Over the past few days, bloggers and journalists have offered several explanations to account for the fact that Japan’s response to its earthquake-tsunami one-two punch has been so — well — orderly. Some speculate that Japan’s ethnic homogeneity may be to blame. Others have theorized that Japan’s “culture of shame” quells looting and other selfish behavior. Both of those may be true, but I’d like to propose a third hypothesis: the Japanese were simply better prepared.
Because Japan sits on the legendary Pacific “Ring of Fire,” the Japanese have been studying earthquakes and tsunamis for centuries. We know, for example, that there was a major earthquake and tsunami in Cascadia before the European settlement in part because the Japanese recorded the event. Every Japanese child is warned, I’m sure, that the seemingly tranquil ocean could breech its limits at any time and completely inundate a coastal city. Earthquake drills are par for the course in Japanese schools; the entire Japanese nation, in fact, has been engaged whole-heartedly in the art and science of disaster-preparedness for as long as I can remember (and certainly longer). Given this, it really doesn’t surprise me that the Japanese seem preternaturally calm as all hell breaks loose around them. The knowledge of their impending doom has been inextricably woven into their national consciousness from time immemorial.
In comparison, we Americans are ridiculously complacent. Despite our earthquake-prone west coast, our hurricane-prone Gulf coast, our tornado-prone midsection, and — oh, yes — that supervolcano that sits simmering in Wyoming, many of us are strangely unconcerned when it comes to prepping for a home-grown disaster. Can we learn from Japan? You bet we can!