TOKYO – In Japan, memorial services for the dead are normally held 49 days after their passing. The bereaved mourn throughout this period. The number of victims of the earthquake and tsunami that assaulted the Tohoku region of northeast Japan has now reached around 30,000, if those who are still missing are included. This was the largest natural disaster to strike Japan in its history, and the entire nation has been in mourning.
Throughout this period, television stations, in response to viewers’ feelings, have refrained from showing frivolous programs and gaudy commercials. Many of the hanami events, for celebrating the annual eruption of cherry blossoms, a much-loved activity for us Japanese, have been canceled. Music and sporting events, along with town gatherings, have also been canceled or postponed. Bizarrely, the American rock singer Cyndi Lauper’s concerts were just about the only events that weren’t called off.
The strong bonds (kizuna) of the Japanese people create great solidarity during dark times such as these. One virtue of kizuna can be seen in people’s inability to enjoy themselves in their usual ways in the face of the loss of so many countrymen and the knowledge that 200,000 more are enduring harsh conditions in evacuation centers.
But there are concerns that these bonds of kizuna may also bind the Japanese economy, which must recover as soon as possible – not only for the benefit of the Japanese, but also because disruptions in Japan’s economy are hitting the rest of Asia, owing to the production chains of which Japan is an integral part.