My sister, Amy Chavez, has been living in Japan for 15 years and writes a humor column for the English-language Japan Times. Given her experience in both cultures, she’s been called upon more than once to comment on Japanese culture and speculate on the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.
Her most recent piece at the Huffington Post (not a usual hangout for conservatives and libertarians) makes one simple but hugely important point about why the Japanese have handled the current disaster with such dignity: Their culture values integrity. It’s not that they have faith in government, or even necessarily that their culture is inherently collectivist. (Indeed, the Japanese are deeply skeptical of government as the debate over the nuclear crisis is making clear to outsiders.)
As Amy writes,
An honest society is not unique to the Japanese. Ask your own parents or grandparents and they will surely tell you how it used to be, when there was more respect, less crime and no road rage. But whereas we have slowly lost our integrity, the Japanese have not lost theirs.
Although an individual-based society can also be a good society, when it comes to a crisis, you can only hope that people will be less selfish, and more selfless.