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On behalf of the University of Sydney, please let me welcome you all to this international conference, on ‘Socio-legal norms in preventing and managing disasters in Japan: Asia-Pacific and interdisciplinary perspectives’, by acknowledging the many people and organizations that have made it possible. I thank especially our many speakers, session chairs and other participants here today – including Consul-General Kohara (who will soon add a few words to open the conference) and several others who will be joining us later (by Skype from Japan and the US, as well as the Federal Minister for Emergency Services and Adelaide University’s new Pro Vice-Chancellor (Int’l) Professor Kent Anderson, who will give closing speeches tomorrow).

I also gratefully acknowledge our main sponsor, the Japan Foundation Sydney, which last year requested applications for joint research events on this important topic; and the other participating institutions – the Law Faculty of Tohoku University (one of USydney’s longstanding partners in Japan) and various USydney-related organisations that have come together to provide matching funding: the Law School and its Centre for Asian and Pacific Law (CAPLUS), the Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL, centred on the Law Schools at USydney, ANU and Bond University), the new China Studies Centre, the Department of Japanese Studies, and the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Int’l).

May I also single out our fine administrative support staff: Dale Nouwens (Law School Events Coordinator) and Melanie Trezise (ANJeL Executive Coordinator). I truly appreciate their help, especially as I will need to step outside this conference occasionally over the next few days. As the relevant Associate Dean, I also need to keep an eye on the Orientation Program for new International Students in the Law School, which will be taking place in parallel in the lecture theatre across the corridor.

Our conference commemorates several events, especially recent large-scale disasters in the Asia-Pacific region. We remember with sympathy those affected by catastrophes that occurred in quick succession early last year: the ‘3-11’ disasters in Eastern Japan on 11 March, the massive earthquake in New Zealand on 22 February 2011, and Australia’s floods in Brisbane that peaked on 13 January (still very much in the news). But we also recall the victims of major disasters in China (especially the Sichuan earthquake of 2008), in South East Asia (the tsunami that hit Indonesia and other nations so badly the day after Christmas in 2004), in the USA (earlier severe earthquakes in California, as well as the world’s first major nuclear plant accident: Three Mile Island back in 1979), and in many other parts of our region. The Asia-Pacific is the world’s most natural disaster prone region, as noted by authors for the Australia Strategic Policy Institute in its Special Report Issue 43 (‘More than good deeds: Disaster risk management and Australian, Japanese and US Defence forces’, December 2011).

On a happier note, this conference also commemorates ANJeL’s 10th anniversary and international conference related to Japanese Law. As with many of ANJeL’s other research-oriented activities, we hope to publish proceedings in an edited book and/or journal special issue, to share our views and findings with policy-makers and other communities in Australia and internationally.

In both disaster prevention and relief, regulatory regimes play key roles. For example, as for product safety, compensation for accident victims can come from public authorities (through budget allocations, or claims brought against the state by victims), through private (especially) tort law remedies enforced primarily through the courts, or through market mechanisms (including insurance markets). In turn, such avenues for disaster relief create incentive effects on governments, the private sector and others considering disaster prevention activities.

This conference will suggest ways of developing more efficient and legitimate regimes through comparative and interdisciplinary research. We bring together specialists in developments within all the countries just mentioned but also many other parts of the world, including Europe (eg Weitzdoerfer, Reich), as well as broader regional and international developments (eg Triggs, Nasu). Their main areas of expertise range from Japanese or Asian Studies (Claremont, Anderson, Samadhi), media studies (Suter), health law and policy (Reich, Fletcher-Johnstone, Daigle), political science (Aldrich), sociology (Zhu), legal philosophy (Kabashima), law and economics (Morita), land law (Toomey), tax law and policy (Burch), insolvency law (Chun, Steele), the private/public law interface (Nottage, Weitzdorfer), Asian and comparative law (Bath, Butt, Wolff), through to international law (Nasu, Triggs). Many are involved in policy-making and/or have first-hand experience of large-scale disasters. Together, we also hope to provide original and engaging perspectives for the ‘epistemic community’ that has already built up the field of ‘disaster studies’.

In addition our conference will explore major themes such as those raised by the comparative and interdisciplinary analysis of ‘Toxic Politics’ (1991) written by Professor Michael Reich, who will introduce via Skype some further perspectives and evidence in the wake of Japan’s 3-11 ‘triple disasters’ last year. Reich explored when and how socio-economic issues can develop from ‘private’ into ‘public’ issues, then into ‘political’ issues. He also asks how we can best address key problems surrounding ‘care, compensation and clean-up’.

More broadly, our conference can consider whether such issues differ significantly in the field of artificial disasters (primarily ‘man-made’ disasters, such as the chemical disasters compared in Reich’s earlier study), compared to natural disasters (even though the Fukushima catastrophe reminds us that the boundaries between these two types of disasters may be increasingly blurred). Another likely discussion point is whether or attitudes and responses to various disasters vary extensively among countries and, if so, why.

Detailed biographical information on our session chairs and speakers can be found in your conference packs, along with other short papers and Powerpoint slides. But please allow me briefly now to introduce formally the Consul-General of Japan in Sydney, who will add a few more words to open this conference. Dr Masahiro Kohara was posted to Australia almost two years ago after a distinguished career in Japan’s foreign service, including a strong focus on Asia-Pacific affairs. I also note two other points of particular interest from Sydney Law School’s perspective. One is Dr Kohara’s doctorate in international relations from Ritsumeikan University, where each February we co-teach an innovative “Kyoto Seminar” LLB/JD/LLM program in Japanese Law involving Ritsumeikan Law School, Australian and other international students. The other is his kind and ongoing support of ANJeL, through membership of its Advisory Board. Please welcome Dr Kohara.

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Japanese Law in Asia-Pacific Socio-Economic Context