The topic of the recent Japanese EarthquakeXTsunami is rightfully overrated (unlike Rebecca Black) though they are mostly accounts through the media. Over a week ago, my mother had gone to Japan on a business trip, and it so happens that the Earth felt like it needed to shift in its sleep. Its very depressing to think about the magnitude of damage, fatalities and the current state of Japan, but I'm sure the Japanese will rise up again quickly, as they did after the 2nd World War.
Though she was no where near the tsunami or the worst of the damage, this is her account; thank God she is ok
On Wed morning 9th March I witnessed my first earthquake tremor experience in a meeting room in Tokyo.
My next earthquake experience happened on Friday afternoon in the same office. This time it was much stronger, registering at 5 on the Richter scale. The building swayed, some of the furniture contents started to shake. Immediately we grabbed on to tables for support. Someone shouted in Japanese, “ Under the tables!” and everyone scrambled underneath any office table they could find. I crouched in a fetal position and all I could do was to pray that everything would be fine. Everything happened so quickly yet the swaying and rumbling seemed like eternity. When it stopped, everyone got up and rushed to tune in the news. That was when we realized that the north eastern part of Honshu had been hit by a 9 Richter scale earthquake. Everyone was in a state of disbelief. But there was no panic or screaming, People quietly called their families, but unfortunately the mobile phone lines were disrupted. It seemed unreal to me that we are actually in the middle of major crisis but the Japanese people were handling the situation in such a composed manner. I thought that if it had been me; I would have gone somewhat hysterical not knowing how my loved ones were doing at home, let alone if my home was still standing. There was no damage to our building as I was told, since it had been built structurally to withstand earthquakes. Even then, every 15 minutes or so, the tremors would come back and the building would sway again. I felt very helpless not knowing what to do at all and wondering when the swaying would end or if it would get worse. People tried to continue working but it was obvious that no one could focus on their work on a time like this. We watched the Live TV news in horror as the 10metre high tsunami swept across the farms and destroyed everything in its path. I was speechless…
Soon, people were seen quietly leaving the building to go home. Unfortunately, the entire Tokyo subway system had crippled and came to a halt leaving thousands of commuters stranded. The average worker takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to commute to work daily by the subway. Quite a of number of workers, determined to get home to their families ended walking home in the freezing cold night for 4 – 5 hours. The rest of the workers who lived a long way from home, ended up camping in the office. We were quite fortunate that our hotel was only a 35 minute walk away. We joined thousands of grim and worried people on the streets. There were massive jams on the main roads and the walkways were filled to every inch with people but amidst the uncertainty was a very orderly chaos that filled the air .People were walking hurriedly like ants marching to leaderless call .There was no commotion, no pushing . The queues for the illusive bus and taxi looked endless but the anxious people were very orderly and were in a single file. There was no shouting or cars honking other than the ambulance sirens. It was almost as if the Japanese people were invisibly linked to each other with unseen knowing that for the whole system to work everyone has to co operate together synchronistic ally. Just like being an individual cell in a body and requiring all cells have to function together for the body to be well.
We got back to the hotel safely that evening. I was not able to get any earlier flights back to Singapore as all SQ flights were cancelled. The highways to the airports were also closed. I had 2 sleepless nights in the hotel as my room kept swaying with each tremor. It was later reported that Tokyo has at least 160 aftershocks after the massive earthquake event. The following day I went to the supermarket to get some bread only to find out that all stocks of bread, cooked food and water was sold out. However there was plenty of other food still stocked on the shelves. There was no panic buying or hoarding of food. Apparently, people only bought what was necessary at that point of time,
I left Japan on the third day. The hotel was having its occasional sway before I left and so was the floor at Narita airport. I prayed it that will stop soon for the Japanese people.
A day before the earthquake I was asking a Japanese local why “aesthetics “ was so important to them. The culture here does not accept goods with even the slightest packaging defect even though the product is perfectly functional . She paused for a moment and responded simply that presentation is important because it is in the Japanese culture.
When I got home to Singapore I commented to another Japanese my admiration for them and enquired about the secret of their ability to handle crisis with such stoicism and unity . This is what I learnt. Education is key during their upbringing and throughout their school lives. Also when a major decision needs to be made, it must be made through consensus that it best for all. No matter how conflicting the ideas may be, finally one will be agreed by all because the Japanese feel it is an important to come to a resolution that benefits all. Unity is the key word. Therefore it is almost inappropriate for one to even to think for himself without considering the consequence it would have on others. It reminded me of an advice I have always given my children. “ Whenever you are at a crossroad of choice making always pick the one that makes you happy and yet not at the expense of others”
I suddenly realized significance of the importance of presentation in the Japanese culture. When presentation is of passionate importance to one, only will one make an effort to ensure each process in his daily chores is presentable and pleasant. In the right context, the culture imbeds habits making a person conscious of his actions and results, right from brushing the teeth, making a delightful breakfast, dressing up neatly , cooking a lovely meal or even greeting someone or queuing politely for something. Everything is done with thought and care. We have been such habitual doers that we do longer remember or are even conscious of what we are doing on a daily basis. We no longer make efforts to make our daily routine meaningful. We stop appreciating little things in life and we often take things for granted. In short, we no longer respond but react with survival flight mode instincts, simply, fear
We are all connected to each other in many ways that we do not know. Perhaps it is time that we slow down a bit and evaluate our emotions and values before we even speak. All it takes is for one to shout and create panic in a situation of crisis. That is the power we hold over ourselves and other people.
How should we prepare ourselves for a crisis? I’d like to suggest that you spend half a day just observing and focusing on your emotions as you go about your daily routines. Make note of how you react to every moment and note your feelings . You will be surprised that 80% of the list will be filled up by negative feelings ranging for annoyance, irritation , impatience and criticism of others . Make the next half day to consciously respond pleasantly to your daily routines. We need undo all our negative habits and start living consciously If we want to built a nation with compassion and unity.
Some people are quick to point out that the government should do more. While I do not deny that, let me ask you this question, if there is a country of 5 million people and the government leaders represent 2% of the population, which group would create a faster and biggest impact change, 98% of the population who are in control of their behavior or the 2% group implementing the changes for the 98% to work on ? We can make a positive difference only if we start the change ourselves. Something to ponder on.