My wife and I were in Japan during the earthquake and tsunami but were in Nara at the time so we were far from any danger. Just after the earthquake happened I tweeted, “Just had a small earthquake in Japan.” I didn’t think much of it because Japan has earthquakes all the time. I experienced some pretty scary shakes and this one barely registered where I was. It wasn’t until I saw the news a couple of hours later that I learned that this wasn’t a “small earthquake.”
In the following days life in the places I visited were still pretty much normal. People were still working, shopping and going sightseeing in Nara, Kyoto and Osaka. It didn’t really feel like anything happened.
The news shows a different story though. I really can’t imagine what it must be like for the people affected. Many lost their lives, others lost loved ones and/or everything they owned. Now they are dealing with the mounting nuclear crisis.
Japan is Special
One side of the disaster that I believe is under-reported is the patience and goodwill of the Japanese people. There is no looting or mass panic in the streets. Delayed commuters patiently queue with minimal complaints or anger. Even in the face of food shortages, lack of clothing and shelter, the Japanese are orderly and calm. I don’t think most other developed countries would react in anywhere near the same way.
Japanese society is often derided in the west as being conformist and uncreative however this hides what is most valuable in Japanese culture. There is a level of respect, politeness, work ethic and basic civility that is severely lacking in many countries.
Crime rates, obesity levels, food quality, life expectancies, respect for tradition, literacy and education rates, scientific and mathematical skills, environmental consciousness, income equality and health care all trump most other countries of the world. On measures that matter most, Japan wins hands down.
Life is Short
While the developed world watches from the comfort of an affluent lifestyle, I think it is important to take a moment to remember how incredibly short life is.
When it comes down to it, all we need is food, shelter, clothing, friends and family. Nothing else really matters. We spend so much of our lives focused on inconsequential things like material possessions and social status that we often ignore what is most valuable and essential.
Even in Japan, people are out shopping, consuming and enjoying themselves while so many in the world don’t have the basic necessities of life. On this blog, I advocate travel and lifestyle design, encouraging people to live for themselves, but I have been changing my mind.
Quality of life and personal happiness are not about how much we take for ourselves. Real satisfaction comes from how much we can contribute to others. The real heros are the teachers, doctors, nurses, government workers, volunteers, military personal, police, firefighters, garbage collectors and countless others that show up to work everyday to ensure that the world functions.
I salute all those people who are not seeking fame and fortune but are just striving to make a small difference where they can. The workers trying to stabilize the nuclear reactor should be particularly applauded. They are exposing themselves to high levels of radiation and most certainly damaging their long term health in order to minimize the harm to others.
What it is like to be in an Earthquake
People often ask me what it is like to be in an earthquake. Earthquakes vary in intensity and movement, but in general the entire ground shifts back and forth. In Nara, where I was during this last huge earthquake, many Japanese originally thought they were dizzy or even drunk because the world seemed to sway back and forth. In stronger earthquakes there is a more violent movement that can shake books off of shelves and force you to the ground.
Just by coincidence, the day before the earthquake I tried an earthquake simulator in Nara. Here is a short video showing what the 2006 magnitude 6 Nigata earthquake was like:
How to Help
If you are interested in contributing to the Japan aid effort, here are a couple of links to get you started. Your alcohol, coffee or entertainment budget for a month could help feed and clothe a family or two. There are many bogus charities popping up so don’t blindly give your money.