Global Issues

After tsunami, the Japanese spirit: Ken Mogi at TED2012

Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Ken Mogi, a Ph.D and researcher from the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Tokyo, bears a flag nearly twice his height, bright blue, covered with images of koi fish and Japanese letters. He begins by reminding us about a tragically transformative day in his country on March 11, 2011 that would change tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives, forever.

The 9.0 earthquake struck about 40 miles east of Oshika, Japan, killing nearly 16,000 people and injuring and displacing thousands more. To make matters even worse, the tsunami’s disastrous tendrils reached the Fukishima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, creating an international nuclear disaster that would have enormous economic and social consequences, beyond the enormous death toll, for Japan and the rest of the world.

Scientists, Mogi shares, said it was a once-in-a-thousand-years event. The tsunami washed away colorful houses and communities. Children cried, while their parents could do nothing but comfort them. Tens of thousands lost their loved ones, their homes, and their way of life.

In memory of those who lost their lives in the earthquake and tsunami, Ken asks us to take a moment of silence. Quiet falls over the theater like a wave, as we remember the terrible day almost one year ago.

Returning to his talk, Mogi shares a slide with a saying used by Japanese fisherman. “Under the board, there is hell.”  These fisherman have a deep respect and healthy cautiousness of the ocean; for, beneath the safety of the boat itself lies a sea of turmoil, which could rear its ugly head at any moment, despite being a source of beauty and calm during moments of light. Once Mother Nature gets angry, says Mogi, there is nothing you can do about it.

Yet, every day, fisherman venture off into the ocean to make their living.

As the world becomes smaller, we are feeling the newly emerging oceans arise, yet, like the fisherman, we never give up. We proceed with a new understanding of how to live longer and better. Risk and uncertainties are the mothers of hope and wisdom.

Mogi alludes to the flag in his hand as being a gift from a fisherman, a reminder that while there is indeed hell under the board, this is the very reason why we should build happiness and prosperity throughout the world.

Despite the incredible difficulties encountered, the Japanese people never lost a smile on their face.