Great East Japan Earthquake Six Years On
What Japan Gained
Foreigners Respected Japanese Coolness and Strength under Stress
【ニッポンの新常識】Common Knowledge Revisited 107
March 11th marked the 6th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and corresponding tsunami. I take this opportunity to once again express my condolences to the victims of the earthquake and tsunami and their families. I sincerely hope that those who are still displaced will soon be able to return to their normal life.
The Great East Japan Earthquake was an opportunity for the rest of the world to once again focus their attention on Japan. While the world was shocked at the video images of the tsunami, the world was just as surprised that almost no panic, riots, plunder, or looting occurred.
Following the earthquake [which occurred in the afternoon on a work day], all public transportation [from Kanto (Tokyo) northward on the island of Honshu] came to an abrupt halt [including not only the trains, subways, and monorail systems, but also all the expressways, many roads and bridges, and even the Sendai Airport, which was swept out to sea]. In Tokyo, the people waiting for trains to start running again calmly sat on stairways at the stations, being careful to leave a passageway for people who wanted to get through. A huge wave of people returning to their homes on foot proceeded in a comparatively orderly fashion. Stores and restaurants along the main thoroughfares provided rest areas and restrooms without charge. [I, myself, was caught in Gunma Prefecture (about 100 miles from Tokyo) and drove home mainly through rice paddies and residential neighborhoods which were pitch black from the power outages, taking about 10 hours to cover what should have taken only an hour and a half normally.]
Friends and relatives who lost their homes and workplaces maintained order in the various evacuation centers, looking out for the welfare of those around them. Almost no one crowded into the long lines for food and water or otherwise acted selfishly.
While covering the disaster, a female report from ABC News in the U.S. was given some rice crackers by a survivor and was left virtually speechless, repeatedly commenting “You are the one who needs food.” The national character whereby Japanese people constantly take into account the condition of those around them brought not sympathy, but deep emotions of respect.
People around the world realized that if a disaster of similar proportions were to occur in their own country, their countrymen would not “act like the Japanese.” Many people were in fact shocked at the calmness and strength of the Japanese people, and gained a sense of respect bordering on admiration. The respect of foreigners is in and of itself an important national interest of Japan.
On the other hand and unfortunately, it is impossible to say that the administration of then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan (Democratic Party of Japan) had any kind of impressive crisis management skills, and many foreigners, myself included, were deeply troubled about the way the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster was handled. [Not trusting the government,] a number of foreign companies pooled their funds and hired independent consultants to advise on how they should proceed in light of the nuclear accident.
Since it was just once week before the regular Spring break, many foreign companies and embassies advised their foreign citizens to return to their home countries. As a result, the market for foreigner housing in Tokyo took a steep plunge, with average rents dropping by about half, something which my son was later able to take advantage of.
Those of us who remained in Tokyo ridiculed those who took flight as “Fly-jin” [a play on words for the term gaijin,” which means “foreigners”].
There are people in Okinawa [the violent anti-U.S. military base agitators, a large portion of whom are indeed not Okinawan] who have not a trace of concern about other people such as what was exhibited by the Japanese people during the earthquake disaster. They unlawfully stop the cars of U.S. military personnel or their families and while pounding on the vehicles shout hate speech such as “Yankee, Die!” There is no doubt that allowing such activities to continue is not in the national interest of Japan.