Japanese Crises

Sis and I are Asian, born and raised in the US, so we've been having back and forth multi-cultural discussions.


...may be harder to detect when there are issues... It might be better to have a one-on-one conversation...

...Another important thing is to show proper respect and deference to elders / superiors...

My responses to those who are on emergency response teams (which are in great part from my Crucial Conversations training):

If you detect that some out-of-the-box thinking would be helpful, it would be nice to ask questions, make it more of a collaborative exploratory and problem solving session. And maybe say: "I realize you've probably thought about this but I don't really have any context into your situation, so I'm asking anyway". The more tentative and curious you can be I think the better.

I was watching a painful culture clash on CNN, this reporter got a shell shocked looking old Japanese man on TV, said he was looking for his family, asked who was missing, then started asking him as he looked around him, what did he see, how did he feel about what happened? And she kept asking and pressing in your typical hard nosed way reporters can do that. Initially he was talking but then he got this glassy eyed stare on his face and then completely shut down. They had to cut away from that interview and move on to something else. I thought: you idiot! (about the reporter).

Things may look awesome when they've thought things through and are in their comfort zone but get too out of the box and overwhelm them about things they haven't anticipated and they will shut down.


What you're saying is reinforcing some of my concerns. Preliminary things I'm hearing on the news:

  • this is Japan's largest quake ever officially recorded in their history
  • this is the greatest disaster for them since WWII
  • the quake has shifted Japan's coast by about 13 feet
  • the quake has knocked Earth 6.5 inches off its axis

Mom and dad grew up during WWII so that's three generations of people who've never encountered anything like this in their lives... To go from bento boxes on every corner, you can't throw a hat without hitting a bento box shop, to this... Their minds can't even grasp this and I know I wouldn't do any better of a job in that situation either.

They are all in uncharted territory. They will all need to pull together, encourage one another, and create a collaborative environment that is, first and foremost, safe for everyone to participate in as best they can, and I think this being the greatest disaster of their lifetimes is a good "out" for them. No one should be getting or giving an ass chewing, IMHO.

Looking at Americans, they can be perceived by traditional Asians as being noisy, boorish, too direct, argumentative, confrontational, etc. but dang! In the midst of that chaotic cacophony, out pops the truth, and those non-linear leaps in mindset that lead to new ideas or a new way of thinking. I suspect that this, more than anything, is the greatest gift America can give Japan right now.

The greatest gift Japan just gave the world, is a healthy dose of humility, an awareness of how far we all still need to go in terms of large scale disaster preparedness, and an example of what it means to live the highest of human standards, even in the face of unspeakable disaster.



A great approach, especially for Asians who are most likely being asked to do things for which they have never been trained, is to say: my intention is to begin this task immediately and get back to you with my findings as soon as possible. If anyone has any recommendations that could help me get started or help speed up my research, I would love to hear them.

Here are some other additions to play into Japanese strengths:

  • If, in these next few hours, days or even weeks, you think of something, please let me know immediately. The sooner we know, the sooner we will be able to think this through and provide a solution.
  • Who do we know who has experience with these types of disasters, e.g. someone who helped Kobe through their disaster? Someone who lived through the Kobe disaster? What did they learn, what would they do differently now, and why?
  • I know those of you with more experience than I will think of things I've missed, I'd love to hear your ideas if you think of anything


Many people and even entire cultures operate under the incorrect premise that you can be truthful, or you can be respectful to those around you, but you cannot do both. This is not true. If you read Crucial Conversations you will discover techniques that can be used to accomplish both.

In fact, to learn to be truthful in as graceful a manner as possible, is the way to exhibit the highest respect and regard to those around you.


Not only approach one on one when necessary, broadcast ways for them to approach you one on one as well (email, phone). There should be a way for anyone to safely communicate back if they feel they need to, they get stuck, have questions, want to brainstorm, etc.


Sorry doesn't really mean sorry. I think most Americans will need an explanation that for the Japanese, sorry is more of a social construct designed to grease the wheels of cooperation among people who have been living in intimate, crowded conditions for a very, very long time. And I think it's a great way to to build goodwill and good intentions, especially when things are chaotic and there is a pretty good chance at some point you're going to make a mistake... The typically wrong American response that I hear is: why are you apologizing? You don't need to apologize, you didn't do anything wrong. Recommendation: be tentative and questioning, throw in an early apology as you realize you don't understand their ways, gauge their reaction, and follow their lead.


A comment posted on an agile blog rings true here as well:

Clearly there are people who have success with agile, can you think of other reasons? Consider:

  • What is implicit in those successes that we need to make explicit?
  • Are there areas where agile depends on exceptional talent that need to be made into teachable proficiencies?
  • Do we need to expand our notion of team to include others who are critical to our success?


My comments here on how his posting applies to the Japanese crisis (and guaranteed similar impending US crises as well as California resides in the ring of fire also):

These same questions must be asked of the Japanese and the US as well. Where in these crises are the "bright lights" where people or groups are succeeding on exceptional talent? How do we turn those exceptional talents into teachable proficiencies?

For if this can be grasped and mastered quickly, it's how you can leverage an entire population to help out, and become self-sufficient one neighborhood group at a time. For to expect the government and army to help bootstrap that many people out of these crises is impossible. The Japanese need leverage, and they need it fast.

  • How do you begin to build and teach neighborhood groups to help themselves and each other?
  • Basic first aid training for neighborhoods, triage the more serious cases.
  • What are the teachable proficiencies they need?

What are the supplies that they need to become self-sustaining? e.g. getting drinkable water to everyone Now is going to be impossible. What about water filters for each neighborhood to be able to create drinkable water from water in ponds or from seawater? Instructions and the means (camp grills) to be able to cook their own food thoroughly and boil water thoroughly in order to stave off possible outbreaks of illness?

I realize I am no expert. This is just what is bumping around in my mind presently.