I was traveling around Japan in March 2011, and was in the Tokyo when the first of the earthquake tremors hit, and was there for the two days following…experiencing the aftershocks (many of which were big enough to be considered earthquakes), and observing–not surprisingly however–why I think the Japanese people are so amazing. Below are some of the things we saw.
After the initial earthquake on Friday afternoon, all transportation was shut down. All trains and buses were not running, and taxicab lines were two hours long, so we found a restaurant and bar to pass the time away. We found a number of calm Japanese, not panicking, and just watching the news channel with a pint of beer in hand. I even spoke with one man who was worried about his family, which he could not reach since phone lines and the trains from Tokyo to his rural suburb were not working.
We were in the Tokyo Stock Exchange building when the earthquake hit, and it was probably the best place we could have been. The incredible architecture of buildings allowed them to sway but not fall, while outside on the streets, some glass windows and tilings on outside walls cracked and fell to the ground, putting pedestrians at risk.
Disciplined queues for water and groceries. Not a rough word or a crude gesture. People bought only what they needed for the present, so everybody could get something. When the power went off in a store, people put things back on the shelves and left quietly. There was no looting in shops. No honking or overtaking on the roads. The Japanese were very polite even to us travelers after such a devastating catastrophe.
Restaurants cut prices. An unguarded ATM is left alone.
All the Japanese professionals working in downtown Tokyo knew exactly what to do when the earthquake hit. They calmly filed out of buildings with their employee-issued white construction helmets. Even our Tokyo Stock Exchange tour guide calmly instructed us to get under the desks.
They showed magnificent restraint in the bulletins. No silly reporters. Only calm reportage.
Even though I saw first-hand–during the Great Flood of 1993 (I was a volunteer sand-bagger with my dad)–how Americans can come together to help one another, I still think we can learn a few things from the Japanese.