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What Effect Will The Earthquake And Tsunami Have On Japanese Culture?

Above: OSHIMA, Japan (March 21, 2011) Lt. j.g. Jaden Risner, assigned to the Black Knights of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron embarked aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, speaks with a Japanese citizen during a humanitarian assistance mission. Ronald Reagan is operating off the coast of Japan providing humanitarian assistance as directed in support of Operation Tomodachi.

Audio

Aired 3/30/11

As news of devastation continues in Japan as the body count rises and the nuclear crisis goes on we'll discuss how the Japanese culture may be influenced by the earthquake and tsunami.

So much attention has been given to Japan's continuing nuclear crisis, that the full scope of the earthquake and tsunami devastation is sometimes overlooked.

But along the northeast coast of Japan, whole cities, entire communities, businesses, schools, hospitals, shopping centers that were thriving three weeks ago, no longer exist.

Authorities say more than 10,000 people are now confirmed dead in the earthquake and tsunami disaster, some say that figure may double.

Guest

Dr. Michael Inoue is President Emeritus of the Japan Society of San Diego and Tijuana and a member of the San Diego Consular Corps.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. That was the choir of Koriyama Junior High School located 30 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant giving a concert just a few days ago. That is a YouTube video that we were made aware of by my next guest, doctor Michael Inoue, he is honorary consul of Japan in San Diego, and president emeritus of the Japan society of San Diego and Tijuana. And I want to welcome you to our show, Dr. Inoue. Thank you for coming in.

INOUE: Well, thank you very much for having me.

CAVANAUGH: You know, some people have said that we've spent an awful long time talking about the nuclear reactor problem and not enough time thinking about the people who have lost their lives, have lost their home, have lost their communities in this earthquake tsunami disaster. Now that you've had a few days to process this disaster, I wonder if you could show your personal reactions with us.

INOUE: Well, thank you very much. I know that among the listeners, there are people who have relatives or friends, dear ones who are affected by tragedies. Of course the Japanese tragedy is perhaps the biggest. We now have over 11000 dead, and 17000 missing, which means probably it hit about 30000 people all together. But that's not the only one. There are other natural disasters, just like today after three days of heavy rain in Thailand, there was the worst flood in decades, the last count that I watched was about 21 deaths. And before that, there was a earthquake in Mianmar which was at the border of China and tie land, and again over 60 people died including one in thigh land where the house collapsed.

But there are others which are not natural causes but human causes. The Fukushima reactors, in a sense, it's a man-made disaster because we only designed the plants to with stand magnitude seven, and the plant is 40 years old, and it shows that we under estimate the power of nature.

CAVANAUGH: Doctor Inoue, I know that you spoke last night at the San Diego museum of man at a fora about how Japan is dealing with the devastation of this earthquake tsunami. What did you say? How is Japan coping with this devastation?

INOUE: It was very appropriate that we had this at the museum of man, because there in the -- you know, in the midst of an exhibit called Race, we saw different. And what has really warmed people's heart in Japan is that they realize that they're not the only one. That a hundred and 34 countries came to their rescue. They are very grateful for that. Including Israel that sent a team of what they called the very best medical doctors. China has sent ships, even though they sort of, you know, they said that it was in response to what Japan had done for China when China had earthquakes. And Thailand by -- in your earlier show you talked about power plants. They are loans free of charge two entire power plant, not just the generator. And that's gonna supply 240000 households of it's a gas turbine engines, and they are on the ship, heading to Japan, and these are tremendous help, and of course the United States have immediately dispatched flat tops that has power generating capacity and everything. So that, you know, and the first ones that are -- at the sites were the American people from Okinawa.

CAVANAUGH: So the world has responded to the -- this crisis in Japan in a way that has warmed the hearts of the people who've been devastated by this disaster. But it's been remarked upon, doctor Inoue, that there's been very little panic that we've seen, very little chaos in the wake of this disaster. Is that part of what you might term the Japanese culture?

INOUE: You know, I don't know whether you want to call it Japanese or not, but it is part of our culture. Because all islands on Pacifics are volcanos, and Japan happens to sit at the intersection of the Pacific plate upon which the United States sits. And the Eurasian plate where Europe and Asia's continents sit, and the Philippine plates with the rest of the islands in southeast Asia sits, and it's just an adjustment of the plates between, right now, between Pacific and Eurasian. But there was also a minor quake which is attributed to Philippine plates. So this adjustment happens every hundred years or thousand years or whatever, but volcanos are a lot more prevalent. So people are used to earthquakes. And if I may just --

CAVANAUGH: Please.

INOUE: We've heard an anecdote in Japan, they are forcing that we are taught to fear from the time we are a child. And one is an earthquake, including tsunami, and we saw pictures of those huge waves engulfed hills, and then the second one is fire, which all -- everybody in San Diego knows about that. And the second one actually is lightning. And then the fourth one is the -- your father's anger, which could, you know, you have to behave yourself.

CAVANAUGH: You never know when that's gonna happen.

INOUE: That's right. So Japanese students and people have earthquake practice, you know, it's like air raids practice. But you know, you know where to go when an earthquake happens and when flood happens and so on.

CAVANAUGH: Do you wonder, excuse me, but doctor Inoue, do you wonder at all about the possible psychological damage that this complete devastation, especially in northeastern Japan is going to have on the people who survive this tragedy? Will the Japanese people seek out mental health services? Or is that something that is not commonly done?

INOUE: Well, I'm sure it is devastating. You have seen pictures of people in tears. Losing things is not as important as losing memories, photographs, especially when the people have been passed away. You know, you want to have something. So they are going back to try it find any piece of -- you know, picture, anything. But having said that, Japan has had so many disasters right before this, you know, of course when San Francisco -- right after the San Francisco earthquake, Hanshin, the western part of Japan was hit, and you've seen the picture of the high rise collapse and so on. And the biggest tragedy of all was Japan being dragged into the second world war, Japanese people being dragged into the second world war, and at the end of the war, the entire islands of Japan was devastated, not just the eastern part, but the entire islands. Not only that, they had people over seas that had to come back to Japan. And there was not enough food. And then on top of that, Japan had agreed to pay restitutions or redemptions to all nations that Japan has caused damages. So that is an economic burden that Japan had to endure. And the reasons why Japan prospered after the second world war and because people of the United States , the generosity and other nations have really helped Japan. And so they understood that. But the new generations were born before -- after this. So they lost this sense of gratitude or humility, and the strife to rebuild the country.

CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line right now. Will is calling from downtown San Diego. Good morning, Will. Welcome to These Days.

WILL: Good morning, thank you, Maureen of thank you, doctor Inoue. I had the same thoughts that you had, which is that there's been an inordinate amount of coverage on whatever media, be it print or on line or on television, of the nuclear situation, and it just seems to me very little about what's going on with the rest of the country, which has been devastated. 11000 dead, 17000 -- hundreds of thousands of homeless. And our focus seems to be on that so much, that it seems to me to be taking away from potential help that they might get. And we keep thinking about that. Which none of us can do anything about. But there's much that we can do to help the Japanese people.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for your call, very much. And I think a lot of people share that feeling very strongly. Doctor Inoue, you have made the point that I don't know if the younger generation is as seasoned as the older generation in Japan from these very hard times, these devastating tragedies that have fallen on the population. But I'm wondering if you think the culture of Japan, that memory, that cultural memory of coming back from very hard times, can help the nation rebuild. Of.

INOUE: Definitely. Every calamities, Japanese people try to find something good out of it. This is one way of paying respect to those who left their lives, that something good come out of it. And already the world has shown that good things can come out of it in terms of the love and friendship and support and so on. But also, you know, we human beings are made up of our mind and our heart and our soul and our body. But it affects every part of it. The mind for example out of these tragedies, the humanity is going to benefit from many new technologies that are emerging out of it. In north Africa, you're already seeing the power of Internet and twitter ask so on. In Japan, the same thing happened. The line telephone went down, electricity was out, and cellphones did not work. But there were spots of Internets.

CAVANAUGH: I see.

INOUE: And they used the twitter. And they developed a new technology because so many people called into twitter to ask about people. And they had to create a new technology to handle this data.

CAVANAUGH: That's sort of finding whatever is good in this tragedy is I hope that spirit continues because it's gonna be needed over the next weeks and months. I want to thank you so much doctor Inoue, thank you for being here and speaking with us.

INOUE: Thank you very much for this opportunity.

CAVANAUGH: I want to tell everyone, the UCSD Japanese student association is holding its Matsuri Festival at Library Walk at UCSD campus this Thursday between 5:00 and 10:00 PM with an emphasis on Japan disaster relief. And if you would like to comment, please go on-line, KPBS.org/These Days.

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