Japan’s Crisis and Opportunity : Fukushima (Island of Good Fortune)

by Terry Boardman



This article first appeared in New View magazine Spring 2011  


By next year, I realise that a sixth of my life will have been spent in Japan ; it is a land, a society and culture for which I feel great gratitude and with which I am very familiar. Japan and its people taught me to love nature, to meditate, and the value of hard work and many other things too numerous to mention. I spent most of my 20s there, the years of my youthful and impressionable heart. It was with real sadness and shock therefore that I heard of the great earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan’s north eastern coast on the afternoon of 11 March. I have felt the anxiety of the Japanese people, whilst also admiring the way in which they have met this triple crisis, and like many in Japan and abroad, I too have been wondering: what could this huge event mean?

              Hiroshima  1945                              Otsuchi 2011


It is easy to say that it does not ‘mean’ anything, that it was a purely random, natural event. After all, countries like Japan , New Zealand and Chile are located on the Pacific Ocean ‘ring of fire’, and therefore it is inevitable that they will suffer from earthquakes and tsunamis. So goes the reasoning from a materialistic point of view. Yes, indeed, but it is not inevitable that 55 nuclear reactors (at 17 nuclear power plants) should be built in such a volatile region. This was a human choice, and those nuclear power plants are part of the triple crisis Japan has faced since 11th March. From another side come those who claim that this was not a natural event at all and that it had been deliberately engineered by ‘the USA’, which with its technology such as the HAARP installation in Alaska (1), can, they claim, trigger earthquakes; the Indonesian earthquake and tsunami in 2004, they argue, were also caused by HAARP. It has been calculated that the energy released by the magnitude 9 earthquake off north-eastern Japan was equivalent to a force 600 million times greater than that of the Hiroshima A-bomb! It is then surely quite some degree of hubris to think that human beings are already capable of unleashing a power of this magnitude, our capacity for atomic destruction notwithstanding. Ah, but the US government has acquired secret technology from outer space aliens, say the conspiracists, capacities which are far in advance of conventional technology. Whilst the technology of flying discs  may be one thing; that required to shift the axis of tilt of the entire planet by 25 centimetres and move the whole coastline of north-eastern Japan by 2.4 metres – as is the case with what happened with this recent earthquake – is another altogether.(2) It is also significant that, unlike the tsunami of 2004 which badly impacted a number of countries, no other countries were damaged by the March 2011 tsunami except Japan, despite initial worries that it would roll across the Pacific in all directions. This was a Japanese event. If one knows Japanese history,  Japan ‘s story or biography, and considers how this earthquake may signify another major turning point in that story, then things may make more sense than the  thesis that this was just a random occurrence, or HAARP being used for dastardly but obscure reasons.

I would suggest that Japan’s present crisis has to do with the Japanese people’s relationship to the Sun, that is, with their own cultural and human identity. The very name of Japan (Nihon or, more formally, Nippon) means literally ‘sun-root’ or ‘sun-origin’, rather than ‘land of the rising sun’ which it is sometimes called in English. And I would also suggest that the occurrences of Japan ‘s greatest earthquakes of modern times seem to be more than just happenstance.

Dr Roger Musson, head of seismic hazard at the British Geological Survey (BGS), suggested the latest tsunami was comparable to the M8.6 event that hit the same area in the year 869 AD. Since 869, there have been nine massive earthquake events (and innumerable smaller ones) affecting Japan. All of those events, with one arguable exception (1703), were in times of considerable stress in Japanese history, and three of them occurred in the years 1854-55. Immediately before, In 1853, the Americans, with their eyes ultimately on the Chinese market, had arrived in Edo (later renamed Tokyo ) Bay in their black, steam-powered warships and forced Japan to open up for trade; prior to this, the country had been almost hermetically sealed to foreigners for over 200 years. In Japan’s second most ancient written account of the origins of the land and State, the Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan c.720 AD), there is an account of how the Emperor’s ancestress, the Sun Goddess Amaterasu Omikami (the name means literally ‘heaven-shining great august spirit’), who stands at the pinnacle of the native Japanese Shinto religion, hid herself in a cave following an insult, and the other gods had to tempt her out in order that her sunlight would once again shine in the universe. This they managed by their laughter when one of them did a ribald, earthy dance.

The portly American, Commodore Perry, did not exactly do a ribald dance in Edo Bay in 1853, for he bullied rather than tempted Japan out of her state of seclusion. Then, in the following three years after this huge turning point in Japanese history, the country was hit by three enormous earthquakes (two of them M8.4), and the Tokyo region was devastated. Japan then embarked on its pell-mell rush through decades of modernisation, western-style materialism and imperialism. The generation born in the 1850s was the generation that eagerly embraced the new western ideas and values of industrialism, capitalist economics, Social Darwinism and imperialism and which led Japan into the new modern society. (In this context it may be interesting to note that in a lecture of 4 September 1906, Rudolf Steiner described nine subterranean layers of the earth and had this to say about the relation of human souls and earthquakes to one of these layers, the so-called fire-Earth layer:

“[when] births which occurred during a time of frequent earthquakes were investigated, it was found that all those born at about the time of an earthquake, though not exactly in its area, were, surprisingly enough, men of a very materialistic cast of mind. The earthquakes were not the cause of this; rather it was these strongly materialistic souls, ripe for birth, who worked their way down into the physical… and let loose the forces of the Fire-Earth layer, which proceeded to shake the Earth at the time of their birth.)

Exactly 70 years after Commodore Perry’s arrival, the Tokyo-Yokohama area was ravaged again, on 1st September 1923 , by another massive earthquake (M7.9) which set off widespread fires and devastation, killing between 100,000 and 140,000 people.

                                     Great Kanto Earthquake 1 Sept. 1923

Four years before the earthquake, there had been huge patriotic demonstrations in China against Japan’s actions in that country, which the Japanese were already seeing as the prime field for their commercial and imperial expansion, following the western model. At the Paris Peace Conference in April 1919, Britain and Australia had successfully blocked Japan’s effort to include a racial equality clause in the Covenant of the League of Nations, and less than a month before the earthquake, Japan had been in effect cast adrift by Britain when the Anglo-Japanese alliance (1902) was officially terminated by the British. In the end, the racial rebuff in 1919 and the termination of the alliance with Britain would prove to be prime factors contributing to the Japan’s increasingly nationalist course in the 1920s and 1930s, which led to Pearl  Harbor and what followed. The 1923 earthquake itself and the fires which devastated Tokyo were like a direct prefiguring of its destruction again by fire caused by American bombing in 1944-45.

Following the opening up of Japan to trading and Western influence in 1853, Japan had sought to unite against western colonialism whilst modernising itself rapidly by restoring the Emperor to full power in 1868 (prior to this, various  daimyo, feudal lords, had ruled over different parts of Japan) and by resurrecting the ancient ethos and centralised State polity of a thousand years before, based on obedience to the imperial descendant of the Sun Goddess of the Shinto faith, Amaterasu. Shinto (Way of the Gods/Spirits) is the indigenous spirituality of Japan and its peoples; it contains an understanding of nature and human beings sharing the same world with its interrelated complexities. The deliberate use of the Shinto faith for state and national purposes would end with the bursting of two artificial ‘suns’ over Japan in 1945. That was the year which saw not only the dropping of the A-bombs and the fire-bombing of Tokyo but also the fiercest fighting of the Pacific War, on the islands of Okinawa. These Islands had, some 66 years earlier, been fully taken over and incorporated into Japan in 1879, as the first overseas acquisition of the new, modern Japanese State . Again, it is interesting to note that certain resonances may be at work when we realise that, according to western esoteric teaching (3), 1879 was the beginning of the age of the Sun archangel, Michael. (Today some refer to the spirit of our age as the Zeitgeist.) At that time Japan was resurrecting the ancient Sun-focused imperial system as a basis for its modernisation centred on the Meiji Emperor (1868-1912), the purported descendant of the legendary Jimmu, whose own reign was said to have begun in 660 BC. 66 years from the catastrophe of the 1923 Tokyo earthquake takes us to 1989.

On 7 January of that year, as the old year passed over to the new, the Emperor Hirohito (4), who had been crown prince and regent at the time of the 1923 earthquake and was forced in 1945 by the American Occupying authorities to renounce his ‘divinity’– that is, his link with the Sun Goddess Amaterasu – died in his 88th year, the 63rd year of his reign. It was the first major event of what was to be a momentous year in world history. Exactly a year later, the Japanese stock market bubble, which had been building through the 1980s and which hit its peak in December 1989, burst, and the country’s long economic slide began. Japan ‘s sun had risen for 20 years under Hirohito – the age of military expansionism. In 1945 it had set and then risen again to the economic zenith of 1989. Since Emperor Hirohito’s death, Japan has staggered on with essentially the same economic policies. Now, 66 years after the national catastrophe of 1945, has come the triple disaster of 2011 (Heisei 23 in the traditional Japanese dating system): the M9.0 earthquake, the huge tsunami and the deadly radiation from the Fukushima power plant. The name Fukushima ironically means ‘good fortune island’, but since Commodore Perry’s smoking ‘black ships’ appeared over the Pacific horizon, Japan has had a very mixed bag of fortune that has included four major disasters (1923, 1945, 1990, 2011) which might have broken many other nations.

It could be said that the elites who have guided modern Japan through the period 1853-1945-2011 had the wrong relationship to the Sun, to Japan’s own national destiny. For 77 years, from the Restoration of the Meiji Emperor in 1868 to Hirohito’s abrogation of his divinity on 1 Jan. 1946, Japan’s elite opted to resurrect an old decadent concept of the Sun by centring the modern, westernised form of the Japanese State on the spirit of a social polity that had existed a thousand years earlier. This hybrid came to be known as ‘State Shinto’ – government and social life that was focused on veneration of the Emperor and the Imperial line. From the 6th to the 9th centuries, when Japan was importing highly centralised Chinese concepts of governance, the Emperor was the focus of the State and had real power, but by the 19th century, evolution had moved on; such a political concept no longer had validity. Indeed, the samurai class had already rejected it in the 14th century, when they firmly rebuffed the Go-Daigo Emperor’s vain attempts to revive centralised imperial power. Nevertheless, the same samurai class resurrected that ancient concept themselves after 1868 as a means of unifying the nation. They focused the nation’s devotion on the imperial institution but they themselves ruled behind the imperial figurehead. It seemed to work for a time but ultimately led to disaster.

In the post-war era until 2011, Japan’s elite has allowed itself to be led by what could be called ‘the Ronald Reagan concept’ of the Sun – the American Dream of material prosperity (5) – all bright, happy and smiling. Japan, always the sincere, hard-working ‘student’, was held to have ‘succeeded’ economically, becoming a key propagator of ‘western’ consumerism and technical ingenuity throughout the world. One of the main reasons why the Japanese elite acted this way, quite apart from the fact that Japan was very much under American control in the Cold War era, was that they always claimed they had to export to survive because, they said, Japan has no raw materials or native sources of energy, no oil, coal or gas. After 1989 the writing was on the wall for Japan ‘s economic indulgence, but the Japanese elite did not see the message. As the economy declined, the elite struggled on, still trying to urge their people to follow the basic Anglo-American capitalist model, to do what they were told, and contribute a hefty chunk of finance for the 1991 Gulf War. (6) The Japanese elite did not make the changes the times were really calling for.  They did not make the public apologies that the rest of Asia wanted to see and hear for the imperialist offences Japan had committed in 1910-1945. They did not free their young people from the stultifying grip of a barren education system. They did not apply the prodigious human capacities of the Japanese people to the development of those sources of renewable, living energy with which Japan is actually truly blessed: solar, wave, wind, and geothermal which all, ultimately,  come from the Sun. The complaint that “we have no native sources of energy” was never true. Instead, influential circles within the elite, still dreaming the dream of power and wanting ultimately for Japan to have its own nuclear weapons (no nuclear power means no nuclear weapons), chose the subterranean energies of mineral decay and in the early 1960s, in the ‘white heat’ of Japan’s burgeoning technological revolution, they opted for nuclear power in what is, geologically, the world’s most volatile region: four tectonic plates meet and rub against each other not far from Tokyo.(7)  

Few decisions could have been more irresponsible or harmful for Japan’s long-term future. But the Japanese people, with their ultra-conformist education system, their growing material prosperity and continual pressure to repeat the mantra “we have no natural resources”, offered little resistance to that critical decision by the country’s business, political and academic elites.

It could be said that hindsight repeatedly shows us that if, for whatever reason, we choose not to make very necessary changes in our lives, or avoid making them, then life itself often brings about a crisis that forces us to make those changes. In Japanese history this has tended to come from outside, through foreigners (c.550 Koreans; 1274-1281 Mongols; 1543 Portuguese; 1853 and 1945 Americans). 2011 has brought another seeming challenge from ‘outside’, but this time not from foreigners but from Nature herself. It is for the Japanese themselves this time, free of the pressure of foreigners, to respond appropriately to this new external challenge/stimulus. Has the guardian spirit of Japan, who historically has proved particularly rigorous, sought, in combination with the mighty beings who rule over the forces of Nature, to administer ‘shock treatment’ to the Japanese people so as to induce them to reconsider the road they’ve been travelling since 1945 and indeed, since 1853? Might this crisis indeed turn out to be a great opportunity?

In the past, foreigners have often claimed that the Japanese were ‘inscrutable’; it was said to be hard to see ‘inside’  and to make out what they were thinking or feeling, and to a degree, the Japanese themselves encouraged this perception, as they have been, until recent decades, a very modest people, keen to guard their own inner world. For the same reason, the Japanese have not been regarded as very adept language learners, despite the tremendous effort they have put into such studies. Their own language can be both misty and mystical, preferring ambiguity and suggestion to  definitiveness and clarity. The power plant of the Island of Good Fortune (Fukushima) is something of a ’black box’, and information about it  – as with the nuclear industry in other countries, it must be conceded – is also far from clear, exasperating many Japanese themselves. But this inwardness, this drawing inward, is one of Japanese culture’s key national gestures. A more feminine gesture, it selflessly draws things into itself and absorbs them, devotedly studying them and adding them to itself. The traditional Japanese leader is not visible; he conceals himself within or behind his subordinates, so that from the outside no clear ‘leadership’ is perceptible. This gesture of inwardness can remind one of how Steiner described the inner nature of the Sun, not as a nuclear fusion reactor, as seen by modern science, but as a realm that is more empty even than a void (8); so empty in the material sense that it becomes full in the spiritual sense: a black hole that is also a ‘white hole’.

100 years ago, scientists did not know of the existence of so-called ‘black holes’; now they say that black holes are at the centre of galaxies. But ‘black hole’ is a misnomer that results from a materialist view of the physical world, or, at most, it describes only half of a phenomenon. It is an often-affirmed principle of spiritual science that the spiritual world is ‘a looking glass world’, the reverse, or the inversion of the physical world. The spiritual inversion of a gravitational space so powerful that nothing escapes from it would be the continuous outpouring of light, warmth and love from a single centre – a spiritual sun. We can recall how, as in the German language (die Sonne), Japan’s picture of the Sun in Shinto is feminine, the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, who was drawn out of her cave to illuminate the world. Over the centuries Japan has taken the world (Korea, China, Europe, America, and now everywhere else) into itself, sincerely and intensively studied what the world has given, and then through the prodigious activity of its people it has given back, for example, marvels of aesthetic and spiritual culture, from the Buddhist sculpture of 1400 years ago and the glories of Japanese mediaeval art and crafts, from Zen meditation and gardens, martial arts and Kabuki theatre on to the ingenuity and flair of modern Japanese design, technology, fashion and visual culture (films, anime, manga). It is not only cars, stereos, cameras and robots that Japan has given the world.

Is the present crisis not perhaps challenging the Japanese to find the right relationship to ‘the Sun’ i.e. to themselves, to their own identity as individuals and as a culture? It feels like this is a key moment in Japan’s national biography and not least because of its relationship to nuclear power. Thus far, Japan has not rejected nuclear power, because a) the country has been under US influence and b) because its own shadow, its own rightwing nationalist elite, its own national double, wants to possess nuclear weapons (9). It has wanted to hide this motivation by claiming through the media that it has ‘no resources’ and must therefore depend on fossil fuel (from the Middle East, i.e. on US foreign policy in the Middle East) and on nuclear energy. The Japanese now have to decide whether they want the life force of real ‘Sun power’ for their country, or artificial Sun power, which is based on decay. If they decide to go on with the latter despite this crisis, then they will develop something within their culture that has a ‘counter-Sun’ character. They did that once already, and the result was 1945, which was also due to an erroneous understanding of the Sun (State Shinto). A major problem is that materialistic science tells them and everyone that the Sun itself is essentially nothing but a nuclear power plant. This erroneous thinking is the problem. The Sun is not simply a ball of plasma which generates energy through nuclear fusion.  That is like saying that “human beings are nothing but bundles of flesh and bones powered by their metabolism and they are nothing else”. It is a particularly dangerous concept for the Japanese to adopt, since, due to their special relation to the Sun in their national mythos, it can incline them to think that nuclear power somehow has something to do with their country and that it is therefore ‘natural’ or  ‘logical’ for Japan to have nuclear power, even on their fragile territory. Obviously, rejection of nuclear power and development of Sun-based (solar, wind, wave plus geothermal) energies would be a major part of a new ‘right relationship to the Sun’ for the Japanese. If Japan were to develop such technologies in the age of the Sun archangel Michael and apply to it the prodigious energies of its people, it would greatly benefit the world and be a signal contribution to world development, leading far beyond just technical achievement.

Japan’s interactions with the West began in the momentous year 1543, when the Portuguese arrived, bringing with them one of the technical achievements of the West, the arquebus, an early muzzle-loaded firearm, and within ten years, the Japanese were making guns that were superior. In May that same year of 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus had died and his famous book, dethroning the sun from its central position in the solar system, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, was published. Much has flowed from the conclusions of Copernicus ‘ ‘revolutionary’ text, and not least the fact that science today regards our Sun as a nuclear fusion reactor, a minor star in a minor galaxy. If the people of ‘the land of the sun’s origin’ were to respond to their present calamity by leading the way in reorienting humanity’s technical culture to the living energies of the Sun,  they would be acting in harmony with their own cultural and spiritual mythos and out of darkness and suffering, could bring humanity great good fortune.


(1) HAARP: High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program  – an ionospheric research program jointly funded by the US Air Force, the US Navy, the University of Alaska and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Great_Eastern_Japan_Earthquake_Disaster#cite_ref-NYTimes-Chang2011-03-13_24-3. It also appears that there has been no significant increase in the frequency of major earthquakes worldwide over the past 100 years, only an increase in the reporting of earthquakes due to the greater number of seismological research stations: United States Geological Survey. http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eqarchives/year/eqstats.php

(3) Trithemius of Sponheim, A Treatise on the Seven Secondary Causes i.e. intelligences or Spirits who Move the Spheres according to God (1508), and Rudolf Steiner, The Archangel Michael – His Mission and Ours, Anthroposophic Press, 1994

(4) The Emperor Hirohito is here referred to in the Western fashion, because he is such a well-known figure in 20th century history, but  the Japanese name their Emperors after their periods of reign not their personal names, so in Japan, the Emperor Hirohito is never known by his personal, but by his reign name  – the Showa Emperor (Showa Tenno  – Showa period 1926-1989). The present Japanese monarch is known as Emperor Akihito in the West but is known in Japan by his reign name as the Heisei Emperor. This year 2011 is Heisei 23. Showa – Enlightened harmony; Heisei – achieving peace.

(5) The career of Ronald Reagan, the President from ‘the sunshine state’ of California, known for his ‘sunshine smile’, spanned the period 1945-1989.

(6) Japan paid US$11 billion toward the cost of the Gulf War (Hansard 20 March 1991)

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1991/mar/20/gulf-war-costs-japanese-contribution.  By contrast, the USA paid $9 billion.


(7) The northern half of Japan rests on an outcrop of the North America plate, while the southern half lies on the Eurasian plate. The Pacific plate presses against the North America plate from the West (this is what caused the March earthquake and tsunami) and the Philippines plate presses up from the south. A similar massive earthquake (M8.6) happened in the same place off the coast of north-eastern Japan in the year 869.

(8) Rudolf Steiner, Karmic Relationships Vol.5, lec.2; 30 March 1924 http://www.doyletics.com/arj/kr5rvw.htm

(9) Former Prime Ministers Yasuo Fukuda and Shinzo Abe, and more extreme politicians such as Taro Aso (when Foreign Minister) and current Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara (the latter most recently in March 2011) have all made statements hinting at or directly calling for Japanese nuclear weapons.

©Terry Boardman

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Last updated 9.7.2012