A few weeks ago I returned from a trip to Japan. It was the first time that I had been back to visit since the devastation of the earthquake in March; the most powerful earthquake ever to have hit Japan and one of the five most powerful in the world. Taking that into account, along with the effects of the tsunami that hit shortly after the quake, the highly publicized nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, the fact that the Japanese economy has been crawling for the past three quarters, the realization that the country’s debt now qualifies as the largest of any country in the world and the resignation of yet another Japanese Prime Minister, I was definitely prepared for the worst.
Instead, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed.
The resilience of the Japanese people is nothing short of AMAZING! Their collective commitment and motivation toward getting the country back on track is evident at every turn. As an outsider visiting for just a few days, one of the first and most noticeable changes was with their usage of energy. Obviously, with the extensive damage to their existing power infrastructure, the decision to cut back on energy isn’t wholly voluntary. It is in response to a very real crisis. But what struck me as extraordinary was the extent and level of commitment that the average person seems to have adopted. For example, the use of air-conditioning has literally come to a complete halt. In fact, if you had never been in Japan before now and were visiting for the very first time, you would think that the technology had never even made its way into the country. While forgoing the use of air-conditioning may sound like a small thing, those of you who have spent any time in time in Japan in September know that it definitely is not.
The second most recognizable difference was evident in the streets during the evenings. As I was walking in Ginza, the difference between this visit and my previous trip 6 months ago, was staggering. In the past, the Ginza borough was lit up like a Christmas tree at night. Not anymore. Now it’s down to a minimum at best; just enough to navigate your path.
These are just two very obvious examples of the many things that have changed as a result of the catastrophic events that have plagued Japan. But it made me realize that these people are going to be okay in the long run. Of course, it will take time and continued effort but their commitment is real and reaches a very fundamental level. It is amazing to see how the Japanese people, no matter what happens; from natural disasters to economic crises to political unrest, rally. Regardless of blame, responsibility or competing ideology, they come together to work towards a shared goal. Granted, there are many people around the world do the same when disaster strikes, but I don’t think I have ever seen a more stark example of collective determination.
It reminds me to never underestimate the power of determination. Especially in large groups. It can literally transform a nation.