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

Thais wont mobilize in protest even if junta wins elections.

Thailand’s ersatz elections will not bother most Thais even if army comes back to rule. Every country has their breaking point, where corruption, abuse and living standards reach a point where people are compelled to take to the streets and demand a change. Thailand’s breaking point appears to be much higher than most. After all, a decade of political infighting, street riots, and military crackdowns has made mass protest much less palatable for the common Thai. Despite this, the military seem to be doing their utmost to push the populace to their limit. Reports from early and overseas voters tell of an election deeply flawed with spoiled ballots, discounted votes and confusing polling procedures. Some votes have been disregarded altogether, including those that voted for the Thai Raksa Chat Party who was disqualified by the Election Commission for running a princess to be p


By Cod Satrusayang
March 20, 2019

Curiosity, Opinion

Dialogue important after India-Pakistan crisis

As India and Pakistan wake up to the real possibilities of war, it is time to give dialogue another chance. Although the 2019 India-Pakistan standoff may have passed its immediate intensity, it is clear that the entire episode has left a slew of new worries for policymakers all over the world. It is crucial that lessons are learnt and crisis-handling procedures between the two countries put in place. Because there is no doubt that Pakistan and India were perilously close to war. In a digital age, resonating with the red noise of alternative facts fuelled by ultra-nationalisms, it was clear that the Modi regime’s need to bolster its flagging electoral ratings before an election took the Indian act of border incursion into Pakistan’s Ba


By Dawn
March 15, 2019

Curiosity, Opinion

Muscular solid-fuel rocket to fly soon

The rocket will be used for space exploration. China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp will soon launch the nation’s biggest solid-propellant carrier rocket and is working on new models that will be even larger and stronger, a project insider said. Hu Shengyun, a senior rocket designer at the CASIC Fourth Academy in Wuhan, Hubei province, which develops and builds the Kuaizhou series, said the maiden mission of the Kuaizhou 11 will take place soon at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China. He spoke to China Daily on the sidelines of the ongoing second session of the 13th National People’s Congress in Beijing as he attends the national legislature’s annual meeting. The researcher said the Kuaizhou 11 is China’s largest and most powerful solid-propellant carrier rocket, with a length of 25 meters, a diameter of 2.2 meters, and a liftoff weight of 78 metr


By China Daily
March 14, 2019

Curiosity, Opinion

Time for trusting Thai junta coming to an end

After four years of military rule, the military’s credibility is at an all time low. By the time the military holds elections on March 24, Thailand will have spent 1,767 days under military rule. During that time, dissent has been suppressed, freedom of expression has eroded, the press has been attacked publicly and privately by the government and the population will not have had a single say in matters of governance. And yet a constant mantra that the military has chanted throughout that time has been the almost paternalistic “trust me.” “Trust me, I am replacing the democratically-elected government for the good of the people.” “Trust me, we need to lessen criticism of the junta for unity’s sake.” “Trust me, this constitution is necessary to have elections.” “Trust me, we will hold an election within a year.”


By Cod Satrusayang
March 7, 2019

Curiosity, Opinion

Freedom’s limits

China President Xi Jinping will have to countenance a major challenge at this week’s meeting of the “Two Sessions”. China has reached a critical juncture and President Xi Jinping ~ permanently at the helm of the party and government ~ will have to countenance a major challenge at this week’s meeting of the “Two Sessions”, so-called. Thousands of delegates will congregate at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing during the two weeks of meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an advisory body. It is a measure of the brewing tension that the authorities have gone on overdrive to muffle the faintest dissent; there is for instance a public warning against what they call “over-the-top praise” and robust condemnation. While this may be concordant with traditional Communist praxis, remarkable too must be the fact that the syste


By The Statesman
March 7, 2019

Curiosity, Opinion

OP ED: Moon Jae-In writes about ASEAN before his visit to the region

South Korean – ASEAN ties important as Moon makes his visit to the region. Next week, I will be making state visits to Brunei, Malaysia and Cambodia. I am very pleased that ASEAN member states will be the destination of my first overseas tour this year. I extend warm greetings of friendship from the citizens of the Republic of Korea to our ASEAN friends. ASEAN always reminds me of the sea that nurtured and raised me. I grew up in Busan, the largest port city of the Republic of Korea. My parents were displaced from their hometown, and it was the inclusiveness and understanding of those who lived with the sea that took in my impoverished family. From them, I was able to learn a lesson of courage and hope that no matter how harsh the storm and waves, we can weather them if we gather our strengths. Most ASEAN member states not only lie by the sea but also possess infinite wisdom and power stemming fro


By Moon Jae In
March 6, 2019