Current Risk Sense in Japanese Society


Senior Researcher, Fundamental Research Division

   Japanese people have never been so concerned with risks or crises as in 1995.
We did not or could not forecast the unprecedented disaster of the Great
Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, a series of atrocities for which Aum Shinrikyo was
suspected to be responsible, a sudden fluctuation of the exchange rate,
deregulations occuring in various fields, restructuring of many companies and
the accident at the nuclear power reactor 'Monju", in addition to the mood of
insecurity engendered by the collapse of existing social structures and bubble
   Although such disasters and accidents often happened before, the exceptional
nature of those cases themselves and enormity of casualties make us more sharply
aware of the need for coping with risks or crises. The betrayal of social
systems which we had so complacently relied upon to be able to cope with such
crises, has rendered our attitude toward crises into a three-dimensional vector.
One is a blaming attitude toward the administrative systems of the nation,
municipalities and enterprises. Another is a resigning attitude toward vein
human efforts to cope with crises. And the third is a self-protective or
self-securing attitude in the face of crises. It is a matter of course that
people organizations and individuals give the first priority to the third
attitude in the face of crises to survive hard times in which everthing changes
so rapidly and unpredictably. The method of Risk Management is thus dominating
public interest.
   There are several points to make Risk Management effective. The most
important and difficult one might be how to activate and maintain individuals'
consciousness and sensitivity to risk or danger. The reason why it is
'important' is that their levels determine the real anticipation of occurrences
and influences of crises, and the appropriate decision and behavior in case of
   The reason why it is 'difficult' consists in the inherent nature of human
begins and peculiarity to Japanese as a race. The former 'difficulty' lies in
that the human mind and body have two innate mechanisms to adapt to the
environment, and these mechanisms hinder the consistency of sensitivities to
risks. One mechanism is 'conservatism' or dislike to alterations. As a crisis
has not a calm but nervous and unbalanced situation, we tend to postpone
perception or action against dangers to the very limit. When a safe condition
lasts, we perceive it as a normal state, and become lax in precaution. The other
is skipping or cutting corners. As coping with a crisis or a danger takes much
energy, we are tempted to take easier and not tiresome ways, which often results
in underestimation of a hazard and may lead to an irreversible mishap. The
latter 'difficulty' is rooted in the Japanese climate of thinking or stereotype
values. The first is an inclination to seek salvation from others. This might
come from a kind of groupism based on the Japanese farming culture and
Confucianism promoted in the Edo period. Thus group benefit has priority over
individual one, thereby discouraging a personal sense of independence and
self-defense. The second is the fatalistic resignation. From ancient times,
Japanese people frequently sustained numerous disasters such as earthquakes,
typhoons, eruptions of volcanos and others. Those experiences solidified in
people the idea that mankind is never liberated from catastrophies as acts of
God. People became resigned to disasters and accidents, got accustomed to 'let
bygones be bygones', and got negligent of defenses.
   Then how can we, as organizations and individuals, deal with these
'difficulties'? First of all, it is a matter of educating people to have them
understand the above-stated tendencies. In addition to that, it would be
effective to repeat a round of reflecting on the past and working out new
measures, during which buds of danger are nipped and countermeasures for crises
are discussed, when a new system is adopted or personnel changes are done. The
methodological keys are not only in giving lectures, but in learning by personal
experiences through simulations of the state of affairs, and in discussing
freely in a small group to produce a safety norm. To realize this, it goes
without saying that it is very important to set up an expert department devoted
to Risk Management within the organization.
   Hereafter, defective manufactures or services offered by companies would be
blamed severely by the society under the law of Product Liability enacted last
year. Times call for Risk Management not only on disasters, but in daily
businesses. In this no exception will be made for R & D institutes. We have to 
introduce an idea and system of Risk Management into R & D processes and
accomplishment, with due regard to the 'difficulties' discussed above.