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Thoughts on March 11, the Society of Developmental Psychology, U.S. Operation Tomodachi

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Keywords: Operation Tomodachi, Great East Japan Earthquake, 3.11, Benesse, United States, Japan Society of Developmental Psychology, Noboru Kobayashi


When the Great East Japan Earthquake struck just one year ago on March 11, I was in Nagoya. As Director of the Benesse Institute for the Child Sciences and Parenting, I was attending the poster session where three of our staff members were making presentations on the last day of the 23rd Annual Meeting for the Japan Society of Developmental Psychology that was held for three days from March 9 to 11.


I alternated between listening and checking the symposium that was taking place next door. Everyone was doing such a fine and interesting job on their own, presenting on such topics as the "Basic Survey of Pregnancy, Childbirth and Child-rearing" and the "Survey of the Effect of the 3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake on Child-rearing," and discussing these issues with others. The Benesse Research Surveys are highly regarded. I always hear good things about them either directly or indirectly. Giving these presentations at various conferences over the years has also added to our reputation.


Thinking about the Japan Society of Developmental Psychology, I am reminded that I helped Dr. Hiroshi Azuma, Professor Emeritus, the University of Tokyo set up the organization with other psychologists. It was some 23 years ago when the first conference was held with only 600-700 members attending, but at the 23rd conference in Nagoya, there were nearly 2,000 people, more than three times our first numbers. I listened to three of the keynote addresses and learned a lot. Three prominent people from abroad were invited to come and give talks. At the social gathering, I enjoyed seeing many old friends and talking with young researchers and the guest presenters from abroad.


At 2:46 I had left the conference a little early to return to Tokyo and the Bullet Train had just left Nagoya. In the train, I closed my eyes and quietly said a prayer for the many victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and those living near the nuclear reactor who were forced to evacuate.


At home, all the TV channels were only broadcasting news of the earthquake. I was moved in particular by one special news program on Asahi Television and its good reporting on Operation Tomodachi (Operation Friends). Operation Tomodachi is the name of a disaster relief operation by the United States Armed Forces in Japan. It has become the topic of this column; in fact, the title combines topics related to March 11, but they are not especially related to each other.


First of all, I was surprised by speed of Operation Tomodachi. The U.S. Navy carried out the relief effort as quickly and efficiently, and at the request of the Japanese government, sent a variety of ships from aircraft carriers to landing ships loaded with supplies waiting off the coast of Sendai.


I was also impressed with the speed of information gathering. Of course, the efficiency of the abovementioned operation would be impossible without information, but the TV program focused on the different processes involved in the operation. Not only was Operation Tomodachi executed immediately after the earthquake struck, but reconnaissance planes (Dragon Lady) took off from South Korea to take photographs at high altitude, which were then sent to the command office to be used for making decisions. The program confirmed that advanced information science and information technology are what we have come to expect from the United States.


As you know, the United States is the country that systematized information science and technology. It is said this arose from the need for a method to decipher secret coded messages in World War II. Secret codes used by Japanese naval warships to carry out operations were gathered and deciphered. Then the logic and method to process this enormous volume of information were devised, and large calculating machines were built, which eventually developed into present-day computer technology.


It is not known whether, thanks to this advanced code-breaking technology, the United States had already deciphered the coded messages about the attack on Pearl Harbor when the Japanese navy planes took off from aircraft carriers on December 8, 1941 and started World War II. Some say that the United States was able to break the Japanese naval code at the time of Battle of Midway and the death of Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamato, which allowed it to take preemptive action, and they even go so far as to say that codes were the reason that Japan lost the war. In other words, between the two countries, the gap in the logic and level of information science was just too big.


This must also mean that compared with what Japan knew on March 11, the United States had even more information on the earthquake, tsunami, and the nuclear accident. Soon after the earthquake, Americans living in Japan were said to have evacuated to the Kansai region or returned to the United States on the advice of the U.S. Embassy. There were rumors that Americans in Tokyo had all left.


Secondly, Americans are good people. It was clear that the Americans in the program had goodwill toward Japanese people, in particular, and this was evident in Operation Tomodachi, from the seamen and soldiers to petty officers and officers. That enabled the army, air force, navy, and marines to cooperate and join forces in the operation. Even though they were told about the possibility of radiation exposure if they went ashore to deliver aid to Fukushima, all of them were still willing to participate--this was a very moving moment in the program.


Many Americans have been fond of Japan in the past. After coming to Japan in 1877, Edward S. Morse taught biology and evolutionary theory in the Science Department of the University of Tokyo and is known for discovering the shell mounts of Omori. He was followed by P. Lafcadio Hearn (Koizumi Yakumo), a researcher of Japanese culture and former journalist turned writer and essayist, who came to Japan in 1890. More recently, the scholar of Japanese literature, Donald Keene, decided to acquire Japanese citizenship and live permanently in Japan after the earthquake. In the hearts of the people who grew up in the old culture of Europe and immigrated to the United States to create a new culture and their grandchildren, we find a fondness for Japanese culture.


The goodwill shown by Americans in Operation Tomodachi reminds me, as I have written about before, of the time I was an intern in a hospital in Cleveland. I arrived in August, 1954, almost 60 years ago, and one Sunday afternoon the following spring, I was leisurely walking and enjoying the warm sunshine when a car pulled up next to me and quietly stopped and a young man called out "Hey, Doc." He told me that I had treated his child in the Emergency Room just the week before, and he wanted to express his gratitude for my kind treatment. The Emergency Room is always busy place, so I had no memory of them at all, but it made me very happy. And, he began to tell me about how much he had enjoyed getting to know Japanese people when he had been stationed as a soldier with the American military at Yokosuka. He was another American who had come to Japan, made friends with Japanese, and learned to like Japan. And this was also an experience that made my time studying and working in the United States so enjoyable.


Surely, there are many soldiers with Operation Tomodachi who have come to like Japanese people based on their experience here. This means that Operation Tomodachi has become something meaningful. I am not the only one who saw kindness in the eyes of the American soldiers in these scenes.


This column brings together two thoughts that I had on March 11 this year.

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