Japan’s Shattered Mirror: 地震、原子弹与日本人的宿命论

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From The Wall Street Journal March 23nd 2011

Japan’s Shattered Mirror


It wasn’t the first time that the writer, politician and current governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, had put his foot in his mouth. The governor called last week’s earthquake a ‘divine punishment’ for the ‘egoism’ of contemporary Japanese. ‘We need to use the tsunami,’ he said, ‘to wipe out egoism, which has attached itself like rust to the mentality of the Japanese people over a long period of time.’

This has long been a hobbyhorse of the Japanese right″the idea that young Japanese think only of themselves, are too individualistic, and have lost the old collective spirit of the obedient, disciplined Japanese, who supposedly always put the interests of the nation before their own.

Mr. Ishihara did not get away with it. Voices of outrage came instantly, and he had to apologize for his lack of feeling for the still countless victims of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear fallout. Not just that, but Japanese, including the young, have proved over the last week how disciplined, and unselfish, they can still be.

In his callous way, Mr. Ishihara tapped into a primitive but common human reflex, which is to impart meaning to the impersonal forces of nature. In ancient China, earthquakes and other natural disasters were seen as ill omens, signs that imperial dynasties were coming to an end. Japanese, too, have had these tendencies. Traditionally, earthquakes were ascribed to the stirrings of a giant catfish, and this catfish was treated as a deity, to be worshipped and appeased.

How else can vulnerable human beings make sense of living on the side of volcanoes or on top of earthquake faults? One moment you are quietly drinking tea or cooking your lunch, and the next moment everything can be obliterated in a giant convulsion of earth, fire or water. It is senseless, of course, but humans find it hard to live without sense. This is not unique to Japanese or Chinese. Glenn Beck’s reaction to the earthquake was no less zany than Mr. Ishihara’s; he detected in the disaster a ‘message’ from God to follow the Ten Commandments.

Japanese have always had an intimate acquaintance with the destructive power of nature. But the same forces can also be benign. When a fleet carrying almost 16,000 Mongol, Chinese and Korean warriors attempted to attack Japan in 1274, a horrendous typhoon allegedly wrecked the ships and thwarted the invasion. This is the origin of the term ‘kamikaze,’ divine wind. On that occasion, nature came to the rescue of Japan.

When Japan was in equally desperate straits in 1944, using the word kamikaze for the suicide pilots was not for nothing. Mere military efforts were no longer adequate to avoid defeat. Something more spiritual, more sacred, was called for, a sacrifice of Japan’s best and brightest youths. Then the superior American forces might turn back in awe. Or so it was hoped.

That Japan is now facing a nuclear disaster is a terrible irony, since Japan was, of course, the first country to suffer an atom bomb attack. That, too, was seen by some as a divine punishment. To watch Tokyo go up in flames in 1945, after waves of B-29’s dropped incendiary bombs and killed almost 100,000 people in a few nights, was awful, but it was still comprehensible. For an entire city to be wiped out in seconds by one bomb was more like a force of nature.

This was no longer part of ‘normal’ warfare. The enemy was invisible. There was no possible defense, which probably helped even the die-hards in Japan’s military command to agree to an unconditional surrender. The atom bomb, in Emperor Hirohito’s words, was ‘a new and terrible weapon’ that would lead to ‘the total extinction of human civilization.’ It was not regarded as dishonorable to surrender in order to save human civilization.

Apart from the horrible effects of subjecting hundreds of thousands of people to an atomic explosion, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had other unfortunate results. They distorted the question of Japanese responsibility for the war. The bombs made the entire period seem like another natural catastrophe, a kind of giant earthquake rather than a story of human folly in which not only the armed forces but all Japanese were implicated.

Many decent Japanese saw the atom bombs as a punishment from heaven, after which the moral slate was wiped clean. The most famous account of the Nagasaki bomb was written by one of its victims, radiology expert Takashi Nagai, who later died of leukemia. He saw the bomb as a kind of blessing, a catastrophe that would lead mankind to redemption. He was a Catholic, as were many citizens of Nagasaki, but a great number of Japanese believed in his message.

Dr. Nagai’s home in Nagasaki became a kind of shrine. As victims of the atom bombs, the Japanese would now be the saviors of human civilization, forswear war, and pray for eternal peace. In their new pacifist mode, Japanese did what they had always done in the face of nature’s forces; they tried to appease them, by incantations. Responsibility for the war was largely forgotten. Military security was handed over to the old enemy, the United States″and the main guarantor of security was the American nuclear umbrella.

Dr. Nagai was well aware of the destructive power of atomic energy, but he also saw it as a ‘triumph of physics,’ a giant step in human progress. Japanese have long shared his ambivalent feelings about nuclear power. That elements of the U.S. nuclear umbrella pass in and out of Japanese seaports has always been an open (but much detested) secret. And though, as we now know, Japan has been more dependent on nuclear energy than most countries, there are good reasons why the most distrusted institution to emerge from the latest nuclear disaster is Tokyo Electric Power Co., which has a long record of covering up dangerous flaws in its nuclear reactors.

The constant awareness that calamity can strike at any moment has had a marked effect on the country’s culture. One of the most famous products of postwar Japan was the series of Godzilla monster movies. Godzilla was not just conceived as a giant King Kong. He was inspired by a nuclear accident in 1954, when the U.S. exploded a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific that cost the life of a Japanese fisherman, who was contaminated by the blast. Godzilla, the destroyer of Japan, was spawned by undersea nuclear detonations. (Incidentally, the man who created the special effects for the first Godzilla films, Eiji Tsuburaya, had also been responsible for the stunning effects in a very different movie, ‘Sea Battle from Hawaii to Malaya,’ made in 1942 to celebrate the first anniversary of the victory at Pearl Harbor.)

The sense of danger from natural calamities has deep roots in Japanese culture. The country’s earliest native religion, Shinto, literally Way of the Gods, is composed of rituals to appease the forces of nature, which are held to be divine. Since nature can be angry as well as benevolent, these gods must be kept happy with offerings, ceremonies and sacrifices. Unlike the Christian or Jewish God, Shinto gods do not impose laws, moral standards or a dogma. All they want is respect.

Buddhism, with its profound awareness of the fleetingness of life and the endless cycle of death and rebirth, also proved to be congenial to a people forced to live with the constant threat of natural catastrophe. Fatalism is a word often used to describe the common attitude of Japanese. The nation’s literature is suffused with this sentiment. Consider this 15th-century poem by Chikamasa: ‘One day you are born/you die the next″/today,/at twilight,/autumn breezes blow.’

But being resigned to the vagaries of nature and fate does not make life ‘cheap.’ On the contrary, it can make people appreciate their short time on Earth all the more. Others, who live in safer places, cope with the certainty of death by hoping for a kind of immortality″if not for themselves, then for their works. Monuments to man (Manhattan, say, or Chicago) are built to last forever, at least ideally, as are monuments to God, such as the great cathedrals of Europe.

Japanese, living on the slopes of volcanoes and on earthquake faults, don’t build for eternity. Traditional Japanese architecture is made of paper and wood, flexible enough to withstand minor quakes; it is not meant to last forever. The country’s most famous Shinto shrine, so sacred that only members of the imperial family may serve as its high priests, is located in Ise, in central Japan. Founded 1,500 years ago, it is both very ancient and very new, since it is torn down and rebuilt every 20 years. The only permanence is its impermanence.

Tokyo and other Japanese cities now have tall buildings of concrete and glass, constructed to withstand earthquakes, but these are relatively new developments. Although many buildings are no longer made of wood (which is too expensive and hard to maintain), Japanese cities still look a little jerry-built, rather like movie sets, as though in anticipation of impermanence″less like Manhattan, more like Los Angeles.

Tokyo was almost totally demolished twice in the 20th century, once after the devastating earthquake in 1923 and again after being laid waste by U.S. incendiary bombs in 1945. Both times, the people of Tokyo speedily, energetically, even cheerfully, built their capital city up again. When Tokyo was still called Edo, before the late 19th century, Edoites took pride in the stoical acceptance of earthquakes and firestorms, known as ‘the flowers of Edo.’

This is the other side of fatalism, the ability to bounce back from disaster, wherever it hits, in Tokyo or on the nation’s northeastern coast. Foreign observers have remarked on the discipline and solidarity of Japanese in the face of their current circumstances. No looting, no riots, no violence. This was not always so. In 1923, rumors that Korean residents were poisoning the water supplies led to massacres, as panicked mobs set upon anyone who looked or sounded like a Korean.

Over the past week, the discipline has held. It comes from the social conformity that is imposed on all Japanese from an early age, as well as from the duty to take care of one’s own and the fear of causing trouble to strangers. But it is also the result of an awareness, instilled by centuries of living with disasters, that what comes down can be rebuilt. There is a Japanese expression, ‘pouring out with the water.’ It is a way of forgetting what is past. This can be a weakness (not standing up to past responsibilities) and a strength (getting on with the future).

We do not yet know the full extent of the latest catastrophe, but there is reason to think that Japan will not only bounce back, yet again, but come out stronger. That the government has had no problem accepting help from foreigners, unlike in 1995, after the Kobe earthquake, is a sign that the country is now more open to the world and less touchy about national pride.

For the first time, Koreans and Chinese have come to Japan’s rescue, which will certainly do much to improve relations that have been stained with bloodshed in the past. The mobilization of the Self-Defense Forces, and the extraordinary efforts of Japanese soldiers to help their fellow citizens, will bolster their image and restore some trust to a nation that, after a calamitous war, was no longer trusted to defend itself. The Japanese government itself is still struggling to inspire trust, but it too might emerge stronger from this grueling experience.

Most important of all, however, is the behavior of ordinary Japanese citizens, whose calm resilience has shown that Mr. Ishihara’s words of disdain were not just foolish, and primitive, but wrong. They are taking responsibility seriously, not just for themselves and their own families, but for total strangers, too. If this goes against the Japanese stereotype, it is high time for the stereotype to be broken.

(″Mr. Buruma is the Henry R. Luce Professor at Bard College. His latest book is ‘Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents.’)

在日 本发生强烈地震及海啸后,现任东京都知事的作家及政治家石原慎太郎(Shintaro Ishihara)发表了天谴论,这已经不是他第一次失言了。石原称,此次地震是当代日本人的自私所引发的天谴。他说,日本人有必要利用这次海啸把自私的 贪欲冲洗干净,长期以来,这种自私就像细菌一样附着在日本人的思想意识中。



石 原慎太郎的冷酷言论是利用了一种原始但常见的人类心理反射,这种反射赋予自然界中的非人力以特殊涵义。在古代中国,地震和其他自然灾害被认为是恶兆,意味 着一个朝代即将走向灭亡。日本也有这种倾向。传统上,日本人认为地震是由于一只大鲶鱼在剧烈活动,这只大鲶鱼被奉为神灵,受到膜拜和供奉。

Magnum Photos


除 此之外,生活在火山边或地震带上的脆弱人类还能如何去理解生存这件事呢?这一刻你还在静静地喝茶或做午饭,下一刻,一场强烈的地震、一次火灾或水灾就可能 吞噬所有的一切。当然,这是毫无道理可言的,但是,人类发现,不解释清楚就难以生存下去。并非只有日本人或中国人才会这样。美国名嘴葛兰·贝克 (Glenn Beck)对地震做出的荒唐反应堪比石原慎太郎:他声称他发现此次地震是上帝发出的要求人们遵守“十诫”(Ten Commandments)的信号。

一直以来,日本人都熟知大自然的破坏力量。但这种力量有时候也是有益的。1274年,当一支由 16,000名蒙古、中国及朝鲜士兵组成的船队试图攻打日本的时候,据称一场可怕的台风摧毁了这支船队,从而阻止了这场侵略。这就是“神风”这个词的来 源。那一次,自然力量拯救了日本。

当日本于1944年陷入同样的穷途末路之际,以“神风”为飞行敢死队命名自有其深刻含义。当时,单纯的 军事努力已经不足以避免战败,这就需要一些更加崇高更加神圣的东西来挽回局面,通过牺牲日本最优秀、最聪明的年轻人,使占据上风的美国军队在敬畏中退却。 至少日本是这样希望的。


The Yomiuri Shimbun/Associated Press

日 本目前正面临着一场核灾难,这个事实具有可怕的嘲弄意味,因为日本也是第一个遭受原子弹袭击的国家。这件事也被一些人视为天谴。1945年,当美军B29 战斗机投下的密集燃烧弹使东京陷入一片火海并在几夜之间就夺去近10万人生命之时,那个场景非常可怕,但至少还是可以理解的。而之后整座城市在几秒钟内被 一颗原子弹夷为平地则更像是一种自然力所为。

这不再是常规战争的一部分了。看不见自己的敌人,就不可能进行防御,也许正是这一点促使日本 军方的顽固分子下令接受无条件投降。用日本裕仁天皇(Emperor Hirohito)的话来说,原子弹是“一种将导致人类文明彻底灭绝的可怕的新型武器”。为了挽救人类文明而投降不能算是一件不光彩的事。

除 了让几十万人承受原子弹爆炸所带来的可怕影响外,广岛和长崎遭受的轰炸还产生了其他不幸后果。它扭曲了日本所应承担的战争责任问题。这两颗原子弹使整个这 段时期看起来像是另一场自然灾害、一次强烈的地震,而不是一段人类罪恶的历史,在这个过程中,所有日本人都受到牵连,而不仅仅是军队。

许 多善良的日本人认为这两颗原子弹是来自上天的惩罚,硝烟散尽后,所有的道德记录都变得一清二白。关于长崎原子弹爆炸的最著名实录是由受害者之一、放射学专 家永井隆(Takashi Nagai)撰写的,他后来死于白血病。他将此次爆炸看作是一种赐福,一场可以使人类赎罪的灾难。和长崎市的许多居民一样,他是一位天主教徒,但很多日本 人都相信他的观点。

Micheal Kenna


永 井隆博士位于长崎的故居已经成为一处圣地。作为原子弹的受害者,日本人现在也许愿意成为人类文明的拯救者,断然摈弃战争,并为永久的和平而祷告。在新和平 主义状态下,日本在自然力量面前保持一贯的做法;他们试图通过咒语来安抚自然力量。战争责任基本上被遗忘。军事安全被移交到原先的敌人美国手中,而国家安 全最主要的保证竟然是美国的核保护伞。

永井隆博士很清楚地意识到原子能的破坏力,但他还是将其视为物理学上的一大胜利和人类发展史上的一 大进步。长期以来,其他日本人也和他一样对核能抱着非常矛盾的感情。组成美国核保护伞的各种物件在日本海港进进出出一直是个公开(但也被人深恶痛绝)的秘 密。正如我们现在所知的那样,尽管日本对核能的依赖程度一直要高于其他大多数国家,但东京电力公司(Tokyo Electric Power Co.)在最近的核事故中成为最不受信任的机构是有充分理由的,这家公司长期以来一直在掩盖其核反应炉中潜藏的危险缺陷。

对灾难可能随时 降临的持续警觉给这个国家的文化带来了显著影响。战后日本最著名的产品之一就是《哥斯拉》(Godzilla)怪兽电影系列。哥斯拉的创意不仅仅出自金 刚,其灵感还来自1954年的一次核事故。当时,美国在太平洋上爆破了一颗氢弹,使一位日本渔民受到核污染并因而丧命。哥斯拉正是由海底的核爆炸催生出来 的日本毁灭者。(顺便说一句,为第一部哥斯拉电影制作特效的口谷英二(Eiji Tsuburaya)还曾为另一部完全不同的电影制作了惊人的特效,这就是《夏威夷大海战》(Sea Battle from Hawaii to Malaya),这部电影拍摄于1942年,是为了庆祝日本袭击珍珠港一周年。)

自然灾害所带来的威胁感深深根植于日本文化中。日本最早 的本土宗教──神道教──就会举行一些安抚自然力量的宗教仪式,通过这种仪式来敬神。由于大自然时而亲切仁慈时而勃然大怒,因此必须通过供品、典礼和献祭 来使诸神保持愉悦。和基督教或犹太教的上帝不同,神道教的神并不把法律、道德标准和教义强加于人。这种宗教所需要的一切只是尊重。

佛教对 生命的短暂性和无尽的生死轮回有着深刻的领悟,这种宗教也被证明与时刻面临自然灾害威胁的人们非常投契。在形容日本人共有的人生观时,宿命论是经常被用到 的一个词语。日本的文学作品中充满了这种情绪。看看亲当(Chikamasa)在15世纪写下的这首诗吧:这一天你诞生了/下一日就将死去──/今日/薄 暮降临时/秋天的微风拂过。

但是,顺应变幻莫测的自然和命运不会使生命变得轻贱。相反,这会使人更加珍惜活在地球上的短暂时刻。那些生活 在比较安全地区的人们通过憧憬某种形式的永生来与死亡的必然性抗争,即使自己不能求得永生,也要让功德流芳百世。为人修建的纪念馆(比如在曼哈顿或芝加 哥)就是为了永久保存下去,至少这是一种理想,为神建造的纪念馆也是如此,例如欧洲的大教堂。

居住在火山坡和地震带上的日本人不会建造永 久的纪念物。传统的日本建筑是用纸张和木材建造的,其柔韧性足以抵御轻微地震,并不是为了追求永恒。日本最著名的神道教神社坐落于日本中部的伊势,这座神 社是如此之神圣,只有皇室成员才能担任其高级神职人员。这座神社始建于1,500年前,可以说既很古老又很年轻,因为它每隔20年就要被拆掉重建一次。唯 一不变的一点就是它的非永久性。

东京和日本其他城市现在有许多用混凝土和玻璃建造的高层建筑,具有抗震结构,但这些都是相对较新的开发专 案。尽管现在许多建筑已经不再用木头建造(木材太昂贵而且很难维护),日本的城市建筑看起来还是有些偷工减料,很像电影布景,就好像在建造时就预期一切都 是暂时的一样,看起来不太像曼哈顿,更像洛杉矶。

东京在20世纪经历过两次几乎彻底的损毁,一次是在1923年的毁灭性地震之后,另一次 是在1945年被美军的燃烧弹烧成废墟之后。在这两次重建首都的活动中,东京人民都行动迅速,干劲十足,而且精神振奋。在19世纪后期以前东京还被称为江 户的时候,江户人引以为傲的一点就是能平静地接受地震和火灾,后者美其名曰“江户之花”。

这是宿命论的另一个方面,无论是东京还是日本的 东北部沿海,在遭受灾难打击之后都能很快恢复元气。外国观察家们对日本人在当前环境下表现出来的自律和团结表示赞叹。没有抢劫,没有骚乱,也没有暴力活 动。但情况也并非一直如此。在1923年,有关朝鲜侨民在水里下毒的传言引发了一场大屠杀,因为恐慌的日本民众一遇到朝鲜人长相或口音的人就会袭击对方。

在 过去这两周里,日本人保持了自律性。这种自律来自所有日本人从小就被灌输的社会从众性,还来自照顾自己的责任感以及怕给陌生人添麻烦的心理。这也要归功于 几个世纪以来与灾难相伴的生活所浇筑出来的一种意识:倒下的一切都能被重建。日本有句话叫“随水流逝”,就是说要忘掉过去的一切。这可能是一个弱点(不愿 承担过去的责任),也可能是一个优点(努力开创未来)。


韩 国和中国也首次向日本派出了救援队,这无疑会大大改善因过去的战争屠杀而变得紧张的韩日和中日关系。日本自卫队被动员起来参与救灾以及日本士兵在帮助国民 时的卓越努力将提升他们的形象,使经历了一场悲惨战争后不再相信自我防卫能力的国家恢复一定的信心。日本政府本身也在努力鼓舞民众信心,在这段痛苦的经历 之后,应该也会蜕变得更加强大。


(伊 恩·布鲁玛(Ian Buruma)是纽约巴德学院(Bard College)的Henry R. Luce教授。最近出版的书籍有《驯服诸神:三大洲的宗教与民主》(Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents)。)

  1. Montana said:

    When I was a kid I lived in Utah, and the Boy Scouts was taken over by Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church). This, so called religion, practices underage polygamy, they send the boy s off on missions to divide the underage sisters among the dirty old men of the clan. Now when these underage girls get pregnant, these same dirty old men, send them to the state to get their welfare checks . You should see some of the palace homes that are paid with welfare checks (not on just one of course). By the way this is the newest religion that was created right here in United States of America, I guess their also in AZ, CA, NM, TX, NV, CO, OK. When someone hides behind religion to do or say something that is wrong we should stand up and point it out (right the wrong). Someone should ask Glenn Beck about it, he seems to have all the answers.

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