A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why Is There No Looting in Japan?

This is an important story and should generate some serious discussion. What do you think?

By Elizabeth Stuart, Deseret News
Published: Monday, March 14, 2011 4:17 p.m. MDT

First comes the natural disaster, then comes the looting — it's a pattern established by decades of catastrophe. But in Japan in the wake of a series of powerful earthquakes, people — though desperate — aren't looking to the rubble for relief. Residents of the Miyagi prefecture in northeast Japan, which was severely hit by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami, are experiencing a shortage of drinking water and food, but according to Sify News, people are keeping calm. "Gas and water have been switched off in Miyagi and the central city of Sendai. With rare exceptions, electricity is also off," said an eyewitness, who arrived in Miyagi several hours after Friday's earthquake. "But there is no panic either in the streets or shops." Instead, people are patiently waiting in line outside of shops that have had all their windows and doors broken. To prevent hoarding, shops are passing out food and water resident by resident, he said. No one has entered, and nothing has been looted, the eyewitness said.

In contrast, Pichai Chuensuksawadi, Editor-in-Chief of the Bankok Post, in a recent opinion piece posed the question, "How many times have we witnessed devastation caused by natural disasters resulting in looting, robbery and violence?" New Orleans transformed into "chaos and anarchy" after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Chuensuksawadi wrote. Car-jacking was rampant, hospitals were raided and shooting broke out. Rescue operations had to be abandoned because the conditions weren't safe for volunteers. The National Guard could not focus efforts on search and rescue because they had their hands full tackling the looting. Things played out similarly in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, which is still suffering the effects of a 2010 earthquake, Chuensuksawadi reported. "Even now in camps which house the survivors, rape and sexual assaults occur as Haitian authorities are unable to clear the rubble left by the devastation over a year ago," he wrote.

News organizations around the world are chattering on about the remarkable order with which the Japanese have responded to the disaster. "Three days after a magnitude-9 killer quake devastated Japan, triggering Pacific-wide tsunamis and a likely nuclear plant meltdown and then consigning millions of Japanese to darkness, thirst and hunger in the wintry cold, I still have yet to read reports of widespread looting," wrote Frederico D. Pascual Jr. of The Philippine Star. "This Filipino watching 3,200 kilometers from Ground Zero finds this disciplined behavior of a huge population in distress awe-inspiring. Let us pray that they stay that way — and that we learn from them."

Gregory Pflugfelder, director of the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia University, told CNN he believes the phenomenon has its roots in Japanese culture. He said the Japanese feel responsible "first and foremost" to the community. "Looting simply does not take place in Japan," Pflugfelder said. "I'm not even sure if there's a word for it that is as clear in its implications as when we hear 'looting.' " Pflugfelder, who was in Tokyo at the time of the quake, said he noticed people still formed orderly lines at the subway even after it had been closed for several hours. Tokyo is hundreds of miles from the 8.9-magnitude earthquake's epicenter. "Such social order and discipline are so enforced in ordinary times that I think it's very easy for Japanese to kind of continue in the manner that they're accustomed to, even under an emergency."

Merry White, an anthropology professor at Boston University who studies Japanese culture, told CNN that she attributes the looting and disorder that is traditionally associated with natural disasters to social alienation and culture gaps. "There IS some alienation and indeed some class gaps in Japan, too, but violence, and taking what belongs to others, are simply not culturally approved or supported," White said in an e-mail. While an American's natural inclination would be to operate independently, Pflugfelder said Japanese culture centers around a communitarian spirit that "seems to function even more efficiently under the stress of disaster," CNN reported.

Max Fisher, an associate editor at The Atlantic, observed that "few nations have ever been quite as well prepared." Japan's earthquake was 900 times as strong as the 2010 quake that claimed an estimated 200,000 Haitian lives, but, so far, Japan has reported losing about 2,000, Fisher reported. "To achieve this feat, Japan drew heavily upon two resources it has in abundance: money and good governance," Fisher wrote. "From the soldiers trained as health workers, to the civilian hospitals equipped for instant conversion into emergency response centers, to the elementary schools that double as drilling yards, it's difficult to find an aspect of Japanese public life that the state does not exploit to better prepare Japan for earthquakes and tsunamis."


Robert Cornwall said...

Yes, there is no looting, but there is another side to this story. In the ongoing story about the nuclear plants, there is a lack of transparency and even accurate information.

There is an honor/shame element here that is being missed. The Japanese culture has its strengths, but it also has its weaknesses.

Daniel said...

Another element of the story is the complete destruction focused on by the networks. Some of these towns in the north have been so severely damages that there is little to steal.

Good point about the shame element Bob. I wonder what impact that has on society as a whole regarding behavior.

Our society often revels in shameful behavior. At the very least we are entertained by it. All manner of celebrities and comedians say terrible things and are applauded and reinforced in their actions. Rule-breakers receive little punishment, rather political support in many cases.