Can it be true? Are the Japanese people really as calm as they appear? It is difficult not to think of Tamil news channels interviewing people here about the unrelenting monsoon and the difficulties they face and people grumbling as if someone has the power to stop the rain. Contrast this with the serene exterior of the Japanese. Of course there would be an underlying sense of panic as they try to make sense of all that is going on around them, but outwardly they appear calm, reticent and patient as ever.
What I read in the LA Times was stupefying:
1. There is no looting in Japan in spite of the widespread devastation and abandoned homes and shops.
2. A 70 year old woman staying alone in a house and was trapped when a book shelf fell on her leg after the earthquake, apologised to the rescue workers for the trouble she caused when there were more people in worse situation waiting to be rescued.
3. When the transportation system resumed after being paralysed for hours, people waited in queues and boarded the trains patiently.
The International community is looking at the Japanese with awe and trying to understand the Japanese culture – what makes them tight lipped about what is happening and are they resigned to whatever happens as a result of having gone through a lot of turmoil both natural and man-made. In normal times the apologetic and cloyingly polite Japanese might get on the nerves of most people. But at precipitous times like these, the kindness and politeness serve as lubricants to get the wheels move smooth.
Another aspect is that the media now focuses less on playing the ‘guess game’ about the actual number of dead as a result of the twin catastrophe of earthquake and tsunami. The magnitude of the damage already done is overtaken by the possible disastrous consequence of the nuclear meltdown.
Amidst memories of Hiroshima / Nagasaki there is comparison of the nuclear disasters of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island with the present one. It was revealing to see the Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japan calmly stating that all the workers in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were withdrawn. A Security Analyst from Massachusetts responded anxiously: ‘I hope he does not mean that the nuclear plant has been abandoned. Maybe he is only saying that 1) most of the workers are withdrawn or that 2) a new set of workers would take over or that 3) they are taking International assistance to contain the damage.
On a scale of 1 to 7, the present nuclear crisis in Japan has been categorized as a 6 while that in Chernobyl was categorised as 7 and that in Three Mile Island as 5. Whether the 6 is tending towards 7 and not 5 as reported remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure: there are lessons to be learnt, not only about whether 1) the eight hour back up was sufficient 2) the diesel generators were parked low leading to flooding 2) the filtration system was adequate and so on and so forth....but also equally importantly about the exemplary calmness, resilience and politeness exhibited by the amazing people of Japan.