Japan's Human Tragedy and the Confidence of a Nation

A religious statue stands among the rubble in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture on March 17, 2011 after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)

Asia Society Associate Fellow Ayako Doi contributed a special report to Fareed Zakaria's "Global Public Square" (or GPS) blog on CNN.com yesterday.

It has already attracted some 130 comments. Doi's post, entitled "Restoring Japan's confidence and its people's big dreams," looks at the stoic nature with which many Japanese have responded to their recent tragedy.

"In a week since the disaster, not a single case of looting has been reported," Doi writes, "and I haven't seen any scene of people shouting in anger or banging on the table."

She continues:

A television viewer in China commented about how impressed he was to see a crowd of stranded train commuters carefully leaving a path so emergency workers could pass freely without stepping on others. "China may have surpassed Japan in terms of GDP, but we cannot emulate the Japanese’s level of politeness," he wrote on his Twitter feed, which was seen more than 700,000 times, according to the Mainichi Daily News.

Another widely circulated commentary was a blog post from a Chinese student in Tokyo, who reported that after the jolt of tremor, his Japanese instructor calmly guided his students on an evacuation path, made sure no one was left in the classrooms and then turned off the lights before leaving the building. Even the fact that many of the shelters in Japan are elementary schools was astounding to the Chinese, who remember that school buildings, because of shoddy construction, were the first to collapse in the 2008 earthquake that struck Sichuan province, the newspaper said.

Doi finishes by pondering what this disaster will mean for Japan's self-confidence, already on the wane in recent years. Could a successful rebuilding process embolden Japan's younger generation the same way past challenges have for their parents and grandparents "who dug out of World War II's rubble and built the second-largest economy in the world"?

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Dan Washburn is Asia Society's Chief Content Officer. The Financial Times named his book, The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream, one of the best of 2014.