TsunamiAfter the earthquake and the tsunami, many people noted how apparently calmly the Japanese reacted. Amidst the worst disaster the country had experienced since the war, people did not look agitated or even very scared. And there was no looting, but a lot of moving scenes of people helping each other. Many attributed this to all the practical drills they have been through in a country that knows it will be struck by earthquakes from time to time. Others took a more “orientalist” view, as if it’s in their blood, or at least part of their zen-like spiritual culture.

A colleague who does research on Japan took a more cynical view. Why there’s no looting? Because there’s nothing left to loot! Modern scholars have been vaccinated against anything that smacks of orientalism, the view of “their” oriental mind as something completely different from “our” Western mind. Any belief in a cultural “essence” is frowned upon.

I am not sure who is right. I am quite sure that the Japanese, even if many of them show a calm surface, have the same feelings of fear and perhaps anger and desperation that most of us would have had in such a situation. But is their apparent calm just a question of harsh, suppressive self-discipline, or is there a meditative or spiritual element in their attitude? Whatever the answer is, the current nuclear problems seem to put a little too much pressure on their controlled surface. People are beginning to express anger at the government and defying its recommended path of staying put and trusting that the nightmare will soon be over.