It has been three weeks since the earthquake. Tonight there was another biggish one - only magnitude 5.1 - but 5+ on the Japanese scale, centred within 15 km of Hiro's parents' place in Akita. There is a range of mountains and 600km between us and them and I only became aware of it when Hiro's aunt Yasuko rang to ask if we had been able to get through to them. I didn't have the television on and had no idea. The landlines weren't connecting, but I was able to get through to Hiro's sister in law's mobile - she had called them straight after the quake and could report that all were fine.
There is much to be thankful for despite the magnitude of the earthquake and height of the tsunami. The worst affected areas - Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima comprise 10% of Japan's land area, but contain less than 5% of the population. No consolation to those who were affected. I shudder to think of the devastation of a tsunami in Tokyo Bay.
With a tragedy of this magnitude it is natural for the country to be in mourning. The Japanese response to death and tragedy encompasses the idea of jishuku 自粛 - voluntary self-restraint. A friend defined it for me as "refrain from activities, especially felicitous ones, because of a tragedy, usually a death or an illness, elsewhere". Elsewhere seems important to me. Across Japan entrance ceremonies that mark the start of the new academic year have be cancelled in places relatively and totally unaffected by earthquake damage.. Annual festivals -including the Kanagawa's Fertility Festival, Tokyo's Sanja Matsuri, Kyoto's Hanatoro festival are being cancelled, because it's considered insensitive to be having fun and festivities while others are mourning. A friend who was in Fukuoka last week says local spring festivities have been cancelled through out Kyushu as well.
Jishuku, a virtue, reduces conspicuous consumption and frivolity in an effort to express solidarity. It's a hard balance though. And sometimes it's hard to understand - horseracing gets cancelled but not baseball... The prefectural school boys baseball tournament - which is a big event - goes ahead to cheer the spirits of people in affected areas - but the brass band which was supposed to play there too gets cancelled. Too bad for the kids who have been practicing for months playing their instruments... A brass band would cheer me more than a game of baseball...
If it were me making decisions about university entrance ceremonies, they would all go ahead but with acknowledgement of the devastation and passing around the hat to raise as much money as possible to help rebuild areas damaged by the earthquake. But that's not how it's done. I am not sure how long the spirit of jishuku is likely to remain.