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“What Can We Learn from the Great East Japan Earthquake?”

The aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake (magnitude 9.0) on March 11, 2011 caused immense damage to Japan. This is not only a natural but also a human disaster. The number of dead is 15,824 and 3,847 are missing still at October 14. Over 300,000 people had to be evacuated and many still are forced to live in temporary housing. Furthermore, the tsunami caused critical damage to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station, resulting in severe radiation leaks.

In this earthquake we have lost too many things such as houses, employment, and relatives. Nature blesses us in many ways, but it also showed us another face this time. Traditionally, Japanese are sensitive to nature and have a peculiar feeling of sympathy for it.

The relationship between nature and human beings should be a symbiotic harmony. No life is nurtured without this relationship. Therefore, if we grab nature by the throat to twist out of it too much profit, we lose not only our way of life but also our very lives.

At present, we have almost completely lost the art of self-sufficiency. In other words, those who engage in primary industry such as agriculture and fishery are decreasing, and therefore, most people obtain food without knowing from whom it comes. There is a gulf between producers and consumers. There is a crisis: people do not know the reality of life. Have we almost forgotten the naïve impressions of pleasure and gratitude for grace given to us every day? Have we forgotten that everyday life itself is a grace?

“Anyway I’ll try to grow pears this year as well,” said a farmer in Fukushima who produces them every year. According to him, if he stops harvesting pears even one year the trees will not bear fruit any more. Even though he has the fruit, he is not sure whether he can sell them.

At the same time, this is an opportunity to rediscover something good in us: the caring heart. We share “the feeling of commiseration” (sokuin no kokoro) (Mencius, 6A:6). This feeling is a form of conscience which teaches us that human beings live orientated to the good itself. This good never betrays us. In fact, soon after the earthquake many people gathered spontaneously to give generous help to those who suffered. Doing so made us one.

The critical problem of nuclear power plant remains with little prospect of convincing convergence. This is a completely man-made human disaster caused by human arrogance. We must learn again who we are to live more humbly. We human beings have greater limitations than we think.

Our lives depend on other lives. When we forget this we become arrogant.  Our lives give life to others. When we forget it we lose hope.

Osamu Takeuchi, S.J., a native of Japan, is an associate professor of moral theology at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan.  He received his S.T.D. from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.  His areas of special interest are fundamental moral theology, bioethics, and sexual ethics.  He has published Conscience and Culture: A Dialogue between the West and the East concerning Conscience (Saarbrücken, Germany: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010).