Most Japanese do not like to criticize. They are deferential and super polite. I ask several times, “Is the Government doing enough to help people?” They seem puzzled. Of course the Government is doing what it can, they say, but it is up to communities and people to do it for themselves, to work together to rebuild. While some subsidies are available, they don’t expect handouts.
One man quietly comes up to me and says he is opposed to the Government building a seawall costing hundreds of millions of dollars. The community it would have protected is now gone and it is unlikely anyone will build there again. He’s got a point.
Although Japan has a high-tech tsunami warning system, it didn’t work in 2011, partly because nobody expected the waves to be so high. But one of the best warning systems was also the oldest and simplest: so-called tsunami stones, which recorded the height previous tsunamis, had reached along with invocation not to build beneath that level. Many villagers ignored the warnings and the stones became overgrown.
Another journalist, Time magazine’s Tokyo correspondent Lucy Birmingham, reported on the tsunami stones for a previous NHK documentary. I later meet Lucy for lunch at the foreign correspondent’s club in Tokyo, and she tells me how the country is faring. It has taken a real hit and it’s economy has suffered. Lucy’s book, Strong in the Rain, written together with British journalist David McNeill, is an insightful account of the disaster through the eyes of everyday people. Its title is taken from a poem by 1930s poet Kenji Miyazawa, and evokes the Japanese attitude of calm forbearance.