I’ll probably be dating myself by using this reference, but I remember a song…one of the early punk songs I guess you’d call it, by The Vapors, called “Turning Japanese”. I couldn’t tell you what it was about, but I think it centered more around the rhythm of those two words than anything else.
In the wake of the horrific earthquake, then tsunami, that has rocked Japan, it has become more than a song title for me. I’m even considering making it a goal. Not to physically become Japanese, but simply to become more like them, I guess.
We have all seen the graphic footage of what occurred there, and there is some heartbreaking video. Think also about all the scenes of devastating loss that were not captured on film. I read an account, just days after the event, of a woman describing being washed away, and how she “felt her daughter’s hand slip away” from her, how she could not hold onto her any longer, and her daughter…age five, was swept away. The reporter described how the woman folded into agony just after the statement, as though hearing herself say it, probably for the first time, somehow made it real for her. I simply can’t imagine it.
We tend, also, to dismiss loss of property as being subjective as long as the property owners survived. There is certainly truth to that, but I would not be so quick to diminish the emotional devastation of watching your home be swept away in current, break apart, and vanish in front of your eyes. Swallowed up. During one particular piece of video, you can hear the residents, watching from a nearby hill, wailing, crying and screaming in horror as they literally watch their town disappear in front of them.
Think, for a moment, about your home. Where you have raised your children, perhaps, and shared holidays. Your sanctuary from the wind of the world, where you read your children to sleep when they were young. Photographs, belongings, favorite things…all gone in seconds. I wonder if, after witnessing that, one feels at all blessed to have survived the event physically.
What struck me most, and a lot of others too, is the demeanor and discipline with which these people handled themselves in the wake. Every news organization and radio talk show has covered it, but it took us all only hours to notice it. No looting, no stealing, no hoards of people leaving with widescreens and furniture. Grocery stores that were without power were left untouched. One woman offered a prominent journalist a handful of rice. The journalist was taken back, telling the woman that they needed it more than she did. Imagine?
When asked about the stellar behavior, the woman replied that if anyone were to steal in this situation, or any other for that matter, they would be looked upon “with shame” by their neighbors and community. If only that were enough to keep Americans on the straight and narrow. One can’t ignore the glaring difference in, say…the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan. Frankly, it should be cause for many Americans to take pause, and a long look in the mirror.
It would be unfair to call it a “silver lining”, but it wouldn’t hurt us to consider the monstrous difference here. I understand Japan is a much more singular culture, they don’t have the vast diversity in culture that we have here. But is that reason enough to explain the difference? Is it reason to pass it off as an anomaly? There was a time in this country, I’m thinking at least more than 50 years ago, when most Americans would have behaved the same way the Japanese are now, and for largely the same reason.
Whether or not we’ll ever see those days again is a different question. It has created, at the very least, a “teachable moment” for the next generation.