Once, I dated a guy who preferred being in Japan to being abroad, who held that we were citizens of a glorious and beautiful nation and the desire for foreign experiences was one of the deplorable legacies of the Meiji Restoration (1868), which was when Japan officially opened her doors to the rest of the world. The relationship happened back in the 1990s, when Japan was steeped in a new brand of permanent recession, the pop group Dreams Come True was like, sugeekakkoii (すげえかっこいい, incredibly cool) and patriotism was totally weird, weirder even than the green movement that many Japanese metaphorically equated with pre-modern washiki toire (和式トイレ, Japanese crouching style toilets). Everyone I knew wanted to be someplace else where they could escape from the tsurasa (辛さ, hardships), dasasa (だささ, zero chicness) and kurasa (暗さ, gloominess) of all things Nippon. It seemed only my boyfriend professed an undying love for his country of origin, the city of Tokyo that fostered him throughout childhood and adolescence, his little backstreet community, his neighbors and family.
Now, the mere fact of being a Japanese in Japan triggers a surge of aikokushin (愛国心, love for one’s country) — up to this point, many of us had liked to pretend we carried a different passport, spoke a different language and only ate sushi because it was the globally hip thing to do. The recent triple-header disaster changed that mental landscape. In every facet of the media, the slogans “Tsunagarō, Nippon!” (「つながろう日本」, “Let’s connect, Japan”) and “Maeni susumō, Nippon!” (「前にすすもう日本」, “Let’s Move Forward, Japan”) urge us to stick together and carry on, to value the national identity like a new-found treasure.
The phenomenon has spawned an intriguing new feeling in the air called puchi sakoku (プチ鎖国, a mini-scale closing of the nation). Narita Airport has reported an all-time low in Japanese tourists flying out of the country to enjoy Golden Week overseas, as many people have given up their holidays to work, making up for lost time during the initial first weeks of the disaster. The other popular option is to immerse themselves in volunteer work. So many rushed to the northeast in fact, that volunteer headquarters were forced to turn down newcomers or relocate them to other shelter facilities closer to Tokyo. And those who are taking time off are doing so right here in Japan, to help out a tourism industry that’s in dire need of business.
For the first time in six or so decades, many in the archipelago have taken on the mindset of the guy with whom I used to have long, heated arguments about what is wrong with Japan. He didn’t want to hear it. He wanted to stash his passport in some forgotten drawer and never leave Japan. He saw nothing wrong in commuting to his kaisha (会社, company) on his bike, going out for drinks in his jimoto (地元, home locale) after work, visiting his grandparents to see how they were. He was in fact, a sujiganeiri no jimopī (筋金入りのジモピー, a hard core homie) and 15 years ago, the species was pretty rare. But now that so many Japanese have gone jimopī with a vengeance, it’s practically become a movement. We’re staying put, to try and nurse the country and ourselves back to some semblance of health.
Interestingly, JTB (Japan Tourism Bureau) reports that newlyweds are still choosing to go abroad for their shinkon ryokō (新婚旅行, honeymoons). But will they return to the ticket counter for other holidays? That’s probably unlikely, at least for the time being. My jimopī guy, by the way, held that he would rather commit seppuku (切腹, ritual suicide) than stand in line with other newlyweds at some perfume drenched duty-free counter.
Not that the suddenly patriotic Japanese are blind to the problems in politics and the business world — in the wake of the tragedy, it seems like the same old issues that have always plagued the nation have bloated into monstrous proportions. But as many commentators on TV keep saying: sonna koto wo itteiru baai dewa nai (そんなことを言っている場合ではない, Now is not the time to discuss these things). Debates will only slow down the process of fukkō (復興, recovery), which is moving about as fast as a turtle sunning itself.
Among the debris of sorrow, rage and an encroaching sense of helplessness, there are some gems of gladness. A small but increasing number of Tokyoites with relatives in the Tohoku region are quitting jobs and upping stakes to relocate. One man I talked to said that the region needs new blood and a new and willing workforce to lay down roots and stick around, and he decided to be one of them. “Honmono no Nihonjin ni naritai” (「 本物の日本人になりたい」, ” I want to become a true Japanese,”) he said, and, in his eyes, that means becoming someone who shares the burden of his jimoto, is proud of the hinomaru (日の丸, Japan’s national flag) and kind to his fellow countrypeople. With people like him around, being a Japanese isn’t bad at all.