So it was over three weeks ago that the disaster took place, and it has largely fallen out of global news coverage, aside from concerns over contaminated food and hampered supply chains. Obviously the problems and sorrow of the disaster aren’t gone, but in many ways it is as if the shock value has worn off to the rest of the world, and now I see the domestic consequence and emotions.
Right from the start, there as been a lot of donations, and it really seems as if everyone is rallying to help out. The students in all the schools did various sorts of fundraisers and collected donations. This is pretty standard anywhere a disaster strikes, though aspects of the culture are showing out of all this as well.
Probably the best example of Japanese culture is the practice of 我慢 (gaman) that’s hardwired into the way people think and act. Stemming from Zen Buddhism, the word means patience and perseverance, but its application is linked especially to times of great trouble. The idea here is that people aim to maintain their composure, self-control, and discipline even in the worst of times. In this way, maturity is shown by not bringing to attention one’s own problems so as to not belittle the sufferings of others. While I guess this is how I would define the ethos, its actual effects are showing in a number of ways. The thousands and thousands that were displaced by both the tsunami and the nuclear troubles aren’t really complaining. They are just dealing with the situation, there is no trace of self pity, on the individual or national level. Also, looting was essentially nonexistent, as would be seen most anywhere else in the world. Anyway, I find it difficult to quantify the expression of this trait, but it certainly is different than America in the case of the Katrina and the Twin Towers fiascos.
On the domestic level, I’ve also noticed the expected change in news coverage that would be expected. While the events are mostly over, emerging now are the stories of the people. I can read enough of the TV subtitles to know whats going on over there. If you know the Japanese, then you would know that they love this sort of coverage, the small stories are the ones they love, and will certainly be filling TV for the next month. The whole time we were eating lunch, the TV was showing the story of some lady who found a wedding picture of her parents in the disaster zone. While touching, this sort of story wouldn’t have gotten 45 minutes of attention in America.
In many ways, it is interesting to be here at a time like this, though I actually wish I was a lot closer to the disaster area so as to more clearly see people experiencing these emotions and practicing such restraint.