Saturday, June 11, 2011

Japan Endures: Three Months On

Shigetsuden Buddha, Shuzenji
Few countries could endure a disaster the size of a magnitude 9 earthquake, but Japan has had some experience. In 1945, after the United States dropped two nuclear bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Emperor Hirohito called on the Japanese people to “endure the unendurable, bear the unbearable.” Three months on from the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Japan is still struggling with the unbearable.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan's government has been trying to defeat the tsunami's hydra of misfortune, but it's come close to imploding rather than uniting for the sake of the country. Backstabbing foes like Ichiro Ozawa and Yukio Hatoyama are doing their best to undermine Kan's leadership, while the average Japanese is sick to the teeth with these petty power grabs. Meanwhile, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the operator of the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant, has been doing a miserable job on all fronts. The plant is still emitting radiation and Tepco has failed to keep the public informed about the levels of toxicity, jeopardizing the health of citizens and the economy of the region.

Shuzenji Temple Daruma
Recently, Tepco doubled the amount of radiation released by the plant in the days after the March 11 tsunami, admitting they were initially negligent or lying. Why the government hasn't taken over responsibility for managing the crisis is a question more and more people are beginning to ask. Today, on the three-month anniversary of the quake, thousands of anti-nuclear protesters marched throughout Japan increasing pressure on the government to shut down more nuclear plants. Japan is running only 19 of the 54 reactors in operation before of the disaster. As summer approaches, the peak season for energy consumption, fears are being raised about serious power shortages.

Mount Fuji, Lake Yamanaka
But not all is doom and gloom. The Japanese have an expression, “gaman suru,” which loosely translates as “stoic perseverance.” The great Ukiyo-e artist, Hokusai, created his iconic series, “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” (富嶽三十六景, Fugaku Sanjūrokkei), and it includes images that have come to be identified with Japan itself. Despite all the different perspectives and locales, Mount Fuji appears as an immovable and stoic force in each painting of the series, an ever-present reminder of nature’s resilient continuity. Today, Fuji encapsulates the “gaman suru” spirit more than ever.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami-ura 神奈川沖浪裏)

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