Fukushima And The Truth?

My wife and I have vacationed on Waikiki in Hawaii several times and always stayed at the same hotel.  Country folk ourselves, we enjoyed starting each day with an early morning hike up into the bustle of the main boulevard and on the way would thread our way through hundreds of Japanese families boarding tour buses in the underground parking garage of the adjacent mega-hotel.  A route we'd reverse late in the evening and watch those same fathers, mothers and children stumble off those same buses exhausted by an endless round of sightseeing stops.  Day after day after day.  The same families.

I asked my Japanese daughter-in-law about this.  Why I wanted to know, after that first painful day of non-stop sightseeing didn't some of these families refuse to get on those buses and instead take the day off?  Walk along the beach, let the kids run in the beautiful parks and play in the turquoise surf?  Take a nap in the shade?

"You can't do that" she told me.  The tour operators have worked very hard to organize the best possible outings for you with the largest possible number of stops so refusing to go, even for one day, would insult and embarrass them.  And so you have to keep getting on those awful buses day after day, and keep your mouth shut, because it's "what Japanese do."

A very important point to bear in mind when considering the Japanese Government's reaction to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima.  Because odds are it's much like their earlier reaction to that country's catastrophic banking crisis of some years ago.  No loss of life, no earthquake toppling thousands of buildings, no churning black tide reaching miles inland and blotting out whole towns.  But just as seismic from their point of view because it also held the potential, and eventually realized it, of "insulting" a lot of hard working bankers by forcing them to admit some very foolish mistakes and for the many others caught up in the crisis the fact that they had put their faith in the wrong people.  Because with government connivance and support the banks simply stayed open for business and pretended that their assets were greater than their liabilities.  At least for a time and it didn't make any difference that Japan's economic growth went to zero for a decade because that's  just "what Japanese do." 

Not a new story.  People still alive can recall how up until the end of WWII the Japanese Navy refused to admit to the Japanese Army that it lost half its aircraft carriers in 1942 and the other half in 1944.  Which is why that during the final days on Iwo Jima the army general staff still expected a huge fleet to sail to its relief.

It's  just "what Japanese do."

Now the Japanese are our friends.  They are hard working, honest, clean, reverent, generous and slow to find fault with others.  The world is certainly better off with a twenty-first century Japan in it.  But as honest as they are, as friendly as they are, we should understand that they may not have it in them to embarrass themselves or others by admitting the full facts of the matter as quickly as some other governments would.  And we shouldn't criticize them for it because in the longer run it might be a more beneficial tendency than the American desire to rush to judgment, assign blame and immediately start braying about cover-ups, secrets and the CIA the instant something bad happens. 

Yet whether it is or not, the fact remains that you can't believe you're getting the whole story about Fukushima.  Not right now.  Not tomorrow.  Only later.  After the passions die down and public figures are spared the embarrassment of embarrassing or insulting others.

Because whether it's telling a tour operator to his face that his program is ridiculous, a banker and his clients that they have to take their own hit, or refusing to tell your comrade in arms that all of your big ships are resting on the bottom of the ocean, that's not "what Japanese do."

Richard F. Miniter is the author of The Things I Want Most, BDD Random House.  He lives and writes in Stone Ridge, New YorkYou can reach him at miniterhome@aol.com