Lessons from Tohoku Tragedy

What a time for Japan it is! What can anyone say to people who have had their life turned upside-down by an uncontrollable, unpredictable force of nature? In this most difficult of times for the people of Japan, three stories particularly have struck me as containing powerful lessons.

Appearing in the Friday, April 8, 2011 edition of The Japan Times ( was a report by Junko Horiuchi called "Evacuees Comforted by Flutist's Soothing Melodies". It tells of the effect of 3 concerts given by a Korean flutist, Song Solnamoo, on the people gathered in centers in the areas strongly affected by the earthquake and tsunami. The article quotes Shozo and Kimiko Aoki, who lost their job and home in the flood. "The flute purified my heart." said Shozo Aoki. "It was great when the Japanese Self-Defense Forces set up a makeshift bathtub here. But today's event is even greater. It encouraged me to go on living." (my comment: Greater than a furo! That's the highest level of praise for a Japanese, I'm sure.) Kimiko's comment was: "Out of all the supplies we have been given, the concert was the best." thus saying that this music was even more important for their soul than food was for their bodies at such a stressful time.

There are really no words we can say to people who have lost families and homes, which is why and when art is so important for humans. What a great contribution Song has made. The fact that he is from outside of Japan's borders will surely be remembered, even if unconsciously, by Japanese, who sometimes feel quite separate from other nationalities and races.

The second story was about the life-changing experience that some Chinese news people had when they came to Japan to report on the earthquake for the media in their home country. My source is an article in The Japan Times "China Press Prejudices Dashed" by Eiichi Shiozawa, appearing on Wednesday, May 4, 2011 and on their website. I am always very much concerned about the power which governments hold over media and believe in the importance of basing our opinions on first-hand experience.

I was very pleased then to read that Chinese reporters, many who had held anti-Japanese views, not through experience but through images gained from government controlled media, had these views changed by coming into contact with Japanese people who were affected by the flooding. A cameraman, Chen Jie, from the Beijing News, said that he had mistrusted and resented the Japanese people, but that "the prejudice that I felt gradually disappeared while I was there, trying to cover the disaster damage," he said. "In the 14 days I spent on the assignment, I learned much more [about the Japanese people] than I would have done if I had read books for 10 years." Other reporters commented on being greatly impressed by the calm character of the people in the midst of tragic loss.

I have read similar reports of life changing experiences by young people from the U.S. who have visited Gaza and Palestine and realized that the views they had of the situation there had been narrowly framed by the media they were exposed to in their own country. How important it is for us to recognize the various biases of what we read and see in the news.

The third story which I felt was particularly important related to the change in many people's minds relating to the importance and value of volunteerism and service to others. So many people throughout Japan and even from overseas, have given their time and energy to trying to help those affected by the earthquake and flood. Peace Boat, a non-government and non-profit organization, reported that they had more volunteers going to help in Tohoku than for any other event in their 28 year history. I believe that once people have experience with working with those who are suffering from various natural and human-made causes, they will continue and spread the value of volunteerism.

This will have a great effect on the future of Japan. Hopefully this spirit of service and volunteerism will spread into the schools and service related education might one day have the same value as education aimed at getting children into good colleges and good companies.

These stories gave a glimmer of hope to the tragedies being suffered by the people in the Tohoku district.
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