A number of people have been struck by the civility and lack of looting among the Japanese during the crisis.In a recent note, Nomura’s famed economist Richard Koo gave his observations.
Domestically, talk is focused on depressing issues like the rolling blackouts and the likely drop in production activity. In contrast, many in the overseas media have praised Japan’s response to the crisis. Commentators have expressed their surprise and respect, noting that the number of casualties appears to be far smaller than would be expected from an earthquake this size and that people have continued to act in an orderly fashion amid the chaos without any evidence of looting or other undesirable behaviour.
A friend who spent nearly four hours walking home from his central Tokyo office on Friday said that there was not a single broken pane of glass in the buildings along the route even though the quake Tokyo experienced was very strong. Furthermore, the people hurrying home were all walking in an orderly way. He said that even at the convenience stores along the way, people were lining up in front of the cash registers as usual. Many families along the way also offered the use of their restrooms to those who were walking home. My friend was impressed anew by the high standards of Japanese construction technology and the high degree of civility or “norm consciousness.”
I myself was stuck in a taxi for five hours in the worst traffic jam I have ever experienced trying to reach home from Tokyo’s Haneda airport. During that excruciating five hours, I never heard anyone use the horn in his or her car. The taxi driver was also nice enough to charge me only for the distance traveled, not for the time it took to reach the destination.
In short, the view overseas is that a country with these national characteristics and this level of technical prowess is bound to recover. In that sense, I feel as though the world is supporting Japan from afar.
This focus of global attention on Japan should reassure the government that it can take necessary fiscal measures without fear of being downgraded by overseas rating agencies.
From an economic perspective, the short-term outlook is bleak, and demand fuelled by reconstruction projects is unlikely to emerge for some time yet. But I am confident the Japanese economy will be able to pull through this disaster if the public, the government, and political parties on both sides of the aisle join together and work as one.