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Voices from Inside Japan—No Panic, Simply Strength and Kindness

by Sheila A. Smith
March 21, 2011

A student volunteer holds a sign in front of instant noodles for evacuees from Futaba, a city near the quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, at the evacuees' new shelter Saitama Super Arena, near Tokyo March 20, 2011, nine days after an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan.

A student volunteer holds a sign in front of instant noodles for evacuees from Futaba, a city near the quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, at the evacuees' new shelter Saitama Super Arena, near Tokyo March 20, 2011, nine days after an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. (Jo Yong hak/Courtesy Reuters)

[Click here for information on how to locate friends and family in Japan, and here for how you can help] 

There are so many issues to discuss, but this morning, I thought I ought to share with you the voices I heard throughout the past week—on blogs, in conversation, and in the flowing emails to those of us outside the country—that ran counter to the speculation and panicky shrillness of our media’s coverage of the situation inside Japan. 

Luckily, the English-language press published some first hand accounts by two foreign residents of Japan, Paul Blustein and William Pesek, who sought to quell our media’s whipped-up frenzy. They give us insights on what it is like for those in Japan trying to grapple with the effects of the disaster, and at the same time trying to go about their daily lives in the disruptions currently being confronted in the precisely organized world that we all know as Tokyo. 

Since the earthquake-tsunami-and then, nuclear-disasters, I have had emails from many, Japanese and non-Japanese, asking me to help locate individuals, to help decipher the media’s disparagement of government announcements (both ours and theirs, by the way), and thanking CFR for its coverage online. For many living within Japan, especially in the northeast where there are still shortages of power, heat and food, information flow is sketchy. Electricity remains unavailable to many, and thus TV, radio and internet-access limited.    

I will be back with more later on some of the challenges Japan faces. But for this Monday morning, I thought you should all read some of the experiences shared within Japan over the past week. A compilation of stories, compiled by Japanese but quickly translated by an American in Tokyo, offer a window into why so many in Japan deserve our admiration. It is long, but well worth the read. I include it here just as it was sent to me, typos and all.  

Outside the country, we have all marveled at the calm and dignity of the people of Japan in the face of this terrible devastation. These stories reveal more: the resilience and strength of so many individual Japanese. Both as a society, and as individuals, this is what inspires so many of us who know Japan so well. And, it is this resilience and strength, along with international assistance, that will energize Japan’s rebuilding effort.   

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Personal accounts by number of people, on-the-street: 

Someone overseas called me on my cell. She said she wanted to connectv to anyone who is in Japan, and so she called the country code and their own mobile number, which happened to be the same as mine. I didn’t fully understand everything she said, because it was English, but I knew enough to know that she really wanted to support the Japanese people. It really gave me so much hope. 

Last night when I was walking home (since all traffic had stopped), I saw an old lady at a bakery shop. It was totally past their closing time, but she was giving out free bread. Even at times like this, people were trying to find what they can do and it made my heart warm. 

In the supermarket, where items of all the shelves fell, people were picking up things so neatly together, and then quietly stand in line to buy food. Instead of creating panic and buying as much as needed, they bought as little as they needed. I was proud to be a Japanese. 

When I was walking home, for 4 hours, there was a lady holding a sign that said, “Please use our toilet.” They were opening their house for people to go to the restroom. It was hard not to tear up, when I saw the warmth of people. 

At Disneyland, they were giving out candies. High school girls were taking so many so I was thinking, “What???” But then the next minute, they ran to the children in the evacuation place and handed it to them. That was a sweet gesture. 

My co-worker wanted to help somehow, even if it was just to one person. So he wrote a sign: “If you’re okay with motor cycle, I will drive you to your house.” He stood in the cold with that sign. And then I saw him take one gentleman home, all the way to Tokorozawa! I was so moved. I felt like I wanted to help others too. 

A high school boy was saved because he climbed up on top of the roof of a department store during the flood. The flood came so suddenly, that he just saw people below him, trying to frantically climb up the roof and being taken by the flood. To help others, he kept filming them so their loved ones could see. He still hasn’t been able to reach his own parents but he says, “Its nobody’s fault. There is no one to blame. We have to stay strong.” 

There is a lack of gas now and many gasoline stations are either closed or haave very loooong lines. I got worried, since I was behind 15 cars. Finally, when it was my turn, the man smiled and said, “Because of this situation, we are only giving $30 worth gas per each person. Is that alright?” “Of course its alright. I’m just glad that we are all able to share,” I said. His smile gave me so much relief. 

I saw a little boy thanking a public transit employee, saying, “Thank you so much for trying hard to run the train last night.” It brought tears to the employee’s eyes, and mine. 

A foreign friend told me that she was shocked to see a looong queue form so neatly behind one public phone. Everyone waited so patiently to use the phone even though everyone must have been so eager to call their families. 

The traffic was horrible!! Only one car can move forward at green light. But everyone was driving so calmly. During the 10 hour drive (which would only take 30 minutes normally) the only horns I heard was a horn of thank you. It was a fearful time — but then again a time of warmth and it made me love Japan more. 

When I was waiting at the platform, so tired and exhausted, a homeless person came to us and gave us a cardboard to sit on. Even though we usually ignore them in our daily life, they were ready to serve us. 

Suntory (a juice company) is giving out free drinks, phone companies are creating more wi-fi spots, 1,000,000 noodles were given by a food company, and everyone is trying to help the best way they can. We, too, have to stand up and do our best. 

Whenever there is a black out, people are working hard to fix it. Whenever the water stops, there are people working to fix that too. And when there is problem with nuclear energy, there are people trying to fix that too. It doesn’t just fix itself. While we are waiting to regain the heat in the cool temperature or have running water, there were people risking their life to fix it for us. 

An old woman said, on a train: “Blackouts are no problem for me. I am used to saving electricity for this country, and turning off lights. At least, this time we don’t have bombs flying over our heads. I’m willing to happy to shut off my electricity!” Everyone around couldn’t say a word in response. 

In one area, when the electricity returned, peopel rejoiced. And then someone yelled: “We got electricity because someone else probably conserved theirs! Thank you so much to EVERYONE who saved electricity for us. Thank you everyone!” 

An old man at the evacuation shelter said, “What’s going to happen now?” And then a young high school boy sitting next to him said, “Don’t worry! When we grow up, we will promise to fix it back!” While saying this, he was rubbing the old man’s back. And when I was listening to that conversation, I felt hope. There is a bright future, on the other side of this crisis.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by eva gorman

    Is there a Japanese word for strength and kindness together? (One word for both strength and kindness?)

    I had heard there is a Japanese word for “one people” used at times like this where people work as one for the better of all. Can anyone tell me what that word is?

    Thank you. God bless the people of Japan.

  • Posted by Holly Maloy

    thank you, our hearts go out to those in need. God bless you

  • Posted by Yoichi K

    Hi.

    There is a word.
    It’s “Bushido” or the spirit of samurai, Japanese chivalry.

    A book titled “Bushido” written by Inazo Mitobe is the basic of it.
    It is written in English,
    so you might want to read it when interested.

    It’s tough to see what’s happening in this country but we don’t run away!

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