The March 11 (“3/11”) earthquake and tsunami disaster striking Japan has brought into sharp relief the basic resilience and sense of unity of the Japanese people. Whatever the faults of Japan, this is one of Japan’s underlying strengths. Japan’s history includes a lot of respect for nature, in part because nature’s fury is so regularly beheld through typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so forth. Resilience is therefore a virtue well suited to Japan.
Resilience in society means coming together for a common purpose. This is by no means a trait unique to Japan; whatever their other divisions, Arabs have an ancient tradition of hospitality that suits a desert people. Japan has an ancient tradition of coming together as a society to rebuild. This includes a high level of social organization. Westerners are familiar with Japan’s famous rallying around government relief efforts and emergency support services, but that is only what can be done in the first hours and days.
As great as the suffering from the earthquake and tsunami are across the eastern edge of the Touhoku region (Touhoku: lit. “North-Eastern”), the Fukushima nuclear disaster stands out because, quite simply, it’s hard to think of rebuilding when the disaster is still ongoing. It may be a slow burn rather than a “meltdown” right now, but radioactively speaking, the region is still far too hot for the residents’ comfort.
Since this is a regional disaster in terms of degree, even though the aftershocks can be felt throughout the entire country, events like Comiket (for “Comic Market” verbally mashed together) are still ongoing. In preparation for the next one, in December (official site here), more than one self-published manga has arisen to speak out about the trials and difficulties of the people affected by the “3/11” disaster.
Through art, the resilience of Japanese culture expresses itself, but it is not an individual expression: it is a call to arms for society to unite after the disaster, not just during it. That, after all, takes more work, and is a longer-term process. Of course, for the people directly affected the most, it is still very much an ongoing disaster. Through manga, certain writers are working to keep these events fresh in Japanese minds outside the Touhoku region.
Some are even working towards English translations of their works to further spread awareness about the tsunami, earthquake, and nuclear plant disaster aftermath to the rest of the world. I have mentioned it before, but I am helping one group in such an effort. I think the sensationalist, low detail Western media can benefit from being offset by cultural works created by people directly affected. These are voices that should be heard.
Society coming together is not just a physical act. It is a social and spiritual one. Even so, there are many practical things that will need to be done to support the disaster victims. Over time, I intend to do more to provide tangible assistance in cooperation with Japanese people (or 日本人、nihonjin) themselves, because building bridges across the language and cultural barriers is a large part of what I learned Japanese for. Now is the time to go from theory to practice.
Even so, what we can all do, spiritually, is give our moral support, and that is something I do very freely in this instance.
(Hang in there, Japan!)
(We’re all rooting for you.)
May Japan recover and grow even more vibrant, as it has done many times before. It won’t be easy – it never is – but rising from disaster is a human trait that, as a human being, I choose to take pride in. – J