Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Their Finest Hour

I normally use this blog to post pictures of where I live, Okinawa Japan, and write about the Japanese and Okinawan culture. But as you all know, a once in a lifetime event took place that has caused me to make an exception. This time I’m going to exclude the use of a photograph and try to paint for you a word picture instead.

One of my many jobs is as an adjunct professor in Business and management for a university that caters to the U.S. military here in Far East Asia. The class I’m teaching this term is online. While I am located in Okinawa, my students are spread across Asia. Some are located in Korea, Guam, Singapore, and Okinawa and across the Japanese mainland. Several of them are located in the Kanto (Tokyo) region, and they are “indirectly” feeling the effects of this terrible disaster.

Several months ago, as I was setting up my online classroom, I wrote questions far in advance for the students to answer as it related to the textbook and the class schedule. I had no idea of knowing that the earthquake and tsunami would hit Japan just as we would be talking about business research, data and the importance for businesses to prepare for and protect themselves in the case of a natural disaster.

I’d like to share a portion of our exchange on one particular question. Reminder, the questions I wrote for the students to answer was preloaded into the online classroom back in December of 2010. 

Question: Why is disaster recovery important for businesses? Relate your answer to a natural disaster such as a hurricane or fire.

Student 1
Disaster recovery is important so companies may not lose valuable data and if so be able to recover the data quickly.  If all data is lost, many companies will take year to recover; however, some may not go into business again at all.  Companies should take proper measure to store data on multiple servers in the instance one server goes down, there is a backup ready.

One thing I think that didn’t prepare Japan was how violent the Tsunamis and earthquakes were going to be and that they were strong enough to cause meltdowns in nuclear reactors even though they had multiple failsafe mechanisms.  However they are now responding and acquiring data on radiation fallout and how many people infected.  They’ve also evacuated citizens from these fallout zones.  Last I heard, it was a radius of 30km.

Student 2
I agree Japan wasn't prepared for the violent earthquake or resulting tsunami.  That's surprising knowing Japan's vicinity to a major fault line and they have been expecting the so call big one for centuries.  Word has it this was not it even though it was the biggest to date.

My Response:
I believe there have been larger recorded quakes in Alaska and Chile and it's more than likely there have been larger ones here in Japan as well as China before such recording methods were available. Even though the Japanese regularly hold drills for such disasters, I don't think anyone could have anticipated one of this magnitude!

Still, I like to relate things to movies and if anyone saw the movie "Apollo 13" you may remember early on immediately after the explosion that crippled the spacecraft, I believe it was “Deke Slayton's” character who said something along the lines of, "This will be our biggest disaster!" Actor Ed Harris who played the head of Mission Control said "No, this will be our finest hour!" In some ways I think that I'm seeing that here in Japan.

Watching CNN on Sat TV, I see news anchors, aka "talking heads" REPEATEDLY asking reporters on the ground if there is any evidence of violence, looting or price gouging, etc., going on. The answer each and every time is a resounding NO! I sometimes think these people want to see and report another Hurricane Katrina. It makes me sick to watch them.

Instead the Japanese are showing amazing character and patience given the circumstances. They're waiting in long lines without complaint for the most basic of services and there are numerous reports of those evil greedy merchants actually "LOWERING" prices and in some cases, even giving away necessities to the victims. My wife cried as we watched saying that “she is so proud of the people of Tohoku!” She's pretty tough and not one of those people who cries very easily. I think people like Bruce Willis or R. Lee Ermy are more likely to shed a tear than she is.

People in larger metropolitan areas like Tokyo and its surrounding areas are similarly going without. Rolling blackouts are the norm and are expected to remain so till sometime in April. Similarly, most rail systems, those that are running, are doing so at a reduced capacity. The Tokyo commute is hell even when they're at full capacity. The power outages are going to affect manufacturing in a big way and the economy is going to take a major hit. Given that Japan is the 3rd largest economy of the world; this will likely have global impact.

The evidence of the Japanese character is on display for the whole world to see and according to the reports I heard on the way in to work in the morning, it has even caused their adversaries in the Chinese media to take a softer stance. They're saying that they could learn a lesson or two from the Japanese Culture as a result of this and I've even heard of reports where they have reprimanded reporters and bloggers who say and write that Japan is finally getting what it deserves.

Given the circumstances, I think they're doing amazingly well! This may indeed turn out to be their "finest" hour!

Student 3
Professor.....your post echoes my thoughts and feelings on this whole thing. The people of Japan are truly inspirational. True character is shown during the worst times, and theirs has proven to be something the world should take notice of. I watched on TV one person who had 2 water bottles give one to someone who didn't get one. A ramen restaurant that withstood the disaster is offering hot meals to people for free because he said "he just wants people to be happy" . Simple acts of kindness like this inspire others to due so in disaster. Where I am we are experiencing the rolling blackouts and train issues. No one complains. On top of it when it is our turn for full power most people opt to use the bare minimal amount of electricity needed. 

Most houses around my neighborhood seem to usually have one light on at night. The amount of order is amazing. They are so much more logical in a crisis than most countries, and shows that this is the better way to be. It is much more effective, and allows aid more widely spread and quicker. The way the Japanese people have reacted inspires me to be a better person.

As for their economy I think they will take a hit. So sad because they were just showing signs of taking some baby steps toward progress. The Japanese are strong minded people though. They have that on their side...so who knows? :)

My response:
This speaks volumes of the Japanese character and their culture. It’s without a doubt the major reason I decided to retire here with my wife after my 25 years of military service. The people have a strong sense of family and more importantly, “family honor” engrained in their culture. It’s not unlike the America I grew up in where we could play outside free, unfettered and unafraid. Something that I fear we’ve lost while I was out defending it for all those years.
End...

Below is just one example of how I see the "media" getting it wrong. Listen to this nuclear expert scold them as to how they are inciting fear! Thank goodness someone is speaking up. Without that, who knows what might happen. There could even be a run on iodine tablets on America's west coast! Oop's! too late, the Surgeon General just said that was a good idea....