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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

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Some words relating to the highest of human endeavours seem to be lessened - cheapened even - by, particularly the media, overusing them or applying them arbitrarily or misapplying them to fit a summary. 'Awesome' is a youth catchword: fair enough, it's youth that molds language now, but 'hero' and 'courageous' are now applied to any member of the armed forces or emergency services, which seems to smother the truly outstanding acts of individuals or those who rally others who don't necessarily have the trigger to use heroic qualities. Many of my friends have served in the military; they could chose language of far more relevance and genuineness without resorting to jingoism or sloppy terms.
My thanks, also, to Francis Harrison and Mike (whose literary standards I much admire).

No link?

Two (dubbed) Japanese movies from my childhood growing up in Hong Kong stuck with me even after all these years. One of them is about the private firefighting companies. I don't remember the period but it is "the old days" where they basically just carried buckets of water. When there was a fire, the companies would have flagmen to stand on top of the roofs of the burning buildings to claim the spot. In this movie, some of the flagmen stayed at their spots even being burned to death because it was their duty not to dishonor their companies.

Now that I think about it, this showed that psyche of the Japanese people but undoubtedly, movies like that also served propaganda purposes in the post War era.

"A better way to understand what is going on here is the concept of 'duty,' of being more afraid of the 'shame' of not manning your post than of death itself...."

Fear of death? How many people have died because of the nuclear disaster in Japan? Zero. The gentleman in the picture might have a marginally elevated chance of cancer over his lifetime, but it is certainly not something a rational person should consider as fear of death. XKCD puts some sanity into the topic: http://xkcd.com/radiation/

Of all the hyperbole and sensationalism regarding the disaster in media I didn't expect a quote on TOP to top it all. And no, puns are not inappropriate in the context, either.

I've followed Mr Harrison for several years. I have learned that he is a disciple of the Goddess Bokeh. I have learned of his dissatisfaction with much of his own work (don't wait too long before commenting on one of his small masterpieces as it may be pulled). I have learned of his love of Polish photographers. I have charted his course through Canon, Nikon, Epson and Pentax cameras knowing, as he does, that the path will end with a Leica M9. Above all, I have learned of a committed champion of amateur photography. The enthusiasm of the man is infectious.

Have I met him? Only for a few short hours in Paris last year. We ate, we drank, we took photographs. We debated the merits of Canon and Nikon with the conclusion that, although Canon digital reds are better, Nikon cameras are plus chic, certainly if the streets of Paris are to be believed.

A fine addition to your gallery of Random Excellence, Mike.

Mike, maybe include a link to Francis Harrison's photographs for anyone who's curious to see more of his work.

"No link?"

A link.

Ahem,
Who said death had to come from radiation? Earthquakes can be followed by other earthquakes. From the reports, aftershocks shook the country for days. The situation was very unstable. Uncertainty = danger in dangerous situations.

Mike

It's rewarding to experience a perspective and photograph that is contrary to myriad images depicting the recent devastation and death Japan has endured. I appreciate the interpretation here, and feel it is Mr. Harrison's to make.

Most folks I know in Tokyo have a less heroic reason for staying in Tokyo and going to work. No choice. Can't just pull up and leave. Another major reason is that the situation in Tokyo and vicinity is not/was not nearly as dire as people overseas seem to believe. We are basically back to normal and we were within a few days. The uncertainty was not earthquake related, but due to conflicting, ever-changing reports on the nuclear reactors and even that is subsiding.

Common among those of us, Japanese and non-Japanese, who were lucky enough to have been in the Tokyo area instead of up north during the quake, is a reluctance to complain about what has so far been minor inconveniences---power outages, transportation delays---for most of us. It seems a bit embarrassing that we got off so easy.

To put what happened into some perspective, the death tool in the tsunami areas is over 11,000 with over 16,000 still missing. In Tokyo, the last figure I heard was around 7 people dead. Kanagawa to the south, around 3. Chiba, just north, close to 13 dead. 11,000+ deceased up north, to apx 23.

Now if I can just convince my friends and family in the states that Tokyo is safe. At least it is until the long overdue Kanto quake hits.

To ahem:
Please allow me to more clearly define what I meant by "duty" - many in the Tohoku area died precisely because they would not leave their post, the best example being a young woman who shouted warnings as the tsunami approach from her office at a local government building. She warned and warned until she too was smothered by the wave. Many were saved by the sound of her voice, including her parents. As for railway workers, there were several instances of heroism on duty during the sarin terror incident (I was in one of the trains just behind one that was hit). The photo is meant as a symbol of stoic duty even in times of stress. Genuinely sorry of it offended something in you...

I'm going to de-cloak from my customary handle and use my real name for a bit of emphasis.

"How many people have died because of the nuclear disaster in Japan? Zero."

That is not known with any certainty at all. To say such a thing in the face of such huge uncertainty is disgraceful.

(And yes, I do handle radionuclides in my work and have done so on and off since the mid-90s.)

The mortality rate in Japan lies at 9.8 per 1000 annually. That would mean that in Tokyo on a single day......about a 1000 people will inevitably die. So the added 23 is a mere blip on the record not even detectable in the statistics.....but the scare which westerners (especially the Germans by the way) experienced is a direct result of the combination of a foreign language (most foreigners in Japan are not nearly as well integrated as the least integrated foreign laborer in any European capital) and a rather clumsy information flow via different media (Japanese and foreign). By the way the Germans react rather panicky probably due to the fact they have had to bear a lot of fallout from Chernobyl 25 years back and that stuck to the collective minds and souls of the inhabitants of that nation. In fact eating mushrooms or wild hogs from the Bavarian forest is still not advisory (dead pigs have to be disposed of as radioactive waste). Not understanding a native language and understanding radioactivity is a risk is a very nervewrecking situation. Personally I do understand radiation hazards and I held my holiday in Italy back in 1986 and was not that worried about not eating produce of the land etc. But still I'm opposed to nuclear energy but not because a nuclear reactor can explode in my face but because I think it is unethical to burden future generations with nuclear waste which will be a potential risk during a period reaching out a million years into the future. Since who knows what will happen over the next 50 years with our civilisation let alone the next 1.000.000 years.

Greetings, Ed

"A better way to understand what is going on here is the concept of 'duty,' of being more afraid of the 'shame' of not manning your post than of death itself...."
Francis is correct in his statement that in Japanese culture the concept of "shame" plays a large part in cultural behavior (I have a Japanese family connection). However, the urge to duty perhaps transcends the fear of "shame"...I am reminded of similar incidents I have read about London Blitz. While the cultural reference to Japan is indeed true, I suspect the source of courage and the instinct for faithfulness to duty may be more general, one that might be ingrained in our genes--that of altruistic behavior which evidently plays an important part in the evolution of complex social organisms competing for reproductive success in a finite resource environment.


A team of 16 Cathay Pacific ground staff from Hong Kong had reported on duty to Narita Tokyo, voluntarily, so to relief their Japanese counterpart who had been working on 20-hour shifts during the peak of exodus. They were nicknamed "The rescue team from Hong Kong" by the local staff.

While some have to stay in Tokyo for reasons heroic and beyond, let's not forget there are also people committed an informed choice and got in Tokyo so to help people getting out.

http://www.eastweek.com.hk/index.php?aid=11775

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