Japan has been hit by not one, not two, but three disasters.
First a devastating, magnitude-8.9 earthquake… Then a cataclysmic tsunami… Now nuclear plant explosions and the danger of radiation…
For days, the world has been watching this triple Japanese disaster live on TV. The heart-wrenching images are at the same time very thought-provoking and full of exemplary lessons.
Previously, again in Japan, many earthquakes (though not as strong as the current one) have occurred. So, they are used to earthquakes in general and recover relatively quickly.
In fact, last Friday’s earthquake, too – despite its magnitude – could’ve been dodged with relatively little loss of life and damage if the tsunami monster had not come and ruin the breakwaters and swallow entire settlements on the coast, drowning people in water and mud.
But this time, the disaster that has devastated Japan, causing the death of thousands and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless has proven how powerless technology can be against nature’s wild forces. The worse, by hitting nuclear plants in the country that were known to be reliable, this monster has added a new ring to a chain of disasters.
Within this tragedy, it is impossible not to admire the extraordinary calmness, silence, courage, and discipline of the Japanese. The emerging scenery makes one say, “I think nobody but the Japanese can act this way.”
Their way of behavior, indeed, emanates from the “Japanese character.” They are known as hardworking, disciplined, and calm people. But more importantly, the Japanese are not “individualist,” yet “collectivist.” That is to say, they are used to acting together. Therefore, Japanese people think about others as much as they think about themselves.
Several examples reflected in the media from the latest earthquake-tsunami disaster in Japan are really striking and amazing. In a flood region, victims were waiting for rescue boats in an orderly fashion and were getting on in the same orderly way. Because the cash register does not work after electricity is cut in a supermarket, customers put the goods they were buying back on the shelves again. Only 10 bottles of water remain in a store and there are three customers inside. But each grabs only one bottle and the seller doesn’t charge extra. In Tokyo and other cities, electricity cuts are regular. So, in order not to cause additional electric consumption the Japanese do not turn on lights or use electrical utensils if it unnecessary.
Mutual trust and solidarity reflect the most beautiful examples of citizenship and patriotism.
Owing to such social characteristics, the Japanese have managed to overcome many dire straits in the past and have reached a certain economic and social level. The current triple disaster, without doubt, will seriously shake Japan. The second biggest economy in the world until last year, Japan has already been facing economic stagnation. Now the Japanese have to fix the damage (estimated $160 billion) and regenerate depleting production. The Japanese government must also review and make new arrangements concerning the fate of new nuclear projects and of the 54 current nuclear plants that meet 30 percent of total energy need.
The Japanese say that they will recover shortly. Foreigners closely following Japan agree. The factor engendering such confidence is obvious: it’s the Japanese character…
*Sami Kohen is a columnist for daily Milliyet, in which this piece appeared Wednesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.