Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
In the days following the March 11, 2011 earthquake I wrote to many North American friends that if this were America there would be a lot of discussion of theodicy already - the problem of suffering and evil in the world created by a compassionate God. Why does God let people suffer? Where is God? What is the metaphysical meaning of it, etc.? Thank goodness in Japan there is practically none of that, and such concerns don’t seem to register in the cultural imagination. Those are the kinds of questions that American media, churches and politicians use like currency. Theodicy is an American fetish, and not just a Christian one. Maybe it reflects a Buddhist passive serenity. Or, maybe it’s because religion in Americais more aligned with entertainment than anywhere else in the world, and theodicy questions make for good ratings and good sales.
Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara is an often inflammatory, notorious eccentric, and his comments about the earthquake and tsunami as divine retribution for egoism were typical off-the-cuff remarks. Ignorance of a topic never stops him from talking about it. In any event, Ishihara is the only one in a nation of 128 million to publicly say such a thing.
God created a tectonically active world. That’s a good thing. Human decisions to liveon the slopes of active volcanoes, or on major river flood plains, or in earthquake fault zones are just those - human decisions. But because the disastrous consequences are only occasionally manifest, we neglect, disregard and outright forget our role in it. Then, when disaster does occur, being reminded of our human responsibility and participation in it in the first place is the last thing people want to hear.
Japan is a disaster country: earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, volcanoes, and typhoons. Understanding that helps us understand the social virtue of “gambaru,” or unfaltering perseverance. It is both a virtue and a vice, but at times like this the “gambatte!” spirit gives Japanese the look of incredible strength in the face of adversity.