“If your home was hit by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, a tsunami, and radiation from a nuclear power plant, you’d be forgiven for not remaining calm”, speculates Christopher Beam in a recent Slate article. “Yet that’s what many Japanese quake victims appear to be doing. People are forming lines outside supermarkets. Life is “particularly orderly,” according to PBS. “Japanese discipline rules despite disaster,” says a columnist for The Philippine Star.”
Nick Kristof of the NYTimes also observed the same phenomenon during a similiar tragedy in Japan’s history: “Japan’s orderliness and civility often impressed me during my years living in Japan, but never more so than after the Kobe quake. Pretty much the entire port of Kobe was destroyed, with shop windows broken all across the city. I looked all over for a case of looting, or violent jostling over rescue supplies. Finally, I was delighted to find a store owner who told me that he’d been robbed by two men. Somewhat melodramatically, I asked him something like: And were you surprised that fellow Japanese would take advantage of a natural disaster and turn to crime? He looked surprised and responded, as I recall: Who said anything about Japanese. They were foreigners.”
Slate‘s Beam goes on to speculate that the reasons for this uniquely Japanese phenomenon run deeper than the oft-invoked ‘culture’ argument (which, he also mentions, is at any rate fallacious for employing circular reasoning). ‘Structural’ differences, such as the long-standing reward system for honesty, a ubiquitous police presence, and the ironically crime-reducing organized crime groups, may help to reinforce the cultural expectation of group over individual.
Jake also contributed information about how the yakuza are keeping looting down and even assisting, on a fairly large scale, in the tsunami relief efforts; “The Sumiyoshi-kai claims to have shipped over 40 tons of [humanitarian aid] supplies nationwide and I believe that’s a conservative estimate.”