Did Japanese culture really make a difference in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake?
I think so, but that is not the main reason. Love and respect for nature is an important motif and long-lasting tradition in Japanese culture. However, as graceful as nature is, it sometimes brings about merciless disasters such as last year’s earthquake and tsunami. The Japanese culture embraces a sort of paradoxical emotion: pessimistic optimism.
Hojoki, the 13th-century essay written by Japanese poet Kamo no Choumei, documented chaotic situations in Kyoto following earthquakes, fires or famine. Numerous earthquakes and tsunamis have hit Japan since Choumei wrote Hojoki in 1212, exactly 800 years ago. In fact, twice or three times every decade, somewhere in Japan is beset by a serious natural disaster such as an earthquake, volcanic eruption or tsunami. We cannot escape from disasters as long as we live in an archipelago on the Pacific Ring of Fire. So in a sense, the Japanese are pessimistic about destiny.
However, without exception, our ancestors never ran away or called it quits, and they managed to recover and reconstruct their damaged communities. We believe that the wisdom of human beings as well as technology can reduce vulnerability to disasters. So in another sense, the Japanese are optimistic about human capabilities. This “pessimistic optimism” is a cultural characteristic of Japanese society.
Tadashi Ogawa, Director General of the Japan Foundation in Jakarta, Indonesia