The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Lying on one of the world’s most active seismic faults, and at the mercy of the Pacific’s often violent weather patterns, Japan faces the continuous threat of natural disasters. Yet the country has time and again overcome adversity and prospered.

Over the years, Japan has developed some of the world’s most advanced emergency response measures. But the earthquake that struck east Japan on March 11, 2011, and the devastating tsunami and nuclear disaster it triggered, raised many very serious questions about this country’s land and its disaster prevention and disaster risk reduction strategies.

Not only are these three areas completely interrelated, but they require expertise from a vast array of different fields.

The Japan Society of Disaster Nursing, for example, has argued that utilizing mobile phone technology for “rapid and accurate information sharing” is of crucial importance in the aftermath of a disaster.

The Society of Instrument and Control Engineers, meanwhile, has advocated the use of drones in “remote sensing to observe dynamic volcanic disturbances” in creating accurate hazard maps and evacuation guidance.

More than ever, the events of March 11, 2011 highlighted the need for government agencies, municipalities, research organizations, and universities to work together in formulating and implementing a holistic and comprehensive policy approach.

At the behest of the Committee on Civil Engineering/Architecture of the Science Council of Japan, 24 academic societies gathered in May 2011 to form the Academic Society Liaison Association, a body tasked with examining the current state of the country. The group has since met regularly, trying to reach beyond the existing framework and involve larger numbers of people to better shape the country’s response to the Great East Japan Earthquake and potential future disasters.

The Liaison Association has expanded to include medical and economic organizations, bringing the total number of participants to 30, and it has two main roles. The first is to conduct a full investigation into the extent of the damage caused by the 2011 disaster, and to deliver a summary breaking down the disaster by discipline. The other is to identify interdisciplinary steps that need to be taken to improve disaster reduction and to work together on the solutions.

For many years, greater cooperation in the field has been urged, but the walls around academia have often stood in the way of progress. The Liaison Association was set up to play a central role in bringing together various fields.

From December 2011 to November 2014, the Science Council of Japan and the Liaison Association hosted 10 symposiums and academic forums under the unified theme of “How to Protect People’s Lives and National Land from Huge Disasters—A Message from 30 Academic Societies.” At these events, participants debated the potentially mounting disaster risk Japan faces.

One of these events’ key achievements was the declaration titled “Proposal for Revision of Japanese Disaster Prevention and Reduction Policies.” The heads of the societies came together and hand-delivered the declaration to the minister of land, infrastructure, transport, and tourism, the minister of state for disaster management, and the senior vice minister of education, culture, sports, science, and technology.

In November 2014, the Science Council hosted an academic forum on how to apply the lessons learned from the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 and the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 in a global context.

The joint statement resulting from this forum was accompanied by the publication of a booklet introducing earthquake-related work and the international activities of the societies connected to the Liaison Association.

The Japan Academic Network for Disaster Reduction was established to expand the scope of the work beyond earthquakes and tsunamis to include all natural disasters in the program—so as to attract a greater variety of societies for better future preparedness. The 11th and last symposium, on January 9, 2016, heralded the establishment of the Academic Network, and the continued response to the Great East Japan Earthquake. The content of each symposium debate is reflected in the activities of the academic associations and many other organizations, which can be found at

As the entire Japanese archipelago faces increased seismic activity, fears of a Nankai Trough Earthquake and one that directly hits the Tokyo metropolitan area remain very much on people’s minds. And with the effects of climate change causing more natural disasters, an interdisciplinary approach is needed to prepare for the next catastrophe.

It was in the light of these circumstances that the Science Council of Japan and 47 academic societies—rising subsequently to 54—came together to form the Japan Academic Network for Disaster Reduction.

Back in July 2015, the Science Council created a new committee to deal with issues of disaster prevention, reduction, and rebuilding. The Science Council, based on its experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake, produced guidelines outlining the activities of the council during an emergency. This came out of the need to share the Science Council’s knowledge in the event of a large-scale catastrophe.

In case of a huge disaster, an emergency task force headed by a board of directors will be installed. The task force will make announcements and recommendations, support the government, and cooperate with researchers across various fields of expertise.

Thus, the new committee’s goal is to define how it will collaborate both on a day-to-day basis and in an emergency with scientific organizations and research groups, including those under the Science Council, that deal with measuring hazards from the natural environment, disaster prevention and reduction, first-aid, relief and rescue, restoration, and rebuilding.

Kumamoto Castle was damaged by an earthquake measuring 7 on the Japanese seismic scale in 2016.

The Kumamoto Earthquake in April 2016 struck right as the group was developing a contact list for its website while building a network of societies that can respond to emergency situations. The foreshock came on April 14, then the earthquake struck early on the 16th—both registered the maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic scale.

In response to this emergency, experts from different fields who are members of the Academic Network called an emergency joint news conference at the Japan Society of Civil Engineers on April 18 to present to the press the latest information about the earthquake. At this point, the Science Council determined that the quake qualified as an emergency situation under the guidelines set forth by the council in February 2014. The new Science Council committee joined forces with the Academic Network, hosting an emergency debriefing session on May 2, with 17 of the academies presenting their findings, thereby publicizing their information and promoting inter-society data sharing.

The Academic Network is expected to work with the Science Council to help promote closer ties among the societies during regular times and to act as a contact network for the societies during an emergency. Disaster preparedness and response are long-term issues. That means cooperation is required with the government, municipalities and other related organs to ensure network continuity so that the different organizations can cooperate smoothly during an emergency.

Teruhiko Yoda is professor at the faculty of science and engineering at Waseda University. This article was first published in Japanese in the November 2016 issue of the monthly magazine Trends in the Sciences, edited with the cooperation of the Science Council of Japan and later translated into English by the Nikkei Asian Review.