The uniform of the group any group, from school kids to employees to a bunch of elderly tourists was always an intriguing aspect of life in Japan for my husband and step-children during the many years they lived there. It speaks of united purpose, the importance of that purpose being publicly recognised and of the inclusive and exclusive nature of Uchi-Soto (us and them). These were the guys in control; the group was running things now.
Except, that like so much in Japanese life, appearances can be deeply deceiving. The Japanese government has very much wanted to be in control particularly following the disastrously bungled and delayed rescue effort following the devastating 1995 Kobe earthquake but it too has been deceived by what now appears to have been an almost unforgivably mishandled response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant failure.
The Japanese invariably display the most phenomenal grace, control and stoicism in times of great pressure and disaster, and in this case it has been deeply humbling to watch it. The displaced are in emergency shelters with no heating and no running water; those evacuated from the nuclear-affected zone have even less. The news services outlined the principles that would help everyone get through this time together, and as they politely listed the virtues of not pushing, not crowding, not complaining, I shook my head in wonderment that they needed mentioning at all. As a close friend who still lives there concurred, there was not going to be any looting why would the Japanese even think of doing that?
But this calm and ready acceptance can also infuriate me. Not because I wish they were otherwise, but because the Japanese have been let down by officialdom during crises before, and part of me wishes they or perhaps just one of them would break out in anger and call their leaders to account.
From the 1996 E coli. 0157 food-poisoning scandals in which almost 8000 people were infected from canteen lunches in Osaka, and three students died to the inept response to the Kobe earthquake, officialdom has been disorganised, opaque and sometimes even negligent. For those in the cold and deprived north-east of Honshu, trust must come very hard.
Governor Yuhei Sato of Fukushima prefecture finally let rip, saying his people had been left with nothing after being ordered out of the Fukushima region: it is difficult to impart just how unusual this public outburst was. The sight of the Emperor Akihito speaking speaking publicly! was so shocking as to chill my blood. So the situation is really this bad.
The greatest betrayal, however, might turn out to be by the operators of the Fukushima power plant if it turns out, as so many suspect, their contingency plans and first responses were delinquent. For me, however, that disappointment will be more than offset by the immortal sacrifice made by the brave 50 who have stayed behind to fight a disaster that might yet have dimensions imagined only in nightmares.