03/14/2011, 00.00
JAPAN
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Japanese united by tragedy and solidarity

by Toshiko Takase
The earthquake and tsunami have affected the entire Japanese population, and a strong national solidarity is emerging: rationing of electricity, food, lack of blankets. Everyone, Christian and non Christian, thankful for the gift of life and for help received. Mrs. Toshiko Takase, who lives in Milan, arrived in Japan one hour before the disaster on March 11. Here's what she tells AsiaNews.

Gifu (AsiaNews) - The disaster that struck the north-east of the country, has indelibly marked the entire Japanese population. Here we are 700 km from the epicentre [near Nagoya-ed], but we still feel the pain. Today there were two earthquake alarms. And more severe aftershocks are expected. The drama seems to be unending and now our biggest problem is fear of radioactive leaks from nuclear power plants. A few hours ago we were ensured that plant is being successfully cooled, at least for now.

But we all feel close to the people most affected. Electricity is being rationed and everyone is being invited to use it sparingly. So people have agreed to live in the dark, turning off lights, television, refrigerators. A cold front has been forecast with night-time temperature dropping again to zero degrees, but many people have turned off heating to save on electricity and as sign of solidarity to the survivors, many of whom do not even have a blanket to cover them at night.

The survivors are an example for us all of poise and kindness. Rescue teams are still finding some people alive who, full of thanks for their rescuers, say "the important thing is to come out alive”. There is no anger, no frustration. Yet the situation is tough: there is no water, gas, food is scarce and there is only one meal a day. So many people have not yet been reached by rescue teams: the affected area is immense and it impossible to reach by ground. The only way to reach the survivors is by helicopter, which slows down the distribution of aid.

People are glued to their television screens following rescue operations by the hour and in solidarity with the survivors do not eat. Some Christians have told me: This is the real Lent and this is the way we participate in the sufferings of Jesus In Tokyo, the crucifix of the apse of the Church of St. Ignatius collapsed in the quake. For many, this is a sign that Jesus is close to us and our fate.

All of us participate in the pain and Japanese people have become united in it. Some reflect: This earthquake is helping us to live like in the period immediately after the Second World War, when we all pulled together. Then well-being and wealth made us all selfish and closed us in on ourselves. But now it's time to go back to being united. We must return to this simplest way of being, like once upon a time.

This is the third night for survivors in makeshift shelters without blankets in the cold without complaint, in the silence.

Yesterday, in church we prayed for the victims and asked ourselves what we can do to help our brothers and sisters. The first thing the parish priest invited us to do was pray, as we wait for hours for the situation to become clear, to understand what needs to be done, how we can best help. The newspapers today reported the words of Benedict XVI and this making us thankful to the pope and all those who want to help us.

The television has cancelled all other programs: there is only continuing chronicle of the earthquake, of rescues, of the individual tragedies.

The area affected by the earthquake is inhabited by very simple people, workers, fishermen, small entrepreneurs. An hour ago one of them was interviewed, the owner of a company that makes Sakè. At the time of the earthquake hold his 50 employees to go home and get as far away as possible from the seashore. So far he has managed to get in contact with only 25 of his workers. During the interview the television broadcast images of his factory which was destroyed by the tsunami. His only comment was: "I don’t mind the money, but that factory was founded by my grandfather and with the tsunami ends a story. But I will rebuild it. "

All those who survived, say they want to live with greater truth and everyone - young and old – are full of gratitude. Having stared death in the face, they now appreciate more the gift of life and the help given them by others.

Large companies have decided to delay reopening, in part because there is no electricity, but also because many workers have failed to get in touch with family and need time to search for them.

Maybe it's the first time in a long time that the Japanese have been so united and supportive of each other.

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