News / Asia

Response to Disaster Reinforces Japanese Tradition of Self-Restraint

People walk under the trees of cherry blossoms at Ueno park in Tokyo, April 7, 2011
People walk under the trees of cherry blossoms at Ueno park in Tokyo, April 7, 2011
Henry Ridgwell

There has been much worldwide admiration for the way in which the Japanese people affected by last month's earthquake and tsunami have coped with the hardship.  Despite the hundreds of thousands of people made homeless and the shortages of basic supplies, the unwritten rules that govern life in Japan appear to be holding the society together.  And it's not only those directly affected by the disaster who are changing their lifestyles.

It is cherry blossom season in Japan - traditionally a time of celebration and renewal.  But this year the mood is subdued.

Ueno Park in Tokyo would normally be covered with families and friends picnicking under the trees.  But the parties are now few and far between.  Last month’s devastating tsunami has pushed Japan into a period of ‘jishuku’ - or collective self-restraint.

Tatsuo Tatsuno and his wife Yoko, both in their seventies, are among those out for a stroll in the park. Yoko says we should not be enjoying ourselves while all this is happening.  She says those people in the north [affected by the tsunami] really need to fight hard to recover.

Tatsuno agrees.  "We are old," he says.  "We are just about surviving too. We should all fight to get through this."

Images of the devastation in the north are broadcast continuously on Japanese television.  The sense of shared experience has permeated throughout Japanese society, says Kyle Cleveland, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Temple University.

"Most of the devastation has happened not in the big cities but in places that are essentially villages. And the impact has fallen disproportionately on older people. And so the response here also reflects an older generation who have experience of what happened during the [Second World] War, and their way of responding to this is I think leading the societal response," said Cleveland.

Shortages of fuel, water and food have affected much of northern Japan.

Hiroko Nagauna is raising a 10-month-old baby. She says her biggest concern is what happens to the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. She says what concerns her most is that the nuclear danger is mostly unseen.  It does not show any immediate effects, the symptoms take time.

Many outside observers have remarked on the stoicism the Japanese people have shown in the face of disaster.  An estimated 200,000 people made homeless by the tsunami are still living in temporary shelters.

But the clean up is well underway thanks to a huge government and international relief effort  - and an army of volunteers who have arrived in the quake region from across Japan.  Sociologist Kyle Cleveland says the Japanese response reflects their values.

"I think what’s happening here though is that the Japanese are just expressing some Japanese values and ways of behaving that are not that atypical of the society but are perhaps highlighted by the events of recent days.  This is likely to have long-term consequences on Japanese society. And I think it’s leading to a reconsideration of Japanese values, concern for others, and I think that’s what this ‘jishuku’ represents in the short term," said Cleveland.

This man selling roasted sweet potatoes - a traditional Japanese street food - in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district is doing a good trade.  It is a sign perhaps of the austerity that has gripped this city.

The sudden period of economic self-restraint has quieted once popular sushi bars and karaoke clubs. Their owners fear it could put them out of business.  Tokyo’s sidewalk fortune-tellers are among the few traders still open.

Japan’s fortunes could well depend on how long it takes people to emerge from this period of quiet self-reflection.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid