Tensions Between Tradition and Innovation in Disaster Risk Reduction, Climate Action, and Reconstruction: Reflecting on Tohoku’s Recovery Twelve Years Later

Organizer(s) Information and Research for Reconstruction International Research Institute of Disaster Science, Tohoku University Kobe University

The International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IRIDeS), Tohoku University



Disasters are tangible proof that something needs to change in cities and the built environment. But the aftermath of a disaster is also a time to reflect on tradition, history, identity, memory, and cultural meaning. Disaster victims often feel a sense of loss in the face of destruction to their urban spaces and landmarks, and disruptions to their rituals, livelihoods, and traditions. Meanwhile, global warming and the rampant destruction of ecosystems is forcing us to consider changes in our individual and collective behaviors. Change is needed to avoid additional destruction and reduce vulnerabilities. Some traditional means of production and construction, lost under the pressure of current economic systems, must be recovered if these goals are to be reached.

Disasters and climate risks therefore provide an ideal opportunity to examine change. Innovation is needed to avoid replicating the social and environmental injustices that lead to destruction and losses. But some traditions, and consideration for people’s attachment to community, territories, and their history, are also crucial to reducing vulnerabilities.

The 2023 i-Rec conference will reflect on the value and risks associated with disruptive transformation. Japan, an industrialized country with strong cultural values and placed in a disaster-prone area, is an ideal place to reflect on both innovation and tradition in the face of risk and climate change. In this conference, we will collectively analyze the type of change that was produced by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011 and the reconstruction process that followed. Besides conference presentations, there will be visits of the affected areas, workshops, and on-site discussions with reconstruction stakeholders.

Themes and questions

  • Innovation and traditions after disasters.
  • Change in the face of global warming.
  • Risks associated with radical transformation.
  • The role of cultural meaning, identity, rituals, and traditions in disaster risk reduction and reconstruction.
  • The advantages and disadvantages of industrialization and innovation in reconstruction.
  • Success, challenges, and setbacks during the Tohoku reconstruction process.

What must change to reduce vulnerabilities and reduce risk? What must remain?

What is the role of innovation after disasters and in climate change action?

Why is it important to consider traditions, identity, and rituals when proposing responses to radical change? How can they be preserved?


Abstract Deadline:                   January 30, 2023
Acceptance Decision:              March 30, 2023
Paper submission deadline:    May 1, 2023

Send a 300-word abstract to: Prof. Liz Maly

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