I have always admired the Japanese.
There is something about them that has everything to do with their immersion in culture.
You look at a Japanese and you know he carries generations of customs and traditions. And these are traditions that have been shaped and inculcated in the very fiber of his life for centuries. And that is why he is so different from the rest of us. He may have imbibed the ways of modern man but he never surrendered his priceless past in order to merely live in the here and now.
That is why there is something singular about the Japanese people despite the plurality of their arts. Despite the flourish and spectacle of their theater, there is solemnity. There is the virtue that is embedded in the ritual.
For the people of Japan, there is need to preserve and celebrate the dignity of the individual. There is the imperative to give such great importance to respect --- for the self and for others. The honor given to an individual becomes a manifestation of the nobility of the community.
The Japanese observe such a strict code of conduct that it is no longer considered as obsessive or repressive. It has become their way of life. Despite modernization and globalization, they have not yielded who they are by consistently going back and revering what has been the tradition that shaped them apart from their immediate neighbors and the rest of the world. And that is why dignity and self-respect are so important to them because it is specifically what defines them.
The Japanese love who they are ... because they know precisely what they are worth.
It is what sets the Japanese people apart while binds them as one race. It is what makes them so different --- to the point that they are admired as much as they are sometimes misunderstood all together. Very few cultures in the world have retained such awesome respectability. Very few examples remain in this tumultuous world shrunken by globalization of people embodying and personifying the strength of traditional roots.
And ever since the Japanese opened their doors to the world, influences from both Asian and Western neighbors seeped in. This was unavoidable inasmuch as change was inevitable. But because of the very strength of the fabric of their culture --- the Japanese succeed in absorbing what they borrow and turn them into their own. Listen to what they have done to American jazz music as they completely reconstituted this genre into something uniquely their own.
Look at what they have done to the Western art of graphic arts and animation. From this was born the unique character of manga and anime --- so much so that the West was eventually found borrowing the tradition of these visual arts as they have become so far removed from the original.
Everything that lands in the hands and minds of the Japanese become their own. And this they can do because they do not merely borrow or assimilate. They absorb what they consider as germane to their culture, sufficient to their needs --- and reconstitute these into something uniquely --- uhm, Japanese.
That is why in the recent turn of events the world has become more awed by the virtues of the Japanese as a people.
Not in any recent memory has there been a tragedy matched by the natural disaster brought by the 8.9 earthquake that hit the island nation last 11 March and the tsunami that followed. Never before since the advent of accessible media has the world become witness to such massive destruction followed by even more threats of greater disasters through a series of aftershocks and now threats of nuclear meltdown.
Images of Japanese ports, towns and cities diminished into heaps of rubble and debris are heartbreaking. To estimate the number of lives lost and unaccounted for are still approximations even after a week has elapsed since the painful event took place. Endless first person accounts, videos fed in the internet or reported in news agencies send even greater tremors to the hearts of the citizens of the world as the events of that Friday afternoon are rewound and remembered.
The aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami proved to be even more wrenching. It was bad enough that public utilities and transportation services have all but shut down. Millions of homes are required to function without electricity or water. Food has become scarce. Panic has hit the expatriates living in Tokyo and the northeastern part of the country as they sought the nearest exit to go back home.
But amidst all these ... as they walk through the towns, cities, prefectures left in shambles ... the Japanese have kept their dignity.
They never made a spectacle of their emotions to sensationalize their tragedy.
They never begged for help but confronted the problem at hand with resolve, unity --- and an almost unbelievable amount of courage.
They never blamed any one, demanded more from authority nor took the liberty to use the occasion to grandstand for personal agendas.
Amidst the rubble, the world saw and is still seeing a country that has remained in order, kept its order and functioned with great order because its people refused to destroy the system and tradition that has defined their culture. To see the Japanese people, shivering in their winter clothes, stripped from their homes and waiting patiently as long as four to five hours to purchase food or obtain drinking water, never violating decorum and order and helping the government regain some semblance of sense and system amidst the catastrophe --- is simply awe-inspiring if not even more heartbreaking.
And to hear the Japanese speak with such hope and optimism amidst all the confusion even lifts the spirit of those merely watching and observing to heights unbelievable.
In one of the CNN features, a sake factory owner who has lost everything spends time looking for his employees after the tsunami has hit their town. Tears swell in his eyes when he spots one of his workers --- as if his sense of relief in seeing the safety of his employees was far greater than the loss of a business owned by his family for generations.
A young Japanese woman remains optimistic in her interview. She speaks of hope ... of rebuilding. She makes no pretenses about the difficulties that will follow this tragedy, she does not evade the issues. Instead, she says that she is sure that everything will be all right because the Japanese will pick up the pieces and build an even stronger society after this.
And this makes us weep.
This makes us think of the greatness of the human spirit as it is embodied by a nation ... brought to life by a people. These events also make us question our own situation, how we --- as a people --- would have reacted if such unspeakable events happened to us. Would we express such generosity and respect for order? Would we also inspire our fellow Filipinos by mere example of civilized and orderly behavior?
In the meantime, we shall pray for Japan. More so, we shall hail the greatness of its people.