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The advice that Kotaku Wamura, former mayor of Fudai, Iwate Prefecture, is quoted as giving at his retirement — “Even if you encounter opposition, have conviction and finish what you start. In the end, people will understand” (May 18 AP article “How one village defied the tsunami”) — reminds me of the 1989 American movie “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner.

Despite the opposition of people around Costner’s character, he did what he believed, gradually convinced others and finally made his dream, meeting his dead father, come true.

Generally speaking, Japan is a collectivist culture; we want to belong to larger groups, be on their side, and do the same as other members. People are reluctant to do different things for fear of being harassed or expelled from the group.

In such a society, saying or doing things differently is quite challenging. Add another cultural aspect — thriftiness — and we are reluctant to spend huge amounts of money on things that we are not sure are really necessary. Under these circumstances, Wamura’s efforts and contributions (toward construction of Fudai’s sea wall and floodgates) went beyond our imagination.

It is often said that people can learn only through personal experience. Wamura’s experience ended up saving many lives. And I can see light for the future. I notice that people who had taken safety for granted or been indifferent to disaster-prevention measures have become aware of those things now. We need to make this disaster our turning point and start to speak out and act properly to improve our society for a better future.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

yoshihiro akabane

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