Monday, March 21, 2011

The importance of being diverse.

Ever since the Tohoku Earthquake hit, so many events and meetings have been and are being cancelled in and around Tokyo. All over Japan, in fact. Some of them are put off as a direct consequence of the earthquake. Others are results of empathetic act on the part of those concerned, or rational efforts to relocate human and material resources in an effective way. The shortage of power necessitated a careful appraisal of all social events. Still, some cancellations simply do not make sense. Some cancellations are not wise actions, even from the viewpoint of helping those afflicted by the disaster.

The reason why we are well advised to carry on doing our daily chores, while needless to say caring and acting for the people in need, is perhaps rather complex in its makeup but not that difficult to grasp.

There is after all such a thing as a "healthy metabolism" of society. Without it, our society simply does not have the robust strength necessary to support and restore as required. "Normal" activities have to go on, even in areas where the connection to the rescue and relief efforts is not outright evident.

In order to extend help to those in need, volunteer works directly related to the emergency situations of course count. Food, water, fuel, and other indispensable materials need to be delivered to the areas of devastation quickly. Electricity must be provided. Media works are also evidently indispensable. The maintenance of communication channels such as mobile phones is one of the first priorities. Social networks, e.g., twitter and facebook, play increasingly important roles in keeping people connected. They have proved crucial in coping with this crisis.

The network of mutual influence and support, however, extends far wider than we would immediately perceive. The deterioration of diverse activities in society ultimately undermines our ability to respond to emergency and prolonged needs. Society is an organic dynamical system. With loss of diversity its very health is endangered.

In Tokyo, because people have been generally refraining from dining out since the quake, the restaurant industry is suffering. Events after events have been cancelled in the entertainment sector, affecting the lives of many. People working as freelancers or part-timers in various fields from media to catering are complaining about having their assignments cancelled at a very short notice.

At such a time of extraordinary crisis, there is a tendency in us humans to be focused on one thing, often verging on single-mindedness, if not amounting to outright panic. To be honest, that has happened to me, too. Ever since the fateful Friday afternoon on which the earthquake hit, I have been simply unable to take it off my mind. The same seems to be true for many people in Tokyo. Whenever I walk in the streets and pass people, the conversations I overhear are dominated by earthquakes. And doomsday scenario is not uncommon.

Only yesterday, as I walked through the backstreets, I heard a young man, crouching on the street, talking earnestly to an elderly couple. He was speaking rather loud, so that the words came to me very clearly.

"I know this from a close friend of mine. The Self Defense Force actually knows for sure that another big one is going to hit Japan. This time in Tokai area. They know it for sure. But powers that be do not acknowledge it. They are hiding the information so that people in Japan do not get too frightened."

The elderly couple was listening to the young man's version of conspiracy theory very eagerly. The gentleman was even nodding in a grave manner, as if to suggest approval and commitment. Granted, at a time of such an extraordinary crisis, conspiracy theories abound, and may sound psychologically real. The young man's prediction of another earthquake hitting Japan is yet to materialize, and I hope it won't come to pass. There is no evidence to suggest that another big one is imminent. Having said that, the whole episode suggested to me once again how narrow-minded we could become at those times.

So one of the difficult but absolutely crucial tasks now is to go back to life's diversity, rather than shying away from it. We need a healthy entertainment industry. The restaurant sector has to flourish. Books need to be sold and read, hotels rooms have to be filled with laughter. While investing a substantial amount of our time and energy on the rescue and relief efforts, we somehow need to keep life's diversity. Apart from thinking about this earthquake and pondering the future of nuclear energy, we need to sing a song of the various joys of living.

When you come to think about it, the charm of Japan derives much from the various kinds of natural and cultural varieties to be found in this small island nation. Facing and embracing diversity is actually so natural to the Japanese mindset, as is evident from the relaxed and sometimes haphazard way people in which approach religion. New Year's Eve at the Shinto shrine, funeral in Buddhist style, celebrating Christmas in a big way, being wed before a minister in a church, making the eternal vows with hands on the bible. We needn't learn new things. It simply suffices to remember.

One hopes that the current wave of cancellations, affecting the entertainment and restaurant industries in particular, would be only a temporary one. We need to realize the importance of breathing and enjoying an air of diversity. Only by keeping ourselves culturally and mentally robust through variability could we hope to help those in severe situations here and now, and you-know-where-and-when.


kirai said...

If I get your permission I translate this post to Spanish and publish it on my blog citing your blog as source.

Ken Mogi said...

Hi, kirai.
Yes, thank you very much. Please do translate it into Spanish. That is very kind of you!

Alex Kane said...

You're writing is inspirational. Do you post in Japanese as well?

Alex Kane said...

Your writing is inspirational. Do you post in Japanese as well?

Maria said...

It almost seems that collectively Japan is going through the grieving process one goes through when losing a loved one. You stop going out for a bit, you cancel things you had been looking forward to, and you retreat into yourself for a time and reflect. Sometimes I think the only ways to come out of that period are to figure it out on your own or someone you trust and believe in has to practically give you permission to live again. And with constant reminders of the pain, it can't be easy to mentally move on. I agree that the diversity of life has to restart, but I can understand why it's slow in coming. That was quite a shock to the overall system of the nation and gaining back that equilibrium will no doubt be a challenge and slow going. Perhaps if enough people read this article, they will feel they have that permission to find that new normal after grieving.

Take care!

m.nakatsugawa said...

I echo your voice in suggesting that the nation should get back on its feet and "back to work". My relatives lived near Sendai airport and the tsunami took my uncle away. For days after the quake I was grieving for the lost lives but I realized that grieving itself was not going to help the people in need. Life goes on and we must focus on what we can do now. We all have different roles and responsibilities in society: each individiual makes up a whole. We can and need to support the victims in diverse ways; we need to do our best in what we are good at doing. It's going to be a long fight, and we need to "get back to work" to keep supporting the victims throughout the long process toward the restoration of their lives.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I have heard at least five sorrows for stage canceling, Kinokuniya Southern Theater, Sunshine Theater and others.
Most theatrical companies can barely keep their heads above water, you know, and most members prepare the stage witout pay until the last day of performances.

One young actress lost a small part on the stage, and in addition, the family restaurant where she had worked after midnight closed promptly at midnight.
" What shall I do? "
Such voice has been spreading among us.

Many events are gradually coming back.
" breathing and enjoying an air of diversity " are necessary for both long range recovery and a life of independence. I feel those two are inseparable.

Irea said...

Excellent points! I think you should translate this to Japanese and send it to some Japanese newspaper. It would do the Japanese people much good and unfortunately not too many speak English.

Unknown said...

I understand what you've wanted to tell us and I agree to most of your opinion. But at the same time, each person's decision should be respected in a society of "diversity". Both carrying on daily chores and canceling social events, for example, are based on his or her own will, not being brainwashed by media. In this respect, nobody can assure that your concern DOES come from uniformity. Rather, you might have to regard your concern (decision of event cancellation) as the result of people's diversified thought. Anyway, thank you very much for your insightful post, which gave me an opportunity to rethink about the meaning of "diversity".

Sophie Munns said...

you have written about this so well...
its easy to feel absorbed into very singular purpose when affected by great shock, suffering and loss....but you are very eloquent on the many reasons why bringing diversity back can be an important strategy... not the least for the fact that so many people's livelihoods depend on the ability to keep things going.
May the people of japan find their way to renewing life and draw courage and support from each other through the difficult days...and be sure of the fact many around the world are thinking and doing what they can to demonstrate support.

Claus said...

I like this post a lot, specially the "metabolism" analogy. When the body gets sick, we run a fever, but our blood still circulates, the stomach still digest food, all organs keep doing their assigned jobs.

If you have a japanese version of this article, I would like it very much if you put a link to it. I think my japanese friends on facebook/mixi would benefit from reading this.

Anonymous said...

You know... this is the underneath truth of everything, that we inevitable are interconnected, we all affect each others in one way or another and even when we try to mentally avoid this connection, that truth doesn't disappear, and that mental trick evasion as well affects others and at a some point return to us.

While some are suffering the rest of us must level that suffering, working/helping while giving them the time they need to recover. Who knows when we'll need that support too. Life moves in circles and if we work together the recover will be faster.

This simple metabolism truth would work perfectly if we apply it to our lives, globally.

Thank you so much for this post.

Unknown said...

great talk... IMHO people now are unwilling to spend time on leisure BUT more willing to spend in HELPING activities... the problem is that not enough entrepreneurs are organizing this kind of CHARITY/RELIEVE ACTIVITIES that are now in demand. Market unrecognized needs.

kirai said...


Article in Spanish (you got 145 comments! )

I added my own opinion at the beginning of the article, you can all read the English version of my opinion here ->