Wednesday, March 16, 2011


It is hard to write about the disaster in a country I love so much. I spent two years in Japan and have a lot of friends here. As far as I know, all of them are safe, even coworkers who lived in Sendai.

The black building you see swaying in this video from Tokyo's Shinjuku ward was the one I worked in while I was there.

I'm thoroughly disgusted with Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Gilbert Gottfried and their ilk. Beck especially deserves our opprobrium. That being said, Ishihara Shintaro, governor of Tokyo, repeated some similar tripe, so I guess you could say that my patience with doomsaying religious nutcases is pretty thin right now.

At this moment, I'm feeling pretty tribal, and the Japanese are my people. I lived among them, and for the most part they were more welcoming to me as guest than the Yankees I currently live among, who are ostensibly my fellow nationals. If this was God's retribution for anything we humans may have done, then God has pretty piss poor aim. It's not retribution for anything, though, and Glenn Beck can go fuck himself.

I'm a bit disappointed in America at our relatively paltry charitable response. Is it that we expect the Japanese to be capable of taking care of themselves? Why was the giving to Haiti so much greater? Is it racism? Let me explain that last one, before someone points out that Haitians are black: I suspect one of the reasons donations to Haiti were so great was white guilt over a combination of slavery and US interventions there. But Haiti is still obviously inferior to the US in many ways, from education to cooperative culture. It's easy, in a limousine liberal sort of way, to deplore racism when we are simultaneously making ourselves feel secretly superior by handing out alms. We never seriously expect those people in Haiti to be our equals, no matter what platitudes we may mouth in public. On the other hand, the Japanese are already our equals or betters on most fronts. Compare the lack of looting in Japan with New Orleans, for example, and I Goddamn dare you, or Beck or any other fuckhead to claim that theirs is a culture that needed smiting.

What is even more troubling is that the situation may get worse, and I'm not even speaking of the impending nuclear disaster. The last time a quake this big hit Japan (in the same general region) was in October 1707. Two months later, Mt. Fuji erupted. Fujiyama has already experienced a 6.0 tremblor in the wake of the Sendai quake. This was not an aftershock - the fault line under Fuji is distinct from the one in the ocean near Sendai.

My heart, and my money, are with Japan. I hope yours are, too.


Dr. Phil (Physics) said...

I've been wondering about the Haiti question some myself. One big difference, and the reason why I can't really compare the two, is the difference between first and third world.

Devastation is devastation and death is death. But Japan has a lot more infrastructure, rescue capacity and technology than Haiti ever had. Plus the government isn't likely to wallow in corruption or disfunction and not get around to ever approving land deals or building permits once we get beyond the disaster phase and into reconstruction.

Not to say that the generosity isn't fickle. But there's more resources and money -- plus insurance money -- which is available to Japan. Haiti still has little, and much of the money is still tied up and is unusable over a year after their quake.

Dr. Phil

Dr. Phil (Physics) said...

That said, I was rather stunned when I heard a figure about donations in the amount of like $15 million. A drop in the proverbial bucket. Which is why I was myself questioning the Haiti vs. Japan question.

Dr. Phil

WendyB_09 said...

So I just spent quite a while writing a moving response to this and Blogger ate.

Stupid internet. I'll try to recreate and post it later.

CW said...

John the lack of charitable response to the Japan disaster is disappointing, but it's only been a few days and it's still possible to do better. It seems part of the problem is the public message. The Japanese (out of pride, perhaps), sent the message "we can take care of this ourselves", and Americans, knowing the Japanese abilities, believed them. The Japanese can probably be rightly proud that they may be the only nation in the world whom we would believe _could_ take care of something like this themselves. Still, we should do a lot more and I hope we will.