JAPAN’S TRAUMA continues to echo in images and newsfeed around our world. It mirrors the visceral fears of the human race at its impotence before the uncaring fury of natural forces, reflects the anxiety that scientific hubris and over-reaching nuclear ambitions have wrought a sinister revenge on the Nihon islands.
I have had a long and inexplicable karmic link with Japan, which has extended to private friendships and business relationships, and has taught me more things than I can acknowledge here. The main lesson I, and many others, draw from Japan is a sense of understated and unremitting courage, of fortitude never to be confused with optimism. It is this spirit of resilience, which the gods have tested to the severest limits with their casual tectonic play.
Not being a news journalist or an analyst, all I can speak of is from the words of my friends, who I have been calling and mailing in sympathy and concern. Yoshitaka Shibasaki wrote back about the reaction of the Japanese when confronted with natural catastrophe and their spirit to cope with it.
“After this enormous natural disaster, before the TV crews got in, we did not get a sense of the scale of the tragedy. But after day one, all of Japan knew about the unbelievable catastrophe. The reaction of the Japanese was unified in focussing on support to disaster areas, thinking about life-lines and necessary basic human needs.
The young, used to a push-button life, feel their lives have collapsed. They’ve to learn to cope
“…this is based on the spiritual teaching of the Shotokutaishi regency, which gave the Japanese people their first constitution more than 1,500 years ago. Article 17 of the constitution that Shotokutaishi provided is inherent in the psyche of our culture. That is wa wo mottte toutoshi to nasu. This stresses that all decisions be taken by consultation and consensus, and that wa and natural harmony be always honoured. The task before us is to restore harmony and well being. We cannot avert our eyes from the stricken areas. It is necessary to supply the victims with rice, bread, water, dry batteries, toilet paper, etc.“The Tokyo Electric Power Company divides the Kanto region into five groups, responds to the power failures by temporary allocated blackouts, stops operations by factories, decreases the number of lines by the railway, and nobody complains about these things,” he wrote.Unsurprisingly, there has been no surge of lawlessness in Sendai, the Japanese city in the eye of the tragedy. No panic-stricken exodus, as followed the tsunami in Indonesia; no looting or violence as happened in Haiti. Newspaper reports mention sequential lines no one is trying to jump.The young and the old seem to somewhere reflect different realities and ways of coping. My friend Hiroko’s mother, Take Ohashi, is 93 years old. She has seen the old life before the Second World War, and the new Japan that rose from the ashes. “Nothing in life is ever surprising,” she says. “It is possible to live and survive even if there are no conveniences. We have been in such situations before, because we have lived with nothing during and after the Second War.” Ohashi san lives alone, and is stubbornly independent, but has moved in with her daughter for the time being.
The young, accustomed to a different set of premises, are puzzled and confused. Shibasaki san calls them the ‘oneswitch generation’. “In the modern living style, almost all people (except very aged ones) are used to having every convenience, every gadget, computer and machine come alive by electronic access, by pushing a button, activating a switch. Their lives have collapsed, they have to learn to cope,” he elaborates.Doubtless, the old ways of frugality will survive, and the new generation will survive with them. I spoke to Japanese-born artist Yuriko Lochan, who has made India her home. “Nature is the order of the world — earthquake and tsunami are a part of nature. We, the Japanese, accept this as a phenomenon of the order… so we know how to be as one respectful self,” she says.
Just last month, I received a prettily-packed box of green tea, and a book by Banana Yoshimoto from Eiko Ohira, a regular at the Jaipur Literature Festival. Eiko lives in Sendai, the worst affected city in Japan, and teaches in Tsuru University. She was in Kochi just recently for a conference. A friend has written back confirming Eiko’s whereabouts. “She was on the way to her mother’s in Ofunato, Iwate, the place most devastated by tsunami. There is no tap water, electricity, or gasoline.” No transport, no email or phones either, but Eiko and the spirit of Japan are safe. The tea awaits a message from her.