HOUR by hour, day by day, our admiration for the Japanese people increases: somewhere in those concrete nuclear blockhouses, firemen and power-station workers are prepared to die in the course of their duty and for the cause of Japan.
Across that sodden coastal plain, rescue workers are sifting through the abominations that remain. Where do they sleep? Eat? Go to the toilet? The schools of the stricken areas now function as civil defence centres, while their teachers serve as civil defence volunteers. More importantly, Japan is rebuilding. Yes, already.
A reader in Japan sent me a picture of the Tokiwa Prefectural road outside Tokyo: at 4.30pm on March 11 it was a buckled disaster-zone, incapable of taking a bike. By 1pm on March 15, repair-teams had reconstructed and resurfaced it, and it was a six-lane highway again. In under four days. And there's a single roundabout on the M50 where the work-crews have been toiling, if that's quite the word I'm seeking, for four months.
Irish residents in Japan have been emailing me accounts of the incredible calm and social concern of the Japanese people, and their own disgust at the foreign media frenzy, which is making it seem as if the entire archipelago is in danger of "nuclear meltdown". Well, the Japanese know a little bit more about nuclear aftermaths than the rest of us: until they or their government have spoken, we should hold our tongues before rushing into condemnation of nuclear power.
But of course Adi Roche has already been declaring that the Japanese disasters are proof that we shouldn't have nuclear power: for the word "nuclear" is to the infantile Irish liberal imagination what "Legionnaire's disease" is to a hospital caterer. In Ireland of the Perpetual Piety, 'nuclear' is on the opposite end of the morality compass to 'neutrality'. We are neutral, which is GOOD, and we have no nuclear power, and that is also GOOD.
Never mind that the televisions we watch and the radios we listen to and the cars we drive in were made with nuclear power in Japan or France.
Never mind that we are importing nuclear power from Britain, and have signed up to import more. Never mind that we are protected by NATO. No: we're better than that. We're Irish.
The kind of Irish person I prefer reports from Japan: "The scale of the horror is not lost on people here but there is an extremely strong social sense and practicality among Japanese people. Wailing and moaning achieve nothing. Self-pity is the vilest of emotions and its absence is one reason why living here is so very attractive."
Even at the height of the multiple calamities, people stayed calm.
"Shops tended to run out of supplies of batteries, bread, milk and instant noodles quite quickly. Despite that, however, no one was filling shopping trolleys. I've been living here for 10 years, but I was still surprised by people's consideration for others. They took enough for themselves but always left something on the shelves for those behind them."
Compare Ireland of two inches of snow last November, and all those closed schools, with Japan of the earthquake, tsunami and exploding nuclear power-stations. "Some 20 million people still commute to work in the Tokyo greater metropolitan area everyday. Millions of them are now walking, up to 30km. People interviewed waiting for news of lost family spoke calmly. Old people pulled from rubble apologise to rescuers for causing trouble. The anger among expats about the way the foreign media has covered things is palpable."
Thus the Facebook observations of Lori Henderson of the British Chamber of Commerce: "Journalists Of The World: Might you be so kind as to oblige the people of Japan by donating $10,000 each time you make use of words such as 'nuclear meltdown', 'apocalypse' and 'panic' in your fine publications? We could then get back to focusing on what really matters here: how to help the hundreds of thousands of survivors who require disaster relief in the worst affected areas."
"There's no panic in the media here," reported my Irish resident. "No panic among the people. No anger. Just sadness, and a determination to help. It's pretty obvious I love my adopted country. It's not perfect but it's knocked a lot of that self-satisfied Irish smugness out of me. There are many ways of looking at life. The way here couldn't be more different from that in Ireland."
Eight Irish government ministers, and their entourages, were abroad at our expense yesterday, "showing the flag", God help us, as if anyone elsewhere noticed. We're still neck-deep in own earthquake/tsunami, yet one early image provides an enduring and quintessential truth about this society. It was an aerial picture of perhaps the largest traffic jam in Irish history, during the one-day strike by the public sector in protest at pay-cuts, as tens of thousands of strikers poured into the North to avail of cheaper shopping. Try explaining that conduct -- by Irish public servants, no less -- to all those Japanese schoolteachers who, throughout their crisis, have been dutifully and stoically doubling as civil defence workers.
And as for the gallant firemen of Fukushima: words fail me.