It will never cease to fascinate me, the way Mother Nature can violently blow the lid off of whatever happens to be any society's most coveted pretense.
The way hurricane Katrina shattered the myth of "racial equality" in America, the mishandling of the 1995 Kobe earthquake here in Japan made people question whether the nation had really gotten past its medieval isolationism and xenophobia. (In Kobe, a great number of the near 6,000 deaths could have been prevented if the bureaucracy hadn't denied entry to foreign doctors who weren't licensed to practice in Japan,' didn't keep trained rescue dogs in quarantine for a critical number of days, or hadn't outright refused over two-thirds of the offers of assistance they received from foreign governments.)
In the past couple of days, the Tokyo metro area got hit head-on by a typhoon. We call storm "typhoon #9" because it is the ninth storm of the season (straightforward, isn't it?). For me, the storm had a lot of bark but very little bite. I personally slept through the whole thing, and went to work as usual in the morning. The papers mentioned that the trains were delayed, and mine kept me waiting for two entire minutes. Typhoons really aren't as big of a deal as they say around here, that is, as long as you have a house in which to take shelter.
Mainichi reports that:
Twenty-nine people were rescued after being stranded on sandbanks of the Tama River in Tokyo that was swollen after the area was hit by powerful Typhoon Fitow Friday, police said. . . .
Officials at the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry's Keihin River Office said at the rainfall's peak the river's width increased to about 400 meters, compared to a norm of 40 meters. . . .
In Tokyo's Ota-ku, Setagaya-ku and Hino as well as other areas, police received repeated reports of people being stranded on sandbanks of the Tama River. Metropolitan Police Department officials said 29 people were rescued by 11:30 a.m. Most of them are believed to be homeless people living on the riverbank.
I find this report particularly interesting, especially since the Japanese government has always gone to great lengths to retain the myth that "there are no homeless" here in Japan. This advanced stage of denial has been helped along by an extremely narrow definition of "homelessness" and by the periodic "cleansing" of homeless villages in parks and on riverbanks. I don't know how they do it, but Tokyo's homeless population tends to become temporarily invisible just before important events or when the government is planning to take its "official" homeless head count.
I live by the Sumida river here in Tokyo, and often walk along the river to experience the more scenic route around town.
T and I will sometimes call tent cities that line the Sumida river "water front property." Our sarcasm is largely in response to the satellite dishes protruding out of these tarp-covered cardboard boxes, the striking view of the city's skyline across the river, and our growing suspicion Tokyo's homeless contingent lives better than a surprising percentage of homeowners in neighboring China.
At the same time, however, no amount of surrounding rosebushes can deny the fact that these people live in cardboard boxes. I hope that this disaster has made the Japanese public more aware of the growing problem of homelessness in this city. As for me, I have been given much reason to reconsider and curb my own sarcasm.