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

Asia’s largest LGBTQ exhibition to open in Bangkok later this year

The exhibition will run from March through next year. “Spectrosynthesis II- Exposure of Tolerance: LGBTQ in Southeast Asia”, the largest-ever survey of regional contemporary art, will explore gender issues and feature more than 200 works by 50 artists. It will open at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) on November 23 and run until March 1 next year. The exhibition received huge critical acclaim when it was first staged in Taiwan 2017, after which its Hong Kong-based organiser, the Sunpride Foundation, chose Bangkok as its second stop. “Bangkok is my second home and Thailand is the most friendly LGBT country in Asia and the more liberal nation,” said Patrick Sun, founder of Sunpride Foundation. “Taiwan is the one of th


By The Nation (Thailand)
January 10, 2019

Curiosity, Opinion

Ex-ambassador urges former colleague to defect to South Korea

A feature story from Korean Herald outlining the intricacies of a possible defection by Pyongyang’s ambassador in Italy. A former senior North Korean diplomat who defected to the South in 2016 on Saturday urged a former colleague who has gone into hiding before ending his term in Italy to come to Seoul, as opposed to the US where he is reportedly seeking asylum. Thae Yong-ho, who was the deputy ambassador in London and the most recent senior diplomat to defect, wrote an open letter to Jo Song-gil, 44, until recently North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy, who fled the Rome embassy with his wife in early November without notice. Jo became


By The Korea Herald
January 7, 2019

Curiosity, Opinion

Previewing Sheikh Hasina’s fourth term

A unanimous poll decision leaves Sheikh Hasina with many decisions to make. It is the huge gaps in the numbers of votes polled by the winners and the losers in the 11th national election that apparently unveiled a “controlled and patterned” nature of the process of polls. A foreign media commentator wondered why any “control” was exercised over BNP activists since the announcement of election schedule in September last. In his opinion, the ruling coalition or Mahajote contestants would have won by a handsome margin without keeping BNP workers at bay anyway! More so when the BNP was waffling and unprepared! In fact, a hundred BNP candidates’ deposits have been forfeited as they couldn’t even secure one-tenth of their adversaries’ tally. In BNP’s last election debacle when they had around 30 seats, deposits of only 10 contestants were forfeited. But I have


By Daily Star
January 4, 2019

Curiosity, Opinion

China lands probe on far side of the moon

It is the first manmade probe to land on the far side. Humankind’s lunar exploration history saw the opening of a new chapter on Thursday morning as the world’s first explorer of the moon’s far side landed at its destination after a 26-day space journey. The Chang’e 4 lunar probe, the latest step in China’s endeavor to explore the silver sphere, landed at 10:26 on the Von Karman crater in the South Pole-Aitken basin and then sent back a picture of the landing site shot by one of the monitor cameras on the probe’s lander, marking the world’s first image taken on the moon’s far side. The picture, published by the China National Space Administration, shows the place where Chang’e 4’s rover will be heading to roam and survey. The successful landing formally inaugurated the world’s first expedition to the far side that never faces the E


By China Daily
January 4, 2019

Curiosity, Opinion

Japanese emperor turns 85, glad for war-free reign

The emperor made his last speech before his pending abdication. Japan’s Emperor Akihito, who turned 85 yesterday, has said he was heartened that the Heisei (achieving peace) era was coming to an end without his country having engaged in war. “It gives me deep comfort that the Heisei era is coming to an end, free of war in Japan,” the pacifist monarch said in an emotional news conference held at the Imperial Palace ahead of his birthday. Of the war that Japan waged in his father’s name, he added: “It is important not to forget that countless lives were lost in World War II and that the peace and prosperity of post-war Japan was built upon the numerous sacrifices and tireless efforts made by the Japanese people.” He stressed that it was crucial to “pass on this history accurately to those born after the war”, in what was his last birthday news confere


By The Straits Times
December 26, 2018

Curiosity, Opinion

Afghan war helped Pakistan keep nuclear option: US papers

US backing for anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan may have enabled the Pakistan bomb. Torn between preventing Pakistan from going nuclear and fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, the United States appears to have decided that pushing the Russians out of Kabul was more important, shows a set of documents released by the US State Department. Official US memos and letter — released under an arrangement to make public official documents after 30 years — show that Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (in office from 1978 to 1989) also played a key role in convincing Washington to continue to support Islamabad despite its nuclear programme. Timeline: History of US-Pakistan relations A confidential State Department report, dated Aug 20, 1984, shows that by 1984 Washington knew Islamabad had acquired the


By Dawn
December 24, 2018