Testaments from JAPAN: One year later
Tsunami ravaged country reminds the world of the chivalry it lost when it got on the fast pace… The Meaning of Being Human
It’s been one year and a bit since the 9.0 undersea earthquake hit the shores of the Tōhoku region of Japan, which houses the prefectures of Yamagata, Miyagi, Akita, Aomori, Iwate and Fukushima. It was the earthquake that birthed the 40-meter high tsunami which decimated a good portion of Iwate, travelling as far as 10km inland in some areas. There haven’t been many earthquakes in recorded history that have been that heavy, and only four others have been known to be heavier. The region wasn’t the only one affected by it – the entire world was shifted on its axis by all of 4 inches (or 10cm)… but Japan bought the worst of it’s fury.
More than 15,000 dead, over 26,000 injured, and close to 3,200 people still missing one year later, the earthquake/tsunami brought about several nuclear accidents and explosions. According to a report from the Japanese National Police Agency, more than a million buildings were either totally lost, partially damages, or half-collapsed, not mentioning roads, railways, dams, and fire damage to property. Till date, millions of Japanese citizens and residents remain without water and electricity, and the World Bank estimates the damages have cost northwards of $200 billion (USD), with something close to that figure, if not more, to rebuild.
Simply put, the 2011 Tōhoku, Japan earthquake and tsunami is arguably the most expensive natural disaster in the history of the world.
But what was the reaction of the people?
Even while the evacuations were going on and some were still trying to find their loved ones in the rubble immediately after the disaster; even when others around the world were just waking up to the devastating news of cataclysmic tragedy on the other end of the world; while some were counting the cost and trying to assess the damage, those who lived right in the middle of it did something that was ominuously absent from a similar occurence only years before when New Orleans, Louisiana was struck by Hurricane Katrina, admittedly the costliest natural disaster in United States history and one of the deadliest storms to hit the country ever.
29th August 2005, Hurricane Katrina crashed into the Gulf Coast and brought a flooding that destroyed much of this and the coastal cities of Mississippi and Alabama, killing thereabouts 1,800, and bringing about damage in the regions of $100 billion.
A disaster is a disaster, and we don’t always understand them or know why they occur. Sometimes we ask questions and sometimes we are just plain blank. But it is the immediate aftermath that brings the contrast between those who thrive and those who merely survive; and it was the aftermath of these two grave Acts of God that reveals the true humanity in those who suffered them. In the United States, it is recorded that residents who remained in New Orleans shortly after the hurricane began looting stores, largely in search of food and water that were not available to them through any other means, but also in search of non-essential items, worsening an already grave situation. it was the carjackings and murders, the thefts and the rapes that flooded the news which made it obvious that many people were merely seizing the opportunity to… to be mean.
There are those who claim that it was all about the confusion, and that many of the reports were inaccurate, but after the National Guard, the US Coast Guard, and federal troops were brought in, arrests were made, and the then Governor of the State of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco is on record as stating: “They have M16s and are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and I expect they will,” while Bill Jefferson the Congressman spoke on ABC News of law and order being restored to the city over a two-week period during which “There was shooting going on” and “There was sniping going on.” Even with all of this, there was also more than a few reports of police brutality and misconduct, shooting, and also one fatal incident at Danziger Bridge.
In Japan, there was calm: there wasn’t a single person to be seen on the streets (or what was left of them), beating their chest or wild with grief; there was dignity: disciplined queues for water and groceries, no rough words or crude gestures; there was selfless grace: where people bought only what they needed for the present in stores so to ensure everyone else could get something; there was order: while folks abstained from lootings, wild honkings in the streets or overtakings on the roads and highways; there was tender compassion as restaurants cut prices and the strong cared for the weak, while an unguarded ATM was left alone; even the children knew what to do, and the old did not get in the way; and the media showed incredible restraint in bulletins, without ’silly’ reporters sensationalizing or overstating the obvious, or greedy politician cashing in on the ‘cheap mileage.’
Perhaps most stunning and commendable, when the power went off in a store, people put things back on the shelves and left quietly! Perhaps there are times and places in the United States where some of these mar occur, but on a national scale…? These highlights were reported on SKYNews shortly after the calamity took place, and they are true. Even now, one year after the event, Japanese citizens still continue to teach plenty of lessons to the world, like saying “thank you” to the world for support and contributions, sending help to other nations even while they don’t have enough to spend rebuilding their own, and many other such gestures.
A man reported once that “The Japanese people are amazing. In a mad dash to make my flight back to the states I left all my papers ( ID, passport, etc) in the cab that took me to the airport. When I got to the check in my whole life flashed in front of me..I had lost my ticket, passport etc. To make a long story short…the cab driver brought all my documents that I had left in his cab to the airport and had security page me. I never got to thank him. I would have been in deep dodo. I am forever grateful to him.“
Another lady said: “I had a friend show up late to the train to the airport. We took a cab and he risked losing his license and medallion to get us to the airport on time. Even politely asked some people in traffic to let us by so we could make the plane. Tokyo cab drivers are the bomb. We paid double the fare in thanks.“
These are not things one really can be taught – they are things that one is from the get-go. It is a culture, it is a tradition of the people. It is budo, the samurai way… or Bushidō, meaning “Way of the Warrior-Knight”. It is a culture of beliefs that defines a uniquely Japanese code of conduct and the samurai life; it is chivalry, a moral code that stresses frugality, loyalty, martial arts mastery, and honor unto death. it may have been born from Neo-Confucianism, but it has been influenced over time by Shinto and Buddhism, causng the violence of the martial arts to be tempered by prudent tranquility.
It is what most of the people of Japan are even in the present day and age, and it is what a good portion of the world is yet to learn. It is what the martial arts is meant to be – not just collections of techniques that are intended to hurt other people, but respect and honor, and how to treat each other either at the best or at the worst of times.
Simply stated, Japan – the country, the people, the culture, and the tradition – is the very meaning of being a human being.