The tragedy of the Kumamoto earthquakes has been covered a lot by now (including by myself in various radio and newspapers pieces). What do I personally have left to say about it? First a simple thing then a cute thing, then a ‘serious’ thing. Try not to change channels after the cute one, huh?

First, and very simply – I wish it would stop. The earthquakes are decreasing, but we are already on day 6 as I write this and there have been six or seven strong level 4 quakes tonight. In fact, just to prove the point, another hit right now – just as I typed the word ‘we’ in the previous sentence. About two hours ago there was a quake strong enough to get me up and running for the doorway (again!). So, mother nature – enough already. Come on! We here in Kumamoto, both Japanese and foreigners need to get on with our lives. Plus I haven’t a cup of tea with milk in it for 5 days now. I’m British – i need my milk tea. But there is simply no milk to be had, or bread, or a range of very normal ordinary food stuffs. I’ve still got no gas, like around 200,000 homes here. But at least I have water. Unlike around 200,000 homes here. But I’m already straying into the ‘serious’. Seems that I can’t help it.

Ok, so here is the cute: never mind the sophisticated detection devices and complicated seismic charts – let me show you my earthquake indicator. I have set up these wee stones in my house in such a way that if there are any largish quakes the small white stone will fall off (and obviously the rest of the stones too if its a size 6 or 7 quake). Simple, but it works.

Piled up stones serve as a primitive, yet effective earthquake detection kit.
Piled up stones serve as a primitive, yet effective earthquake detection kit.

I left the stones there in my house on Sunday evening and then went off to the hinansho shelter at Kumamoto University. Then on Monday morning I came back to my house, eager to see if the stones had been shaken off or not. I opened the door to find: the wee white stone was still in its place. Good news!

the same stones one day later
the same stones one day later

You can see from the photo i took on Monday morning that it has been shifted off a bit by the level 2 and 3 quakes that occurred during the night. There were about 15 of them, which sounds like a lot – but remember that on Friday there were 150 quakes!). Since there was no quake big enough to shake the wee white stone off it means we have probably not had much more damage in the city… and so on Monday night, after four nights in the shelter or in a tent, I decided to chance it and sleep back at home again. Oh, that felt good.

And now I want to focus on something that the BBC interview I did cut out the specifically ‘political’ bits from, as did the US radio interview. But perhaps Japan Daily is more brave? Japan has a very well organised system to cope with crisis. Or rather it has two aspects that work very well and one that seems not to work at all. What works well I now venture to call the socialistic and anarchistic elements, and what does not can be seen as capitalistic. Yes, I’m serious.

What is called ‘Hinansho’ (避難所 place of refuge, shelter) system is, to me, an example of an anarchistic type system, operating on the lines of the political, philosophical system of anarchism. By which, of course, I do not mean lawlessness, and chaos. That is NOT what anarchism is. A simple but massively misunderstood point. Normally these are set up in school or university sports halls, sports grounds or other such communities centres. There are 100s of them now in Kumamoto.The one I four nights in is right next to where I live, in Kumamoto University. It’s staffed by young student volunteers,who all work together in a spirit of equality and co-operation, and, with no set leaders and no formal pay. They politely hand out free water and food to everyone, help old ladies get out their wheel chairs, pass out free blankets, etc. All just to be decent people helping their community. Well done them, very impressive.

And THAT is how an anarchist system works – people are volunteers, not wage slaves; they are all formally equal, not structured into tight hierarchies of works, managers, bosses etc; they perform their work for the sake of contributing to their area, not because they are forced into it by threats of poverty; and the work ties people together in a system of mutual aid and appreciation. People often say ‘Anarchism is good in theory, but it does not work in practice’. Crap. It does work. I can take you right now to such a hinansho centre in Kumamoto and you can see it working very well.

And likewise, the nationally run emergencies services are excellent. The police and ambulance services and the Japanese ‘self defence forces’ (自衛隊, Jieitai). They do brave and tireless work of cleaning up blocked roads, clearing away rubble, directing traffic amidst the chaos of the debris, whipping injured people off to the very well run hospitals, delivering water and food and rescuing people trapped under buildings (you may have seen that a literally helpless eight month old baby was rescued after being trapped under rubble for 8 hours). On what lines are these organised? We might say socialistic lines. These are not for profit services, in which work is done because it’s important and needs done, not because it will bring in money. In which these brave folk put themselves in harms way, for the sake of their fellow humans. That is a key ethical point of socialism and anarchism: all are equal, all worthy of respect, we help each other because that is the right thing to do and it works for us all in the long run. You may say ‘Hold on, that is not socialism or anarchism, that is just being a decent person, just being nice.’ The point is that anarchism and socialism are based on that basic characteristic: ‘Being a decent person, just being nice.’, but capitalism is not. There are lots of examples of people just being a decent person, just being nice in capitalism, yes – but they happen DESPITE capitalism, not because of it. The whole point of the anarchist and socialistic approaches to organising our society is that we construct systems based on the tendency we have to be a decent person, to be nice.

And all those are NOT the key underlying elements of capitalism. In this crisis in Kumamoto the free market, the corporate chain stores like 7/11, Lawson, Family Mart have been next to useless. On Sunday, my food having almost run out, I cycled around every ‘conbini’ (small supermarket like convenience store) in this whole area and all of them were almost totally empty of food. I mean 90% barren. Not a single loaf of bread, not a solitary cart of milk, in the whole city. Did these hugely rich corporate businesses, who are supposed to be so efficient, never think to prepare for an emergency? How is it that the cashed strapped universities and schools and communities centres can think ahead and prepare such excellent shelters, with free food and water, where everyone is treated nicely, whereas the chains stores fall to pieces within a day? Can’t they also plan ahead, just as the volunteers obviously do, just as the emergencies service do?

empty shelves at a convenience store in Kumamoto
empty shelves at a convenience store in Kumamoto.

You might say ‘Why should they? They are not charities.They have a different purpose’ But I’m not talking about them giving things away for free, I’m talking about them planning enough ahead to achieve one simple thing: actually having food to sell. Surely such companies should consider the people of the areas they are in enough, plan ahead well enough, to make sure they can sell us a packet of noddles when a crisis hits? But, no, I cycled around again today, and those chain stores are still 90% empty. And, in a wider point: the basic element of doing what is right out of concern for your fellows is not something corporations are excused of, is it? Their profit based system does not mean they CAN’T plan for emergencies, surely? Except it kind of does, because the basic philosophical approach of capitalism is greed, power, and selfishness. We can summarise capitalism in one sentence: ‘If it can’t make a buck then fuck it’.

Even the ice cream and other cold snacks have been snatched-up
Even the ice cream and other cold snacks have been snatched-up

If it wasn’t for the hinan-sho shelter giving out the free dinners, delivered to us exactly on time by the Jieitai, I may have actually gone hungry here in Kumamoto. Except I would not have. Because, once again, out of the kindness of their hearts and a concern to be decent fellow human beings, various Japanese people I know offered to bring me round food and water, if I needed it. ‘Just let me know, Sean’, they said, ‘and I’ll bring some rice’. And despite me saying I was ok for now, some came round anyway, and gave me food and drink. I’m touched by that. How nice we humans can be in a crisis. How basically socialist we are, anarchist in our hearts, it’s in our nature and it comes out in a crisis. But let’s hope this one here, in Kumamoto, Japan, is soon behind us.

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