Guestpost #26: Gareth Manning – Ten things I’ve learned while living in Japan that give me post-disaster optimism

Gareth (or Gary, as I know him), is a friend who I have recently reconnected with. We were close friends in elementary school, but lost touch. Thanks to the miracle of Facebook, we are friends again, and a recent meeting over beers taught me a lot about myself. Gary is a teacher, a traveler, an adventurer, and a great story-teller.

  1. If any country in the world can deal with disasters, it’s Japan. The Japanese went from nuclear holocaust, the destruction of every major city save Kyoto, and mass starvation in 1945 to creating the world’s second-largest economy within 40 years.
  2. Japan is the most ordered and efficient country in the world. If a train is late by five minutes (which rarely happens), workers get an apology note to give to their employers. There’s a pre-determined method for dealing with every situation. A relief and rebuilding plan is already in place, and panic is not in the cards.
  3. Kobe was decimated by the Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. It was rebuilt with major urban infrastructure improvements in a few short years and is now one of Japan’s most liveable cities. Sendai will also be rebuilt and improved.
  4. Japanese hypersensitivity to outsider perception and deep national pride will ensure that not only will everything be rebuilt new and improved, but it will happen fast. Had 9/11 occurred in Japan the equivalent of the Twin Towers would have been completed many years ago. They would also have a new irritating cute cartoon mascot that even drunken old men know and love.
  5. The story of the disaster and recovery will become a major part of Japanese history and identity construction, bringing people closer, not only in the region but all across Japan. These events will make the Japanese people stronger.
  6. Gaman, unrelenting persistence and endurance, is a core feature of Japanese ethnocultural and national ideology. Gaman permeates thinking on everything and explains why salarymen often die at work. The Japanese will gaman harder than you can imagine.
  7. There is a shocking (and inspiring!) lack of selfishness in the Japanese mindset. There will be no looting, price-gouging, or exploitation of the situation in any way, and no hesitation by other regions to share energy and resources. I really respect and admire that.
  8. Social relations are characterized by in-group/out-group social positioning. This can be very frustrating for foreigners, but barriers disappear when disaster strikes. When I once foolishly tried to make it up an icy hill in my puny k-car and ended up sliding backwards uncontrollably and getting stuck in a ditch, the entire teaching staff of my school ran a kilometre in their office clothes during a snowstorm to lift it out for me (And thereafter resumed avoiding me out fear and disinterest).
  9. If you manage to become part of a Japanese in-group, you will be the recipient of generosity on an order of magnitude that you wouldn’t believe if I told you. The largest in-group is Japan itself (positioned against gaikoku, the “outside countries”), which means generosity will be running rampant. I’m sure it’s quite beautiful to see.
  10. Lastly, I learned that I deeply love Japan and that the Japanese gave me far more than I could ever have given them while living and working there for three years. If you have ever enjoyed Japanese food, movies, or any other cultural export, then you have benefitted a little bit, too. Right now Japan needs help. Please give what you can, and know that if you ever get the great privilege to visit, your generosity will be repaid many times over.

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One response to “Guestpost #26: Gareth Manning – Ten things I’ve learned while living in Japan that give me post-disaster optimism

  1. Pingback: Guestpost #26: Gareth Manning – Ten things I’ve learned while living in Japan that give me post-disaster optimism |

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