I’m still making sense out of all the events around the country over the past week. Japan has started the process of recovery from the worst earthquake disaster in recent history. Events are still unfolding, especially relating to the crisis at the nuclear power plants along the eastern coast of Japan. Hopefully that situation will not fulfill the doomsayers’ prophecies of nuclear disaster.

I want to share a few things I’ve found along the way: some moving, some interesting, some outright awful. It sometimes takes a crisis to bring out the best and worst of humanity, and this disaster has truly seen some of them. Some of them I will link to, but others I will not – like the forums where people claimed the earthquake and tsunami were somehow retribution for Pearl Harbor. Scum that low doesn’t deserve attention.

Very quickly, the usual suspects have claimed that somehow God is punishing Japan for some pet hate or other; Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck etc. Some of the more interesting morons have turned out to be the captain of the Sea Shepherd and Tokyo’s right-wing governor, Shintaro Ishihara, have both claimed that the quake was divine retribution – something that otherwise they have nothing in common. To his (small) credit, Ishihara withdrew his comments – probably after realising it was career suicide. 

This post from I Heart Chaos showed two very moving videos. The first almost moved me to punch the screen as it shows a right-wing Christian fundamentalist teenage nutjob praising her god for granting an answer for her prayers to smits athiests by unleashing his power on Japan. I will try to curtail my rage (I watched less than a minute of the video before stopping it, such was my rising fury at this …. person) and try to explain her outburst as the inevitable result of being raised in a cult that suppresses the connection we have to all humanity through implicit superiority, entitlement and racist doctrines. She simply has no idea how offensive her words are because she hasn’t been taught how. In my opinion this is a classic example of sociopathy and a very good reason to avoid religions at all costs.

The second video almost moved me to tears as two boys from Haiti (Remember the Haiti earthquake from last year? Their situation is still dire.) watch the unfolding tsunami on live TV. One of the boys is reduced to tears as he expresses his helplessness at being unable to help the people being swept the their deaths, or to comfort the survivors. Boys like that fill me with hope for humanity – that we can still feel such a strong connection to strangers around the world simply because of what we share in common.

There are some links to before and after photos if you want to see just how devastating the tsunami was.

Thankfully, most peoples’ thoughts immediately turned to ideas along the lines of, “What can I do to help?” Mine did too. The truth is that at this time, help would be best left to the professionals. Many countries, such as South Korea, Australia, the USA and New Zealand, have sent in teams of trained rescue workers to assist the Japanese rescue teams, Self Defence Forces, medical, police and fire crews who are working around the clock to find survivors, but sadly, mostly finding bodies. The reserve of the Self Defence Forces have also been called up – for the first time since it was created in 1954.

Send money. The Red Cross would be my recommendation, but there are other ways to donate as well. My guess is requests for clothes, toys and other things will come as soon as they’re able to take care of the basics. It’s still very cold up north – we had snow here yesterday – so they’re trying to move as much fuel and warm things into the area, as well as restore power, as fast as they can.

An example of what’s going on is with the US relief mission, titled “Operation Tomodachi” (‘tomodachi’ means ‘friend’ in Japanese). Scroll past the ads and links to smutty material to see screencaps from Japanese TV of the effort, as well as an example of what the Japanese civilian effort is doing. The picture shows how they were able to repair an earthquake damaged road in just a few days. The infrastructure is what’s really needed right now to get supplies into the region, so that’s where the effort is right now.

Another thing that is happening is the world’s attention has also been turned to the way that the Japanese people handle a crisis – with calmness and order being the highest priority to maintain. Some have expressed, in hushed awe, their wonder at the lack of looting or rioting that would happen in their own countries. This article explains the character of the Japanese people in some detail and why such behaviour just wouldn’t occur to most people here.

One thing is clear, that life in the Tohoku region of Japan will never be the same again. Some towns have lost over half of their populations. Just compare that to where you live – if in a matter of minutes over half of the people around you just died.

The rebuilding will take years. BUT – never underestimate the strength and determination of the Japanese people.

I came to Japan just six years after the last devasting earthquake here; the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake of January 1995. One of the first things I did was to visit Kobe, and I had to confess it was difficult to find evidence that there had ever been an earthquake there. I think I saw a few patched up cracks in one building and a lopsided gutter on a road. That was it.

Japanese society has been well prepared and well rehearsed for such disasters; one of the lessons learnt from the aftermath of the 1995 quake – although the sheer scale of this earthquake and tsunami would have to fall into ‘worst case scenario’ in many ways.

Like I said, life will never be the same again. But Japan will pull through. Of that, I am sure.