The current state of emergency in Japan leaves a big question mark over the already fragile Japanese economy. What will become of Japan?
The Bank of Japan moved to stabilise the market by injecting 2,000 to 3,000 billion yen of cash into the economy via its market operations. But damaged factories in Sendai and the power cuts by Tokyo Electric bring unrest and fear to investors. Manufacturing giants such as Toyota, Sony, and Honda have suspended production in their domestic factories, resulting in a drop in their share price.
One can analyze this disaster using models and figures, but it goes beyond just numbers. It's equally important to look deeper into the country and at the culture of Japan's people.
When I first heard the news regarding the M8.9 earthquake which hit the Honshu area early Friday morning, my immediate reaction was to try and get in touch with my family and friends in Tokyo. Communication via mobile phone was extremely difficult. This was largely due to damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami, which disrupted many of the base stations in Japan’s cellular network. Fortunately land-line internet connections were relatively unaffected, and I was able to contact those close to me with alternate options such as Skype and Facebook.
After confirming the safety of my grandmother, I checked in with my past manager at ITOCHU via email. He sent a short reply thanking me and letting me know that he was ok, but that he couldn’t get in touch with his own immediate family members. Reading this, I felt the kotoba no omomi, or the "weight of his words", and saw how truly frightening the situation was there.
In Tokyo, blackouts and a public transport shut down left many people stranded with no means of getting back to their homes until Saturday evening. Yet this was incomparable to the devastation experienced in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture. When I watched the video clips on NHK and TBS News, the images were surreal. Seeing entire villages devastated by the tsunami left me staring at the screen speechless. Waves continued to advance across ruined towns and fields, leaving behind entire ships swept inland, and uprooted buildings.
The continued explosion at the Dai-ichi nuclear plant brought on the new threat of radiation leakage. When I picked up yesterday’s copy of the Financial Times, the headline stated "Japan nuclear meltdown fear". Unfortunately, this was a circumstance where one tragedy brought on another tragedy.
This fear became reality when an official announcement was made that the No. 2 reactor was emitting at a rate of 9.4 microsievert of radiation per hour (tolerable rate = 0.036 microsievert/ hour) prompting a massive evacuation order for the residents living nearby (Nikkei News Online – 14 March 2011).
Fears of food and gas shortages spread across the nation, leaving many gas pumps sold out or having to enforce a 20 litre cap limit. Many people began buying drinking water and perishable food in bulk as a precautionary step. Video clips posted by a friend showed rows of shelves completely empty at many of the major Japanese convenience stores.
As a student currently studying in France, it has been painful and difficult to see what is going on in Japan. However, I am optimistic when I hear news about volunteer groups being rallied across the affected areas. One friend is planning to rendezvous with a group of Canadian doctors landing in Tokyo and will be providing translation and transportation to the affected areas. My prayers go out to the families affected by this disaster and I hope that Japan will remain strong to overcome this tragedy.
Through hard times, Japan has proven again and again its resilience and strong ganbaru or "fighting spirit". The preparation for this disaster and the solidarity and pragmatic response to it is a prelude to how well Japan is likely to recover economically. For example, some people in Tokyo were aware of the earthquake via prior warning. This was through the early detection mechanism put in place back in 2007. Japan is the first country to have such technology.
If this disaster was to occur in any other country outside of Japan, we may have seen a very different result. Just as the Prime Minister Naoto Kan took swift action to fly out and assess the severity of the genba "front-line situation", I am confident that manufacturing companies will take the proactive steps necessary to come back and re-start production again.