Expats on the Move, Staying Put and Helping Japan

As the media continues to cover the disasters in Japan, I’m starting to get desensitized to all the pictures of destruction. Instead, what I am starting to see as I look beyond the destruction is a group of North American expats, about 60,000 of them, who are fiercely loyal to their adopted country of Japan. Many are staying, desiring to ride out these disasters, while others are leaving, but vowing to return when they can. After all, it is their home and where they pursue their life’s careers.

The other thing I see as I look beyond the destruction in the foreground is the ocean, the mountains, the wooly-looking dark green trees of the landscape. Japan is an amazingly beautiful country still, even with these triple disasters looming large in the country now. The landscape reminds me of the Japanese scroll paintings I viewed in art history and Asian culture classes. Just absolutely lovely. And I marvel at the sheer human arrogance of the presumption of stewardship of this planet that we seem to hold, a planet that could wipe out human civilization in seconds. Yet the ancient Japanese landscape is still there.

I hope the people who are rushing to aid Japan in this desperate situation appreciate and understand the awesomeness of nature’s power to destroy and recover and take heart in that. Look at the Chernobyl site in Ukraine. It has been 25 years since that nuclear accident, and during that time, the landscape has taken over, radiation levels have gone down and people can now tour the site on a limited basis. There are many Americans in the disaster response industry doing their jobs in Japan right now. The U.S. military is there, as well as representatives of the National Nuclear Security Administration and experts from the American Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There are search and rescue professionals and their dogs, including a team from my own adopted hometown of L.A. There are earthquake and tsunami experts and medical personnel there as well, all putting their lives on hold to help Japan in this crisis.

Some Americans out there do not understand why we are aiding Japan. It’s a wealthy country. Japan dragged us into WWII by attacking Pearl Harbor. Japan is our rival in commerce and technology. It comes down to this: This is how we Americans do it now in 2011: ¬†Japan needs help, we offer to help. That’s it. It is an issue of humanitarian need. I bet the Japanese emperors who promoted isolationist policies never forsaw the day when Japan would open its borders to international trade and to international aid. However, the days of need have arrived, so if you do not want to open your purses and wallets that are influenced by an international economy, and you do not want to act like the citizens of the world we have become, fine. Open your mouth instead, and thank the some of the American people whose job it is to help. Some American military personnel are helping at the cost of being exposed to radiation. It’s that serious. Thank some of the poorest countries on this planet who have offered aid to Japan without hesitation. Why else did they do this? Gratitude for Japan helping in their time of need. There are certain issues that transcend country borders and force us to become citizens of the world, and disaster is one of them.

I know that I am grateful that Americans are helping, and that we have never had to take to the streets in protest, regardless of which administration is in charge, to get our government to do the right thing, to offer help in the face of disaster, even when the faces of the people in need do not look like the white Anglo males who often seem to speak for our country. I think we have come a long way since I was a child. We now see the commonalities in those who are suffering, not their differences to our perceived majorities. The face of America is changing, and that may just be a good thing.

I am also grateful to those American expats, regardless of whether they stay or leave Japan, for acting as unofficial American ambassadors to Japan. They represent what is good about our country: our compassion, our intelligence, our willingness to extend a hand in international friendship and to help when needed and when we can.


2 Responses

  1. Well said.

  2. Thanks. I feel strongly that America should help in relief efforts, regardless of where the disaster is.

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