Great East Japan Earthquake and International Support - Honorary Director's Blog



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Great East Japan Earthquake and International Support

Keywords: Traditional culture, kindness, international support, children's issues, Noboru Kobayashi, Great East Japan Earthquake, Child Science for Disasters

It is now already two months since the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, and I am astounded at how many countries have extended their support to Japan in so many ways according to the newspaper and TV reports. In particular, I was particularly impressed by Operation Tomodachi , literally "operation friends," and a charity concert by musicians in all the over world that included classical music and jazz.

When I saw these events on TV and read about them in the newspaper, I recalled my life in the United States in the late 1950s and the kindness and friendship that I experienced from there. Seeing Operation Tomodachi brought back much of this.

I think it was one Sunday in spring, the year after I began my internship in the United States. Enjoying the warm spring sunshine and breeze, I was leisurely walking through a residential neighborhood when a car pulled up next to me and stopped quietly. A young man (who, nevertheless, looked to be in his thirties) said "Hey, Doc," and started talking to me. 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. And, he began to tell me about how kind the Japanese people had been to him while he had been stationed as a soldier with the American military at Yokosuka. The Emergency Room, however, was always busy and I had no memory of them at all.

I am sure that there are different ways of thinking about international support for the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake as a nation and individual, but it occurred to me that the feelings that arise from such contact with Japanese people are the source of such support. The experience of kindness gives birth to these feelings that are the basis of this support. The attitude of the American soldiers involved in Operation Tomodachi certainly has something in common with that of the young people I met in the United States. That is what I felt from watching the soldiers working on TV.

The motivation of the world's musicians for holding charity concerts surely comes from the kindness experienced during exchanges with Japanese musicians and concert tours to Japan. Whether Japanese classical music or jazz, this is also related to the degree of sensitivity in understanding the music and the level of performance skill. Clearly, music has a unique ability to bring our hearts together.

Meanwhile, I read in the newspaper the other day that Dr. Donald Keene, the well-known Professor Emeritus of Japanese Literature at Columbia University, who is 88 years old, has decided to seek Japanese citizenship and live permanently in Japan after seeing the devastating earthquake. This both surprised me and struck me very deeply. He was treated kindly and charmed by the kindness of the Japanese people when he studied at Kyoto University after the war and when he received medical treatment in a hospital in Japan, and I think we can say that he developed a strong interest in Japanese culture which is the source of this kindness. He was also moved by the many visits that he has made to the Tohoku region since 1955 when he went there to do research on Matsuo Basho's The Narrow Road to Oku . His motivation seems similar to that of Lafcadio Hearn (Koizumi Yakumo). One difference is that Hearn married a Japanese woman and Professor Keene has been single all his life.

According to the international press, the composure and fortitude of the people affected by the earthquake was the subject of much attention overseas. I believe this is a manifestation of the spirit of the Japanese people stemming from Japanese culture including Buddhism. But, from the viewpoint of someone born in the early Showa period (1926-1934), we have become spoiled by the material affluence of the past twenty years and we seem to be losing our traditional spirit. This is clear from the rise in materialism, the worship of money, crime, and psychological and behavioral problems these days. The Great East Japan Earthquake has given us the opportunity to reexamine Japanese culture and to recover the Japanese spirit that is its foundation.

The original article was posted on the CRN Japanese site in May 2011.