The compound disasters that began with the magnitude 9.0 earthquake on March 11 have left Japan deeply traumatized. Rescuers, hindered by shattered roads, snapped rail lines, and downed telephone networks still struggle to reach survivors. Half a million people have lost their homes. The Bank of Japan has injected hundreds of billions of dollars of liquidity into the financial system, but sharp falls in the stock market and a steady rise in the value of the yen continue. The damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, now offline, supplied Japan with some six percent of its electricity needs before the quake; now even Tokyo, far away from the hardest-hit areas, is suffering periodic power cuts. Global supply chains that depend on Japanese products are already feeling the pinch.
In a sign of the seriousness of the emergency, Emperor Akihito spoke directly to the country in an unprecedented televised address on Wednesday. He implored the Japanese people to "hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times."
Thankfully, there is reason to hope that his plea might bear fruit. Indeed, throughout the past, the Japanese have demonstrated an astonishing national capacity to rebound from traumatic events. A particularly destructive earthquake took place in 1855, right when Japan began opening up to the world on its way to becoming the first Asian power to pursue a comprehensive program of modernization. Perhaps the most brutal watershed of all came in 1945, when Japan responded to a crushing military defeat, all-encompassing devastation, and the loss of empire by setting out to build a new economic superpower that would become the envy of the world. Indeed, the events of 1945 turned out to be a blessing in disguise: many of the more backward aspects of Japan's old feudal system were swept away in the deluge, leaving a society better equipped to cope with the technological and social challenges of the twentieth century.
It would be wrong, of course, to downplay the national emergency caused by the most recent earthquake