Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Strength of the Rising Sun

March 11, 2011 - I was at a lunch in Akasaka (downtown Tokyo) with two of my friends, Sakitsu san of the NHK World and Ogawa san of the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) when suddenly the building started shaking. Mildly at first. “It’s normal,” one of them reassured me. But the quake only intensified and things started falling down around us. Some people started screaming outside. Sakitsu took out his phone and was rather shocked by what he saw on the mini-screen, “It is a big one. It hit Fukushima. Tsunami alert along the Pacific Coast.” There was an emergency. Immediately he excused himself and rushed off. Ogawa, seeing me little dazed, asked me to follow him to his office – the TBS building, which is probably one of the safest buildings in Tokyo. I followed him. In the streets people were running all over the place. A big earthquake has just hit Japan.

The 9.0RS earthquake has released an energy that was equivalent to 30,000 times to the atomic bomb that was dropped in Hiroshima during the World War II. But more than the earthquake (because Japan was prepared for it) it was the tsunami it triggered that devastated the north-eastern coast of Japan. Scenes of cities beings washed away, like in the movie Day After Tomorrow, were flashed on TV news over and over again. At the time of posting this article, over 3,000 people have been confirmed dead, as many were still missing and over quarter of a million have been left homeless or directly affected.

The response to the disaster was quick. Over 1.2 million people were evacuated within minutes after the tsunami alarm went off along the Pacific Coast - from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu islands in the South. Relief and recovery teams went into action even before the first wave of Tsunami hit the Iwate prefecture (which was closest to the epicenter). Trains, airports and subways were suspended and elevators in every building in Japan were disabled with clockwork precision. The Self Defense Force (Japan’s army) was put into action and the Parliament suspended the debate and the session to allow the government to deal with the crisis.

But what really amazed me was not the Japanese efficiency at work. Rather the courage and the dignity with which the Japanese people, those who were directly affected, dealt with the tragedy. It is often said that the worst of times brings the best and the worst in us. In the case of Japan, it has brought only the best in their people. Although left with nothing for themselves and for their family, people lined up in the usual orderly manner – to get some food, buy some supplies or to make telephone calls from public fixed lines. The sense of community was simply moving. For all their technological advancements the core value of Japanese society, the social harmony, is still strong. Usually emotions run high and looting and riots take place where desperation sets in. This has happened in recent tragedies and turmoils all over the World. But not in the Land of Rising Sun. I couldn’t help but admire my in-laws (my wife is a Japanese) more than ever before for their great courage and the highest sense of civility.

On 13th March I boarded my flight for Seoul as scheduled from New Tokyo International Airport in Narita. Life in Tokyo had almost come to normal after two days although the after-shocks and the threat from the Fukushima nuclear plant kept coming. I called up Ogawa, Sakitsu and my sister-in-law, Junko, for taking care of me and sending me home safely. As the flight took off from Narita airport, I bid goodbye, for this time, to this country that has given me so much but was going through, what PM Kan described as, the worst crisis since WW II.

As we climbed higher I looked out of the window and saw the earth moving away and clouds slowly covering my second homeland. A deep sadness engulfed my heart. If there was one positive thing for me out of this incident, I realized how much my friends here and my in-laws cared for me and how much I have become closer to this country. I also realised how unpredictable life could be - for individuals and for nations.

But just as the aircraft turned left on its final trajectory towards Seoul, a bright light appeared in the horizon. It was Mount Fuji, beaming with the winter snow still covering its summit. Standing above the dark cloud that was now covering everything below us, I smiled tearfully at the sight and offered a little prayer. “Yes, Mount Fuji,” I thought, “You are the spirit of this Nation. Rising above all adversities."

Whatever destruction or despair Mother Nature may have thrown on this Land, suddenly I felt confident that like Fuji san (as the Japanese refer to their favorite mountain) the people here would stand tall, rise above the situation to rebuild their nation and move on. They have done that in the past. They will do again this time.

That is the strength of the Land of the Rising Sun.


  1. As soon as I heard the news about the earthquake in Japan, my first thought was about the Hayashi family, my other family (host family) in Japan. I immediately called them and was relieved to know that they were fine but couldn't sleep. I followed the news in CNN and BBC late into the night and prayed for the lost souls...

  2. "All compounded things are impermanent.
    All emotions are pain.
    All things have no inherent existence.
    Nirvana is beyond concepts."
    (The Buddha).
    Let's all hope and pray that similar disaster don't happen to us and to all those around us.

  3. really moving tribute to a great nation.

    I am inspired.

  4. I like ur writings la sir!! Great one!!