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Catastrophic events are increasingly in the public eye, fuelling a burgeoning but complex field of interdisciplinary research and policy-making worldwide. Recent devastating natural disasters have included the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in the United States (US) in 2005, Cyclone Nargis in Burma (Myanmar) and the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008. Developed economies have not been spared, as shown by the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand and Australia’s widespread floods in Queensland in 2011. In particular, the disasters that wreaked havoc from 11 March 2011 in the north-east region of Japan have highlighted the significance and challenges of disaster prevention and management.

Based on the international conference held at Sydney Law School in March 2012, which has also generated a recent mini-issue (No 34) of the Journal of Japanese Law, A/Prof Simon Butt, Dr Hitoshi Nasu and I have co-edited "Asia-Pacific Disaster Management: Comparative and Socio-Legal Perspectives" (Springer, forthcoming November 2013). A manuscript version of our extensive introductory chapter, freely downloadable here, outlines:

(i) what can be encompassed by the terms "disasters" and "disaster management";

(ii) contributions to "disaster studies" from various social sciences as well as domestic and international law perspectives; and

(iii) lessons that can be learned from socio-legal perspectives on recent catastrophes in Asia-Pacific countries, including possibilities for regional and international cooperation in disaster mitigation, relief and recovery.

The paper introduces and sets in context the remaining chapters, comparing socio-legal issues arising especially from Asia-Pacific disasters :

• A Public Health Perspective on Reconstructing Post-Disaster Japan (Michael Reich) Disaster in Japan: A Case Study (Yasuko Claremont)

• Government Liability for Regulatory Failure in the Fukushima Disaster: An Australian Comparison (Joel Rheuben)

• Liability for Nuclear Damages under Japanese Law: Key Legal Problems Arising from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident (Julius Weitzdörfer)

• Managing Future Disasters: Japan’s Energy Security and Nanotechnology Regulation (Hitoshi Nasu)

• The March 2011 Tohoku Disaster in Japanese Science Fiction (Rebecca Suter)

• BRR Aceh-Nias: Post-disaster Reconstruction Governance (Tjokorda Nirarta Samadhi)

• Disaster Management Law in Indonesia: From Response to Preparedness? (Simon Butt)

• The Legal System in China and the Handling of Accidents and Disasters (Vivienne Bath)

• The Slow Road to Recovery: A City Rebuilds under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 (Elizabeth Toomey)

• Human Rights and Dignity: Lessons from the Canterbury Rebuild and Recovery Effort (Michael White and Andrew Grieve)

• Tax Policy and Chaos: War, Disaster, and the Role of the Tax System (Micah Burch)

• International Nuclear Law: Nuclear Safety, Emergency Response and Nuclear Liability (Helen Cook)

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Japanese Law in Asia-Pacific Socio-Economic Context