The people of Japan have been praised around the world for their orderly response to the crisis. They helped one another, and in the process demonstrated what human beings are capable of. There was no widespread looting or rioting. Moreover, the whole Kanto region succeeded in putting together a coordinated response to the scheduled power outages, working in concert as if this were a kind of synchronized aerobics exercise. Thanks to the combined efforts of companies and private individuals to overcome the shortage of electricity, the country might be able to avoid the expected large-scale power outages.
And yet, while this response fills me with pride, I also have grave concerns. In Europe, where I am now, there have been large-scale protests against nuclear energy. In Germany, soon after the earthquake, hundreds of thousands of people came out to protest, and the ruling party lost the election. Around the world the protests continue, calling on governments to re-examine their nuclear energy policies. However, there have yet to be protests on this scale in Japan. The Japanese even re-elected the pro-nuclear-power incumbent governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara. When I asked my friends why this had happened, the consensus was that people think they have no other choice but to wait patiently until everything has been solved. The government is walking a tightrope, they said, and to throw it into disorder would mean destroying their future. In the Tokyo gubernatorial election, there was no outstanding candidate they felt they could depend on in this moment of crisis. And so, by the process of elimination, Ishihara won a fourth term.
Out of consideration for the victims of the disaster, the country was taken over by a mood of sobriety. People spoke of “self-restraint” and condemned acts they considered “inappropriate.” Cherry blossom viewing parties were canceled, as was the fireworks display in Tokyo Bay. Some said people should restrain themselves from trying to volunteer, because after the Kobe earthquake the overwhelming number of volunteers were said to have gotten in the way of the recovery. Finally, the people in the disaster zone of the northeast requested that we “restrain our self-restraint,” believing that if the economy shut down, things would be harder for those in the devastated areas.
I have decided to dedicate what life I have left to helping my country recover. There are many people around me who feel the same way. At the same time, there are many who are tormented by a feeling of powerlessness. My impression is that it is older men who are losing their nerve, and women with children who are keeping up the fight. Those of us in the arts could not just pick a pen right away to write, or start singing or create images. We could only watch, dumbfounded by the onslaught of reality. We were overwhelmed by a feeling of powerlessness that made any form of expression impossible. And yet, as time passes a single image emerges, a word, a melody… In some small way, we try to create something. We begin to look to the future. Even in the flood zone thick with mud, the cherry blossoms bloomed.