The Spirit of Recover in Japan: How sometimes the worst can bring out the best

May 13th, 2011By Category: Culture

People enjoying the Cherry Blossoms in Shinjuku park a few weeks after the earthquake.

I don’t know if I’ve just got a hankering for hardship or just incredible luck, but getting to the ripe old age of 32 hasn’t always been easy. As a kid I was run over by a car, swarmed by bees, and nearly drowned. (Though thankfully not all on the same day). As an adult, I had my second near drowning experience off the coast of Thailand and during the same trip I was attacked by fireants while volunteering.  During the college years, at times I was so poor I got by off of donating plasma twice a week. Add in the fact that I actually decided to become a ring fighter, so I could spend the greater part of my adult life getting beaten up by complete strangers, and perhaps the answer becomes obvious: it is the former. I’m just a glutton for pain.


At least that is what was barreling through my head when I was boarding the plane to return to Japan after the earthquake and tsunami hit. At the time I was living comfortably in the states, and all the reports about insane radiation levels, potential cataclysmic nuclear decimation, and family and friends arguing for me to stay put were intimidating to say the least.

Still with my girlfriend`s insistence on coming back for her family, I couldn’t see letting her do it alone and off I went. The flight over was relatively empty and among the passengers who were present, there were only 2 or three other foreigners. “I must be out of my mind” I thought.

Surprisingly enough however, the Tokyo I returned to wasn’t all that scary of a place. The fountains were turned off to save water, and the escalators and electric hand dryers were turned off to save electricity, but other than that, life seemed to be progressing as usual.

The people were a bit quieter as everyone had been through a collective trauma, but oddly enough, I also noticed that they cared more about the important things (like each other).

In the Tokyo I left behind 9 months ago, everyone only seemed concerned with their own affairs. In this slightly less-lit and drier Tokyo however, the attention seems to have turned outward. Instead of just ignoring the needy or throwing money at them, people are taking the initiative to do some good themselves.

People like Justin Berti (who’s Yoga Terminator fundraiser raised over 100,000 yen for food and supplies), and Dean Newcombe who drove up to Miyagi himself to deliver it are prime examples. As are Sean Muramatsu of OS Productions (who started Team HEAL Japan), Stu Levy, the producer of Priest (who is filming and funding a documentary about the recovery movement) the modeling agency, Freewave (who’ve also been collecting food, and making trips) and Naoji Takeda of Takefuku (who donated and delivered 5,000 Hamburg Steaks).

In effect, as terrible as the Tsunami was, the effect that it had on Tokyo, was to enthuse it with something that can only be likened to what we Americans call ‘The Christmas Spirit”…and I wouldn’t trade in being here and being a part of it for anything.

In returning to Japan immediately after the quake, I might have come back to a place with less water, less electricity and way more aftershocks, but it seems like what we lost in material, we have gained in spirit and goodwill. In Japanese culture, the cherry blossoms have always been a symbol of the nature of life, and perhaps it’s not a coincidence that they bloomed after the quake. It would seem as though, so did we.

Author of this article

Chuck Johnson

Chuck Johnson is a Martial Arts Instructor/ Action Film Actor based in Tokyo, Japan, and Michigan, USA. He has been teaching for 16 years, holds ranks in Taekwondo, Judo, Capoeira, and Karate, and is an experienced bodyguard. He is also a member of the Screen Action Stunt Association, and Society of American Fight Directors. Additionally, he has 10 years of ELT experience, and is the developer of Phat English, a system that uses specialized hip-hop music to teach the subtle nuances of GAm English pronunciation. For more information, visit or follow Chuck on twitter at chuck_n_action

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  • Chuck Johnson says:

    Thanks for the comments guys. Natural disasters are always tragic, but even within tradegies there is always the seed of positivity. Gill, I feel you with the animals. My heart really goes out to them.  

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    Beautiful reading Chuck!
    Thank you!

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  • Gill says:

    Thank you for coming back to Japan. I’m following this terrible disaster from Canada. I really care that many people have lost everything and will probably spend years somewhere other than a home like they once had. It’s the animal too that break my heart. They had no say here once the exclusion zone was enforced. Thankfully there is a Rainbow Bridge for animals. Ask anyone in the animal rescue field – they all know it exists.