13 March 2011

Back Where it All Began; But Somewhere Else Entirely

It is tragically ironic that my very first blog entry was a way for me to vent my rage and frustration at the devastation Haiti experienced in January of 2010. Now, a little over a year later, Japan has taken its turn as the target of nature’s fury. Today, I will be stepping aside from my usual humor and quirky subject matter to recognize the Japanese people in their hour of dire need.

The Haiti quake killed 300,000 people in one day. Japan is much more prepared and equipped; having been dealt nature’s loosing hand on a number of previous occasions. Despite this, their death toll and the destruction will still stagger the mind. As the tragedy unfolds, I am awestruck by the calm demeanor of the Japanese people. They assess the damage and move towards the necessary recovery steps as if it is an everyday event to be walloped with an 8.9 level earthquake, which then spawns a devastating Tsunami and nuclear catastrophe. In America, where people are partial to hysterics and over dramatization, there are lessons to be learned in the Japanese response.

But then as people are wont to say, “Proximity breeds familiarity.” And the Japanese have a long history of sharing space with disasters. In 1954, Gojira first crawled from the ocean depths to ravage the Japanese mainland. Ishiro Honda’s rampaging reptile was the embodiment of Japan’s collective horror with atomic weapons and the effects of radiation. They would know better than virtually anyone, having the distinction of being the only nation ever subjected to nuclear attack. Not once, but twice. Not out of necessity, as many historians including myself have come to realize, but as an object lesson to emergent antagonists. Gojira went on to become a franchise, more widely known to the world as Godzilla. While Japan shares much of the blame for the excessive horror of the 1930s and 1940s, one has to feel compassion for the victims of one of the human race’s most horrific creations.

Natural disasters are no stranger to the Japanese either. Inhabiting a densely populated island on the edge of a geographic feature known as “the Pacific Ring of Fire” comes with its share of risks. Over his lifetime, Godzilla played them all. In latter films, he even sided with the Japanese people to fend off other horrific aliens and monsters. The message being that when it came to rampaging destruction, Japan was spoken for. Ultimately it seems so unfair.

How can the land of playful cartoons and colorful fashions; the land of industrious people and amazing technological brilliance; a land that is steeped in history and honor going back thousands of years; be the frontline in the battle between humans and nature, between human nature and humanity? I know it is not fashionable to describe it as a battle. It is so much more endearing to imagine a harmonious relationship between humans and their environment. But the new age of enlightenment only goes so far.

To the desperate person, clinging to a tree as the world shakes itself to death around them, surviving that only to be confronted by a thirty foot wall of mud, water, and the homes of their neighborhood, it is a fight. To desperate people, exposing themselves to deadly doses of radiation in order to frantically pour sea water and Boron into a rampant nuclear reactor, it is a fight. To friends and family engaged in a frenzied attempt to dig their loved ones out of the rubble that used to be their homes and city, it is a fight.

No love interests’ blossom to provide a back story, no unexpected reprieve arrives in the penultimate scene. No Director yells “cut.” No effects creators cart away the remnants of their craft. Each long weary day dissolves into yet another long weary day. Simple survival seems daunting. Each scene of graphic horror is layered onto those already indelibly etched into the minds of numbed survivors; scenes certain to play out in expressions of art for generations to come.

Once again we sit, thousands of miles away. We try or pretend to identify with something we could never imagine. We wish and pray for the Japanese people who are left to imagine hot food, a clean glass of water, and a comfortable bed. We want to do more in a world where there is little we can do. And in the darkest reaches of the night, we wonder when our beast will crawl from the depths, to visit upon us the excess of our actions. We wonder if we have dodged nature’s wrath, or if that wrath builds; just offshore, just out of sight, just waiting to remind us that we will not always be spectators.


  1. A lovely read. Besides the Japanese themselves remaining relatively calm and not as 'dramatic' as, well, 'other' people would be, I've also noticed another sad thing: I'm not seeing much of Japan in the "World" news. I'm still seeing the Middle East and 2012 elections, be it on the news or "shared" articles on social networks. Back when another tragedy hit in 2001, it was all over the news 24/7. No I'm not undermining or disrespecting what happened back then, I'm just seeing different reactions to same death tolls.

    Just my 2c

  2. Three, thanks for dropping in!

    Japan is pretty highly covered here, but there are some disgusting attempts to worm into the scene. Rich folks recounting their "horror" when their boat got banged up in the harbor, surfers bitching about closed beaches, that sort of thing...

    As for 9/11, that has become nothing less than a fetish for many Americans, despite the relativley limited toll when compared to other events... It makes me angry when you bring that up, because you'll get some trite line about, "the value of human life in America..." as if other cultures do not value life.

    "Ethnocentric" is an American religion...

  3. Beautiful words, sir. I do wish I could do more to speed up the japanese recovery. I admire their bravery and calmness, like you.

  4. Paul, this was a heartwarming post. I admire the Japanese culture for it's adaptation to disasters. People are people, no matter where they live or come from.

  5. Nicely said Paul, Mother Earth will be here for a long time to come...will we? Respect her!


  6. Thanks for keeping the focus where it should be, on those who need our assistance! Haiti is still in desperate need! Tragedy, Japan.

  7. I agree with everyone, this is a great post and well written. Glad I stopped by to read it. Mother nature is by far the most powerful and one mother not to mess with, she takes no prisoners.

  8. Rachael, Mary and AG, thank you for your steadfast and continued support and comments. I am happy you find some enjoyment in my writing...:) There is much to admire in both Mother Nature and Japan.

    Pam, you are so correct. The Haitian quake killed 300,000 in one day and thousands since have been lost to disease or injury. Currently over 1 MILLION people still live outdoors in tents or shanties, with no access to basic sanitation or necessities. The VAST majority of promised aid, back when it got a person camera time for making such promises, remains undelivered! It is the worst insult on top of injury... (As an aside, I have a newfound respect for Sean Penn, who has basically been living alongside the people he is working to help...)

    Angel Eyes, thank you for checking out my little blog and thank you for your kind comments. Welcome to the party!

  9. Haiti, my own hometown of Christchurch NZ hit twice by earthquakes, now Japan.
    But there something we bloggers can do to help. Travel bloggers have responded to my call to combine for a tourism promotion to dispell the perception the earthquake affected all NZ and that we still are an exciting destination. Blog4NZ has taken off, a wee idea I got going with others.
    We've kicked it off, it's underway.
    But once that is over, the huge newtwork of travel bloggers will swing in behing a fund raiser for Japanese who need help.
    All bloggers can help by spreading through there social networks anything they see about Blog4NZ.
    And once the Japan fund raiser gets underway, you can share, spread, contribute to that.
    We bloggers can all combine to achieve a lot in the future working together on these sad situations..

  10. Paul - Well Done! It was a thoughtful and valuable read. I was fascinated with "Once again we sit, thousands of miles away. We try or pretend to identify with something we could never imagine.", and then reading the comment thread, I agree with you about the "fetish" [some] folks in the US have with 9/11 as a point of comparison. In the face of tragedy the media (and I suppose many people) fall back on the narcissistic habit of somehow making about ourselves...and that is a shame.

    Very well done, and thank you.

  11. Jim, I feel for you folks down in NZ. I have several friends down there. NZ is one of my most likely places to retire outside the US, assuming they'd have me. Good on you for the Blog4NZ project, that is a great idea and I hope for the best of all outcomes...

    Ron, thank you. I get pretty angry over the narcissism the Americans regularly display. I feel like it is such a beautiful world and we squander our place in it with that reputation. On the topic of tragedies, we have been exceedingly fortunate here to avoid the type that other nations deal with on a consistant basis. It feels to me as if that has stunted our ability to persevere, which is a bedrock American ideal...

    As usual, thank you both for your ongoing and thoughtful feedback!

  12. Very nice post, Paul. I was just thinking that it was just a year since the Haiti earthquakes and I can't help but wonder if or when we will have to endure a trial of such proportions here in the US. The closest thing in my recent memory was 9/11. I often wondered if people in other parts of the US felt the fear as keenly as we did in the NY metropolitan area, or is it really a "you had to be there" type of situation.

  13. Sweepyjean, Thank you very much. I believe you had to be there for 9/11 in order to experience the deep fear it must have invoked.

    The rest of us felt anger, or pain, but it is hard to be fearful 3000 miles away. For a brief period of time in 2000, my office was on the 66th floor of #2 WTC. I mostly wanted to know that people I knew were safe.

    Stay safe. I love NY and envy you for living there, although I am not about to trade in Portland...

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  15. Paul - This was a very thoughtful post - I don't come by here much because I have a problem reading white on black :( but I'm so glad I did...