Family system adjustment and adaptive reconstruction of social reality among the 1995 earthquake survivors[1]

 

Shigeo Tatsuki[2] and Haruo Hayashi[3]

 

International Journal of Japanese Sociology, 9, 2000, 81-110

 

Abstract

 

The 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake resulted in immense imbalances among and within natural ecosystems, the built environment, and human systems.  The current study examined the relationship among familial adjustment, adaptive construction of social reality, and recovery of built environment.  A random sample mail survey was conducted on 3,300 earthquake victims and 993 questionnaires were returned. The survey questionnaire included the following four scales that measured the family system adjustment on family cohesion and adaptability, the adaptive construction of new reality as evidenced by citizenship orientations, the current level of physical and psychological stress, and a subjective evaluation of life recovery.  The results were as follows: (1) Those families that exhibited high cohesion and a clear leadership structure in the emergency period were more functional than others.  (2) Those families that reported a balanced level of cohesion and adaptability during the recovery period were the most functional in promoting present individual recovery and in alleviating current stress.  (3) The rise of civic-mindedness was observed among those who survived the disaster.  (4) Those with high civic-mindedness tend to be better recovered with less current physical and psychological stress.  This paper presented a human ecological model that described the relationships among five components: (1) the earthquake hazard, (2) built environment conditions such as disruption of the lifeline and its recovery, (3) opportunity costs for engaging in exchanges with either basic-trust-based ties or social-trust-based ties, (4) the optimal family system adjustment to corresponding exchange relations, and (5) adaptive construction of new social reality.

 
Human Ecology Framework in Disaster Research

Experiences from the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake are reminders that everyday life depends on the smooth interaction of natural ecosystems, the built environment, and human systems: The extreme natural hazard of January 17, 1995 resulted in great imbalances among and within each of these three systems. 

 

University of Chicago philosopher, John Dewey was the first proponent of viewing disaster as a product of the interaction between society and natural hazards.  Dewey saw that the natural world could be hazardous with high risks of environmental peril in the forms of things like floods and earthquakes.  However, he did not see that human beings are powerless and simply subject to environmental problems.  Instead, he emphasized that genvironmental problems stimulate inquiry and action, which transform the environment, engendering further problems, inquiries, actions, and consequences in a potentially endless chainh (Dewey, 1938, p.28).

 

In his dissertation work at the University of Chicago, a geographer Gilbert White adopted Deweyfs human ecological conceptualization of disaster as well as his philosophy of the problem solving process.  White (1945) was convinced that hazard impacts could be reduced by means of individual and societal adjustment.  Human-ecology-based problem-solving strategies to disaster consist of five stage cyclical process: (1) hazard vulnerability assessment, (2) adjustment alternatives identification, (3) human perception and evaluation of hazard, (4) decision-making process analysis, and (5) adoption, implementation and evaluation of an adjustment method that was selected under social constraints (White and Haas, 1975).  This adjustment model to disaster has been influential among disaster researchers and management practitioners for over the past several decades in the United States (Mileti, 1999). 

 

Human ecology ideas also flourished among University of Chicago sociologists in the 1930fs through the 1950fs.  MacIver (1931) stressed the adaptive interaction between society and natural environment, in which the environment both affects and is affected by the life of human groups.  Sociologists of the Chicago School focused on economic, political, and cultural factors that determined the ways in which a society adapted to the natural environment.  In comparison with Whitefs disaster adjustment strategies which are rational, purposeful, and incidental with a short-time frame, Chicago sociologists paid attention to more long-term, more collective and less conscious valuation processes which operate in the societal adaptation to the natural environment (Burton, Kates, & White, 1978; Mileti, 1999).

 

Although the human ecology school in sociology had become inactive by the 1960fs, the integrative concept of person-in-environment interaction appealed to many social workers that faced professional identity crises during the 1960fs between individual change (i.e., casework) and more radical societal change (i.e., community work) orientations (Perlman, 19[1] 67). General Systems Theory seemed to solve this identity dichotomy in the 1970fs (Pincus & Minahan, 1973) but turned out to be too abstract and mechanistic.  The human ecology model was introduced in the 1980fs and it explained that social workers deal with human stress and coping that take place in a person-in-environment interaction interface.  The social work role was defined to promote adaptive coping in that interface through lessening stressors and empowering coping resources  (Germain & Gitterman, 1996).  With this framework in mind, the authors of this article were involved in a variety of relief and recovery assistance efforts including the creation and management of a volunteer center (Tatsuki, in press), debriefing group work for mothers of preschoolers (Tatsuki, 1997a, 1997b), and advocacy work on behalf of those in temporary housing (Hayashi, Maki, & Tatsuki, 1999).   

 

Adjustment and adaptation to disaster

Through these experiences, the authors of the present article became aware of two types of adaptive coping, adjustment and adaptation (Burton Kates, & White, 1978), in operation among individuals, families, small groups, and local communities.  Phase boundaries of adjustment behaviors have been already discussed elsewhere (Tanaka, Shigekawa, & Hayashi, 1999; Tatsuki & Hayashi, 1999a).  In this paper, adaptive coping is to be analyzed from two different aspects.  One is of a family system level adjustment and its impact on individual resiliency.  Family system adjustment was found to be incidental and complete in a short time frame; Families re-entered an everyday style of family functioning by six months after the earthquake event.   The other analysis is of a value system adaptation and its effects on social construction of civic-mindedness.  This paper argues that both healthy family system functioning and a heightened sense of civic-mindedness promoted adaptive coping in a post-disaster society.

 

Coping adjustment.  It is not until the late 1980fs that coping adjustment to disaster has been empirically and systematically studied by social and behavioral scientists.  Based on an extensive review on disaster and stress, Gibbs(1989) concluded that the degree of coping resources determine the prognosis of psychopathology among impacted victims.  A consensus now exists in traumatic stress research literature with regard to the importance of coping to disaster (Fairbank, Hansen, & Fitterling, 1991; Solomon, Mikulincer & Benbenishty, 1991; Becker & Kaplan, 1991; McCammon, Durham, Allison & Williamson, 1988; Green, Lindy & Grace, 1988; Baum, Fleming & Singer, 1983).  Using an integrative conceptual model of disaster and trauma, Vernberg, Greca, Silverman and Prinstein (1996) studied the impact of Hurricane Andrew upon stress reactions among children.  Four independent variables in their study were (1) exposure to traumatic events, (2) characteristics of the children, (3) social support, and (4) coping.  Among these four variables, coping was found to be the strongest alleviating variable against stress reactions.  With regard to the nature of coping, Solomon, Mikulincer, and Benbenishty (1989) reported those both emotional and problem-solving copings were the most significant preventative factors against the development of combat-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders among soldiers.  Based on a conceptual clustering of clinical concepts, Lahad and Cohen (1989) proposed a six dimensional framework to categorize intra- and inter-psychic coping resources.  Taking the first letter of each dimension, the model is named the BASIC-Ph model; Belief, Affect, Social, Imagination, Cognitive, and Physical.  This model provides one of the most comprehensive lists of individual coping resource categories.

 

Family system resources were also reported in clinical as well as in research literature to facilitate individual adjustment to disaster among adults (Figley, 1988) and children (Benedek, 1985; Pynoos, Goenjian, Tashjian, Karakashian, Manjikian, Manoukian, Steinberg, & Fairbanks, 1993; Vernberg et al., 1996).  Based on David H. Olsonfs Circumplex model of marital and family systems which will be discussed later in detail, Figley (1988) stressed the importance of family system resources, namely cohesion and adaptability, for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders and he outlined a five stage treatment model to families with Vietnam veterans.  The aforementioned Hurricane Andrew study with childrenfs traumatic responses also pointed out that preschoolers are prone to be affected by their parentsf stress symptoms (Vernberg et al., 1996).

 

Tatsuki (1997a, 1997b, 1999b) examined the impact of the Great Hanshin Earthquake on preschool children and their mothers, and the way the families coped with traumatic stress.  445 mothers of preschool children residing in the area heavily hit by the earthquake responded to a questionnaire approximately ten months after the 1995 earthquake.  The instruments included the DSM-IV based Childrenfs Stress Symptom Scale, a Japanese translation of the Impact of Event Scale for mothers, the BASIC-Ph scale to measure mothersf coping resources, the Circumplex Model-based Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scale at Kwansei Gakuin version 3, and the Post-Earthquake Daily Hardship Scale.  Structural equation modeling identified that (1) hardships caused by the earthquake damage were responsible for an increase in mothersf psychological stress and affective expression, which in turn caused a higher stress reaction among their children; (2) mothers reacted to the hardships by empowering internal and external coping resources of their own but those empowered resources were used solely to alleviate their childrenfs stress level; (3) an automatic jump in the family cohesion in response to disaster stressors was associated with resiliency in family adaptability; and (4) the mothers' own stress seemed to have been alleviated by both high cohesion and balanced adaptability (Tatsuki, 1999b).

The last point needs to be confirmed by further independent study.  Tatsukifs (1997a, 1997b, 1999b) findings are based on single shot survey results and did not capture a wider time frame of adjustment phases.  In order to examine how individuals and families adjusted to the disaster, this paper intends to examine a more complete process of familial adjustment that promoted individual stress alleviation and recovery. 

 

Societal adaptation.  In her report for the global assessment of the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji earthquake counter measures, Lynne Berry, then the executive director of the Charity Commission for England and Wales, pointed out the emergence of civic-mindedness as evidenced by a significant flowering of the volunteer movement in Kobe-Hanshin area over the five years after the earthquake (Berry, 2000).  She made the following four observations in her assessment: (1) The Non- Profit-Organization (NPO) sector was beginning to have the characteristics of a highly organized professional entity.  (2) After huge numbers of people were involved in disaster relief activities, many individuals and organizations have become committed to make volunteering activity and membership of NPO organizations a part of local culture.  (3) The local NPO sector has demonstrated its capacity to deal with divergent communities in the society.  (4) Young people have found a new vocation and a new purpose in NPOs and the voluntary sector.  Berry (2000) was convinced that this movement had reinforced the growth of a civil society in which non-governmental bodies and organizations play major roles in the society. 

 

Ideas of communitarian citizenship as evidenced in Kobe after the 1995 earthquake date back to Jean-Jacques Rousseaufs call for duties of civic-minded individuals:

 

In a country that is truly free, the citizens do everything with their own arms and nothing by means of money; so far from paying to be exempted from their duties, they would even pay for the privilege of fulfilling them themselves (Rousseau, 1762/1913, http://www.constitution.org/

jjr/socon_03.htm#015).

 

In his observation of the recent revival of citizenship as a theme in contemporary Western political thought, Burchell (1995) criticizes that those discussions on citizenship tend to ignore the question of what concrete attributes have been required of citizens, and how citizens have historically acquired the attributes to function as responsible civic-minded individuals.  In this regard, Kline (1994) emphasizes that a strongly participatory form of democracy, with a focus on producing and reproducing civic-mindedness, is equipped with such attributes as the capacity for independent judgment, self-discipline, initiative, sociability, and cooperative as well as collective action.  The more concrete attributes of responsible civic-minded individuals are found in the National Standard of Civics and Government for the United States. The American early elementary level education standard identifies the following personal and civic responsibilities (The Center for Civic Education, 1994):

 

Personal responsibilities, e.g., taking care of themselves, accepting responsibility for the consequences of their actions, taking advantage of the opportunity to be educated, supporting their families

 

Civic responsibilities, e.g., obeying the law, respecting the rights of others, being informed and attentive to the needs of their community, paying attention to how well their elected leaders are doing their jobs, communicating with their representatives in their school, local, state, and national governments, voting, paying taxes, serving on juries, serving in the armed forces

 

This paper assumes that the above-listed attributes of civic-mindedness can be measured empirically and that a heightened civic-mindedness can be evidenced among citizens in the earthquake-hit region.   The rise in civic-mindedness can be explained as a result of adaptive construction of new reality in the post-earthquake turmoil that emerged among social, built and natural environment interactions.  This will be one of the explanations as to how citizens have acquired the attributes to function as responsible civic-minded individuals.

 

Method

Subjects

A random sample mail survey was conducted on 3,300 earthquake victims who experienced severe life difficulties due to the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji earthquake. The sample consisted of two groups. One group consisted of those who stayed within Hyogo prefecture: 2,500 In-Hyogo residents were sampled from 250 randomly selected points with a seismic intensity of 7 and/or with a more than two month cut-off from the city gas supply. The other group consisted of those who left Hyogo prefecture: 800 Out-of-Hyogo residents were randomly selected from the subscribers' list for a Hyogo Government newsletter aimed at Out-of-Hyogo residing earthquake victims.  3,300 questionnaires were mailed at the beginning of March, 1999 and 993 (683 In-Hyogo and 313 Out-of-Hyogo) questionnaires were returned by the end of March and responses from 623 In-Hyogo (25.7%) and 292 Out-of-Hyogo residents (37.1%) were valid.


Instruments

Based on findings from preceding ethnographic research, the questionnaire was designed to inquire about life environment at the 10th, 100th, and 1000th hour as well as at the sixth month after the onset of the earthquake.  These time points were found to correspond with critical boundaries, which segmented phases of the disaster victims' behavior (Tanaka, Shigekawa, & Hayashi, 1999).  The survey questionnaire included the following four scales that measured (1) the family system adjustment on family cohesion and adaptability, (2) the adaptive construction of new reality as evidenced by citizenship orientations, (3) the current level of physical and psychological stress, and (4) a subjective evaluation of life recovery.

(1) Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scale at Kwansei Gakuin IV-16 (FACESKGW-16).
FACESKGIV-16 is a 16-item Thurstone scale, which measures the Circumplex modelfs two dimension, family adaptability and cohesion (Olson, Russell, & Sprenkle, 1979; Tatsuki, 1999a).  Family adaptability is defined as a family systemfs ability to change its power structure, role relations, and relationship rules in response to a situational and developmental stress.  Family cohesion is the emotional bonding that family members feel to each other.  Under normal circumstances, the Circumplex model assumes that a moderate level of family adaptability and cohesion is optimal; too much or too little adaptability or cohesion is considered to be dysfunctional.  However, families are known to become extreme on either dimension in order to adjust to crisis situations.  FACESKGIV-16 is a shorter and common item version of FACESKGIV (Tatsuki, 1999) [4] and was constructed from a preliminary house-visit pilot survey on 200 subjects (139 valid responses) that were drawn from 50 randomly selected points with the same seismic intensity as the current study (Kawata & Tatsuki, 1999).  

(2) The citizenship scale. The citizenship scale is a 20 question trichotomous instrument that measures self-governance and community solidarity.  This scale was specifically developed for the current study and is based on conceptual clustering of the preceding literature on civil society and civic-mindedness (Rousseau, 1762; Kline, 1994; Burchell, 1995; The Center for Civic Education, 1994).  Each dimension is bipolar.  The self-governance dimension contrasts valuation based on internal criterion (self-governance) with that based on external/societal criterion.  The community solidarity dimension contrasts cooperation (community solidarity) with non-cooperation.  For each of 25 items, respondents chose one of the bipolar options on either dimension or a neutral answer (gcannot decide eitherh).

(3) Physical and psychological stress scale.  Physical and psychological stress scale consists of 6 physical and 6 psychological stress items.  They were selected from a total of 111 stress symptom items that were parts of the 1995 Japan Red Cross Stress Study (Hayashi, Nishio, Sugawara, Monma, Kohno, Makishima, Numata, & Nemoto, 1996).  Factor analysis with a varimax rotation of these 12 items in the original Japan Red Cross Study data showed a clear two factor simplex structure with psychological stress on the first factor and physiological stress on the second. 

(4) Life recovery scale.  Life recovery scale is a 5-point Liker scale, asks subjective evaluations of life recovery and satisfaction.  Life recovery items ask about such areas as daily living, work, the meaning of life, social life, enjoyment, hope, and liveliness of everyday life.  Life satisfaction items inquire satisfaction in everyday life, health, human relationship, household finance, family life, and work.  

Results

Family System Adjustment to the post-earthquake turmoil

Overall trend. Figure 1 and 2 box-and-whisker plots illustrate overall trend of family cohesion and adaptability changes respectively, 100hours, 1,000 hours, and six months after the earthquake.  Box-and-whisker plot displays summarized information of distribution.  The top of the box shows the 75 percentile, the bottom the 25 percentile, and the middle bar indicates the median (50 percentile) scores.  A distance between 75 and 25 percentiles is called a mid-spread and any observation within a reach of 1.5 times mid-spread from top and bottom bars is considered to belong to the same distribution. Those observations that are distributed outside of the mid-spread range are considered to be outliers and are noted as g0h or g*h (Tukey, 1977).   

 

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With regard to the adjustment to the earthquake, a trace of median points of family cohesion scores indicates a sudden rise right after the earthquake and a gradual 1-point decline over the next two to six months period.  Meanwhile, that of family adaptability shows a sudden drop immediately after the earthquake and a 2-point recovery to a more balanced adaptability level after two months or 1,000 hours have passed. @Furthermore, whereas high variability characterized the adaptability scores 100 hours after the earthquake, the scores were distributed more densely around the balanced level at 1,000 hours and 6 months.  This suggests that emergency family system adjustments to the earthquake turmoil are characterized by closer family ties (high family cohesion) and by clear parental leadership (i.e., low family adaptability).   However, the majority of families did not stay at the same level and returned to a more balanced level over the two months (1,000 hours) to six months period: Respects for individuality and autonomy (i.e., lowered cohesion) and for more democratic leadership structure (i.e., more balanced adaptability) were recovered.

Family cohesion, current stress, and life recovery. Figure 3 shows distributions of current stress (the Y axis) by family cohesion levels (the X axis) by time (100 hours, 1,000 hours, and 6 months, respectively).  Levels of family cohesion range from gdisengagedh, through gseparatedh and gconnectedh, to genmeshedh.  Judging from median point trend, those who reported higher family cohesion levels (gconnectedh and genmeshedh) at the 100th hour tended to experience lower stress at present (left graph).  The similar trend on cohesion and stress continues to the 1,000th hour (center graph).  At the 6th month (right graph), however, a reversal of the trend appeared at an extremely high cohesion level (genmeshedh), suggesting that both extremely low (gdisengagedh) and high (genmeshedh) cohesion were associated with higher present stress, and that balanced levels of cohesion (gseparatedh and gconnectedh) were related to lower present stress. 

An analysis based on a 25-percentile trend (the bottom bar of boxes) yielded similar results.  This suggests that among those who reported the current stress level being lower (i.e., below median at each family cohesion level), linear relationships resulted between cohesion and stress (i.e., the higher cohesion, the lower current stress) at 100th and 1,000th hour points.  However, a shift from a linear to curvilinear trend occurred by the 6th month point and extremely high cohesion as well as extremely low cohesion became less functional by this time.  On the contrary, the 75-percentile trend analysis (the top bar of boxes) consistently showed a curvilinear trend between cohesion and current stress.  This means that among those who reported the current stress level being higher (i.e., above median at each cohesion level), balanced levels of family cohesion had continuously functioned to lower the current stress.  This conclusion was also supported by outlier analyses.  In the current data, outliers were all extremely high stress observations, suggesting that they may require clinical help.  The majority of extremely stressed outliers were observed at an genmeshedh cohesion level in each of the 100 hour, 1,000 hour and 6 month graphs.  This again implies that among those who reported the current stress being extremely high at possibly a clinical level, not only extremely low (gdisengagedh) but also extremely high (genmeshedh) cohesion was less functional and that balanced levels of cohesion (gseparatedh or gconnectedh) functioned to alleviate current stress.

Figure 4 shows distributions of current life recovery (the Y axis) by family cohesion levels (the X axis) by time (100 hours, 1,000 hours, and 6 months, respectively).  Median, 75-percentile, and 25-percentil points trend analyses resulted in generally similar findings as stress.  Among those who reported the current evaluation of life recovery being higher (above median), a linear trend was observed between family cohesion and life recovery at 100th hour point (left graph); the more cohesive the higher recovered.  However, unlike stress, a curvilinear trend emerged at as early as 1,000th hour and this trend was maintained at the 6-month point.  Outlier analyses of each time-point graphs also suggested that most of extremely low recovery scores were found among genmeshedh families.  On the other hand, mid-range family cohesion seemed to facilitate higher life recovery among the earthquake survivors.

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Family adaptability, stress and life recovery.  Figure 5 shows distributions of current stress (the Y axis) by family adaptability levels (the X axis) by time (100 hours, 1,000 hours, and 6 months, respectively).  Levels of family adaptability range from grigidh, through gstructuredh and gflexibleh, to gchaotich.  Median, 75-percentile and 25-percentile points trend analyses all showed that those who reported lower family adaptability levels (grigidh and gstructuredh) at the 100th hour tended to experience lower current stress (left graph).  At the 6-month point, however, rigid adaptability was no longer associated with lower stress.  Instead, flexible adaptability became the most optimal for lowering current stress (right graph).  This suggests that families adjusted to the earthquake turmoil by forming a clear leadership structure during the emergency period, but that the most adaptive family type 6 months after the earthquake was that which was more democratic in decision-making. 

Figure 6 shows distributions of current life recovery (the Y axis) by family adaptability levels (the X axis) by time (100 hours, 1,000 hours, and 6 months, respectively).  Both median and 75-percentile points trend analyses showed that the families with a clear leadership structure at the 100th hour but later increased the level of flexibility six months after the earthquake tended to be better adjusted and recovered than other families.

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Adaptive construction of new reality: A rise of civic-mindedness

Dimensions of citizenship scale. In order to identify basic dimensions of citizenship, 20-trichotomous questions were asked.  A correspondence analysis was conducted to responses to these questions.  The most dominant solution was a pattern of gcannot decide eitherh and the second and the third response patterns were used for further analyses.  Figure 7 scatter plot displays item weights for the second (horizontal axis) and the third (vertical axis) solutions.  The second solution differentiated community solidarity/cooperation (left) and un-cooperation (right) orientations.  Meanwhile, the third solution differentiated external/societal -criterion-based (top) and self-governance (bottom) valuations. 

Based on these two axes, items were clearly grouped into four quadrants.  The first quadrant or the top right corner was named self-centeredness, which was characterized by high un-cooperation and high external criterion-based valuation.  The self-centeredness items included such wordings as grespect my own rights before anything elseh, gblame someone else for misfortuneh, gconverse with friends at public speechh, and gdonft mind preferential treatment for my goodh. 

While self-centeredness depends on others in order to feel better off or one-up on others, narcissistic egoism (the bottom right quadrant) depends on nothing but onefs own value system.  Narcissistic egoism items included such wordings as gsometimes do not keep promiseh, gwouldnft follow a rule if I donft like ith, and gavoid any hardship if possibleh.   

The top left quadrant was named conformity/obedience, which was characterized by high community solidarity and high external/societal valuation.  Conformity/ Obedience items included such wordings as gdonft like to tell a lieh, gkeep my wordh, gfollow rules even if I donft like ith and ghardship is a challenge for the futureh.

In contrast to conformity/obedience, civic-mindedness at the bottom left quadrant was characterized by high self-governance as well as by high community solidarity.  Civic-mindedness items included such phrases as follows:

Self-governance

1.       Am not overjoyed with good luck

2.       I restrain myself from shameless acts

3.       I try to be calm if someone upsets me

4.       Balance is important when fulfilling desires

5.       I take care of myself

6.       I try to keep my word

Community Solidarity

1.       I collaborate with everyone to solve problems

2.       I respect other's rights

3.       I listen to public speeches quietly

4.       I don't do what I don't want to be done to me

5.       I initiate conversations with neighbors

6.       I take responsibility for consequences

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Reflection on pre- to post-earthquake changes in civic-mindedness.  Respondents were requested to evaluate their sense of citizenship before and after the earthquake.  Responses from the six self-governance and six community solidarity items listed above were added for each occasion and scores were obtained.  Figure 8 indicates that both self-governance (left graph) and community solidarity (right graph) scores increased from pre- to post-earthquake time.  It should be noted that although separate scores were obtained from each of the other three quadrants of self-centeredness, narcissistic egoism, and conformity/obedience, no apparent change was observed from pre- to post-earthquake times among these scores.  The adaptive nature of their changed worldview on citizenship was further elaborated in Figure 9, which shows that those who reported high civic-mindedness (a sum of the self-governance and community solidarity scores) at post-earthquake time tended to be better-recovered from the disaster (left graph) and less stressed (right graph) than those who reported low civic-mindedness.  These findings suggest that the earthquake disaster experiences caused among many survivors a change in their internal value system, that they constructed a new civic-minded worldview as a result of adaptation to a new environment, and that these changes in civic-mindedness were responsible for elevating both their subjective evaluation of life recovery and their coping with the current life stressors. 

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Discussion

 

Family system adjustment to natural disaster

Based on single shot survey results obtained from November to December of 1995, Tatsuki (1997a, 1997b) found that family systems were capable of supporting their family members by mobilizing coping resources.  Tatsuki (1999b) further elaborated the model in which mothers' emotional and physical stress reactions were accompanied by high cohesion and an increased adaptability imbalance.  Tatsuki (1999b) then further postulated error terms being negatively correlated between the cohesion and adaptability imbalance.  This new model showed a far better fit (e.g., GFI=.977, AGFI=.960, 2=51.71, df=32, p=0.0128, AIC=-12.29) than the previous model (GFI=.976, AGFI=.944, 2=62.66, df=24, p<0.0001, AIC=14.66).  This new model suggested that although the family adaptability imbalance increased as a response to stress, heightened cohesion simultaneously functioned to lessen the adaptability imbalance.  This implies that family systems were equipped with internal coping/adjustment processes.  The current study confirmed this process by demonstrating a rise in family cohesion at 100 hours followed by a recovery of family adaptability balance (i.e., a drop of adaptability score variance) from 1,000 hours.  The current paper provides not only clear results of how family systems immediately adjusted to life difficulties in order to alleviate members' stress but also a wide time frame for how family systems later re-adjusted to post-earthquake normalcy.

 

Immediate adjustment: High cohesion and clear leadership structure.  Family was one of the most immediate, reliable, and proximate social ties to save the lives of family members at the 1995 earthquake.  The following excerpt illustrates the nature of the close family tie that saved a life of a 14-year-old junior high school student, Kana Fujita (quoted from Kawata et. al., 1999, p.28):

 

cA deep heavy sound of the earth followed by the ground shaking.  It occurred in a moment.  In just a short moment, my house was tilted.  A chest of drawers fell onto my stomach but my father jumped over my body in order to save me.  I was lucky that day.  Due to my broken arm, my father was sleeping beside me so that he could hold my arm while I slept.  That was why my father was able to jump over me so quickly and catch the falling chest on his back.  At that time, I was very happy.  I felt how wonderful my family was.

 

The Kobe experience is not the first time in history for family to play such an important role in survival.  Family ties were one of the most critical factors that determined life and death among the 87 people who came to be known as the "Donner party" that were stranded by heavy snow on an untested wagon route to California in the winter of 1846 (Burns, 1997).  By the time they were all rescued, forty members died in the Nevada Mountains.  The dead were characterized by smaller kin group size whereas those who survived were characterized by greater kin group size.  Among 25 individuals between 20 and 39 years old, the survivors had on average 6.8 companion family members, whereas the dead had only an average of 2.3 family members.  In this historical disaster, it appears that family ties also played a major role in survivorship (Grayson, 1990). 

 

The current study shed light on the similar immediate family adjustment process in face of life threatening events by means of a quantitative sampling survey method.  During the turmoil immediately after the earthquake hazard, family cohesion increased among many families.  This seemed to have facilitated the empowerment and mutual exchanges of personal as well as interpersonal coping resources within a family system.  At the same time, adaptability or flexibility in power relation was lowered.  This helped many families to exhibit a clearer leadership structure that was needed in order to solve life threatening emergency problems.  Those families that were capable of increasing cohesion and lowering adaptability turned out to be more functional in lessening the respondents' current stress and promoting a sense of life recovery at present.  In contrast, those families that were disengaged during the first few days after the earthquake could not increase exchanges of coping resources within family system and thus failed to support family members.  Similarly, those families who did not form a clear leadership structure during this period could not respond to life threatening events as promptly as high leadership families.  Those families that were judged to be too low on cohesion and/or too high on adaptability dimensions immediately after the earthquake turned out to be less functional.

 

Reentry to post-earthquake normalcy: Recovery of a cohesion and adaptability balance.  Unlike the severe winter storm that forced the Donner party into an encampment in a deserted mountain range from October of 1846 to April of 1847, the Kobe earthquake lasted less than thirty seconds.  In order to examine how individuals and families adjusted to the disaster, the current paper attempted to examine a more complete process of family system coping that promoted individual stress alleviation and recovery:  The process began with immediate familial adjustment and was completed with re-adjustment to post-disaster normalcy.

 

The current study showed that a turning point appeared around two months (1,000th hours) after the earthquake and families started to shift preferred level of closeness and leadership style.  By six months after the earthquake, many families had returned to a more moderate family functioning style on both cohesion and adaptability dimensions.  Those families that still continued to show too high cohesion or too extreme adaptability were found to be less functioning in alleviating family members' stress and in promoting a sense of life recovery.  Those once well functioning families turned out to be as problematic as the other extreme types of families on the two dimensions. 

 

Women's Center Hyogo recorded the monthly breakdowns of counseling caseloads from January 1995 to March 1996 (see Figure 10).  Apart from legal issues that arose due to house demolition and subsequent boundary problems with adjacent neighbors, personal feelings of "not being able to foresee the future" and "not being able to control ones own environment" were commonly expressed in counseling services for any of "life", "mind and body" or "work" problem categories during the first two months.  In March of 1995 or about two months after the earthquake, however, the number of "human relationship" category caseloads exceeded that of "mind and body."  "Human relationship" became the top problem category from July 1995 and has continued to be the most frequently serviced problem at the Center.  A majority of "human relationship" problems were reported to be marital.  Center counselors also stated that they became aware of common marital complaints among wives who were forced to dwell with in-laws after March of 1995 (Women's Center Hyogo, 1997). 

 

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Adaptive reconstruction of social reality: Emergence of civic-mindedness

The earthquake experience revealed to many people the importance of self-responsibility and social ties with others.  Kaoru Kamei who was buried under the debris of her house in Nagata word, recalled her experience after she was rescued by her neighbors:

 

Police cars were running around in the neighborhood but were no help.  I approached one patrol car and reported "There are still people buried under the collapsed houses in Yon-bancho-Ichi-chome area.  Please come and help!"  In response, a police officer replied  "We have requested support from the JSDF" and that was all.  There was no other way but for neighbors to rescue those who were buried.  Although I have never greeted or mingled with those who lived in a high-rise apartment in front of my house before, the residents from that building came in a group and rescued many people in our neighborhood.  I really want to thank them (Kamei, 2000).

 

A 66 years old housewife, Mariko Minami also learned a lesson from this earthquake.  She says:

 

In face of the major natural disaster that we experienced, I learned that human beings are powerless.  No status, honor, or fortune can help.  The only important thing that I learned is that I want to be a compassionate person who can feel others' pain.  I want to be a person who can share even one half of anything.  I want to be a person with an altruistic heart.  That heart gives people a great courage to stand up again (Minami, 2000).

 

A pre- to post-earthquake rise in the sense of civic-mindedness among Kobe citizens was further confirmed by regional and national attitude surveys.  A Kobe city attitude survey was conducted in September 1999 and the Jiji press asked the same items in the national opinion survey in December of 1999.  For the Kobe city survey, 10,000 questionnaires were mailed to randomly selected residents and 5,587 questionnaires were returned (55.9 %).  This survey was part of an assessment project on the city's policies and programs aimed for life recovery of the earthquake victims.  One of the current authors of this paper designed twelve items that asked about changes in respondents' views regarding self-governance and community solidarity (items are listed at the bottom of Figure 11).  Six items (three obverse and three reverse keys) were on the self-governance dimension and the other six items (three obverse and three reverse keys) were on the community solidarity dimension.  Meanwhile, the Jiji press agreed to include the same twelve items in their national opinion survey.  Researchers visited 2,000 adult males and females at their homes nationwide and 1,357 people (67.9 %) responded to the researchers' questions.  Figure 9 compares responses from the two surveys.  Focusing on obverse key items, Kobe residents were found to exhibit 10 to 20 % higher rate of civic-mindedness than the national sample.  The current paper's findings about the rise of civic-mindedness were thus triangulated with these two more recent survey results.

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Insert Figure 11 here

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Tatsuki (1997, 1998, in press) reflected that the earthquake literally changed the way people constructed the reality of the society.  Prior to the earthquake, it was taken for granted that a statutory body would respond to public needs, and that people would concentrate almost all of their energy for private profit making (see Figure 12).  The earthquake literally shook up this reality.  The government also became a victim and its public serving functions were paralyzed for about three months.  In this context, people learned how hard it was to survive as individuals, unconnected to other people.  People then learned that they themselves, not city officials, could respond to public needs and that people could serve the public interest. 

 

Reuben Nelson, a Canadian futurologist, in his keynote speech at the 1998 International Association for Volunteer Efforts Conference, mentioned that certain conditions allow volunteerism to grow.  He mentioned the recognition of a person as an individual and open psychological space.  The 19th century American western frontier is a good example of open space where a sense of individuality exceeds the values of tradition, authority and regulations.  At the same time, the harsh environment of the frontier made individuals become inter-dependent.  Tatsuki (1997, 1998, in press) claimed that three months after the earthquake were days of lawlessness.  Instead, the people became the law.  People were able to and needed to govern their own communities:  The earthquake-hit region suddenly became a new urban frontier where a sense of volunteerism and civic-mindedness became a new reality. 

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Insert Figure 12 and Figure 13 about here

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The structure of the new reality about the society is illustrated in Figure 13.  On the top is the statutory or the government body.  On the bottom, is the non-governmental or voluntary body.  From right to left are public and private interests.  The emergence of the statutory-voluntary and public-private axes properly located civic-mindedness in relationship to other sectors in the society. For example, the top right quadrant of Figure 13 is where the government responds to public needs by collecting tax and spending it for public interests.  Going counter clock wise, the top left is where the government takes care of private interests by providing social security and a social welfare net.  The bottom left is where market behavior takes place.  It deals with private interests by the non-governmental business sector.  Finally, the bottom right corner is where volunteerism, non-governmental, non-profit organization activities, and philanthropy take place.  Public needs are responded to by the non-governmental voluntary sector in this domain.  That is the people-based creation of public interests, the domain where civic-mindedness plays a major role.  This bottom right corner had been a blind spot for many Japanese people until the Kobe earthquake (Tatsuki, 1997, 1998, in press). 

 

Familial adjustment and adaptive reconstruction of reality:  Trust as a linking agent

According to Yamagishi (1998), societal conditions determine whether one seeks high commitment relationships with people within an inner social sphere or one seeks to form exchange relationships with outsiders.  In a high contingency situation with low opportunity costs, it is more adaptable to exchange resources within a high commitment social group.  Immediately after the earthquake, people were cut off from public services and left by themselves.  There was little alternative to obtain the necessary coping resources.  In this situation, a high commitment to close family ties enabled mutual support and quick emergency responses.  After all, the familial relationship is a primal source of basic trust for safety and security (Erikson, 1950).  In other words, opportunity costs for forming close family ties with a clear leadership structure were low during this emergency period. 

As soon as two and not later than six months after the earthquake, the basic lifeline was recovered in the Kobe-Hanshin area.  At this time, the opportunity costs for maintaining close family ties became too high for the following three reasons.  Firstly, keeping high cohesion for a prolonged time period is stressful as predicted by the Circumplex Model of family systems (Tatsuki, 1999a) and as evidenced by both the current study and by the Women's Center Hyogo counseling service record.  Secondly, thanks to the recovered basic infrastructure, it became easier to obtain necessary resources from outside of the family relationship.  Finally, the rise of civic-mindedness, or the sense of self-governance and community solidarity orientations, also created a new social environment that made people feel safer about initiating exchange relationships with those who resided outside of their immediate social sphere.  Societal adaptation to the earthquake disaster galvanized affordance (Gibson, 1950; Neisser, 1967) to exploring resources beyond close ties in person-situation interactions.  This may provide insights as to why those who reported a balanced level of cohesion and adaptability as well as a higher level of civic-mindedness in the post-emergency period enjoyed a higher sense of recovery from the earthquake and lower current physical and psychological stress.

 

Conclusion

The 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake resulted in immense imbalances among and within natural ecosystems, the built environment, and human systems.  The current study found some aspects of human adjustment and adaptation to the natural disaster.  During the emergency period, primal coping resources resided within the family system and prompt responses to the outside world were essential.  Theoretically, the most optimal type of family system during this time is high cohesion and low adaptability.  The current study verified that this is indeed the case:  Those families that exhibited high cohesion and a clear leadership structure were more functional than others.  As soon as there was recovery from the physical damage caused to the basic lifeline and other built structures, however, more resources became available through social exchanges with the outside world.  Furthermore, maintaining highly cohesive and highly rigid power relationships for a prolonged time within the family system was known to become stressful.  At the same time, an adaptive transformation occurred among many survivors about their worldviews of society and individuals.  The rise of civic-mindedness created a new social atmosphere that lowered fears and increased social trust among people and enabled them to reach outside of close social ties in order to engage in exchange relationships with strangers in the larger society.  The current study confirmed this model and found that in the recovery period those families most capable of utilizing both basic trust as well as social trust, i.e., families with a balanced level of cohesion and adaptability, were the most functional in promoting present individual recovery and in alleviating current stress.


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[1] The study in this paper is a part of Japan-U.S. cooperative research in urban earthquake disaster mitigation sponsored by Monbusho and the National Science Foundation.  The Hyogo Earthquake Disaster Memorial Association also jointly supported the study.  This paper was originally entitled gDeterminants of the changes of residence and life reconstruction among the 1995 Kobe earthquake victimsh and was first presented at the 24th Natural Hazard Workshop, Boulder, Colorado, July 12, 1999.

[2] School of Sociology, Kwansei Gakuin University, 1 Uegahara, Nishinomiya, Japan.

[3] Disaster Prevention Research Institute, Kyoto University, Uji, Kyoto, Japan

[4] Several versions of FACESKGIV are available at http://www-soc.kwansei.ac.jp/tatsuki/FACESKG/FACESindex.html


 [1]Is casework dead?