See More on Facebook

Curiosity, Opinion

Battered by disasters, Japanese remain stoic as ever

Despite typhoons and earthquakes, regular citizens attempt to go about their everyday lives.


Written by

Updated: September 10, 2018

Public transport services were halted citywide after major tremors shook Osaka in June and Hokkaido last week.

But, in both places, that did not stop salarymen and women in their customary dark suits from making their way to work – some by walking for at least an hour.

Orderly queues formed outside convenience stores and supermarkets that remained open, with stoical residents stocking up on necessities.

Despite the massive inundation across wide areas of western Japan or the sudden landslides that flattened homes after “historic” rainfall in July, many people chose to stay put and rebuild their lives.

The summer of 2018 has been brutal, even by Japanese standards. The nation, which is prone to natural disasters, was not only battered by two major earthquakes and the strongest typhoon in 25 years, but also had to endure historic rainfall and unrelenting heat.

Yet, through it all, the renowned resilience of the Japanese was on display, encapsulated by their mantra “shikata ga nai” or “sho ga nai”, which loosely translates as “it cannot be helped” or “there is no other way.”

This outlook has guided a nation that designated Sept 1 as Disaster Prevention Day to mark the Great Kanto Earthquake which devastated Tokyo and killed over 140,000 people on that day in 1923.

But given its size, in Japan, chances are that someone in Tokyo will be far removed from a major disaster that hits, say, Hokkaido or Osaka. There is also a tendency to believe that one will not experience any major disaster event in his or her lifetime, given that it rarely occurs at the same place with the same intensity.

Professor Naoshi Hirata, who heads the government’s Earthquake Research Committee, told a media briefing last year that this was the reason why some people loosen their guard, and react in the event of an earthquake by saying that they “never expected it to take place in their lifetime”.

This attitude is the flipside of “shikata ga nai”, manifest in how some choose to ignore non-mandatory evacuation orders, as they downplay the potential severity of a disaster by comparing it to their previous experiences.

Experts have pointed to this as the reason why the recent heavy rains left at least 225 people dead in the flooding and landslides that ensued.

Another offshoot of “shikata ga nai” is that many have come to believe that they can run but can’t hide.

Japan is a hotbed of seismic activity and accounts for 20 per cent of the world’s earthquakes with magnitudes of at least 6.0. It is also shaken by about 1,500 quakes every year, though most are minor.

The country of 126.7 million people also gets battered by typhoons. But with 73 per cent of its terrain mountainous, many areas are either built on, or hemmed in by, steep slopes that can put homes in the path of landslides.

Such communities usually comprise ancestral homes, and are ripe for farming. The cities, meanwhile, are typically coastal and low-lying, making them vulnerable to flooding.

Wide areas of Tokyo, the largest metropolitan area in the world, sit below sea level. There is a 70 per cent chance of an earthquake of a magnitude of at least 7.0 hitting directly beneath the city within the next 30 years, seismologists have said.

But “strong building codes and resilient engineering practices across a majority of the country” have helped to mitigate disasters, risk modelling consultancy RMS said in a report last week.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry has sought a 19 per cent budget increase for fiscal 2019 to fund improvements to ageing infrastructure to cope with more severe events.

“Unflagging efforts are needed to strengthen preparations against disasters,” the Yomiuri daily said in an editorial last Friday. “No one in Japan should forget the reality that we live on an archipelago prone to disasters.”



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


About the Author: The Straits Times is Singapore's top-selling newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Curiosity, Opinion

The Chinese version

Muhammad Amir Rana asks what is the Chinese version of Islam.  TENSIONS between China and the US have escalated after the House of Representative’s Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, 2019. The move is of a piece with the allegations of many international media and human rights organisations that China is persecuting the Uighur community and violating their rights — allegations that Beijing has denied. Calling the US action a political move aimed at damaging its international image, China says it is running a deradicalisation programme to mainstream its communities. Read: Amid global outcry, China defends internment camps of minorities in Xinjiang The Chinese claim has not been verified by independent sources and mystery shrouds its deradicalisation or re-education programme. China needs to demonstra


By Asia News Network
December 16, 2019

Curiosity, Opinion

Taiwan among top 10 study destinations for U.S. students

Thailand and Singapore among other Asian destinations. China welcomed the highest number of U.S. students last year, followed by Japan and India in second and third places, respectively, according to a recent survey about exchange students in Asia. South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan, and Indonesia rounded up the top 10 list of the most popular Asian countries among U.S. students. According to AsiaExchange, “The high level of education, low exposure to crime, economic freedom and good healthcare system are a few examples of why Taiwan is ranked 2nd on the annual Global Peace Index.” It’s also very safe to live in Taiwan, as crime rates are low, the Website stressed, noting that Taiwan’s focus on human rights, gender equality and freedom of speech has made it a top destination for education. Taiwan, whose institutions are strong and reliable, has remained la


By Warren Fernandez
December 12, 2019

Curiosity, Opinion

No safe spaces for women in Pakistan

Rafia Zakaria writes for Dawn. THAT crime lurks in the streets and corners of Karachi is not news for anyone. Precariousness and predation are the mainstay in this southern corner of the land of the pure; if you have something you are hunted and if you have nothing, you hunt. Destiny damns both, the hunters and the hunted, enacting a dystopian version of The Walking Dead, every day and every night. Karachi is, after all, judged as one of the world’s cities that are least liveable. The scars of it all are visible everywhere, on the bodies and faces of its people, on the hospitals that do not care, and the police that do not protect. This time, the dark forces that breed within the city came for a young girl. According to news reports, 20-year-old Dua Nisar Mangi was ‘committing the crime’ of walking down a city street. This was over the weekend past, and with her was a friend named Haris. It was not suppo


By Asia News Network
December 5, 2019

Curiosity, Opinion

American killer

Staying away from an American policy that does not value brown and black people. CHIEF Special Warfare Operator Edward ‘Eddie’ Gallagher is a man of many sins. According to military prosecutors in the United States, Gallagher is responsible for brutally stabbing and murdering a teenage so-called Islamic State (IS) fighter, using his sniper rifle on ordinary Iraqi citizens, and boasting about racking up his ‘kills’ to others. To top it all off, Gallagher is also guilty of taking a triumphant photo of himself with the young IS fighter that he killed. Gallagher was tried and convicted by a military court earlier this year, and was to be deprived of his rank and booted out of the US Navy SEALs. President Donald Trump could not tolerate this. Despite having been told by top military and defence officials that he should leave the issue alone and allow the navy to handle what happened to Gallagher, he


By Asia News Network
November 28, 2019

Curiosity, Opinion

Private companies step in to help SEA Games hosting

The government’s hosting of the event has so far been disastrous. Private companies and well-meaning individuals are stepping up to help the country’s hosting of the Southeast Asian Games football tournaments. Philippine Football Federation president Mariano “Nonong” Araneta said Southridge School in Alabang has offered its artificial pitch as one of the practice venues for the tournaments, while Vallacar Transit, which owns the Ceres Bus line, has provided 18 of its newest buses to transport teams to their matches. Vallacar is headed by Leo Rey Yanson, who is also the owner of the country’s top football club, Ceres-Negros. Ceres buses were also used by organizers the last time the country hosted the tournament in 2005, following complaints with the vehicle being used by the teams. The 18 buses are intended for the 11 men’s teams and six women’s squads with one spare bus in case


By Philippine Daily Inquirer
November 27, 2019

Curiosity, Opinion

Nepal hasn’t been able to adapt to a changing world

Think tanks can play a significant role in helping countries like Nepal deal with the changes. Last week, more than a hundred think tanks came together in Bangkok to discuss how they can help manage the transition amidst trade wars and the shrinking of space for open dialogues and discourses. The Asia Pacific Think Tank Summit was organised by the United Nations ESCAP and the University of Pennsylvania. While the world has progressed and is discussing pertinent issues, back home in Nepal, we continue to be preoccupied with mundane issues like the health of the prime minister, parties and lawyers busy protecting criminals and, of course, politicians making sure they do not lose control of universities. No one, whether in government or heading institutions, has a vision as to how the country or their respective organisation will look like in 2030. It seems that the only way of thinking pr


By The Kathmandu Post
November 19, 2019