economic development and rebuilding.

264 pages | 12 line drawings, 12 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Asian Studies: General Asian Studies

Political Science: Comparative Politics


“Three disasters—an earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear meltdown—struck Japan on 3/11, generating one of the greatest catastrophes in recent history. In Black Wave, Aldrich asks a series of essential questions: How did so many people survive? Why did some places fare so much better than others? What does it mean to be resilient in a world of emerging risks? His findings are surprising and important. Everyone interested in disaster—or, really, survival—should read this excellent book.”

Eric Klinenberg, New York University, author of Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago

“Much has written about the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident that struck Japan in 2011. But few scholars can combine a deep knowledge of Japanese politics and society and a deep knowledge of contemporary research on the social response to natural and technological hazards. Aldrich is one such scholar, and this book sets the standard for scholarship in this field. The striking finding—that recovery among different communities in the most stricken areas of Japan was uneven—is likely to be of great interest to students of disasters, of technological hazards, and of contemporary Japanese politics.”

Thomas A. Birkland North Carolina State University

“There is much to learn from the 3/11 disasters. Aldrich brings the lessons together in this wonderful book, recounting tragic stories and offering smart analysis. To understand what happened in Japan, during and after the disasters, there is no better place to start than with Black Wave.”

Arjen Boin, Leiden University

"Aldrich’s book is an important contribution to our understanding of the role of social capital and formal governance in disaster response and rebuilding. His multiple method approach adds depth to our knowledge of the triple disasters. Aldrich presents his analysis with open eyes to the challenges and complexities in providing disaster relief and further highlights these by offering international comparisons."

Laura Grube, Review of Austrian Economics

"Aldrich’s book is an important contribution to our understanding of the role of social capital and formal governance in disaster response and rebuilding.His multiple method approach adds depth to our knowledge of the triple disasters. Aldrich presents his analysis with open eyes to the challenges and complexities in providing disaster relief and further highlights these by offering international comparisons."


The Review of Austrian Economics

"I recommend Black Wave to anyone interested in the social dynamics of mass disaster and resilience."

James R. Elliott, Social Forces

"Aldrich provides a lucid assessment of how well-developed social networks and good governance together guided and shaped the outcome of Japan’s survival and recovery from the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake. Communities with strong networks recovered faster and more completely, since they set up flexible communication and control structures and established links for afflicted communities to access important resources, information, and assistance. The disaster even opened policy windows with potential for change in several fields, and identified best practices and policy instruments for use in future disaster preparation. It further highlighted existing issues in Japan such as the long-term trend of rural depopulation, the lack of economic innovation and development of the periphery, and the growing popular desire to move away from nuclear power toward renewable energy sources such as solar, thermal, and wind. This was largely thanks to the Tohoku residents’ ability to connect with their decision-makers, who responded quickly and efficiently, enabling the region and the country to recover more quickly and thoroughly than anyone anticipated. As Japan now explores new energy solutions, it is also pursuing greater energy efficiency and conservation as a result. This presents a great model for other nations."


"There is a significant variation in recovery, and Aldrich takes advantage of these nuances to guide a piece of quantitative and qualitative research from which we might be able to extract some basics of resilience. Recognizing the shortcomings of telling the story of survival and recovery by analyzing its ramifications on any one level alone, the book uses data from diverse levels, beginning with the individual and moving up through the city, the region, the nation, and finally – the international levels."

National Resilience, Politics and Society

"Aldrich cuts through the thick fog of crisis management, reaching for—and often producing—a clarity that only the passage of time makes possible. He effectively draws upon a decade of research by Japanese social scientists as well as on his own field‐based survey and interview data. To his credit, he makes a special effort to ensure that his carefully curated data are accessible to the general reader."

Political Science Quarterly

"...Aldrich’s meticulous research is a wake-up call. The book gives us one more modern piece of proof of the importance of social ties between citizens, between communities, between governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as between community, region and nation."

Ariel University Press

"This book is not only academically sound, with detailed analysis, but also readable for policy makers and the general population to ponder their future plans to protect themselves. If Japan, as well as any country, is to prepare for unforeseen disasters, this book can give guidance for what individuals, communities, regions, or nations should do in order to foster maximum resilience."

International Sociology

"Aldrich’s Black Wave tackles the 3/11 disasters with analytical insight and useful prescriptions for political leaders, NGOs, and everyday citizens. As the entire world recovers from the pandemic and rebuilds resilient societies in the post-COVID-19 era, Japan’s wealth of experience with earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, and volcanic explosions provides fertile soil for extrapolating widely applicable insights on disaster and recovery"

Koichi Hasegawa, Tohoku University | Pacific Affairs

"‘3/11’ was the most catastrophic event in Japan’s postwar history. The magnitude 9.0 earthquake triggered a massive tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people and caused multiple reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant. Given its scale, diversity, complexity, and severity, no one has yet been able to fully comprehend the picture of the 3/11 disaster and the recovery process. However, Daniel P. Aldrich, an American political scientist and the author of Black Wave: How Network and Governance Shaped Japan’s 3/11 Disasters, has managed to accomplish this difficult task in his book."

Shingo Nagamatsu | Social Science Japan Journal

"I recommend Black Wave to anyone interested in the social dynamics of mass disaster and resilience. The book is detailed without being dry; and, it is thorough without being dense. Thus, it would work well in both graduate and undergraduate seminars."

Social Forces

"Stuffed full of vignettes, statistics and real-life examples from not only the 3/11 aftermath, Black Wave makes a worthwhile contribution to the field of disaster management and recovery planning by linking social capital to long-term recovery."

Louise Elstow | Journal of Contemporary Eastern Asia

"Daniel Aldrich’s Black Wave is a robust account of the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami. . . . Black Wave is a useful resource for those who know very little about the events of 3.11 and are looking for a broad introduction. It is also beneficial for those who are already knowledgeable about the disaster but would like to delve deeper into the complex factors involved in the response and recovery. This book is approachable for an undergraduate course while at the same time carrying enough scholarly weight for use in graduate seminars. I would recommend Black Wave to those who are teaching disaster management, sociology of disasters, or a sociology course that explores the idea of social capital. In addition, the events of 3.11 have inspired fundamental changes to facets of Japanese government, and so this book is also of value to scholars of Japan in general."

Japan Review

“A meticulously researched book that offers the most comprehensive English-language analysis of the 3/11 disasters [in Japan] to date.”

American Journal of Sociology

"By charting the trajectory of the disaster recovery in the seven years after 3/11, Black Wave sits astride this history as a contribution to disaster studies, political science, and Japan area studies to better understand Japan’s most recent visitation of natural disaster and will help elicit a deeper consideration of the palliative rhetoric of resiliency in the face of institutional incompetence and governmental malfeasance."

Journal of Japanese Studies

Table of Contents

Tables and Illustrations

Chapter 1: Introduction: The Story of Three Disasters
Chapter 2: Individual Level: Neighbors Saving Lives
Chapter 3: Village, Town, and City Level: Vertical Ties Bringing Resources
Chapter 4: Prefectural Level: Networks Making a Difference
Chapter 5: National Level: Governance Challenged
Chapter 6: International Level: How Institutions Save Lives
Chapter 7: Conclusions and Recommendations: Building Trust and Tying Us Together
Appendix 1: Interviewees and Surveyed Residents
Appendix 2: Statistical Tables


JANPORA: Japan NPO Research Association Prize

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