NEWS

The Importance of Culture During a Disaster

By Matthew Harwood

This is one of those areas where analysts have to be careful about overgeneralizing, but CNN's Kyung Lah stresses the importance of Japanese culture in creating a sense of calm in the tsunami's aftermath.

Across Sendai's tsunami zone, both in the areas devastated and in the neighboring regions, you can see that Japan's societal mores have failed to break down, even if the tsunami destroyed the physical structure of this coastal community.

At stores across the city, long, straight lines of Japanese tsunami victims have been waiting for rations in the city. No one is directing these lines; they're organized by the people themselves.

At the front, which takes hours to get to in some cases, shoppers are limited to 10 food or beverage items. No complaints, no cheating.

No one should complain, says Mitsugu Miyagi, standing in line at a store with his infant, 6-year-old and wife, Maki.

When asked what happens if the city does run out of bottled water supplies, Maki states simply, "What can we do?"

Lah goes on to describe a scene where hotel chefs prepared hot bowls of soup and invited passersbys to eat. According to Lah, it was probably the first hot of soup many people had since the tsunami struck. The chefs' generosity was not exploited.

"But what's notable is that the people who lined up for the soup took only one cup," she writes. "They didn't get back in line for a second cup; that wouldn't be fair."

Lah spoke with Japanese scholar Jeffrey Kingston of Temple University, who has lived in the country since 1987, to answer why the Japanese people's response to the devastation is calm and orderly.

"The Japanese, from a young age, are socialized to put group interest ahead of individual interest. Many criticize them for deference to authority, abundant rules and conformity, but this is the fabric of social cohesion that keeps Japan together," he said.

Those interested in donating to the international relief efforts in Japan can do so at Google's Crisis Response Web page here.


♦ Photo of Japanese patiently waiting in line for supplies by InaFrenzy/Flickr

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