Really windy today, cool too, so that means the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. People have asked how we manage not to stress out here with all the doomsday scenarios. With typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, mudslides (rivers with steepest vertical drops), tsunami, forest fires, sandstorms (yes, we do have a place for that), blizzards, ice storms, and suffocating summer humidity, Japan is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world.
We deal with it in two ways. Prepare and lower expectations. When I arrived here, I thought the maniacal attention to detail, obsession with insurance in every aspect of life, from double bagging groceries that are already wrapped in cellophane to my triple coverage on my job loss due to incapacitation, was unwarranted. But when you see redundant systems popping up all over, and those being tested by nature and man-made disasters like nuclear leaks and poison gas terrorists, you start to see why working a little harder, and taking more precautions than you think necessary is a prudent investment in your future.
The lower expectations is demonstrated in the popular phrase “shou-ga-nai” which means “it can’t be helped”. Some rail against this as a form of laziness in Japan, but I see it as healthy. People are not as insistent on heroic measures for the infirm elderly, preferring a quiet dignified passing with the knowledge that the end would come soon anyway, and there is nothing to extend a quality life. This “letting go” allows people to focus on things they can prepare for.
So we have a country that follows the AA motto without even thinking. (Serenity to accept the things I can’t change, strength to change things I can, wisdom to know the difference).
This has all gotten mixed up with the book I am reading, David Brooks’ The Social Animal. It’s main thesis is that the rational conscious mind is build on top of the unconscious affective mind, and that we need to learn more about the foundations, which requires new tools to understand. He is persuasive in his arguments that the rational French Enlightenment is inferior to the British Enlightenment which makes room for emotion. He goes through a lot of scientific literature on the brain and neurology to make his point. He wraps it in a story of a couple that grow up in different situations, meet, fall in love, and become happy leaders.
Japan has always paid a lot of attention to feelings, unconscious, and has been trying to balance that with the rational. Every culture seeks a balance. I see a lot of psychological capital wasted in the US with frustration, expectation, fear and loathing. I see that here too, but focusing on our relationships is not something, it is the only thing.
Sadly, Japan’s remarkable economic rise has lead to a decay in this priority, and while we are all comfortable, many are adrift, lost in technology, materialism, or simply ignorance of the social aspect of living. Some see these disasters as a time to rectify those priorities. We will see a hit on economic health, but the fraying of the social fabric will cease as we knit together the country again. Japan is girding itself as we speak to repair the destruction and in the process learn to live better.
Sorry to get all preachy there, but these are things that have been running around my brain. Back to the day-to-day.
Our department decided to do a small graduation ceremony in a small hall on campus tomorrow, but without a party. Not as much pomp and circumstance, but more intimate. I am looking forward to it.
We were scheduled for 2 blackouts today, but the 5 groups were subdivided, and our smaller group (5D) is exempt unless there is an emergency. People have been voluntarily reducing usage (we haven’t used our living room since the earthquake) so that these emergencies are not realized.
Excerpt from US Embassy letter to expats in Japan:
Availability of Potassium Iodide Tablets: As a precautionary measure, the U.S. Embassy is continuing to make potassium iodide (KI) tablets available to private U.S. citizens who have not been able to obtain it from their physician, employer, or other sources.   We do not a recommend that anyone should take KI at this time.
Safety of Tap Water: …the water in Tokyo is safe for drinking.
Julia is off to work today and tomorrow. Watching American Idol we realized an interesting progression in birthdays: Stephen Tyler March 24, Dexter the cat March 26, Julia March 28 and Anri March 30. Stevie Wonder sang for Stephen Tyler, Dexter gets a double portion of cat food. We will take Julia to an Outback after shopping tomorrow (Starbucks and Kindle for me). Anri will be in Portland for her birthday, with Chrissy and Jeff, who know how to have a good time.
Julia will be a teen for only 3 more days, then will become an adult. She went to a ceremony at city hall for all those turning 20 this calendar year. But now she went to get her picture taken by a pro, and here are a couple of shots of the results. Last night she went out with friends to a drinking place. Precocious as always.
Can you tell I am avoiding preparations for the new school year which starts next week?