Why is there no looting in Japan?

Almost lost among the tragic headlines coming out of Japan recently was this one: Why is there no looting in Japan?  (The Telegraph, March 14, 2011).  Why indeed?  The earthquake, tsunami, and resultant explosions, fires, floods, etc. have collectively rendered much of Japan broken and inoperable.  According to The Telegraph article, “The landscape of parts of Japan looks like the aftermath of World War Two; no industrialised country since then has suffered such a death toll.”  Why, then, have the Japanese not taken advantage of the situation and looted?


The mere asking of this question, and yours and my lack of surprise that I asked it, are very revealing.  We Americans have come to expect looting in the aftermath of mass events which transcend daily normalcy.  Riotous behavior prompted by a hometown Super Bowl victory rarely makes the news anymore.  Theft, looting, and thuggish antics in the wake of natural disasters have become commonplace.


Tangled among the stories washing out of Hurricane Katrina are those of unspeakable inhumanity, looting being among the tamest.  Callousness in response to tragedy is certainly not limited to the US.  Chile faced such riotous behavior from its citizens in the wake of last year’s earthquake that it had to send in the military.  Haiti descended into a lawless morass almost overnight.  Additional stories abound.


All of this shines the spotlight on Japan’s lack of looting, begging the article’s question: Why is there no looting in Japan?  Unfortunately, the author merely raised the provocative question but did not supply thoughtful answers.  Perhaps his lack of speculation is tied to the West’s embarrassment over the fact that nations shaped by the Judeo-Christian value system should be the first to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Surely the Golden Rule still shapes our cultural impulses…right!  We the people of the “one nation under God” assertion now trample this slogan as easily as we step over a dirty penny – the proud bearer of the majestic claim – on the street.


Japan’s response to disaster slaps us in the face!  A significantly non-Christian nation is acting more Christian at this moment than we have since perhaps World War II, suggesting the correctness of the label now applied to America by cultural observers: post-Christian nation.


Note the lack of chaotic rebellion in response to tragedy

Without descending into tricky theology, let me see if I can point to one reason Japan is not looting, and, by opposite examination, why we do loot.  The answer is as simple as how the Japanese view individual people in relation to the larger society.  Japanese culture is less individualistic and more community minded.  Consequently, Japanese people tend to be less selfish and “me” centered; they naturally turn their thoughts toward the group and how it is affected.  As one man put it, it’s not “poor me” in response to the devastating earthquake, but “poor us.”


Answering how the Japanese embraced this godly truth is a question for another day.  Suffice to say that godly traits bubble up all across the world, manifesting themselves in every people group, for the simple reason that God created all people in His image.  As descendants of Adam and Eve, we all possess qualities (though broken by sin) planted by God Himself.  Consequently, cultures such as Japan’s will sometimes value righteousness, which traces its origin to the creator God, even though they don’t worship the one true God.


One of these godly virtues is selflessness, exhibited as a concern for others, particularly for the good of the larger community.  Japanese culture embraces culture-driven selflessness wholeheartedly.  They fail to see its godly origin, seeing instead the logic of selflessness’ fruits.  Nonetheless, they enjoy the benefits, as do all people who adhere to God’s timeless laws.

Working together for the common good as opposed to grabbing what one can get!


Japan faces uncertain days of difficulty.  Working in their favor, however, is that the Japanese will work together as they rebuild their lives and communities.  By great contrast, we Americans add the plague of individualistic selfishness to our significant burdens.  We have long since cast down culture-enriching values such as selflessness, sacrifice, helping others, and defending the defenseless.  I fear these godly traits are dying a rapid death, right alongside the World War II generation which is leaving us too quickly.


Don’t despair the apparent falseness of Christian truth as seen through the contrast of Japanese and American responses to disasters.  See instead the unshakable reality of God’s divine image manifesting itself in His creatures, even those who don’t acknowledge Him.  See too the biblical truth that merely professing Christ is light years removed from actually possessing Christ.  Christians will strive for selflessness.  Not only does God demand it (for many logical reasons, such as rebuilding a broken nation), but Christ, whom we must imitate, lived out selflessness when He died on the cross to rescue us from hell.


Pray for Japan in the coming days, even as you pray for our country.  Keep your ears open for news of how to contribute to their vast need, even as you do the same in response to great needs in our homeland.  Finally, check your heart.  How selfish and “me” centered are you?  Are you part of America’s self-absorbed problem, or are you taking steps to root out selfishness, replacing it instead with others-mindedness?