Monday, March 14, 2011

Aftermath: The Amazing Japanese Spirit

To be honest, even 2 days after the double disaster that hit Japan which scuppered our travel plans, I am still in shock over our narrow escape, and the fact that without God's impeccable timing, we would have been caught in the middle of one of the world's worst humanitarian crisis. In Singapore, the "worst" natural disaster we have ever had was a flooding of our main shopping street, at Orchard Road, which was deemed disastrous to a nation of shoppers and expensive car owners. Most of us have never experienced an earthquake in our lives, although some residents living on our island's reclaimed portion could occasionally feel tremors from neighboring Indonesia, such as during the great and devastating Aceh quake of 2004. Protected and sheltered as we are, it would be beyond our wildest imagination to cope with what has been unfolding before our very eyes on television: the horrifying quakes and the resulting fearsome tsunamis in Japan.

Crazy as it sounds, I feel guilty at having escape it all, and I have been spending much of the last 48 hours practically pasting my face next to the television screen, absorbing scene after scene of utter devastation to all those places we had originally planned to visit like Sendai, Matsushima, and Ibaraki. The Samurai tells me to stop, that it is adding on to my depression, that I am moping, but it has gone beyond just an upset holiday. I have been to the country THREE times which is more than any other country except for Malaysia and Thailand, and it boggles my mind to see complete towns pulverised. I feel that by standing by, I am somehow providing the Japanese people the mental support that they need, and I would wait out with them for some good news to come out of the country, especially in view of the ongoing nuclear crisis. Silly, I know, but this is how I cope.

However, in the face of all that horror, we are witnessing amazing scenes of Japanese solidarity, their civility and their unbeaten spirit as a people. Where chaos and a breakdown of law and order would occur in other parts of the world, we have seen how calm and stoic the Japanese are - there are ZERO reports of looting, people are queuing politely even for the most basic of necessities like food and petrol, willing to stand orderly in line for hours in the bitter winter cold. The survivors are helping their neighbours despite having lost everything. They will grin and bear whatever hardships that will come with the inevitable rebuilding, as pleaded by Prime Minister Naoto Kan. They had come through 2 atomic bombs during World War II to become one of the world's largest economies; they came through during the horrible 1995 Kobe earthquake (which I visited just over a year ago, almost completely rebuilt), and with that same fortitude they would once again come through this new unprecedented crisis.

"How did they do it?" I asked the Samurai. "Why can't people elsewhere in the world do the same thing?" "They have a highly developed civic society," explained the Samurai. But US and Europe are also supposed to rank similar in terms of civic consciousness and yet I can bet my bottom dollar that there will be cases of looters (just see the situation in the recent Christchurch earthquake). Samurai further explained that the Japanese prized the social unit much more significantly than the individual, and community spirit is incredibly strong. It is no longer a "survival of the fittest" but a "let's stand together so that we can overcome this crisis."

I don't think I can admire the Japanese people more than at this point. Of course they are not perfect, but there is so much we can learn from their spirit and resilience. Let's help Japan overcome this. If you want to help in your own small way, check out this website on what you can do.

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