If you don’t get the reference, I apologize. It’s about Pokemon.
As someone who spent a year of my life living in Japan, I’ve obviously been incredibly moved by the devastation unfolding in that country. The destruction has impacted a number of people I care about there, although nowhere even approximating the scale of the suffering experienced by those closest to the epicenter of the quake.
So much of Japanese history, mythology, and culture — even popular, nerdy culture — is shaped by this omnipresent theme of vulnerability to the elements. The most famous Shinto deities always are those who can command the thunder or wind, just as many of the strongest moves in RPGs are the powers to summon earthquakes or blizzards.
Even during my short time in the country, in my mild, comfortable region, I still experienced wild storms, extreme temperatures fluctuations, and yes, even a quake or two. And the residents just shrug it off as a fact of life, having long ago made peace with the geographic realities that comes with being an island nation in the Pacific Ocean. It’s a crude and unglamorous fact that we often forget amid the technological wizardry that we associate with contemporary Japanese society: at the end of the day, the country is just a few small, unguarded, delicate scraps of land in a vast and hostile sea. The security and safety we take for granted living on large, fortress-like continents is a privilege many in this world envy, no matter how advanced their computers may be.
There was a lot I disliked about living in Japan, not the least of which was the anal-retentive and workaholic nature of the people I worked alongside. Yet now, as I watch the chaos of malfunctioning nuclear plants and the like, all I can do is take comfort in knowing that if there are a people in this world who have been trained for the sort of obsessive perseverance that emergency times demand, it is the Japanese.
It’s one of the reasons why, as we open our hearts and wallets to the country in its hour of need, we should also pay our honors and respects to Japan’s amazing ability to focus and persevere in this time of crisis. Theirs is not a nation of victims, nor a nation of hysterics, no matter the tragic fates that so often befall it. Instead, there is a fundamental sense of seriousness to Japanese life that can be a great asset in times like these, an asset that many of us in the west, who, for better or worse, lack a “just learn to suffer through it” culture, so often lack.
I know this is a site about commentary, and it’s hard to engage in much “commentary” when the issue at stake is a human tragedy of such epic proportions. But since I know a lot of my readers have been to Japan, or are at least Japanophiles themselves, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on my impressions of Japanese stoicism. I’m not just spouting flippant words of maudlin comfort, I honestly did walk away from the country with the impression that theirs is a culture more resigned to, and thus unemotional about, the concept of suffering and crisis than we in the west.
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