One year after tragedy struck Japan, the Office of International Education revisited the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami through an academic lens. “Japan’s Earthquake: A Year in Review” offered an analysis of both seismological data and global economics in the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan's Tohoku region.

Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki introduced an interdisciplinary panel of speakers that included psychology professor Scott Allison, political science professor Vincent Wei-chang Wang, Robins School of Business dean Nancy Bagranoff, and Virginia Tech geophysics professor Martin Chapman.

Fujisaki, who has served as ambassador since 2008, opened the evening with an update on Japan’s current state, one year after the natural disaster.

“I'm often asked by American friends, ‘How’s the Japanese thinking after one year?’” Fujisaki said. “Some people think it's a long time ago, some people think it's yesterday. It's like in any democratic country — people have a variety of different views. I would not say nothing is resolved, but I wouldn't say everything is resolved either. It's a long-term process.”

Destruction of infrastructure was one of the biggest and most expensive effects of the earthquake and tsunami, Fujisaki said. The monetary damages from Hurricane Katrina are estimated to be about $5.5 billion, compared to $45 billion as a result of the tsunami alone — and $212 billion when combined with the earthquake. Damage to the nuclear reactors prolonged the disaster for days after the actual event.

“We have 54 reactors — that is the third most around the world,” Fujisaki said. “There are only two operating now.”

Bagranoff followed with a comprehensive background on the Japanese economy and industry, and how the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster — “the triple disaster” — have affected both. “In Japan, 30 percent of the energy portfolio was nuclear,” Bagranoff said. “It was supposed to be 50 percent in 2012.”

Meanwhile, the auto industry — the second largest industry in Japan — continues to suffer, not only because of destroyed factory infrastructure, but also because a strong yen means that exports are more expensive. Bagranoff also mentioned the damages suffered by the fishing industry, which will take anywhere from five to 10 years to rebuild.

But recovery isn’t impossible, although it comes with its own set of politics. Wang covered the impact of Japan’s energy security, the crisis of governance, and geopolitics on the nation’s recovery.

“Coal, oil and natural gas will have to replace their energy losses caused by the nuclear plants,” Wang said. “All of these are fossil fuels, which come with their own complexities, as they are mostly derived from the Middle East, and other areas with notable political instabilities.”

Wang also mentioned that the crisis has produced a profound public skepticism of Japan, noting that the public plays no role in the government’s energy policies, and that there needs to be a profound enhancement of the role of civil society in national debate.

Switching gears, Allison spoke about the human side of the disaster, highlighting the psychological aftermath and impact of this kind of event.

“Survivors had to cope with grief,” Allison says. “First responders often cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, because their rescue missions create a sense of helplessness and anxiety.”

The psychological effects of such a disaster could last for decades, and survivors of nuclear disasters are often viewed, or view themselves, as contaminated, which Allison said could lead to discrimination and low self-esteem. The good news, he said, is that there are new strategies and techniques used for coping with PTSD.

While overcoming the impact of the earthquake will continue for years to come, there was a hopeful note to Fujisaki’s opening address. More than anything, he said, he wanted to express gratitude to America and the American people for all their support and aid. “It will take time, so don't forget us,” Fujisaki said. “Please trade with us, please invest in us, please come to us.”