Several years ago I lived in Okinawa and Japan and have beautiful memories that will last a lifetime. I learned all about sushi from our wonderful friend, Osamu-San. It’s difficult to find good sushi when you’ve learned how to eat only the freshest fish. We actually lived just outside of Tokyo at the time of the 1995 Kobe earthquake. Having felt that earthquake, we knew that wherever the epicenter was, would have devastating effects. Years later, here we are seeing the effects of a 9.0 earthquake and the devastation brought on by the earthquake, a tsunami, and now the nuclear power plant.
I now live in California and teach 6th grade earth science and just days prior to Sendai’s earthquake I started teaching my students all about earthquakes. For days, along with the rest of the world my eyes were glued to every and any news broadcast that displayed the utter horror the quake had left in its wake. However, in spite of all this turmoil I am not surprised at the behavior of the Japanese people. Having lived in Japan for over six years, I came to admire, and still do, their sense of peace, self-control, patience (gaman), and tranquil nature. They completely embrace and respect nature and humanity.
I remember one time I accidentally left my purse at an arcade. After retracing my steps I remembered where I had left it. I went back the next day and to my utter shock, disbelief and surprise I found it just where I left it, sitting right next to the Kong video game. My purse was untouched, unopened, and all my yen still in my wallet.
I loved living in Japan. I loved the people, how safe I felt there, their deep and well rooted customs and their integrity. I was well respected and felt so proud of being a teacher. To the Japanese I wasn’t just a teacher I was a Sensei. I carried that badge with honor and was humbled by what that title meant while living in Japan.
My heart goes out to all the people of Japan who continue to suffer from the powerful earthquake, violent tsunami aftermath, heavy aftershocks, and increasing nuclear reactor problems. Every time I see yet another story of how a family is working through this turmoil and hardship I shed another tear, for them and for a deep desire that humanity can one day learn to live together peaceably and with gaman.
I leave you with one of my favorite posters from when I taught Kindergarten. There is so much truth to this excerpt from Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, it’s ever so sweet and brings tears to my eyes.
The font is too small to read, so here it is, in all its glory:
All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup:
The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere.
The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation.
Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.
Take any of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm.
Think what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.
And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
If you wish to support Japan earthquake and tsunami relief efforts, donations can be made to the American Red Cross. Or text “REDCROSS” to 90999 to donate $10 USD. For those outside of the US who wish to donate here is a directory of international Red Cross centers.