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

Woman accused of blasphemy freed in Pakistan

Asia Bibi was initially found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death. After her release from Multan’s women prison in the light of the Oct 31 Supreme Court verdict overturning her conviction and death sentence, Asia Bibi was brought to Islamabad on board a special aircraft on Wednesday night, reliable sources told Dawn Newspaper. The aircraft carrying Aasia Bibi, whose acquittal of blasphemy charge sparked countrywide protests by religious parties and groups, landed at the old Benazir Bhutto International Airport of Islamabad adjacent to Nur Khan Air Base. Soon after her landing, she was taken to an undisclosed place in Islamabad amid tight security. The authorities were keeping her movement and whereabouts secret for security reasons. Authorities concerned were also tight-lipped about her future plan and it was unclear if she would be kept in Islamabad or would be allowed to fly out of the


By Dawn
November 8, 2018

Curiosity, Opinion

When Hollywood came calling to Bangladesh

An enchanting tale of opportunity and the silver screen in Bangladesh. This fascinating story needs retelling, particularly for the younger generations in Bangladesh, who would take pride in knowing that a fairly sizable portion of one of the most successful, Academy Award (Oscar) winning, block-buster epic movies of Hollywood of the 1950s, “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956), was filmed at selected locations of Sreemangal, in Sylhet and Barabkunda, in Chittagong. And that, in those immensely difficult days of road communication and a host of other logistical problems, an indefatigable gentleman from Dhaka, G M M E Karim, rose to the occasion and volunteered his fulltime services to render shooting of the film possible on schedule. A hugely resourceful and multifaceted personality, Karim, besides being an accomplished professional, was also a big game hunter in his younger days—he had shot his first full grown


By Daily Star
November 7, 2018

Curiosity, Opinion

Imran Khan delivers warning to religious groups

Pakistan premier Imran Khan warns off religious group after supreme court rules on high profile blasphemy case. Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday issued a stark warning to religiopolitical groups that have been agitating against the Supreme Court verdict to acquit Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of committing blasphemy. The premier addressed the matter in a short video message that solely focused on the Asia Bibi verdict and its aftermath. The message was broadcast on state-run PTV. He said he had been “compelled” to communicate with the nation due to the reaction given and language used by a “small segment” in response to the SC verdict. Pakistan was founded “in the name of Islam” and the verdict given by the SC is


By Dawn
November 1, 2018

Curiosity, Opinion

China slams outside meddling, provocation in South China Sea

China called upon states bordering the South China Sea to jointly work with Beijing to guard against external interference and disruption. Some countries outside the region constantly stir up trouble and brandish forces in the South China Sea, which goes against efforts made by China, the Philippines and other regional states to maintain peace and promote mutually beneficial cooperation, said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a news conference with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr in the southern Philippine city of Davao. Regional countries should remain vigilant against such interference, and continue deepening solidarity and cooperation to build the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation, and not leave any opportunity for outside forces to exploit the situation, he said. Wang said China will discuss with the Philippines joint exploration of oil and


By China Daily
October 30, 2018

Curiosity, Opinion

A word against regulation

Regulation of social media, like regulation of the press, should not be attempted less it offer another way for despots to control their population. When the printing press first began spreading throughout Europe in the 15thand 16thcenturies, it brought with it a revolution in and democratization of ideas. Scripture and scientific text were spread rapidly and was readily accessible to the masses for the first time. The church’s role as the gatekeepers and purveyors of information lessened with the advent of new technology. Upheaval was not far behind and the printing press played a central role in the reformation led by Martin Luther and the split of the Catholic Church. At this time, the leadership of the church tried to suppress the dissemination of these ideas and the technology which allowed them to flourish. But their attempts were in vain and the world entered a new epoch, one which eventually g


By Cod Satrusayang
October 29, 2018

Curiosity, Opinion

Japan panel to call for creating IT watchdog

An expert panel will call for the government to set up a team of specialists to monitor the business practices of tech giants in its interim report to be released early next month. According to the draft of the interim report on measures to step up regulations on tech giants such as Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., the expert panel will also urge the government to consider obligating these firms to disclose important information, such as the terms and conditions of deals with their business partners. The government will make earnest efforts to tighten regulations on digital giants as similar moves have already been seen in Europe. The expert panel will release its interim report in early November before compiling the final version by the end of this year. Based on its proposals, the government will examine concrete measures from next year. In the draft of t


By The Japan News
October 29, 2018