Japan in transition

On March 11, an earthquake measuring 8.9 on the richter scale rocked the very foundations of the northern coast of Japan. The tremors and ensuing 10m high tsunami wiped out coastal towns, made hundreds of thousands Japanese homeless and shifted the country about 2-3 metres from its position. It is the worst natural disaster to hit the country in the last century.

As I was reading the papers covering these events, there were several articles that provoked my thoughts. I have always admired the Japanese way of life. I visited the country in 2004 and came back with a notion of how clean, beautiful, orderly and cultured the people are. They are a class unto their own. Despite their ugly past during WWII, I cannot help but respect them for their culture.

Apparently the news reporters shared my thoughts about the Japanese, just in a different way. They felt that the Japanese were too rooted in their way of thinking such that problems were not immediately rectified until a ‘perfect’ solution is found. This is referring to the handling of the nuclear reactor potential meltdown resulting from the earthquake.

Another article reported that in Tokyo, the Japanese remained calm and composed despite the aftershocks. They were patiently waiting at traffic junctions to cross the road, even though there were no vehicles in sight. This the reporter commented is the way of the people who internalise their emotions very well and would never cause a scene that might bring them or their family shame.

And that apparently is the root of their culture. Avoiding shame at all cost probably as a result of what happened during WWII. Hence a generation of people who have been brought up to conform, observe proper rules and etiquette and obtain perfection in everything they do. These are admirable qualities.

The flip side to this are stifled emotions, domestic and office bullying that goes unreported and government officials who cover up their mistakes until it becomes public when they step down in shame or commit suicide.

If everything the Japanese embodies is about not bringing shame to themselves, I am truly sad for these people. Perhaps there is historical baggage but it is time for them to leave it all behind. There is no reason to punish the future generation because of what was done in the past. And also because there is nothing more powerful than a love that drives out all fear.

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