In Shock and Awe of Japan

A few months ago, I was on the shinkansen going from Tokyo to Kyoto. The bullet train was relatively full, but most of the passengers with their heads bowed were quietly busying themselves with their meals, their mobile phones, computers or reading material. The train conductor gently slid the door open came into our car. But before he started to check tickets, he bowed to all the passengers in that specific car. Nobody was really paying any attention, only perhaps my mother and me. After thanking each passenger and checking each ticket, before he moved on to the next car, with all our backs facing him, he bowed again.

When we were in Kyoto, we took quite a few of the buses to get around the city and almost every time, no matter what bus, no matter who the driver was, the bus driver thanked every single passenger as they got off the bus. Sometimes thirty people got off the bus at once. The bus driver barely took a breath.

While in Tokyo, my husband and I walked in a 7-Eleven convenient store in Shinjuku. It was rush hour and the store was packed with people picking up dinner, snacks, a coffee or a magazine for the long train ride home. We picked up two bottles of water. The enthusiasm with which the convenience store clerk greeted us, packaged our water and thanked us for this 'tremendous' purchase, was absolutely unparalleled for us. Although, not so unusual in Japan.

It didn't matter what the job was, how inspiring or how mundane, each and everyone for the most part did it with extreme pride and enthusiasm. It seemed that every job was the most important job in the world and their lives depended on it.

A week after the one of the most horrendous natural disasters to hit Japan, you see that same professional honor and pride amongst those tireless anonymous workers in the nuclear plant in Fukushima bravely risking their lives, in the hopes of saving the lives of many millions.

Watching the news unfold, many miles away in Southern California, I can't help but feel that the Japanese people definitely deserve better government leadership and better executives from Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to lead, help and guide them through this three headed disaster. But what is incredible about the Japanese, is that no one seems to be sitting around indulging much of any time in self-pity. Although, no one would blame them with thousands dead and miles of endless destruction. Instead, what we see are news articles upon articles in the global media describing the patience, resilience and mutual respect of the Japanese -waiting hours in line at barely stocked supermarkets to pick up their ten allotted items to feed their families. There is no pushing, no looting, no theft. And honestly, these are dire times.

**House lot at sea - Image taken by the US Navy Photo by Dylan McCord

The Japanese people are not waiting for their government or the world to come save them - they are going to do it for themselves and each other. I read a story about how an elderly woman trapped under her own house, apologized to the rescue workers for being such an inconvenience and questioning them, that surely there had to be other people out there who might need their assistance more pressingly. I saw TV reports of neighbors in the Sendai area, who fared a little better from the earthquake and tsunami, pool together their resources to make miso soup and rice balls to feed those in the shelters who were left with nothing. The residents of the areas hardest hit are collecting snow in the hills and mountains and boiling them for water; and making chopsticks out of the bamboo they have collected. Neighbors are helping each other to clean the layers of mud from their homes, restoring their lives little by little. Stories like these are endless. I know, because I have been glued to every report on Japan in print, on TV and on my computer. The Japanese people refuse to be victims. They are not waiting for any handouts.

There is a quote that says that you know the true character of a friend are when you are in need. Well, I think the same can be said for a society. You know the true measure of a society, when all hell has broken lose and their survival is at stake and they can still manage to keep their dignity, honor and humanity intact.

I bow to you Japan.