Thursday, Apr. 21, 2011

Katsunobu Sakurai

To be a Japanese politician is to spend your career exercising restraint. There's the somber suit, the gray demeanor, the vague words that defy position taking. But as radiation wafted from the earthquake- and tsunami-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant toward the city of Minami Soma, some 15 miles (25 km) away, Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai, 55, abandoned the usual politesse. In an 11-min. video posted on YouTube two weeks after the March 11 natural disaster, the leader lashed out at Japan's political and economic establishment, which had ignored his frantic calls and, as a result, left thousands of local residents stuck in a nuclear no-go zone.

"With the paltry information given by the government and [plant operator] TEPCO, we are left isolated ... and are being forced into starvation," Sakurai charged. "I beg you from my heart to help us."

His plea resonated across the world, leading many to ask how a country so celebrated for efficiency had failed its most vulnerable citizens. As Japan continues to struggle with its nuclear crisis, it is finally addressing the bureaucratic hubris that led to it as well.