What Makes Japanese People Trust Their Government in Times of Crisis?

  • By Cha Hak-bong, the Chosun Ilbo's correspondent in Tokyo

    April 12, 2011 13:13

    Cha Hak-bong

    Tokyo is covered in cherry blossom and the streets are full of people enjoying the beauty of spring. The Ueno Zoo is bustling with children who came to see a panda that has just arrived from China. Although there are not as many people outside enjoying the cherry blossom in the evening as in previous years, more and more people are heading out. Bottled water, which had virtually run out at stores following the radiation scare, is no longer in short supply, and the same goes for instant noodles, toilet paper and other daily necessities.

    Voluntary steps to save electricity have dimmed the lights in Tokyo, but the nightlife appears to be regaining strength. Concerns that drastic curbs on consumption following the massive earthquake and tsunami could hinder reconstruction efforts have prompted more Japanese to shop.

    But jitters remain as more and more people return to their daily lives. There have been more than 400 aftershocks of over 5 in magnitude since the earthquake on March 11. TV broadcasts announce earthquake alerts several times a day, reviving fears. And the threat of radioactive contamination to vegetables and fish is stoking fears even further. Yet the Japanese public is overcoming the unprecedented disaster with amazing orderliness.

    The source of the orderliness appears to be a deep-rooted trust in the Japanese government. From a foreigner's point of view, the Japanese government gets a failing grade in terms of handling the crisis. Even though refugees were complaining of hunger and cold, officials prevented cars from transporting relief supplies citing safety regulations. They also showed a lack of expertise by dumping huge amounts of contaminated seawater into the ocean because they were unable to find a large ship that could store them, and they failed to tap into emergency fuel reserves to power relief supply trucks, while there was a lack of information flow between government agencies.

    But although the Japanese people have undoubtedly been angered by this, they still have confidence in what their government tells them. When the government said vegetables and fish from the Fukushima region pose no hazards to the human body, people launched a drive to consume more products from that area. Voluntary efforts to save electricity allowed Japan to overcome a major power shortage crisis. And although websites are filled with criticism of the government, Prime Minister Naoto Kan's approval rating has climbed 10 percent since the earthquake.

    It is foreigners who do not trust the Japanese government's announcements. Some foreign businesses temporarily moved their Japanese headquarters to Osaka or packed up and left for Hong Kong, and some foreign baseball players forfeited hundreds of thousands of dollars to quit their teams and leave.

    The Japanese public, however, appear to have decided to trust their government to overcome the crisis. This is possible because of the public's firm belief that their government will not lie to them no matter how inept it may be.

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