Quake chaos can't crack Japanese need for order

KOBE, JAPAN — KOBE, Japan -- Nature is chaotic; Japan is not.

Amid the wreckage from Tuesday's devastating earthquake, orderly lines emerge for water and food, strangers cooperate to make high school basketball courts livable refugee centers.


There has been no crime.

"There is no formal system," says David Pilgrim, an English businessman who lives among these people.


"But everyone is willing to wait in a queue, no one steals, no one loots.That is Japan; that is why it works."

The dedication to order takes place against a backdrop of desperation and extraordinary ruin.

Kobe's infrastructure -- the roads, water pipes, and other various services that form the backbone of any city -- are all shattered, along with 45,000 buildings and thousands of lives.

The local and national government have been criticized for responding slowly and ineptly, impeding rescue efforts and firefighting.

For Mr. Pilgrim and many other foreigners, at the moment Japan does not work well enough. He is considering leaving; many others in his situation have already departed.

Yet the Japanese government is only one facet governing Japanese society, and the disaster has brought into sharp relief more subtle systems that enable a ravaged city to support orderly life, if not international business.

The line between Kobe and the normal world -- between running water, solid buildings, stocked store shelves, cohesive government and potential anarchy -- exists in Nishinomiya.

The small bedroom community is about 7 miles from central Kobe, close to other major cities nearby, most importantly Kyoto and Osaka.


During the quake, this was where the destructive buckling of earth finally dissipated, leaving numerous wrecked buildings but sparing the railway station and the tracks leading away from Kobe.

Now it has become a natural transfer point.

Trains from Osaka bring package-bearing helpers, typically carrying fruit, bread, water, and rice cakes -- two-inch diameter balls or triangles of white rice that in good times are wrapped in seaweed and contain either fish or pickle, but, given the current urgency and short ages, are now just rice.

The departing trains take away refugees, a suitcase in one hand, a wheeled and loaded luggage cart in the other.

Yoshiko Kawabata rides into Nishinomiya as both a victim and a helper. Her home in Kobe survived the quake, and now her family of five has seven less fortunate guests, including another family of five.

The situation is common.


"They are welcome, they are my friends," says Ms. Kawabata.

Bikes replace cars

At the base of the stairs at Nishinomiya station, Hisayoki Kimura doesn't have much time to speak. "My house is fine; my problem is transportation," he says, as he quickly and successfully unpacks and assembles a brand-new, made-in-America mountain bike.

The few available roads into Kobe are impossibly gridlocked for cars, but bikes and scooters have little trouble weaving through the traffic, and people have adapted quickly.

Loads of unlocked bikes are parked at the station. Bicycles and umbrellas are said to be the only two items that might be stolen. But even this remains rare.

On Thursday, Mr. Kimura walked six hours from his Kobe home to Nishinomiya station, and then went on to Kyoto to purchase a bike. The way back, he estimates, will take only an hour.


He's carrying the usual array of bananas and bread, and a popular type of heating pad that activates when slapped against a table.

"I have only what is basic," he says. "I have what I need."

Need to be clean

Like orderliness, cleanliness is a national obsession, now more difficult to fulfill.

A pharmacy near the train station reopened Friday morning after a three-day suspension.

The first items to sell out -- and they sold out within minutes -- were shampoos and washing products that don't need additional water.


"Normally, said Soto Takagawa, the store manager, "none of this tends to sell."

Restocking cleaning preparations is now the top priority. No one in Japan wants to appear messy, for any reason.

Even Makiko Yuki, who had an excellent excuse.

The 21-year-old college student was stuck in the quake, and then on her way out of Kobe Friday, what should have been a 45-minute drive took six hours, ending only when she ran out of gas more than a mile from Nishinomiya.

She telephoned her boyfriend, Minoru Yoshimitsu, in Osaka, and he came to pick her up, walking to her car, then helping her to lug two heavy duffel bags back to the station.

Of course, she arrived at the station as Japanese women always tend to arrive on a date, wearing lipstick and unsmeared makeup, not a hair out of place.


Police, but no crime

Within Kobe, at the large prefectural police headquarters, scores of reporters mill around waiting for the hourly official posting of an ever-expanding list of people killed in the quake.

In addition to the 5,000 police normally assigned to Kobe, 10,000 others have been assigned since the disaster. All are directly involved in rescue operations, including tracking fatalities.

None of the police is involved with what an American might consider to be the first responsibility -- law enforcement.

There is no need, says an official spokesman, who requests that his name be withheld because of department policy.

Electrical outages still touch many parts of Kobe, silencing alarm systems and shutting down traffic lights. Homes, offices and stores have no windows or doors. They could easily be robbed.


But there is no crime to speak of. There don't even seem to be any traffic violations.

"People are more conscious of the law because things aren't working," the police official said. And as a result, his department has responded to the new climate by altering routine enforcement tactics. Traffic tickets, for example, are no longer being handed out.

"I know there is no crime," emphasized Akira Hino, a police reporter with Sun Television.

"People feel it is more beneficial to cooperate."

On Thursday, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama appeared at the prefecture hall, near the police station.

He gave a news conference. Anyone could have walked in to see him. There was no security.


Close quarters

A stiffer, if more subtle, test of Kobe's response to the quake has been in the many temporary refugee areas set up in schools throughout the city.

Suddenly, many families living in the world's most affluent country have become squatters occupying a few feet of a wooden gym floor, sleeping, eating and living alongside neighbors.

At Kobe Ikuta Junior High School, Midori Yamaha sits on a donated blanket with her son, Masuki, 2, on her lap, and Rebu, the family dog.

For the child, life has been difficult. Friends from day care were in the same gym for the first two days, but they have left. Now, there is no one to play with.

Rebu isn't happy either. On the blanket next plot over, a cat wants to be friendly, but Rebu is not interested.


All the same, life could be worse. The residents of Ms. Yamaha's section near mid-court are neighbors from the same building, most not well known before.

"We've gotten much closer," Ms. Yamaha said. "We've gotten stronger."

More personal

A contributing factor to the social cohesion may be how personalized many aspects of Japanese society continue to be. Supermarkets, for instance, have not reopened, but many of the smaller stores that until recently provided the bulk of groceries in Japan still exist, and they are open.

Tomio Kishida is the third-generation proprietor of a small store providing a bit of everything.

In the immediate aftermath of the quake, Mr. Kishida was back in business and, for the first time in memory, lines formed outside the door.


"I was happy I could help," he said.

Did he consider raising prices?

"I couldn't possibly in a situation like this, where people are suffering," he says.

Though there may have been a few exceptions, others have reacted similarly, and there has been little outcry over profiteering. Yet Mr. Kishida notes his time to be vital may be limited.

"Afterwards," he said, "the big stores will re-open, and there will be little to sell."

Whether those big stores observe the same social contract, particularly during difficult times, is an open question. And some here wonder whether the extraordinary behavior witnessed so far will last in any event.


No time for business

Takuma Ogawa runs a bar in downtown Kobe among less fortunate neighbors. Although he stopped by to check on its condition, he says he is not, at the moment, interested in business.

Some friends are missing. Others had narrow escapes.

Much to his surprise, he says they are all calmer than he would have imagined, consistent with the general restraint throughout the city.

But he wonders: "Everyone is OK so far, but a major unexpected event just happened.

"I'm not sure we can stay like this in the weeks ahead."



Casualties: 4,914 dead, 202 missing, more than 25,490 injured.

Buildings: More than 50,614 destroyed or badly damaged.

Electricity: 40,000 households without power.

Gas: More than 800,000 households without gas.

Water: 840,000 households without service.


Ports: Kobe's port, which handles more than 12 percent of Japan's exports, is closed except for emergency use. Ferry service has been partially restored.

Highways: Hanshin Expressway, between Osaka and Kobe, collapsed in five places; other national roads are damaged at 20 sites.

Railroads: High-speed "bullet" train lines are damaged at 36 places over a length of about 56 miles. One link has been restored to service. Railroad officials estimate that repairs will take more than four months.

Airports: Service has continued at Osaka Airport and Kansai International Airport, neither of which suffered major damage.