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Chan Lowe: Japan earthquake aftermath


In addition to the measureless destruction of once-picturesque cities and countryside in Japan is another scene that appears even more otherworldly to American eyes: the absence of violence, looting and general chaos in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.

Instead, survivors wait quietly and patiently in line for supplies, or help each other pick through the wreckage for other survivors. Above all, order is maintained.

A theory holds that it’s because they’ve all been forced to live, densely packed, for centuries. The code of politeness and acceptable behavior that the Japanese have created in order to coexist in such a small space has come to define the scope of their daily lives.

To them, personal accountability and the avoidance of shame are so important that throughout their history, ending one’s life was an accepted way to atone for a breach of the social code.

In America, by contrast, when role models go rogue, they get book deals and reality shows.

We Americans are a nation made up of individuals who hold their personal rights and freedoms sacred. In theory, at least, government rules us by our own consent, and no more than we allow it to. As individuals, we flourish in our uniqueness.

Until recently in Japan, the head of state was regarded as a god, the Son of Heaven. The Emperor was the embodiment of Japan and her existential national spirit, and his subjects considered themselves branches of that body, like fingers on a hand. While Douglas MacArthur did his best to expunge the Son of Heaven part during his postwar viceregency, that concept of the individual’s relationship to the national whole remains. It isn’t any better or worse, intrinsically, than our way of defining ourselves, just different. It manifests itself most at times like these.

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Actually the waiting quietly and patiently in line is because after significantly less than 1 day following the disaster there was a line to wait in. You see the riots when folks are already on the verge of dying of thirst or starvation before the first help shows up and someone tries to organize a line of totally desperate people.

I've always thought there should be a system of immediate response to disaster already pre-approved by governments so we can start doing things like saturation bombing the affected area with individual bottles of water and rations of food on parachutes made from the mylar survival blanket material. Nothing big enough to hurt anyone if it drops on their head, and so much of it dropped that there is no need to fight over it.

As always, Chan is spot on. I can jusr imagine Los Angeles when the "big one" hits. Total chaos, shooting, looting.
The Japanese are stoic if nothing else.

The Japanese are just as conniving and disillusioned as Americans in some respects. The difference I think lies in work ethic and a general sense of being decent people compared to the rough and tumble romanticized rogues Americans like to make themselves out to be.

Your thoughts on how Americans are could be true, and personal accountability is something the Japanese do take a lot of stock in. But I do think you go a bit too far.

Chan, you have, unfortunately, fallen into the pitfall of Ruth Benedict's argument that Japanese people are inherently submissive to the totalitarian state of the emperor. Japan is not submissive to the emperor since the middle-ages. There are thousands of years worth of political backstabbing and incestuous marriages to back up the idea that nobles liked to regard the emperor as a symbol of power, kind of the Sword of King Arthur kind of deal.

Blind submission was manufactured with new state education imposed in the Meiji era. Just thought you should know.

So glad someone else noticed. The most devastating event in Japan, yet with everything seen on the news, we have not heard a word about looting, riots, robberies, shootings or rapes. Instead the Japanese people are making utensils out of bamboo and scrubbing whatever they could salvage so they can get back to work and help their neighbors, family and friends do the same.
What do you think you would be hearing if this horrific event happened in the United States? You just have to remember Katrina.
Wake up America, if we do not begin to show respect to each other and our country, we will sink to the point of no return.

From what I could see of the aftermath there wasn't much left to loot.
There was an abudance of firewood.
What amazes me is how many people got caught in the open, did the call to evacuate come too late or was it in most cases ignored?
Now Germany has closed down its two old atomic reactors.
I wonder when the world will finally realize that energy comes from the sun, and I don't mean the heat, but the light.
And when are governments going to cease sending their young men and women to fight for oil so that they can sit back and tell us what is good for us and what is not, when most of us know better but can't do a damn thing about it.
I am an islander too. (GB)

My guess is that there isn't poverty in Japan like the poverty in American cities. When you have little to begin with, then have all that taken away, and then factor in our dessicated social services, looting would be inevitable.

No point in looting if there isn't anywhere to take the loot. From the looks of it, so many homes and roadways were destroyed or rendered unusable, taking a wet flat screen or soggy diapers just didn't seem worth the effort. As for standing on line quietly for supplies, the Japanese have a nice monoculture that allows them to appear more friendly or stable than others after a disaster. Plus, they are a small country-the area affected by the tsunami was about the size of Vero Beach to Miami. Where you have a monoculture that prides itself on politeness, there are no differences of opinion on what is right or wrong. Hence, it is understood by all that pushing in line is bad. Here, where you have no common cultural attribute other than the greed of improving ones pocket (often at the expense of others), the question of waiting patiently online is respectfully up for debate.

I agree with Big Daddy above. Also, the areas affected are predominantly very very rural. I think everyone living there knows everyone in the immediate vicinity. If you live in farmland, are you going to loot from the neighbors you know? This is a very different situation from a disaster in a city like New Orleans for that reason. I'm not sure you can attribute all the differences in behavior in these two cases to differences between the two countries.

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About the author
Chan LoweCHAN LOWE has been the Sun Sentinel’s first and only editorial cartoonist for the past twenty-six years. Before that, he worked as cartoonist and writer for the Oklahoma City Times and the Shawnee (OK) News-Star.

Chan went to school in New York City, Los Angeles, and the U.K., and graduated from Williams College in 1975 with a degree in Art History. He also spent a year at Stanford University as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.

His work has won numerous awards, including the Green Eyeshade Award and the National Press Foundation Berryman Award. He has also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His cartoons have won multiple first-place awards in all of the Florida state journalism contests, and The Lowe-Down blog, which he began in 2008, has won writing awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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