[Viewpoint] ‘What if’ becomes reality

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[Viewpoint] ‘What if’ becomes reality

The Tohoku earthquake and the subsequent nuclear accident in Fukushima have produced various lessons for Korea.

My parents and family live in or near Tokyo, so they did not suffer direct damage.

However, all of Japan is at risk of radiation leaks. It is truly worrisome that radiation has been detected in Tokyo’s tap water.

“Japan Sinks,” originally a disaster book written by mystery novelist Sakyo Komatsu, was made into a film in the 1970s, and I watched the movie as a high school student.

A few years ago, a remake of the movie was released, but the 70s version left a deeper impression on me, as the film depicts earthquakes and volcanic eruptions sinking Japan while the Japanese people escape to other parts of Asia.

The movie ends with a scene featuring Japanese departing on the Trans-Siberian Railway with poignant, determined expressions on their faces.

Will the Japanese people be able to survive after the islands of Japan disappear? That is the main question of the movie and novel.

The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami turned the “what if” scenario into reality. And the “what if” is still in progress.

Japanese nuclear power plants were thought to be constructed using world-class earthquake-resistant designs that take into account the country’s familiarity with earthquakes. But the magnitude of the latest earthquake and tsunami left Japan’s proud power plants completely destroyed.

Another problem was the mindset of the Japanese, who have gotten accustomed to earthquakes.

The tsunami and earthquake were natural disasters, but it cannot be denied that human error added to the nuclear accident’s scale.

In the aftermath of the catastrophe, the Japanese have impressed the world by maintaining public order in a stoic manner.

We Japanese have been trained from a young age to stay calm in an emergency because the country often suffers from natural disasters. Moreover, the samurai tradition is founded upon the principle of maintaining public order.

In addition, Japanese history has at times been beset with military turmoil and the Japanese had to refrain from crying when family members were leaving to fight.

It became a tradition to send off a warrior with a smile. History and tradition have made the Japanese attitude today.

However, these virtues are only possible in Japan when the authorities give precise instructions and the victims are provided with appropriate compensation.

The Japanese may change if the authorities prove unreliable and compensation is not offered.

In other words, the sense of public order the Japanese people show today is based on a relationship of trust among the central government, local governments and citizens.

In the absence of leadership, a few heroes may bring their supporters together and attempt to divide Japan politically, just as the daimyo lords did during the Sengoku period.

Many Koreans live with the thoughts of disaster in a corner of their hearts. There is the possibility of another Korean War. There are many terrifying scenarios that constantly threaten Koreans.

Can we interpret North Korea’s military provocations simply as a means to obtain economic gains? Are we prepared for chemical or nuclear attacks? Is there a plan for the possibility that nuclear power plants are destroyed during a war?

What if a nuclear power plant itself becomes a target? The Japanese are trained from childhood to remain calm, not to lose their reason and maintain basic order in public.

In Japan, students in elementary schools and middle schools have disaster and emergency drills every two or three months to make sure they thoroughly understand and become familiar with emergency procedures.

In preparation for increasing global uncertainty, it may be worth considering realistic disaster and emergency exercises at schools in Korea.

*The writer is a professor of Japanese studies at Sejong University.

By Yuji Hosaka
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