Home > Uncategorized > More on the Quake, Recovery, and the Potential of Gossip

More on the Quake, Recovery, and the Potential of Gossip

I was recently alerted to a short essay by Suzanne Kamata, a fellow Nikkei living in Japan.  Her post is entitled:
Postcard from Japan: Disability and Disaster
http://www.beaconbroadside.com/broadside/2011/03/postcard-from-japan-disability-and-disaster.html

Suzanne lives in Tokushima Prefecture, with her husband and 2 children.  One of her children is 11 years old, around the same age as my son, Stevie, who is 10 and in the 5th grade.  You can read her post at the link above.  I recommend that you do.  It shed’s a strong light on the particular difficulties experienced by people with disabilities in Japan and during disasters.

My post here, though, is with regard to a brief passage in Suzanne’s essay.

『After living in Japan for 23 years, I’ve come to understand that along with the capacity for endurance, much vaunted by the foreign press these past several days, and a sense of fatalism encompassed by the oft-repeated phrase “shikata ga nai” (it can’t be helped), the Japanese can be characterized by an aversion to meiwaku (being a burden) In other words, no one wants to make trouble.』

This phrase, “shikata ga nai“, is one I heard quite often as a child, mostly by Issei generation grandparents speaking about their experience in the Relocation Camps during World War II.  In hearing this phrase repeated again in Tohoku, I was reminded of my childhood.  Upon my return to Tokyo and reading Suzanne’s essay, I find that I agree completely that this phrase is very interlinked with the Japanese aversion to meiwaku.

In Tohoku, 2 months after the quake and tsunami, most evacuation centers, temporary housing, and other areas damaged by the events of March 11 have sufficient food, water, and most things.  I heard repeatedly that people have the things they need, that the issues are no longer survival but revival of work, industry, and livelihood.  But this, while true, is somewhat misleading.  The quality of life is indeed still tenuous.  Most people do have sufficient food and water is available.  But running water is still unavailable in many places and anpan for breakfast and onigiri for lunch every day may be sufficient in quantity but not quality.

I found it quite interesting that while it was very difficult for Japanese volunteers to ask personal questions of survivors and to get straight and honest answers, the American volunteers that I went to Tohoku with were not only able to ask  but to receive quite detailed answers without being burdened by cultural codes of reservation and trouble avoidance.

I was able to elicit a glimpse of “real” stories from a few children and elderly people we met.  But I think that emotional recovery and healing will begin only when people are able to overcome their sense of fatalism and that opening up to others is a burden.  While most people are completely convinced that physical recovery is not possible without intervention, emotional recovery will require as much.  I think that the time has already arrived for the region to be visited by groups of people who are able to participate outside of the cultural norms.  Foreigners and children are perfect in this regard, of course.  But so too are beauticians, barbers, and masseuse.  The hair stylist is notorious for his/her ability to bring out the gossip in each customer.  In times like these, gossip may be a critical component to heal the wounded.

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