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Japan’s calm and communal attitude in the face of disaster

March 16, 2011 - 1 Comment

I have been deeply shocked and saddened by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami which struck the country last Friday. The Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has described the natural disaster as the country’s worst crisis since World War II and the photos and video footage which currently dominate global headlines support this statement: mass fires, towns and villages have been washed away, a leak in Japan’s quake-damaged Fukushima nuclear power is causing radiation emissions to rise to dangerous levels and the death toll continues to rise. Scenes from hell.

But in the face of this catastrophe, Japan appears calm and collective. Many of the photos depict juxtaposition between the natural disaster and Japan’s retained sense of propriety. An injured woman saved by a Japanese soldier bows to thank him; queues for water and fuel are single-file and there have been no reports of looting. In the words of Kathryn Blaze Carlson from the National Post, “Western journalists seeking emotional victims — sobbing with grief or flailing with anger at the government for this or that — have been hard-pressed.”

How does Japan have the strength and the integrity for this inspirational behaviour? It all boils down to Japanese culture which is centred on the powerful combination of individual responsibility and solidarity (source: Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology at the University of Kent). Prime Minister Naoto Kan has told his people to remain calm. “In the past we have overcome all kinds of hardship,” he said. “Each of you should accept the responsibility to overcome this crisis and try to create a new Japan.”

This cultural belief, which is heavily influenced by Buddhist culture and the ancient Shinto beliefs of their earliest people, has provided a source of comfort to Japan during their time in need. It is not to say that Japan is not traumatised and scared from this experience, but they have acted noble and dignified in their time of need. I think this is such an admirable thing and such a lesson in life for us all.

To read the full National Post article, click here

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  1. I agree. Most of the media photos I’ve seen have depicted an extremely calm population. I am hugely impressed.

    I really enjoyed this quote from Japanese resident @resaku:

    A separate blog post that may be of interest to you around the culture of disaster preparedness: