National Solidarity of Food Insecurity: Food Practice and Nationalism in Post-3/11 Japan

Hiroko Takeda

The triple disaster in March 2011 triggered large-scale radioactive contamination in Japan’s prime area of agriculture production, resulting in the intensification of the sense of food risk among Japanese people. Simultaneously, agricultural production was highlighted as a medium for building a sense of solidarity with the devastated area - consuming food produced in the Tohoku region was portrayed as an act that provided the devastated region with the support it needed to move towards recovery. To promote this, the Japanese government implemented an official campaign to increase awareness among consumers of the harm posed by ‘reputation damage’ concerning radioactive contamination of food in a circumstance where the regulatory framework for managing radioactive food contamination itself was not yet consolidated and there was no conclusive scientific view about the impact of consuming food contaminated by radionuclides. On top of this, normative discourses calling for consumers to exercise ‘prudence’ were spread

H. Takeda (*)

Nagoya University, Nagoya, Japan e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017

A. Niehaus, T. Walravens (eds.), Feeding Japan, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-50553-4_18

through the mass media, and in this way, a national solidarity of food risk(s) was to be formed in post-3/11 Japan.

The overarching purpose of this chapter is to understand, firstly, whether such a solidarity of food risks was formed in post-3/11 Japan, and then, if so, even partially, how it operated politically and how individuals negotiated within it. To approach these questions, the first part of the chapter discusses the intricate relationship between the notion of risk and the sense of nationalism in the contemporary state governance system. The second part of the chapter goes on to examine the government campaign and elucidates the logic behind it. The third part of the chapter turns its attention to individuals’ manoeuvring, that is, their responses to the government campaign and the normative discourses that urged the building of this solidarity. By taking these steps, the chapter tries to identify in a concrete manner the politics of food risk in post-3/11 Japan.


In the 1978 lecture series entitled ‘Security, Territory and Population’ at the College de France, Michel Foucault illustrated how strong concerns over ‘food scarcity’ on the government side prompted the development of what he called ‘apparatuses of security’, the governing mechanisms of the modern state that ensure ‘security’ within its bounded territory through implementing ‘rational’ governing techniques.1 The scarcity of food was likely to stir up revolts in cities. To avoid such a situation, the French government of the mid-eighteenth century utilized knowledge of ‘political economy’ and attempted to ensure that a sufficient amount of grain was freely circulated among the national population. This entailed the expansion of the state’s managerial functions over the whole ‘history’ of grain — from seeding to commodity exchange in the market and shops - by connecting up fragmented societal elements and

Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 29-53.

different actors to enable a dynamic flow of grain to continue. In this sense, the apparatuses of security are ‘centrifugal’:

New elements are constantly being integrated: production, psychology, behaviour, the ways of doing things of producers, buyers, consumers, importers, and exporters, and the world market. Security therefore

involves organizing, or anyway allowing the development of ever-wider



The national and international political economy of food was, therefore, a system of securitization with which the national government stamped out risks of popular unrest and defended its legitimacy to rule within its bounded territory. Importantly, individuals were incorporated into this system of governing food security as homo economics, namely, a rational, independent and capable producer, trader, or consumer who autonomously acts according to liberal capitalist standards and principles to maximize personal economic gain. It is in this historical juncture where Foucault observed a prototype of the modern state system based on ‘governmentality’, Foucault’s neologism referring to a specific type of rationality of government that enables individuals to optimize their life potentials, while disciplining them according to liberal capitalist principles.

When the so-called Triple Disaster - a monumental earthquake that was followed by a massive tsunami which triggered a major nuclear meltdown - happened in Japan in March 2011, the then national government run by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) faced an urgent need to securitize food for its population. This task had been carried out in circumstances where the political system was overwhelmed by enormous damage caused by the Triple Disaster while many people remained in psychological shock - in other words, the Japanese state system was still caught in a state of crisis. The most severe damage from the Triple Disaster was inflicted on the north-eastern part of Honshu Island, generally called the Tohoku region, which is a major food

Ibid., 45.

production area in Japan. The earthquakes and tsunami on 11th March destroyed food production, processing, and distribution facilities and the direct economic damage to agriculture, forestry, and fishery industry in the region amounted to 242.68 billion yen.[1] In addition, the subsequent meltdown at the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant caused large- scale contamination of natural resources used for food production (air, soil, sea, and water) as well as food itself by radioactive materials. As a result, a significant number of people living in and outside of the devastated areas faced intense food insecurity in terms of both food supply and food safety on top of the destruction and losses brought about by the Triple Disaster.

Just like the French government in the eighteenth century, the Japanese national government was required to manage food insecurity in the aftermath of the Triple Disaster and in so doing defend its legitimacy. Simultaneously, the task to govern food insecurity in the Japan of 2011 differs from that in mid-eighteenth-century France in the following two senses: firstly, food insecurity in post-3/11 was not limited to the problem of food scarcity (i.e. insecurity over food supply), and insofar as concerns over food safety are involved, the system of food governance needs to be backed up by scientific knowledge. As discussed in detail below, the introduction of scientific knowledge into the food governance system tends to deepen uncertainty over food safety and hence further intensify the sense of risk and insecurity.[2] Secondly, the state governing system in the industrially advanced countries has undergone a series of institutional reforms influenced by neoliberal principles since the 1970s, through which the ‘apparatuses of security’ - once consolidated as the Keynesian welfare state system in those countries - have gradually been dismantled and reorganized.[3] Japan is no exception to this process, and neoliberal reforms have been carried out in a multitude of policy areas including the food regulatory system since the 1990s.[4] Accordingly, when the national government faced the challenge of post-3/11 food insecurity, it had to operate within the remits of a neoliberalized governing system of food. How then did the Japanese national government actually manage the task of governing post-3/11 food insecurity?

To consider this question, this chapter pays special attention to nationalistic discourses that advocated the importance of forming solidarity with the devastated area through the consumption of food produced in the region. The governmental ‘Eat and Support’ campaign (Tabete Oenshiyo), which encourages Japanese people to consume food produced in the devastated area and provide support for recovery, was initiated in April 2011 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) and has been functioning as a vehicle to spread those nationalistic discourses. Today, the campaign is conducted under the umbrella of ‘Food Action Nippon’ (FAN), a government-led national movement started in 2008 that aims at improving the level of food self-sufficiency through raising awareness of the issue. A detailed examination of the Eat and Support campaign helps us to understand the political functions of nationalistic discourses in the governance system in advanced liberal capitalist societies and in so doing further highlights the ungovernable nature of food insecurity in today’s political architecture in Japan.

The rest of this chapter is organized as follows: the next section discusses the complex and intricate relationship between the state governing system, notions of risk/insecurity and nationalism in the contemporary neoliberalized governance system. The third section briefly outlines the institutional reforms implemented in Japan in the area of the food regulatory system since the 1990s with a view to understanding the institutional condition at the time of the Triple Disaster. The fourth section then examines the governmental campaign to promote agricultural products from the devastated Tohoku region and considers its implications for Japan’s food governance system. The concluding section summarizes the discussion and further explores problems concerning the food governance system and nationalism in today’s Japan.

  • [1] MAFF, Shokuryd, ndgyd, no son hakusho, 5.
  • [2] Beck, Risk Society, 56.
  • [3] Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics; also see Blyth, Great Transformations; Jessop, The Future of theCapitalist State. Burchell and Rose provide good overviews of the ways in which the mode of theoperation of ‘governmentality’ changed in the advanced form of liberalism. See Burchell, ‘LiberalGovernment and Techniques of the Self; Rose, ‘Governing “Advanced” Liberal Democracies’.
  • [4] 1 have already discussed the neoliberal nature of institutional reforms since the 1990s in the areasof food regulation and family policy. See, for food regulation reform, Takeda, ‘The Governing ofFamily Meals’; ‘Securitizing Food in Japan’, and, for family policy reform, Takeda, ‘StructuralReform of the Family’; ‘Gender-Related Social Policy’. It is worth noting that the development of the Keynesian-type welfare state system in Japan wascountered by the ‘Oil Shocks’ in the 1970s. This resulted in the limited scope of Japan’s welfareprogrammes as demonstrated by persistency in terms of its relatively lower level of social spending,stronger familialism and a larger role assigned to corporate welfare provision than its counterpartsin international comparison. See Takekawa, Rentai to shdnin.
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