good | bad

Here’s an interesting story for today.

Written by Jake Adelstein from The Daily Beast, it reminded me that there is no real true ‘bad’ or ‘good’ person out there. People make choices. But what they do doesn’t define who they are. They are still human and very much a comrade in times of extreme adversity.

In a singular, defining moment, a person can switch from doing what we deem ‘wrong’ to something ‘morally worthy’. Does that then change who they are?

‘What separates you from a murderer or thief?’ I was once asked. ‘Can you say that there’s not a single part of you that is able to do great evil? And at the same time… great good?’

It stems then from the deepest place where all choices are made.

Who or what holds your heart?

*

“There are no yakuza or katagi (ordinary citizens) or gaijin (foreigners) in Japan right now. We are all Japanese. We all need to help each other.”

– a yakuza member

The worst of times sometimes brings out the best in people, even in Japan’s “losers” a.k.a. the Japanese mafia, the yakuza.

Hours after the first shock waves hit, two of the largest crime groups went into action, opening their offices to those stranded in Tokyo, and shipping food, water, and blankets to the devastated areas in two-ton trucks and whatever vehicles they could get moving.

The day after the earthquake the Inagawa-kai (the third largest organized crime group in Japan which was founded in 1948) sent twenty-five four-ton trucks filled with paper diapers, instant ramen, batteries, flashlights, drinks, and the essentials of daily life to the Tohoku region.

An executive in Sumiyoshi-kai, the second-largest crime group, even offered refuge to members of the foreign community — something unheard of in a still slightly xenophobic nation, especially amongst the right-wing yakuza.

The Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime group, under the leadership of Tadashi Irie, has also opened its offices across the country to the public and been sending truckloads of supplies, but very quietly and without any fanfare.

The Inagawa-kai has been the most active because it has strong roots in the areas hit. It has several “blocks” or regional groups. Between midnight on March 12th and the early morning of March 13th, the Inagawa-kai Tokyo block carried 50 tons of supplies to Hitachinaka City Hall (Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki Prefecture) and dropped them off, careful not to mention their yakuza affiliation so that the donations weren’t rejected. This was the beginning of their humanitarian efforts. Supplies included cup ramen, bean sprouts, paper diapers, tea and drinking water. The drive from Tokyo took them twelve hours. They went through back roads to get there. The Kanagawa Block of the Inagawa-kai, has sent 70 trucks to the Ibaraki and Fukushima areas to drop off supplies in areas with high radiations levels. They didn’t keep track of how many tons of supplies they moved. The Inagawa-kai as a whole has moved over 100 tons of supplies to the Tohoku region. They have been going into radiated areas without any protection or potassium iodide.

The Yamaguchi-gumi member I spoke with said simply, “Please don’t say any more than we are doing our best to help. Right now, no one wants to be associated with us and we’d hate to have our donations rejected out of hand.”

– excerpt from article by Jake Adelstein

*

While I don’t agree with what the yakuza has done in the past, I applaud them for the way they stepped in when no one else could.

To read the full article, head here.

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the land ahead…

Surreal.

While many around me watch with a mixture of fascination & horror as events unfold in Japan, I sit with Mother, discussing her move to Atami. Ironic how she was traveling back to a place filled with disaster when the rest of the world was trying to get out.

‘Sakiko’s relatives are still missing,’ Mina-san said to me at the table, as we tried to enjoy ourselves at Mother’s farewell dinner. ‘Her mother and father are here, but everyone else is back in Miyagi.’

‘Did she grow up there?’ I asked. Sakiko was her colleague and close friend.

‘Yes… it’s her hometown. She received news that her best friend is dead. Her mother can’t eat because her younger brother is still missing, as is the rest of the family. And her father’s entire business was built in Miyagi, so now, he basically has no work to return to.’

The sashimi managed to get stuck in my throat. And that was when our phones beeped. We had set it to receive notifications whenever there was news from Japan.

‘Five minutes ago, there was another earthquake, this time further down south, in Shizuoka.’ I said. ‘The earthquake measured 6.0 in magnitude…’

‘Shizuoka?’ Mother looked up. ‘That’s far away from Miyagi.’ And a little closer to where Mother is going to be in two days’ time. Mina-san quietly began texting on her mobile. Her family was in Kanagawa, a prefecture beside Shizuoka.

‘Is everything okay?’ I asked.

‘It should be. They’ve already suffered the worst on Friday, but I’m just checking to see that they’re all doing well.’ Thankfully, they were. ‘Although my sister just had a massive quarrel with her husband.’

‘Quarrel at a time like this? What happened?’

‘She was pissed that while they – mom and her – were busy hiding from things that could fall, he was snoring on the couch.’ Mina-san laughed.

It felt good then to smile again. Still, this disaster feels too real and it’s getting under my skin. I know these people. I’ve lived with them. Japan is my second home… and to see what’s happening to the country is akin to watching a gang of brutal rapists attack someone you love.

You feel helpless, angry and weepy, all at the same time.

*

Tired of the news footage I’ve seen so far, I decided to browse some pictures that talked about the human plight, strength, resilience and courage. Here are some (of the best) I found from Life. You can click on the pictures to lead you straight to the gallery itself.

Holding On (March 12)
A soldier carries an elderly woman on his back as people are evacuated to a shelter in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture.

Lining Up (March 14)
A mass of people wait to buy food at a grocery store in hard-hit Sendai.

Please Call (March 14)
Thousands are missing in Japan since the quake. Here, a woman posts a message for loved ones at an evacuation center in Natori.
Aftermath
A young survivor surveys the destruction in the northern Japanese city of Ishinomaki, two days after a tsunami ravaged the coast. In the days following the quake, as the waters receded, the nightmarish scale of the destruction became evident: entire towns were, in effect, wiped from the map; cars, buses, homes, people were washed away…

Doing Her Part
Neena Sasaki, 5, carries family belongings from her destroyed home in Rikuzentakata.

Smiles Amid Ruin
A soldier smiles as he holds a four-month-old baby who, along with with her family, survived the tsunami’s devastation in Ishinomaki.
Sharing The Pain
A woman holds her granddaughter at a shelter at Natori.
A Moment To Remember
A man lights a candle in memory of the victims of Japan’s massive March 11, 2011 earthquake in a park in Sendai. It is believed the death count in Japan could reach 10,000.

*

I’ve never been in a nuclear reactor. For those of you like me, here’s a gallery of pictures you can browse (not of those in Japan but a historical walk through) to help make sense of everything happening in the news.

*

Throughout the past few days, Mother hasn’t once lost her cheerful outlook on life. In light of all that’s happened, she’s utterly convinced that heading back to Japan is the right thing to do. And I can’t agree more. If there ever was a time when my grandmother and relatives need her, it’s now.

I can be unselfish about that. She being there would also allow us back here to direct our help in a more focused way. But I’ll miss her ability to laugh at the most dire of circumstances and honestly, Mother is such a beacon of encouragement and light. Am I fearful that I’ll sink into a deep pit of darkness once she goes? A little. My heart has been aching in a million places these past few days – for the people in Japan, for the history that many have lost, and yes… for me. But I’ll manage.

I’m going to miss that spunky, cheeky lady like hell though.