A haiku poem by Hiryoshi Tagawa (1914-1999) goes: "The green man at the emergency exit/ Always fleeing." The familiar pictogram of a running figure was created in Japan and became an international symbol for emergency exits. The character is forever running, all over the world. I wonder if I should perhaps gratefully tell him (or her): "Don't work too hard."
Speaking of fleeing from danger, a recent survey by the Japan Meteorological Agency found that 60 percent of a total of 2,817 respondents reacted to the agency's real-time earthquake alerts by taking immediate steps to protect themselves. The remaining 40 percent said they either did not or could not react.
Among the latter group, one reason for their inaction probably lay in the limited accuracy of the alerts. Of 104 such alerts issued by the agency since the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake of March last year, 63 were issued in areas where the tremors were negligible, at 2 or less on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7. Still, that put the agency's batting average at about .400, which means the agency was anything but crying wolf.
It is better to scamper for nothing than to be caught unprepared.
In our highly earthquake-prone country, I imagine every day of the year is an anniversary of natural disasters, big and small, that have caused many tears to be shed. The Zenkoji Earthquake of 1847 struck today’s Nagano Prefecture on March 24 under the old lunar calendar. Thousands are said to have died in fires raging through flattened towns.
Japan is going through a period of high seismic activity. Many seismologists say that 3/11 has turned the Japanese archipelago into something they no longer know. The balance of forces underground has changed.
Making accurate earthquake predictions is now considered impossible, but there are cutting-edge technologies that can buy a few precious seconds between alert and actual tremor. We should all have a clear idea of how we should react, and hone our reflexes to escape danger in a sensible way. Those seconds are simply too precious to waste.
--The Asahi Shimbun, March 24
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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