THIS MORNING I EXCHANGED a few e-mails with my ex-girlfriend, Rika, who lives in Tokyo. She confirmed reports of shortages of food and fuel in the Tokyo metropolitan region, and sent a photo of herself wearing a bicycle helmet to bed. Overall, though, Rika seemed remarkably sanguine about the disaster that continues to unfold. “I’m used to the feeling of camping,” she wrote. “I’m not stressed out.”
Rika writes in Japanese, and as I translated her notes, I was struck by three recurrent words and phrases that capture a particularly Japanese cultural response to crisis.
These words don’t have easy English equivalents, but go a long way towards explaining why Rika isn’t worried, and why I have faith in Japan’s ability to recover from the horrific devastation of earthquake, tsunami, and slow-motion nuclear catastrophe.