Chaos and looting is a common sight in countries that have been struck by disaster. However, news reporters are amazed at the patience and orderliness displayed by the Japanese victims in the Sendai earthquake catastrophe that hit Japan last week. Why is there no looting in Japan? they ask, with pictures of Japanese forming lines to buy/collect food despite severe shortages.
So here's why I'm not surprised:
We have been to Japan 9 times not just because the scenery is great and the food awesome but also because of the Japanese culture.
The Japanese have a great sense of social graciousness and are generally very honest people. They place a lot of emphasis on "not inconveniencing others".
We can place our luggage at the end of the train carriage or on the ledge above our seats, fall asleep and not fear it getting stolen. In some countries, we'd probably have to hug it and grab the handles. On rare occasions when we take the taxi (taxi is super expensive in Japan), we are quite certain the taxi-driver will not try to go round and round in order to charge us more. We certainly don't have to haggle. In some countries, you have to negotiate and agree on the price before boarding.
When shopping, we are assured of the quality of the products. If something is expensive, there must be a reason: either the quality is superb, the workmanship is exquisite or it is rare or difficult to cultivate. We can buy the same item at different places and it's the same price. When shopping in Japan, we NEVER bargain because we know they don't con people (it is v v rare). In some countries, you're not even sure whether the tea you buy is indeed tea leaves or just some unidentified plant.
When we dine in Japan, we are usually assured of the quality of the ingredients. In some countries, you wouldn't even know if the chicken they say is chicken is really chicken *shudder*
Japanese streets are generally very clean despite the lack of bins. Japanese also sort their garbage everyday into glasses, paper, cans, combustibles. It is ingrained in their culture. Not doing so will be "inconveniencing others" (such as the person who has to then sort your garbage for you). Public toilets are generally very clean, even at the most remote train stations. In a European country we went to, the subway underpass reeked of urine. In another Asian country, toilets in rural areas are not for the faint-hearted. Modern Japanese toilets even have a button that creates a flushing sound so when you're doing a Hiroshima in your cubicle, your neighbour or the person waiting outside will be spared from hearing the unpleasant audio effects.
In trains, they refrain from talking loudly or using their phones so that they do not disturb other commuters. Phones are set to silent mode and if they need to make a phone call, they'd go to the area between carriages. Before the train arrives, they form 2 lines which part like the red sea to allow other commuters to alight before boarding. They always stand on one side of the escalator so that those who are rushing for time can then jog through. They are so disciplined that all trains and buses arrive one the dot.
At fast food restaurants, they clear their own tables and do try to sit at the bar if alone so that tables can be freed for groups (unless of cos the restaurant is fairly empty). At buffets, they take only what they need. At supermarkets, they don't press the fish or meats packed in clear wrap cos that will leave an unsightly dent which will of course upset other patrons. They also don't tend to dig dig dig and select the packet of milk that is right inside. They just take what is displayed in the front. When they take food for guests at a table, they'd turn the chopsticks around so that the guests won't have to eat their saliva.
They take great pride in what they do and give their best, even if it's waving a rod at an infrequent train at the most remote station (we enjoyed chatting with that uncle while waiting for the train), cleaning the toilet etc... In Japan, the person who collects garbage is Japanese, the construction worker is Japanese. You get the drift. In Japan, there are volunteer tour guides who take you around for FREE (you only pay for transport, parking fee and admission charges) because they just want to share the beauty of their country with tourists. In Singapore, no one will work for free.
Before SARS and bird flu in Asia, Japanese were already wearing masks when they have the common flu, so that they will not spread the illness to people they come into contact with. They cough with their hands covering their mouths and refrain from sneezing and blowing their noses in public (there are, but rare).
The only other Asian country I know that is quite close to Japan in terms of social character is probably Taiwan. Read our story here and here.
So, am I surprised that there is no looting in Japan and people Q up for food despite severe shortages?
Not at all. It is the true reflection of the beauty of the Japanese character, which the rest of the world should try to learn from.