Tag Archives: Japan disaster

Then and Now: Stories of Courage from Ishinomaki

Try watching this video without crying. Sad, Moving and Uplifting:

Bridging Cultures Through Hip-Hop: Hawaii Kids Host Rainbow for Japan Kids

On 12/27,  HAAS Charter School students, teacher Tom Brennan, and our good friends from Center Stage dance studio volunteered their time to spend the day at Kilauea Military Camp with Japanese middle school children from the disaster areas in Japan. Our guests traveled to Hawaii via the “Rainbow for Japan Kids” initiative, a program created by Japan America Society of Hawaii to bring hope and joy to young victims of the Japan disaster.

The HAAS kids were awesome as usual, ditto for the Center Stage dance instructors and students who showed us how to “top rock” and “freeze”.

These wonderful young kids have stumbled onto a powerful truth that no one teaches in college cultural anthropology courses: that hip-hop has the power to bring cultures together, especially when it’s expressed through dance.

The videos and pictures below tell the story. The first clip features dance instructor Tunji Johnson and Center Stage student Rylie “Kid Frenzy” Cabalse showing our guests how to dance with passion.

Here’s another great clip of Tunji entertaining the crowd with a beautiful dance solo:

And of course, the pictures…


Did we mention there was bowling too?

A big mahalo to Japan America Society of Hawaii, Tom Brennan and his students at HAAS Charter School, and all the wonderful folks from Center Stage who volunteered to spend the day with our special guests.

Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2012

The World Panics, Japan Rolls Up Its Sleeves

Keeping in mind that victims in eastern Japan are suffering beyond imagination, my Tokyoite son’s beef with the U.S. media is its  false portrayal of the entire country as being in the disaster zone. (See interview with Ry below.)

Unfortunately the media hype fanned a mass exodus from Tokyo that was unnecessary and counterproductive. Had I not had access to someone on the inside, I’d surely have been panicking with the rest of the world.

Is “irresponsible” too strong a word to describe the foreign media coverage? Check out these headlines and decide for yourself:

“JAPAN NUKE DISASTER–PANIC!” (March 16th, New York Daily News, with a picture on the front page of someone with a gas mask on.)

Dark Days for the Empire of the Sun (The Globe and Mail–the headline speaks for itself)

Nuclear Plume May Reach U.S. by Friday (Plume? It’s a made-up media concept to describe non-harmful levels of radioactivity floating in the atmosphere.)

Lots more sensational headlines where these came from, just a Google click away.

We’re Surrounded by Incompetence!

If fear wasn’t enough to push us over the edge, we are bombarded with media incompetence. If you think about it, fear is pretty darn effective at masking incompetence. Any schmuck with a microphone can tell us the sky is falling. And if he says it with enough conviction it just might draw attention away from the fact that he still is just a clueless schmuck with a microphone.

Jon Evans, a journalist and programmer, nails the issue with this comment:

“… the basic problem is that most journalists simply don’t have a clue when it comes to science and engineering. They don’t understand what they’re writing about; they don’t know which questions to ask; they don’t understand that science, unlike the arts, is ultimately about provability and falsifiability, not interpretation and opinion; they don’t know when government advice is reasonable and when it’s terrified CYA boilerplate; and they don’t know when to call bullshit on whatever source they have dredged up to provide “balance,” which they worship beyond all explanation.”

It’s scary that the folks feeding us the news are as ignorant as the rest of us. This is such an important point, because if this assumption is true then it means that the mainstream networks–certainly in the U.S.–are no longer providing value, at least value that we can’t get elsewhere. (One could argue that, in this crisis, the U.S. media caused more harm than good.)

TV critic John Doyle (his remark on Japan’s “contradictions and neuroses” notwithstanding) offers a thoughtful perspective on the foreign media’s inability to explain the subtleties of Japanese culture through a visual medium, and its reporters blatant ignorance about the science behind nuclear power:

There is a certain wonder at the orderly, muted responses in Japan. And that’s one area where television largely fails to inform. It is difficult to explain Japan, to illuminate the layer upon layer of that country’s culture – the insularity, the wariness of foreigners, the imperturbable surface that hides further layers of contradictions and neuroses.

… Also, what we’ve had on TV is some terrible confusion and ignorance about nuclear power and the threat of a nuclear disaster in Japan. The other night, on CNN, Anderson Cooper simply fled the area he was in, in case there was an authentic threat of contamination. How real was that? The answer is unclear.

Considering the looming “nuclear threat” and the Western media’s inability to read the “inscrutable Japanese”, Libya must have started looking mighty attractive to Anderson and the boys. They couldn’t get out of Japan fast enough!

The World Panics, Japan Rolls Up Its Sleeves

“…over the last few days I’ve been watching Japanese press events and thinking, OK, we know what’s happening now. But then you see the Western media reports and you think,”were they just watching the same news conference?” They’d obviously heard a very bad translation of the Japanese and just made up the pieces in-between. Phrases like 一所懸命 (issho kenmei) which means “try to your fullest” or “do the best you can” got translated to “furiously” or “desperately”, words which have totally different meanings.”

Richard Graham (Founder of Genki English)

My son Ry has been going to work every weekday since the disaster struck. Through him I’ve had a kind of front-row seat watching Japan carry on in the aftermath of the disaster.

Ry has been expressing sentiments similar to Mr. Graham’s quote above about media distortions. For his “insider” perspective on life in Tokyo after the disaster, I emailed Ry a list of questions about what happened when the earthquake hit and shortly afterwards, including his thoughts on the foreign media’s coverage of the disaster so far. Here’s our “email interview”:

Were you without power immediately after the quake?

A. No, I was in a newer building. We were watching all of the events
unfold on the TV in our office. The people running the building
stopped running the elevators as a precautionary measure, but
otherwise everything was running as usual.

Were you able to use your laptop and/or access the internet right away?

A. Our internet was fine. The phone lines were jammed but only because
everybody in Japan was trying to contact family and friends in Japan.

What was different about this earthquake?

A. The length was what made me realize that it was a serious quake.
Our building was new so it’s meant to sway more than older buildings
to distribute the force of the earthquake. Being on the 7th floor,
there was a swaying that I had never experienced in my life. What made
it even scarier was when we heard and felt the grinding of the
building under, which I assume was the earthquake technology at work,
keeping the building from collapsing. Also, we looked outside our
window and saw a reflection of the Tokyo tower swaying like it was
going to tip over.

How were people around you reacting during and immediately after the quake?

A. At first we brushed it off as “just another earthquake”. But after
a few seconds we realized it wasn’t your run-of-the-mill earthquake. So
we all got under tables to wait for it to subside. People with
families in the affected areas were frantically trying to contact
loved ones and friends. We stood watching the TV in awe as the tsunami
ravaged the Northeast coast. It was like watching the events of 9-11
go down.

Any panicking?

A. Not really. Mostly just trying to contact friends and family.

How about your walk home that day, were people panicking, calm?

A. People were very calm. If you had never been to Japan, you would
have had no idea that a natural disaster had occurred a couple hundred miles
from Tokyo.

What was your first exposure to the U.S. media and how did it jibe
with your experience?

A. Foreign media wasted no time to sensationalize the news. There was
no real disaster in the Tokyo area but the news made it sound like the
country of Japan was going to sink.

When did you realize the magnitude of hype?

A. When friends contacted me from all over the world asking if I was
okay and that they were happy to see me alive.

What wasn’t reported in the foreign press?

A. It was more of a problem with OVER-reporting. Granted, TEPCO failed
at delivering information to the public and media so it exacerbated an
already sensationalized news feed. There seemed to be no coverage of
people being calm and safe in areas other than the affected ones.

What are the media’s flat-out mistakes? Inaccuracies? Lies?

A: The reporting of the nuclear crisis and how it will affect the rest
of Japan and world. (We are putting together a document that shows the
differences in coverage.)

What ticked you off the most (besides mom and I nagging you)?

A: Friends and acquaintances posting sensational news items and status
updates on Facebook. This led to more people freaking out. Which led
to everybody buying up water/food. Also, TEPCO being so damn
incompetent in their information distribution. When the public and
foreign media rely on their own information and assumptions, chances
are that most of that information will be sensationalized to fill the void.

To Leave or Not to Leave

For the record, Ry was offered the option to leave and wait it out in Hawaii–even his closest friends would have been welcome (not a bad option).

He laughed at us. He laughed because the thought never had crossed his mind. He was staying in Japan no matter what.

In retrospect it makes sense that Ry stood his ground.

The recent mass exodus from Tokyo created a “did-you-stay-or-leave” phenomenon, framed by some as a courage-versus-“fraidy-cat” dichotomy. I believe it has more to do with the difference in mentality between visiting a place versus calling it home. It’s easy to understand why a visitor to Japan would want to get the hell out of Dodge (to paraphrase the good Mr. Caintuck) in the shadow of a nuclear meltdown–even it it was safely 180 plus miles away. But for those like Ry who call Japan home, it makes perfect sense they would be looking for every justification not to leave.

Unlike my son, the media anchors were “visitors” to Japan. As visitors with no stake in the country, it must’ve been easy for them to swoop in, induce panic, grab ratings then fly away, pulling droves of terrified people in their wake. The negative effect was it took focus off the victims suffering in Eastern Japan.

It didn’t help my peace of mind that the mass-exodus from Tokyo was well underway the day I boarded a redeye from Honolulu to the mainland on March 14th. As fate would have it, sitting next to me was a frazzled American lady who had just been “evacuated” from her parent company in Japan (a very large Japanese corporation we’ve all heard of). Hearing about the panicked flight out of Tokyo from her, it created a new sense of urgency, and I panicked all the way to O’Hare airport, where I immediately emailed my son to ask if everything was okay.

His answer came quickly and calmly: “Why do you ask?”

Upon Reflection

It’s unrealistic to expect the media to see the light, embrace the truth, and start reporting responsibly. The system is rigged against it.

The good news is that the vast sources for information on the Internet and social media offer unprecedented alternatives and challenges to mainstream media. With more sources of news than ever before, we now have the ability to compare notes with friends, family, and trusted sources–then broadcast it to the world for more confirmation.

And this brings us to the point of reflection: it’s an exercise to focus us on what we can control. Individually we each have the power to question all information we consume, compare it with as many credible sources as possible, stay connected with those we trust, and develop sufficient critical thinking skills to separate the pepper from the fly shit.

In the next post we’ll look at an unbelievable story we found in the Japanese print media. (So you likely haven’t heard about it yet.) It’s about a remarkable Japanese community of heroes who have much to teach the world about surviving a mega-disaster. Stay tuned.

Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2011

U.S. Media Coverage of Japan’s Disaster: Separating the Pepper from the Fly $h!t

“Looking towards Miyagi, Fukushima, Iwate and Ibaraki prefectures, no one in Tokyo should be complaining about the inconvenient consequences of the quake, such as blackouts, empty shelves in shops, and disrupted train services. People aren’t exactly having the time of their life in the capital, but they feel extremely lucky to be there rather than in the northeast.”

Sophie Knight

This post is about the U.S. media and the hype they’ve been feeding us since the onset of Japan’s crisis. No argument here that other countries’ media outlets are just as guilty. But as far as I’m concerned, those countries can reflect on their own problems.

This is not about the reporting on Northern Japan. If anything, that’s the problem: lack of information about what’s happening in the disaster zone. And as amazing as it sounds, even the American media are incapable of over-hyping what actually is happening there. My heart goes out to the victims and to all the Japanese people. It’s an ongoing tragedy of epic proportions. We need to muster every resource available to get help and supplies to the victims and get the nuclear crisis under control. To achieve these ends, it would help if the media would focus on the real story.

What the media did outside the disaster zone is what concerns me: they fanned the flames, spread panic in Tokyo, fear-mongering that culminated in a mass exodus from the country of (according to unreliable news sources) 161,000 foreigners. Wow. Thanks CNN, thanks FOX, thanks NBC–and thanks to everyone else who breathed life into the panic. You know who you are.

At best the U.S. media was ill prepared for what they encountered. It didn’t help that they were clueless about the real story and circumstances. And yet they managed to take an unprecedented mega-disaster and somehow make it scarier than it already was.

In Search of Fly Shit

Years ago after attending a sales presentation with the Chairman of my then employer, the Chairman said to me afterwards, “To make sense of this, you have to learn to separate the pepper from the fly shit.”

The expression stuck with me. It says much with a few words, and just rolls off the tongue effortlessly. (Forgive the disturbing image.) With that metaphor in mind, here’s a sampling of the fly shit the media’s been feeding us:

Radiation Aboard Planes Landing at O’Hare (WGN TV online: See explanation below)

Tests Show Low-Level Radiation on U.S. Flights From Japan (CNN: a non-story; only one flight was cited, and it was determined that radiation on that flight was at safe and normal levels for aircraft carrying “isotopes consistent with medical supplies”)

Japan’s Nuclear Contamination Spreads to More States (At levels that don’t affect public health)

Japan’s Meltdown! (Time: implying all of Japan is doomed)

Japan’s Medical System Unprepared for Health Crisis (CBS News World Watch: A damaged hospital without electricity in the disaster zone does not logically correlate with Japan’s entire medical system.)

Tokyo is a “ghost town” (because the trains weren’t running and lots of folks worked from home, etc.)

Food isn’t reaching Tokyo (some food items were hoarded, but my son had no problem finding food–trust me, I’d have heard about it.)

Show of hands–would you say that overall the Western media acted responsibly?

Not implying for a second that the Japanese media is any better. It’s a very sorry alternative to what we’ve got in the West. But at least they stayed calm and tried to make themselves useful.

What’s so disturbing is that our respective media are at such extreme ends of the bell curve: one serenades the masses with “stay calm, stay calm” (harmony at the risk of fibbing); the other screams “the sky is falling!” (Ratings at the risk of hyperbole.)

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get rational, levelheaded discourse somewhere between these two extremes? The middle is the general neighborhood where the truth tends to hang out anyway.

A Non-Partisan Rant Against CNN, FOX, CBS, NBC and Other Hype-Mongers

If I listen to Nancy Grace for more than 10 seconds my ears bleed; after a minute my head explodes. Had it not been for my son’s posting on facebook I’d surely have missed this clip:

Like Nancy’s bombastic counterparts at competing networks, she peddles paranoia–then spices it up with a measure of outrage that no human should ever have to bear. Nancy appeals to our base emotions; she would never let facts or science get in the way of an outrage-inspiring story.

Then there’s Anderson. I used to actually like the guy, thought his calm demeanor was refreshing. Then I watched him report these past several crises. The Japan crisis was the tipping point for me: it has forever soured me on the baby-faced-gray-haired-anointed-one.

Not only was Anderson clueless about the nuclear events taking place (in his words, he “flunked science.”), he couldn’t or chose not to coral resources in the know, nor did he have even a remote clue about the local culture he was dealing with. Ditto for most other foreign commentators reporting out of Japan.

As far as the cultural angle, Western media would have done well to partner with local experts on Japan to help interpret the unfolding story, even if it was a knowledgeable university professor, or local consultants in the know. The cultural angle should have been a big part of the story, but the media missed it.

Here’s a concrete example: We caught a CNN clip in which their correspondent was interviewing an American English Teacher in the disaster area. CNN managed to get the teacher’s father on the phone to “re-unite” them. A compelling human story for sure. But just when the teacher got on a roll and started opening up, the reporter interrupted to ask the father a question:

“How worried were you?”

His answer was predictable and to the point: “Very, very worried. Very anxious”

Followed by a long, awkard pause.

Bad TV. Bad reporting. Bad CNN.

The reporter never recovered. Check it out here:

As a viewer removed from the tragedy, I’m interested in hearing what the English teacher’s story was and his take on Japanese culture and people. How he had survived under such dire circumstances? What human bonds/friendships had gotten him through the ordeal? Where was he when the quake and tsunami hit? Where had he been living in relation to where the tsunami hit? How was he surviving now? What was he eating everyday and where was the food coming from? Where was he sleeping? How was he and friends coping without electricity? Did he speak Japanese? What insights might he offer us on the Japanese victims’ perspective? What impressed him about the  people around him? (Both Japanese and non-Japanese) How was he helping victims? Was he planning on staying in Japan? Why or why not? What other human stories could he tell? etc.

At the risk of saying something nice about FOX, I have to throw them a bone here: one of their commentators, Cal Thomas, expressed the belief that the poor reporting in Japan was one of the consequences of U.S. media organizations shutting down overseas bureaus, and instead sending anchors from New York with no contacts or local knowledge, then sending them on helicopter flyovers, or to interview victims.

The panel of FOX commentators went on to discuss why the Western media was at such a disadvantage compared to Japan’s NHK (“home-field advantage” they cried). Interestingly the panel acknowledged NHK was doing a better job than all of them, along with–believe it or not–Al Jazeera! (It was kind of weird to hear a commentator on FOX giving Al Jazeera its props.)

But FOX isn’t off the hook. Nope. FOX actually gets the booby prize for most creative misinformation. If we are to believe Neil Cavuto’s graphic of Japan showing locations of all their nuclear reactors, there is one in the heart of Tokyo called “Shibuya Eggman.”

Shibuya Eggman is, of course, a dance club. This mistake was so bizarre that I immediately assumed it was a hoax. (After all, even FOX deserves the benefit of the doubt.) It wasn’t.

Why no one at FOX found it odd that a nuclear plant was named “Eggman” is a mystery. And in the middle of Tokyo? You have to wonder if a disgruntled staff member slipped it in to embarrass Neil… (If any FOX watchers know the answer feel free to chime in here.)

For the record, I have an eyewitness to confirm that Shibuya Eggman is, in fact, a dance club. My son went there personally to vet it for me ;-)

If you find the FOX story hard to believe as I did, then check it out for yourself:

Don’t misconstrue my point: the networks have to cover the story; they have to question the authorities, politicians, and Tokyo Electric Power Company. That’s their job. But I was kind of hoping they’d do it with less hype and more competence. That’s what the next post is about.

Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2011

How Can We Help Japan?

The Japan disaster is personal. If you read the previous post you know that my son, in-laws and friends live in Japan.

But it’s personal for other reasons. I’ll always feel indebted to Japan. The people of Japan forever changed the fortunes of an ignorant, immature 19-year kid from the North side of Chicago (um, that would be me 34 years ago). And my Japanese hosts did it with a patience that I didn’t at all deserve. They helped and nurtured me from adolescence to adulthood, no small feat as I was a royal pain in the arse. For this reason alone, these are my people!

And right now I feel helpless because I can’t help them. Can you tell it’s eating at me?

So it’s time to shift gears and do something; if not for the wonderful Japanese folks who hosted and put up with me for over ten years–then for my own sanity.

In this sense my motives are truly selfish. I am choosing to take action for my own peace of mind; unfortunately I haven’t yet figured out what action that might be. And this brings us to the point of today’s post: to solicit your ideas.

But before going there, let’s talk a little story first.

What Do I Do For a Living?

Just got back from a gig on the mainland. Did four seminars in two and a half days, that’s three half days plus one full day. (This doesn’t count the thirty-plus hours spent making my round-trip trek.) The entire trip took four days. As you might guess, I’m pooped as I type this.

So what’s my gig? Some folks call me an “intercultural trainer”, but my work is much more encompassing, and rarely do I “train” in the classical sense. “Educator” fits much better, as my sessions are designed to expand minds–to offer clients a deeper perspective by helping them view the world through the cultural lens of their counterparts.

On my business card my title is “Consultant”. The title doesn’t quite capture what I do either. People consult with me but I avoid giving clients answers. The deal is that I help them define the problem, then they come up with their own answers.

My wife calls me a “cross-cultural marriage counselor”, and that’s about as good a description as I’ve heard. I’m tempted to put the title on my business card.

My goal in every seminar I administer is not to tell people what to do or how to act. Instead I focus on helping them understand the current situation from a perspective they never before considered: through the eyes of coworkers (or customers) on the other side of the cultural fence. Based on this new perspective, I challenge them to reflect and decide for themselves the appropriate way to adjust.

I’ve been using this approach most of my career. And I’ve found over the years that once people get a glimpse of themselves through the lens of another culture, most know exactly what to do and how to adjust. (And yes I offer guidance when asked for it, but rarely do I lay down hard-and-fast rules–more on this in a future post.)

An Emotional Gig

One of my seminars on this recent trip was open to the public (as opposed to working privately with clients “in-house”). Participants were Japanese expatriate managers from various Japanese-owned companies around the Midwest. This particular seminar was geared toward helping them better understand the cultural values, motivations and behavior of their American counterparts, and challenging them to reflect on better ways to communicate and cooperate.

If we stick with my wife’s “cross-cultural marriage counselor” metaphor, then in this session only one “spouse” was present. (I actually do joint sessions that bring Japanese and Americans together, but this type of session is only practical when done internally at a single company.)

As far as my teaching style, most folks would say my seminars have a talk-story flavor (to use the local Hawaii vernacular). Telling stories is the best way I know of to engage and connect with an audience.

My stories always have a moral, but I try to keep the tone light. And when I’m “on my game” I’ve even been accused of being funny. As amazing as it sounds, I have a knack for making a roomful of anal, poker-faced Japanese engineers crack up, humor that only a factory-rat would appreciate. (I’m an ex-factory-rat.) My goal is to deliver a high energy seminar that’s enlightening and fun.

A Dilemma

And therein lies the dilemma I faced: how to reconcile the somber reality of Japan’s current crisis, with my happy-go-lucky, lighthearted teaching style.

Contemplating how best to approach the gig, I didn’t catch a wink of sleep on my red-eye flight from Honolulu to my Midwest destination. (It didn’t help that a baby a couple seats away was screaming most of the flight.) The more I thought about Japan’s current situation, the sadder and more emotional I got.

After some reflection I decided that the best approach was to take time at the beginning of the seminar to express my heartfelt regrets, sorrow for what happened, then let the chips fall wherever. I figured if there ever was a situation to follow my heart, this was it.

And it turned out to be the right decision, although for the first time in my life I almost broke down in front of an audience. (And it’s really hard to cry when you’re speaking Japanese, at least for me.) My stoic participants tried their best to keep a stiff upper lip, but pain was written all over their faces. The heaviness in the room was, as they say, palpable.

I managed to bumble my way through the opening without choking up too much. It was far from a perfect delivery, but after I was done I felt at peace. And it put me in a zone: the rest of the seminar flowed. We even shared a few laughs. We connected, and it felt good.

In fact it felt so good, that doing nothing is no longer an option for me. I need to get as busy as I can helping Japan. Here’s what I’ve got lined up so far:

We will donate money, either through Japan America Society Hawaii (JASH), or through our local charter school. Japan Red Cross is also a safe option. Other honorable organizations are out there, just be careful not to get scammed. (Please do your due diligence.)

I’m happy to say that Steve Hirakami, the Principal of Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science (HAAS) here in Pahoa, approached us to ask if my wife and I would help HAAS spearhead a fund-raiser for Japan. It’s worth mentioning that my wife teaches Japanese language at HAAS, so Steve’s idea is to have students in her class take the lead. Of course we jumped at the opportunity. We’ll be meeting with Steve this week to discuss the details. We’ll keep you posted on developments.

We’ve also reached out to Japan America Society Hawaii, and even to one of our clients in Honolulu, a company that is planning a fund-raiser in the near future. Still don’t know if there’s a place for us to make a contribution, but we offered to volunteer our time in any way that might help the cause. Once again, more on this as we figure out how we might contribute.

That’s all we’ve got so far. My inclination is to find a way to reach out to other businesses here on the Big Island, or anywhere in the islands for that matter. I want to get the word out here in Hawaii that helping Japan is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also in Hawaii’s best interest to do so.

The Japan-Hawaii Connection

Japan is a beloved member of Hawaii’s ohana, with deep cultural connecting points that are so obvious they’re easy to miss.

The most obvious connecting point is the local Japanese-American population in Hawaii, now in their 4th generation. Some of the old timers are still around; they speak a style of Japanese from another era, often mixed with English and pidgin. Many Japanese customs (like removing your shoes before entering a home) have taken root with all ethnicities in Hawaii. And most local folks love Japanese cuisine.

Just as significant as the Japan-immigrant connection, are some striking similarities between Japan and local Hawaiian culture. It’s why I believe that the popularity of Hawaiiana continues to boom in Japan today; it’s why over 400,000 Japanese are studying Hula today.

Indeed Japan and Hawaii share much of the same cultural DNA. For this reason, Japanese “get” the concept of climbing the mountain, picking a flower for their lei, and thanking the gods for the beautiful gift. The Japanese “get” the idea of paying homage to Pele through dance (as demonstrated through traditional Kahiko Hula). They “get” the concept of honoring nature.

Both cultures were incubated on a chain of volcanic islands. Earthquakes, tsunamis and eruptions are a way of life stretching back to the arrival of their inhabitants. No surprise both cultures respect and accept the awe-inspiring power of nature, and share a desire to live in harmony with it.

Both cultures pay homage to its ancestors.

Interestingly both spiritual traditions feature a powerful female deity who gave birth to their islands. (“Amaterasu Omikami, meet Pele!”)

Both spiritual traditions are polytheistic, both animate the phenomenal world with spirits; both believe that man is a part of nature. (Japanese didn’t even have a word for nature until relatively recent times.)

Both cultures are resourceful due to, ironically, lack of resources. Logically both traditions were adept at conserving resources–not because it was fashionable, but for their very survival. It’s tough living sustainably on a resource-scarce island.

The aforementioned outlook on the awe-inspiring power of nature would seem to contradict the intense love both cultures also feel toward nature. And yet somehow, some way that’s how it worked out. Japanese nature-inspired aestheticism is world-renowned. Hawaiians honor nature through music and dance (and yes, Hawaiian aesthetics are pleasant to the eye as well.)

Tying all this together, the Japanese love Hawaii and Hawaii loves Japan. Hawaii’s close cultural ties with Japan make them cultural cousins, ohana. Aloha means embracing friends and family in good times and bad. This is Hawaii’s chance to step forward and embrace an old friend. It will need to be a long embrace.

Which Brings Me to My Point…

I’m looking for ideas. I want to figure out how I might apply my skills (as wretched as they may be) to raise awareness and, ideally, inspire folks to give or do whatever they can to help.

One way is by educating people–specifically here in Hawaii–on how important Japan is to us, and why we need to link arms and pitch in.

I’m particularly interested in hearing long-term ideas on how we might offer continuous support, help and goodwill until Japan gets back on its feet, because a one-shot deal won’t cut it over the long-haul.

Final Thoughts

The scale of this disaster is beyond human comprehension. There seems to be a perception floating around that Japan is such a highly developed and economically rich nation, that they don’t need our help. It’s not at all true but that’s the perception and that’s all that matters–which means we have to find a way to change the perception.

Here’s the reality: recovery will take years in Japan. The human suffering happening right now in Northern Japan is as real as the suffering experienced by the poor folks in Haiti and New Zealand. Japan clearly had an advantage in terms of its infrastructure, development and warning systems. But the scale of the disaster swept away most of those advantages like the monster tsunami that wiped out Sendai. Now the survivors hurt. And when people hurt, we all hurt equally.

The human suffering will be further compounded by the economic impact in lost productivity while Japan struggles to recover. The cost to rebuild will be astronomical and that doesn’t even take into consideration the after-effects of the nuclear crisis. To further complicate matters, where will Japan’s electricity come from to drive their economic recovery?

Even if you’re not the altruistic type, there’s a practical reason to help: we live in a connected, interdependent world. It’s in the world’s best interest to continue enjoying the talents and strengths of a vibrant, economically healthy Japan. By extension, it’s in the world’s best interest to jump in and roll up our sleeves.

Please keep your thoughts with the folks suffering in Northern Japan. They need all the help and support they can get. Thanks in advance for your willingness to help the cause. Feel free to comment here or email me at hawaiilovesjapan@gmail.com.

Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2011