Sunday, March 20, 2011

Three Samurai of Tokyo Fire Department's Hyper Rescue Squad

As the title of the movie "The Last Samurai suggests, Samurai are thought to be extinct. Indeed among Japanese people, SAIGHO Takamori or YAMAOKA Tesshu has often been described as the last Samurai. Rickson Gracie, a legendary martial artist, admires Samurai but declares unequivocally that he has seen no Samurai in contemporary Japan (Gracie, 2010).

Moral fiber of Japanese people has been considered in decline. The burst of the economic bubble crashed their (over)confidence of their economy. The Great Hanshin earthquake revealed the incapacity of politicians and bureaucrats evidently. Terrorism in Tokyo was committed by no other than Japanese people, Aum Shinrikyo, whose executive members were mostly graduates from prestigious universities in Japan. Most Japanese people forgot the word Samurai except when the Japanese team in World Baseball Classic used the nickname Samurai Japan. Samurai has become just a symbolic and empty word.

But maybe not necessarily so from now on, after Japan and the rest of the world witnessed the heroic actions to prevent the meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

Among the heros were the three at the press conference at midnight on March 19, 2010: Tokyo Fire Department's Hyper Rescue Squad captain SATO Yasuo, the squad' sixth troop leader TOMIOKA Toyohiko, and squad's eighth troop leader TAKAYAMA Yukio. (See the picture and a news article.)

These three firefighters, who represent other heros at the Fukushima Operation, reminded Japanese people of what Samurai were like. They were confident but humble, calm but warm, and most important of all, effective in action.

At the press conference, Sato explained the process of the operation plainly and calmly with a polite language. Without prior knowledge, you might guess that it is a report of a drill operation. His explanation was very factual and clear, which invites our reasonable guess that he is a man of responsibility and very aware of the details of what his men do. His explanation made a sharp contrast with other clumsy and often evasive explanations by government officials (with the exceptions of EDANO Yukio, whom some foreign press compared to Jack Bauer).

When Sato's 10 minutes explanation was over, the press, that has always been petty and noisy since the earthquake, was silent. Journalists were just overwhelmed by the serene dignity of the three.

"Mass-Gomi" ("Massive Garbage") is a slang to refer to and disrespect the "Mass-Com(i)" ("mass communication media") which was regarded as lacking knowledge, wisdom, vision, courage, compassion, discretion and whatever virtues journalists are required of. Many Japanese people, including me, has now begun to use the slang with little hesitation. For the past one week, too many TV stations, newspapers, and magazines were really "Massive Garbage" to the Japanese public, just agitating uneducated guesses and profiting from the human tragedies.

After a while, Tomioka was asked for a comment. Just as calm as Sato, with no appearance of triumph, he just said that it was a very tough and difficult mission, but he believes his team has reasonably accomplished what the nation expected of them. His body language, as well as his words, was telling that he and his men just did what they had to do.

After that Takayama took the microphone and added a short comment. Sato followed and added what he failed to report in the main explanation: safety of his men. He confirmed that he made sure of the safety of the operation before it was initiated.

With words like "Kamikaze" and "Seppuku", Samurai are often mistaken as irrational being, but they are not. (Kamikaze has no relation to Samurai, and Seppuku is one consequence of Bushido but right now I have to omit a long explanation about this).

If you have seen Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (and if not, please do), I can skip the explanation. Seven Samurai were depicted as very rational warriors with great compassion. Or if you argue that the movie is only a fiction, you may want to read Nitobe Inazo's Bushido: The Soul of Japan or UCHIMURA Kanzo's Representative Men of Japan. With the movie or the books, it won't take much time to realize that Samurai were gentlemen fighting for peace.

The microphone is back to Tomioka, who explained that his own mission was risk assessment and judge appropriately whether his men have been trained enough to deal with the situation. "The situation was worse than what we expected in the drill, but I was sure that my men could do it," Tomioka said again quite calmly.

But his composure was temporally disturbed by the next question: what was the toughest part?

"The toughest was carried out ... by my men." He barely spoke, and silence of about 10 seconds followed, during which he tried to stop himself from sobbing. "My men", he continued, "are high in morale and they did their best."

Still trying hard to calm himself down, he added. "But for their family, I feel truly sorry and I'd like to take this opportunity to send my apology and gratitude to them."

As if to avoid the press conference getting too emotional, Takayama took the microphone and added some technical explanation and thanked the background unit that measured the level of radiation to secure the safety of the men at the front.

The last question was asked: "How did you leave your home, and what would you like to do when you come home?"

Takayama said that he was in a different operation when he took the order and was only able to send his wife email: "I have to go and I'll be back." to which his wife sent a short reply "I have no doubt".

"When I come home, I just like to sleep." he said with a smile.

Tomioka said he was at home when he received the order. To his wife and son, he promised that he'd never initiate the operation without confirming safety. He left home with that promise.

About what he'd like to do when he comes home, he spoke with stoic understatement: "Because it is midnight now, my family may be sleeping." And he added, "I like sake, so I'd like to drink alone, reflecting what could have been done better and what can be done for the future".

Sato was also only able to send email to his wife, telling that he had to go. His wife also sent a short reply: "Save the nation".

"When I come home," he added quickly, "I just want to sleep." with a big smile, but it seemed to me that he needed that simile to conceal his tears in his eyes.

So, I wish to conclude that Samurai are not extinct.

Of course, I don't want to monopolize Samurai only in Japan. Readers of this passage must have your own Samurai in your country.

Like it or not, we occasionally have to fight, either against invaders or natuaral disasters. It is when Samurai show up and fight for you. Their plan is careful but they're decicive in action. They don't ask for praise. They just want to do what they're trained for. When the fight is over, they leave. As ordinary citizens begin their lives, Samurai quietly begin training again.

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