Haruki Murakami's speech about the Tōhoku earthquake on March 11th, 2011
- How could Japanese victims behave in such an unselfish and stoic way? - Part 1 -
March 11th in 2011, Tsunami attacked Japan.
AT 2:46 pm (JST) on March 11th in 2011, a great earthquake of magnitude 9.0 at a depth of 24 km below surface struck the northeast region of Japan. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the earthquake was the 4th largest earthquake since 1900.
The earthquake was followed by a huge tsunami, which, in some areas such as Miyako-city in Miyagi, propagated 40.5 meter-high waves and, as a result, caused landslides, soil liquefaction and land subsidence. This disaster caused massive damage and more than 20,000 casualties around Tohoku region. Moreover, the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant explosion caused radiation leakage, which caused collateral damage for both the domestic and global economy.
The collapse of the social system
The Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami caused the collapse of a social system that was inherited from past generations. We are forced to live in the social system and normally cannot change nor destroy it in every day circumstances. However, when an emergency occurs, the social system stops functioning because people did not either expect it, or the emergency was a lot worse than they expected.
During crisis, people show their national character
When the Japanese people face a crisis such as the collapse of the social system, the character of Japanese people will show its nature. CNN's evening program on March 12th reported Japanese victims' behaviors though this dialogue between studio anchors and reporters in Sendai.
The studio anchor asked whether there was looting or rioting. The reporter in Miyagi prefecture said the victims were calm, supportive and harmonious. They were even polite. They were helping each other as community and, he thought, it was characteristic of the Japanese who emphasize harmony. When asked about the looting specifically, the answer was clear. There was none. Everybody was acting with honesty and integrity. This CNN report was repeated several times and showed the world of the Japanese people's calm, unselfish and stoic attitude in the middle of this catastrophe, reflecting as virtuous to viewers.
A personal anecdote: Earthquake victims were not aware of CNN's report.
After March 11th, 2011, I could not contact my friend in Miyagi prefecture. There was no response to phone calls or mail. As a last resort, I sent him an email asking him how he was doing. As expected, he did not reply. I anxiously checked if his name was on the death list every day. I felt more relaxed when I could not find his name there, but I still worried about tomorrow's update.
Two months later, in the middle of May, I suddenly received an email from him saying "I am fine and alive." In tears, I called him at an earthquake evacuation site. He said that without water, food, bath, and clothing, he was having a difficult time. However, as the situation improved a little, he decided to use a computer. Of the many difficulties, the hardest thing for him was the lack of information. For the first four days, he did not know how the other areas were affected or when aid would come. He felt like he was stranded on an island. From the newspaper he received from his rescuers, he finally could grasp the widespread damage. He was also very surprised to learn the earthquake victim's calm behaviors were reported all over the world. As he desperately ran away from the tsunami with empty hands, it was totally natural for him to help and support other people. He believes it's not something that deserves praise from CNN. At the time, the only thing he could do was to try to survive. He said in tears that it was heartbreaking to see his friends swept away by the tsunami.
A speech by Haruki Murakami "How could the Japanese people show their everlasting and stoic spirit?"
Why could the victims in Tohoku act the way they did? The world-renown writer Haruki Murakami made comments during his acceptance speech at the International Catalunya Prize ceremony in Barcelona, on June 9th, 2011.
"We have a word "mujo" in Japanese that means that nothing lasts forever. Everything born in this world must die. Everything must keep changing. There is no such thing as eternal stability that we can rely on. This concept was derived from Buddhism, but the idea "mujo" became a distinctive part of Japanese people. Although now conceptually separate from its religious roots, mujo has become part of their national spirit and a tradition since ancient times."
The view of "Everything is passing" is one of resignation. It means that resistance against the nature is futile. However, the Japanese people find beauty in this resignation. For example, we love to see spring cherry blossoms, summer fireflies and autumn red leaves in nature. It is our passion and custom to go out together to see the cherry blossoms. It gets very crowded. During the peak of the cherry blossom, firefly, and red leave season, it is difficult make reservations at nearby hotels. Why?
Because Cherry blossoms, fireflies and red leaves lose their beauty quickly. We go far to catch such glorious moments. And we are rather relieved to see that, while they are still beautiful, they lose their beauty of light and vivid color. We find peace in seeing beauty peaking, fading, and eventually vanishing.
I am not sure if natural disasters affect the tradition of "mujo." However, I am positive that, since we have overcome so many natural disasters in the past, we tend to accept disasters as "natural occurrences". We simply try to survive by uniting as communities. Our experiences from natural disasters may have caused us to love beauty after its peak.
Most Japanese were deeply shocked by this earthquake. Even though we are accustomed to many earthquakes in daily life, we still feel helpless when big ones happen. The catastrophic damages make us feel insecure about the future of Japan.
However, eventually, we will collect ourselves and start to rebuild our country. I am not concerned about it too much. In our nation's history, we have always survived in times like these. We cannot just be upset without doing anything. Broken houses can be rebuilt and collapsed roads can be fixed.
After all, we are renting a room on Planet Earth without permission. Earth never asked us to live on it. Even if it shakes a little, we can not complain about it. That is the way the Earth is. Whether we like or not, we have to live in harmony with nature.
Haruki Murakami on the spirit of Shogyo Mujo - Everything is transient, nothing is fixed
The Buddhist term sabbe-saMkhaaraa-aniccaa, known in Japan as "Shogyo Mujo," states that everything that exists in this world, whether it be manmade or natural, constantly changes its appearance and soul. Nothing ever remains exactly the same even for a moment. This concept, deeply ingrained in Japanese culture from ancient times, causes the Japanese to act unconsciously "calm and stoic in front of crisis and disaster". It is this spirit that encourages the Japanese people to rebuild for the future. Murakami states that it is a unique characteristic of the Japanese people. I wholeheartedly agree with it.