27 August 2011

Nation Branding: Japan Stands Tall

Hot on the heels of the London riots and despairing stories of organised crime in Rio de Janeiro, comes this inspiring account of honesty and extraordinary civic-mindedness from the other side of the globe: the return of hundreds of safes and valuables to their owners in the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami.

Thousands of wallets and purses containing almost $30 million have been found in the debris and turned in by rescue workers and residents scouring the devastated prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima ravaged by a mighty tsunami that hit Japan on 11th March. 5,700 safes have also been washed ashore during that time. To date, about $78 million in cash and valuables have been reunited with their owners, often after arduous efforts to crack open the safes, dry and document the contents, then painstakingly track down the owners housed in hundreds of temporary shelters.

Japan Inc. may be battered and its credit rating downgraded; but its people have made the country proud and the world sit up and take notice of:

1. The Calm: Not a single image of chest-beating or wild grief captured by any newspaper, who showed magnificent restraint in their bulletins. No silly reporters. Only respectful reportage. Sorrow itself was elevated.

2. The Dignity: Disciplined queues for water and groceries. No honking and no overtaking on the roads. Not a rough word or a crude gesture. Just patience, courtesy and fortitude in the face of catastrophe.

3. The Grace: Restaurants cut prices. The strong cared for the weak. No looting in shops. People bought only what they needed for the present, so everybody could get something.

4. The Training: The old and the children, everyone knew exactly what to do. And they did just that. Hundreds of telephone agents from insurance company Aflac in Tokyo stayed at their stations and responded to customer calls from under their desks even as their office tower shook violently from the earthquake that followed the tsunami. 

5.The Sacrifice: The Fukushima Fifty stayed on selflessly at their stricken nuclear plant to pump seawater to cool the reactors, in spite of the grave risks to their own lives. How will these courageous workers ever be repaid?

6.The Honesty: When the power went off in stores, people put things back on the shelves and left quietly. Now with the return of the safes and valuables, ordinary Japanese citizens, in demonstrating their social and cultural values as a nation, are bringing out their best selves.

We should all be humbled and inspired.

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