Friday, March 11, 2011

Made in Japan

It somehow doesn't seem to be appropriate to be jocular, or launch into some tirade about the government, or Google, or whatever else has irritated me today, in view of the events in Japan. It's strange how some things can suddenly touch you, I have no connection with Japan, I've never been there and have no Japanese friends. I can't say that I've ever been into anime, manga or Japanese films, but for some reason, I found the pictures of the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami amongst the most upsetting things I've ever seen. I suppose that, in a way, it's quite reassuring that in age when TV brings pictures of airliners flying into skyscrapers, of famines in Africa and the carnage of the Iraq war, it is still possible to be shocked by something like this.

It's tempting to trivialise the whole thing by saying that it looked like something out of a Godzilla film, but in a way, that's an apt comparison. Japanese popular culture sometimes seems obsessed by images of the destruction of Japan, whether it be by monsters, aliens or natural disasters. It's often glibly said that this obsession is the result of Japan having suffered the two nuclear attacks at the end of World War Two. But today brought home the fact that it lies far deeper than that - the Japanese live with the ever-present threat of devastating earthquakes, and Godzilla and his ilk - gigantic creatures which strike out of the blue without apparent rhyme or reason - undoubtedly represent the embodiment of these otherwise faceless threats. The desire to attribute evil intent and intelligence to such things is natural - it's an attempt to make sense of the chaos.

It somehow seems to make such terrible events more understandable and, perhaps, bearable, if we tell ourselves that there is some purpose behind them, rather than them simply being the random consequences of impersonal natural forces. Indeed, despite priding myself for my rationality, when I watched the news footage of the tsunami engulfing buildings and vehicles, as it surged inland, I couldn't help but feel that it seemed like some living thing, some terrible primordial evil called from the depths, reaching up to sweep humanity, and all our endeavours, away. But, of course, it was just water, propelled by natural forces, rather than evil intent. Sadly, the effects of its incursion are the same, regardless of intent, or lack thereof.



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