Sunday, March 13, 2011

Praying For Japan

I've now heard from all my Japanese friends, and thank God they and their families are safe. Five bits of good news, to weigh against the tide of bad news.

Looking at this "before-and-after" slideshow from the NY Times, it seems a miracle that anybody in that part of the country could have survived at all. (Click on the slider bar in the middle of each picture, and then drag the slider back and forth, like a curtain, to compare and contrast each image in the series)

It's as if a giant scythe swept across the face of the country, shaving the soil of its humanity, a ghastly harvest of death.


Eowyn said...

Charles Henry, I spent three memorable months in Tokyo as a soldier, back in the 1980s.

The best friends I made: two high-school-age boys who somehow found me (I'll never know how), and latched on in an eager attempt both to learn English and make an American friend.

On one evening, they insisted on taking me to the "best" Italian restaurant in Tokyo. Size: roughly big enough for two tables, a skinny bar, and the kitchen behind the bar. The food was awful -- but the boys were so pleased to take me there.

On another evening, walking along a Tokyo street, I saw a man idling outside a storefront -- nicely dressed in khakis and a polo shirt, holding a dog on a leash. I lean down to pet the pooch, which causes my teenage escorts much distress. They pull me away, and as we hurry along, I ask, "What was the matter?"

"He very bad man," says one. "He gangster."

"Really?" I wonder.

"Oh, yes. He part hair on side."

A third (and last) memory: The night before I must depart for my home country.

Gifts rain down. Trinkets, like good-luck charms, homemade cakes, a small book of Japanese philosphy. I am moved beyond words.

I'll never forget them. And I'm more upset than I know how to say that I have know way of knowing whether they're okay.

Eowyn said...

Sorry ... "know" way = no way

truepeers said...

I know a Canadian guy who took a job for a year in Japan. The firm worked him long hours, and when he eventually complained that he was expected to work well in excess of what they had contractually agreed to, the "salary men" were quietly scandalized that he should speak up. Then, at the end of his stay, they took him out on the town, got him drunk and handed him an envelope stuffed with a bonus equivalent to several months' pay, in cash, with which he stumbled onto the airplane.

Eowyn's comment reminds me how much the modern world and its economy of anonymous transactions at the speed of computer is still in large part a world ordered around earlier assumptions about gift exchange and mutual obligation. That may also have something to do with the stories we are seeing now about how the Japanese retain a sense of order and civility, an ability to wait hours peacefully in line for clean water to survive, and when they don't get any they don't lash out at the messengers of bad news. Whatever the explanation we like, they are teaching the world a thing or two in face of the disaster.

Dag said...

I had a Japanese acquaintance in Libya some time ago, a nice girl who was one evening badly cheated at the market by a man who laughed at her as he stole her money right in front of us. Shameless.

Mr Nice Guy here lost his temper. Well, the girl I was with had a boyfriend, a fellow I knew somewhat. We three were to go out for my birthday, a small celebration, and next I know, there is a girlfriend of the other girl there with us. She ended up expressing her friend's gratitude for me acting like a maniac in the first girl's defence. I was shocked, to say the least. Not that I objected too much. But that kind of favour-swapping is pretty intense for the likes of me. I just did what I did because I didn't like the guy cheating a girl and humiliating her. I don't expect anything for that. If it had been anything other than what I got, I would have refused. I have, somewhere, a principle. Trust me on that one.