February 28, 2021
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Japan, 8.9

Japan, 8.9


 The vicissitudes of life.
Sad, to become finally
A bamboo shoot*

It was the fifth biggest recorded earthquake which caused massive destruction and left hundreds dead. But as somebody tweeted, it is also a time to keep in mind the headline you won't be reading:

"Millions saved in Japan by good engineering and government building codes".

Millions may be an overstatement, but as Time put it: 

When disaster does hit, as it did today, Japan's buildings fare relatively well. In 1981 Japan updated its building guidelines with an eye to earthquake science. The devastating Kobe earthquake, which claimed some 5,100 lives, spurred another round of research on earthquake safety and disaster management. In 2000, the country's building codes were revised again, this time with specific requirements and mandatory checks. Even at the local level, preparedness is a priority: from 1979 to 2009, Shizuoka prefecture alone poured more than $4 billion into improving the safety of hospitals, schools and social welfare facilities. Though Japanese cities often shake, they rarely topple. "This gives me great faith in Japan's building codes," said Hong Kong University's Charles Schencking, a historian who studies earthquakes in Japan.

The video above comes via Time Out Tokyo, which had something else on its menu today: a live blog from a shaking building:

The first shaking started about 30 minutes ago. It still hasn't stopped.

I'm writing this from the Time Out office, a ground floor room at the base of a relatively new building. Across the road there's a tenement block. It's swaying horrifically - so much so, in fact, that it looks like a miniature, as though it's been subjected to tilt shift photo technology. I can't quite compute seeing a building doing that.

Read on here | Live Twitter feed

Each photograph telling its own tragedy — surreal fires that seemed to be travelling in water, buildings and vehicles swept away like toys, whirlpools and waves at crazy speeds, some of those are here: Photogallery

A few useful twitter accounts to follow:

*The 17th century haiku from one of Japan’s greatest poets, Basho, comes via NYT's Nicholas Kristof who lived in Japan as Tokyo bureau chief for The New York Times:

There’s a common Japanese word, “gaman,” that doesn’t really have an English equivalent, but is something like “toughing it out.”

...stoicism is built into the Japanese language. People always say “shikata ga nai” – it can’t be helped. And one of the most common things to say to someone else is “ganbatte kudasai” – tough it out, be strong. Natural disasters are seen as part of Japan’s “unmei,” or fate – a term that is written by combining the characters for movement and life. I remember reading an ancient account, I believe from 16th century Jesuit visitors, of an earthquake devastating a village, and then within hours the peasants began rebuilding their homes.

...the Japanese conception is that humans are simply one part of nature, riding its tides — including many, many earthquakes throughout history. 

At times like this, who else to turn to, but Faiz:

aaiye haath uThaayeN ham bhii
ham jinheN rasm-e-du’aa yaad nahiiN
ham jinheN soz-e-muhabbat ke sivaa
ko’ii but, ko’ii Khudaa yaad nahiiN

In my clunky, rough translation:

Come, let us too lift our hands
We, who do not remember the ritual of prayers
We, who other than the fire of love
Do not recall any idol, any god..

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