As I write this (11th of June) it is the three month anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster. For those of us not in the tsunami and nuclear disaster area life goes on pretty normally. Concurrently there is always an undercurrent of awareness about the devastation which occurred three months ago.
The news on TV and in newspapers are running special reports on what has happened in the last three months. The earthquake was the trigger of a domino effect. The Japanese are dealing not only with the three types of devastation that are most obvious, but a whole series of effects some of which had already begun before that momentous day three months ago. The physical, emotional, psychological, social, cultural, economic, industrial, and political consequences are so intricately entwined that is difficult to know sometimes which strand is which.
The mind begins to wrap around the enormous number of deaths that were caused immediately following the earthquake and tsunami. Then we begin to confront the shattered lives, the totally annihilated villages and towns, the costs to parents who lost their children, children who lost their parents, people who lost their spouses, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cusins, as well as children and/or parents. We are aware of the lost cultural resources as well as the art treasures. Every evening there is at least one story of a irretrievable loss that brings tears to one’s eyes. As I see these images and read these stories words are inadequate to express the pain I feel.
The government of Prime Minister Kan has been attacked for not responding effectively to the emergency. A compromise was recently worked out so that he will be resign and a new government formed probably sometime in August. I don’t have an opinion one way or another has to how well the prime minister and his cabinet did compared to another. One wonders whether any political leader would have been able to respond sufficiently to so great a disaster.
Japan’s politics are similar to those in the States in so far as political partisanship and ideological rigidity are given more importance by the players then rational policy and action. In this particular case, it is also reminiscent of the times when an emperor in East Asia would be unseated because he or she was unable to sufficiently supplicate the gods and the result was natural disaster.
As an informed observer I see a bewilderment and confusion, in the events of March 11th. As tragic and heart wrenching as the earthquake and tsunami have been, they were caused by cataclysmic natural forces and the understandable human inadequacy in the face of such large-scale disaster.
The nuclear disaster on the other hand, is a phenomena in which the Japanese people themselves feel responsible.
The disaster occurred as result of inadequate planning by scientists and engineers, human error by technicians, reliance on the nuclear industry to monitor itself, complicity of government agencies which did not monitor with sufficient oversight, and the public demand for more electric power without consideration of how that power would be generated. If that weren’t enough it is perceived that the both government, at all levels, and Tokyo Electric Power Corp, the owner and operator of the nuclear plant, kept vital information from the public. They have been less than forthcoming about events as they unfolded and put people’s health and lives further in harm’s way. In other words the very way in which the Japanese people perceive themselves has been brought into question.
The Japanese, as virtually all postmodern people, see themselves as technologically advanced and sophisticated. They had been told and believed that science and technology could adequately harness nuclear power making it work for the benefit of the people. That kind of faith in themselves and modernity has shaken the society to the core. No pun intended.
Thirty percent of Japanese electricity is generated by nuclear power, and that nuclear power is currently off-line or going off-line. Such a large percentage of power being lost in such a short time during an already dismal economic recession has severe consequences for the society as a whole. While the Japanese people see themselves as resilient and resourceful they have begun to see the future not as one open to unlimited possibilities but one in which sacrifice is inevitable.
The sacrifice, pain, and soul-searching that the Japanese will undergo in the next several years even they are not yet aware. The people of Japan understand sacrifice, and they will do what is necessary to recover and move forward. Of that I have no doubt. Let us at the Tendai Buddhist Institute provide our brothers and sisters in Japan with moral support. Let us extend to them the same confidence in their spirit to overcome misfortune that they gave to us post-9/11.
Gassho . . . Monshin
Sent from my iPhone