Saturday, March 12, 2011

Quakes, Tsunamis, Nuclear Accidents and the Bushido Spirit

In 2004, I accompanied 12 middle school children on an exchange program for 11 days in Hikone, Japan. In case you're wondering, Hikone is southwest of Tokyo, north of Osaka, and nowhere near the major damage of the earthquake. However, all things are relative -- Japan is not that big a place. As part of our trip, I spent several nights at the home of a local school administrator, Masaru, and his wife, Kayo. We hit it off tremendously, and have kept in occasional contact ever since.

Yesterday morning, right after I heard about the earthquake, I sent an email to Kayo and Masaru, telling them we were praying for them and all of Japan and expressing our hope that they and their family were safe. This morning, I got a response. I should mention, by way of explanation, that although both of my friends speak fairly good English, they often use an automatic translator in email. I still give them credit, since I can barely order dinner in Japanese. Here is what they wrote:
Dear Naomi,
The earthquake made tsunami. And then it attacked the area of north in Japan. We felt a bit of the earthquake. All of family are safe. But over 2000 persons dead now in Japan. I worried about electric power of atomicenergy. That was broken. A lot of radioactivity was spread. A few days later or month later Japan will be more miserable. Now we are alive. Of course in future we live. But...   We hope a lot of people alive. If people are alive, we can make new Japan like Kobe city. Japanese have Bushido sprits. I believe so. Thank you so much for us to pray.
Bushido, if you're not familiar, is roughly translated as "the way of the warrior." It is the Samurai way, the basis for much of the value system that underpins Japanese society. To say that the Japanese have Bushido spirits is to say that they're tough and they'll stick this out.

This email has stuck with me all day. "We will make new Japan . . . The Japanese have Bushido spirits." Part of the mythology of this tiny, earthquake-prone country is that earthquakes happen to reorder the world. They set things to rights. They allow things to start over. In some traditional prints, money is seen in pictures of earthquakes to show the redistribution of wealth.

This view of earthquakes is very foreign to most "westerners." But it makes a lot of sense. If I never experience earthquakes, or only small ones once in a blue moon, I see them as scary and negative. If I experience them all the time, sometimes really big ones, I need to come to some peace with what they mean and why they happen. That doesn't make them fun, but that makes them bearable. This is what Japanese tradition has done for Japanese society. The whole country, in some sense, has had training in resiliency from earthquakes.

The Japanese have Bushido spirits. They will make a new Japan, as long as people are alive. Tonight, watching the news from the failing nuclear power plants, that last piece is the kicker. The Bushido spirit is needed from those scrambling to cool those cores. I hope it's enough.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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