Among the famous artists, magnates and leaders on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people this year were two lesser-known names from Japan: Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai and Dr. Takeshi Kanno. That a young medical doctor and a small-city mayor could make the list of the most prominent people from around the world shows just how impressed the world was at the fortitude and courage of so many Japanese during the Tohoku disaster.

Thirty-one-year-old Dr. Kanno was working at the Shizugawa public hospital in Minami Sanriku when the earthquake hit. He helped patients escape the oncoming tsunami that engulfed the hospital and surrounding area, bravely waiting while all of the survivors could be taken up by helicopter before he went himself. Three days after the quake, he finally made it back to his wife, who would, a few hours after he arrived, give birth to his second child. His understanding of what it means to care for human beings extended far beyond the standard practice of medicine.

Frustrated for two weeks over the limited help, Mayor Sakurai of Minami Soma, one of the hardest-hit municipalities, delivered harsh criticism and a plea for help in an 11-minute video broadcast on YouTube. That video, subtitled in English, was viewed by thousands of people around the world, and spurred the government and industry officials to speed up their emergency assistance.

Standing up to a bureaucratized and hierarchical system is not easy, but Mayor Sakurai’s words and actions encapsulate the best of what government service can and should be.

These two individuals’ bravery and strength deserve notice and respect. They are but two of the many people who worked tirelessly to be sure others were safe. Many others whose work has not received such recognition can surely share in their congratulations. If Tokyo Electric Power Co. and government officials had been as professional and sensible as Dr. Kanno and Mayor Sakurai, many of the problems in the aftermath of the disaster could have been greatly lessened.

The dedication and sense of community Dr. Kanno and Mayor Sakurai displayed are exactly what will be needed to recover and start anew. Their affirmation of the importance of human life in the midst of catastrophe is an inspiration.

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