Japan shows dignity in the face of tragedy

Japan was recently hit with multiple terrible disasters. An earthquake registering 9.0 on the Richter scale triggered a devastating tsunami, which then severely damaged a series of nuclear reactors, most notably the Fukushima plant. Whole swaths of northern Japan are completely destroyed, thousands have been killed, while countless others have lost their homes and livelihoods.

One thing that has surprised many is the lack of looting in Japan. Not only have the Japanese remained respectful of private property in the face of this disaster, they have also shown a remarkable calm and stability.

Contrast this with Haiti, or even with Hurricane Katrina in the United States. In Haiti’s case, it took intervention from the international community to prevent a complete breakdown in social order. Military intervention was also required in New Orleans when the people of that city began to turn on one another.

Why has Japan remained so calm during this crisis? Even the threat of radiation poisoning has not caused the chaos, panic and widespread looting that could reasonably be expected elsewhere. Can any of us reasonably expect that the response to these terrible events would be so smooth and calm in our own part of the world?

Japan has a culture of national unity and respect for authority, and this culture has proven extremely beneficial in these dire times. Despite some anger towards the government of Japan for their response to the crisis — in particular, the handling of the nuclear emergency — the Japanese people have still followed the instructions of the government carefully and have assisted their fellow citizens in need.

Many Japanese stores have also voluntarily reduced their prices to ensure that those in need can have access to the products they need. Drink machine vendors have also opened up many of their machines and given away their items for free.

Japanese culture emphasizes humility and honour and these traits are being shown during this crisis. There seems to be a sense of unity that has brought the people of Japan closer together, rather than push them apart. It is also possible that experience with disaster in the past has helped them remain calm in the face of crisis; Japan has experienced terrible earthquakes before, and as we all know, Japan is the only nation to ever have nuclear arms used against them.

There are lessons for all of us to learn from the crisis in Japan and the Japanese peoples’ response to it. We can be grateful for what we have and recognize that we are blessed to be safe and secure in Canada. It is also important that we realize that while we may not be able to control everything that happens in our lives, we can control our response to it. There is no such thing as a “mob mentality,” and disasters do not give us an excuse to act in terrible ways. Each of us is an individual with the power to choose how we conduct ourselves. The people of Japan have shown us that even in the face of tragedy, our response can be courageous and dignified.

Spencer Fernando is the International Comment Coordinator for the Manitoban.