Blog Action Day: The Power of We

When I heard that the theme of this year’s Blog Action Day was going to be “The Power of We”, I immediately thought of Japan and decided to participate.

Japan is a country where “we” is probably one of the most important words. From kindergarten right through to working life, it is essential to be part of the collective group in Japan rather than to stand out as an individual (出る釘は打たれる / deru kugi wa utareru). Some people find objection with this way of life – even some Japanese aren’t willing to be part of a collective “we” – but whether you agree with it or not, there’s no denying that it pays off at times of crisis.

In March 2011 northeastern Japan (Tohoku) faced a triple disaster – a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, a tsunami with waves of up to 40.5 metres, and subsequent nuclear accidents. Japan is a strong country, but it couldn’t have survived that catastrophic event if people had tried to manage alone, and if the country itself had tried to manage alone.

There have been a number of documentary films about life after the disaster, and all of them show the people of Tohoku working together, helping each other, and trying to rebuild their lives as a community. Even if one person lost everything, it didn’t stop them trying to help their neighbour find something. When food was in short supply, people lined up patiently and shared. There was very little looting or disruption, because people were not thinking of themselves first – they were thinking of their families, friends and neighbours.

Aid was received from all around the world, in many forms, and volunteer groups continue to help in Tohoku today. Although the immediate need for aid has lessened, it is important that we continue to help Tohoku in many ways. Perhaps most importantly, Tohoku needs to maintain its sense of community – its own sense of “we” – and many volunteer groups are helping small groups of individuals in Tohoku to work together to build businesses and community activities. It would be no good for people to sit around alone, perhaps having lost everything and everyone – this is a time for “we”.

I could list off dozens of volunteer groups and organisations in Tohoku (such as It’s Not Just Mud) and tell you about the good work they’re doing, but I want to keep this post short and focussed. Over a year and a half after the disaster it would be very easy to assume that life has returned to normal and everyone is ok, but it’s going to be a long time before Tohoku recovers. When the disaster happened I felt there was nothing that I as an individual could do to help, but now I’ve realised that if I join others and become part of a “we”, we can help.

Whatever your interest is in Japan, there’s something that you we can do, whether it’s going to Japan and joining a volunteer group, helping out with a local charitable organisation in your own country, or simply spreading the word and reminding others that Tohoku still needs us.

Especially in rural northeastern Japan, a sense of local community is essential. We can help Tohoku rebuild its WE.

(Image: Seven Beach Aid)

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