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Why Japan will prevail

By Toshiro Tanimoto, Special to CNN
People line up to buy food and daily necessities at a supermarket in Sendai city, Miyagi prefecture, on Monday
People line up to buy food and daily necessities at a supermarket in Sendai city, Miyagi prefecture, on Monday
  • Toshiro Tanimoto says after the first earthquake, aftershocks are no big deal
  • Japanese calm in face of reactor explosions, loss of power and water, he writes
  • He says civility reigns because people trust they and their government will surmount crisis
  • Japan rose from ashes of WWII, will rise from these ashes too, Tanimoto says

Editor's note: Toshiro Tanimoto is a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of Tokyo, and also in the Department of Earth Science, University of California, Santa Barbara.

Tokyo, Japan (CNN) -- As I try to write this essay, there is another aftershock -- a mere magnitude 6.2 event near the coast of Ibaragi, about 100 miles north of Tokyo. This was the third one I felt this morning in my office in a 12-story building on the campus of University of Tokyo.

But after the frightening two-minute shaking from the main shock on Friday, it doesn't seem like a big deal. I know I will feel more aftershocks in the months to come, but they will all pale in comparison to the magnitude 8.9 main earthquake.

An internet news site just reported another explosion at Fukushima Daiichi reactor site, this time in the building containing the third reactor. Is this turning into Chernobyl? Somehow, I don't think so. Authorities are focusing on cooling down the reactors with sea water. They have abandoned the notion these reactors will ever be used again. But with these focused efforts, why wouldn't the reactors cool down?

These are dedicated, courageous people. My eyes well up as I read about six workers injured while trying to release the hydrogen that accumulated in the exterior container.

I grew up in this country but I am still amazed at the people's patience and civility.
--Toshiro Tanimoto
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Now, 300,000 people have been evacuated in northern Honshu. Most have lost their homes to the tsunami. A lot of them are still isolated in villages along the jagged coast. On the TV, video taken from a helicopter shows "500 Food" on top of a building, meaning there are 500 evacuees waiting for food.

I grew up in this country, but I am still amazed at the people's patience and civility. But I also know how they can remain so civil. They trust that food will come somehow. They trust the government and know their share will come. They have faith.

The Tokyo electric company started rolling blackouts today around the city. Five areas of Tokyo take turns going through three-hour blackouts in order to save electricity. Commuting is a problem as metros and trains run on irregular and reduced schedules. Some might be angry about the abrupt enforcement of this blackout, but most people stay calm. Most accept the government's explanation that this is better than having an unexpected blackout that may keep you stuck in an elevator or a subway for an indefinite period. Most people seem to agree and are willing to share their burden. They trust that it's for the best.

Along with electricity blackouts, the government is warning that water quality may suffer temporarily. Spurred on by my wife, I run to a convenience store nearby and find nearly empty rows of shelves and just 10 bottles of water left. I am amazed that the owner is still selling the bottles at the regular price -- $1 each -- because I know I would pay twice as much. I briefly think about grabbing all 10 bottles, but decide to buy just five, because I know others will need them. I also trust clean water will be available for me if I run out. Maybe my neighbor will provide it, and not the government, but I will have enough. I just trust I will.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said this was the worst crisis since World War II. But this country built the world's second-strongest economy in 40 years, starting from ashes. The ashes along the Fukushima coast might contain more radiation now. But I know this country can do it again. Dedicated people are focused on it. Don't bet against Japan -- trust it will prevail.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Toshiro Tanimoto.

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