Japan one year after
Last Sunday I attended a memorial service for the victims of the tsunami and earthquake disasters one year ago in the Tohoku region of Japan. The ceremony took place in Tokyo in presence of the Emperor. It became very emotional when representatives from the three prefectures Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi told their stories of lost husbands, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers and grandparents. Together with other diplomats I offered flowers at the special altar which had been constructed at the venue. Yesterday, I attended another memorial service in Stockholm, at the residence of the Japanese Ambassador to Sweden.
The question everyone asks these days is how Japan can come back after such enormous disasters, which have created problems for the country in ways that cannot be solved in a very short time. For me, it is not a question if Japan will make it or not, it is more of a question of how long it will take, how much it will cost and how and where the wiped out communities will be restored. One must remember that Japan is a country that always has lived with disasters, either natural ones, like earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons, or man-made ones, like civil wars, regional wars or world wars. Already in the early historical texts Kojiki and Nihon Shoki (written 712 and 720) there are descriptions of numerous earthquakes and typhoons.
After the devastating civil wars in the 15th and 16th centuries Japan entered into a period of solid state building and social structures that still influence Japanese society and culture. In 1868 Japan went through the so-called Meiji Restoration, after which the world was surprised by the rapid changes and economic and other developments that took place in Japanese society. And after the second world war the world was yet again surprised by the rapid economic development in Japan. The keys to all these changes were knowledge and education. Japan could change rapidly after 1868 because it had enough people with enough knowledge and education who realized that it was just that, knowledge and education, that was the basis for a vibrant society. In 1945 most of Japan was destroyed, but the people that was left had a relatively high level of education, which made it easier to take the right decisions. Today, Japan is confronted with a number of difficulties and challenges, but the whole society can still be described as highly educated. Therefore, it will be relatively easy to come to the right decisions what to do with the economy, how to improve the educational system, what needs to change in the political system and what has to be discarded. Highly educated societies have a tendency to take intelligent decisions, even if those decisions turn out to be difficult and painful ones.
Japan is not a country in crisis, it is a vibrant and functioning country that, again, is confronted with certain serious difficulties. It is definitely not wise for us to look upon Japan as a country where prosperity belongs to the past. Looking at history, and taking a correct view of today’s difficulties, the intelligent thing to do is to see Japan as a country with a still functioning market, vast business opportunities, a number of fields where we still can cooperate and benefit from each other and with a highly educated people who will chose logical ways to go forward. I think this would also be a good way to pay respect to all the lives lost in the 3.11 disasters.