A Japan Self-Defense Forces officer smiles as he holds a four-month-old baby girl who was rescued along with her family members from their home in Ishimaki City, Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan, after an earthquake and tsunami struck the area. (Yomiuri Yomiuri / Courtesy of Reuters)
2011, of course, will be forever remembered as the year of Japan’s “triple disasters.” Only time will tell what this devastating experience will mean for the Japanese people and their society. For so many Americans, March 11 and its aftermath reminded us of why we so admire the accomplishments of Japan, and the civility and humanity of so many Japanese. From Kandahar to Canberra, from Seoul and Beijing, Japan’s friends around the globe responded—in part because of the tremendous scope of the tragedy, but also out of a sense of gratitude for Japan’s own effort to assist and befriend those beyond their own shores.
The impact of the disasters is too broad to discuss here. But as a long time Japan watcher, several aspects of the disaster and its aftermath stood out. The first, and most widely recognized, is the depth of gratitude expressed by the Japanese people for their military, the Self Defense Forces (SDF). As Japan’s “first responder,” the SDF performed search and rescue operations, opened and sustained supply routes, and filled in the manpower for the local governments that lost staff as well as infrastructure and communications. In June, when I visited Ishinomaki, the SDF were just beginning to hand back governance tasks to an inundated municipal staff.
Second, the disasters brought back into focus Japan’s Imperial family as the symbol of national unity. The Emperor spoke out in the early days as the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi unfolded to remind Japanese to remain calm and to have hope. He and the Empress also traveled back and forth to the devastated regions of Tohoku, visiting evacuation shelters and reassuring those who lost not only their homes but their family members as well. Read more »