JO DAVISON: Japanese keep their cool in life-and-death situation

Calm, orderly and dignified: Evacuees, refugees, residents, workers and holidaymakers queue up to check in for their flights at Narita International airport in Japan.
Calm, orderly and dignified: Evacuees, refugees, residents, workers and holidaymakers queue up to check in for their flights at Narita International airport in Japan.
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A FEW days ago, you would have thought the Japanese earthquake and tsunami disaster couldn’t have got any worse.

But now there is Fukushima’s nuclear power station.

Suddenly, a dark, ominous cloud hangs – maybe literally soon – over the coast of Japan.

The worry has shifted from shattered infrastructure and rubble-buried bodies to lethal, cancer-causing radiation.

Fears about the fall-out from the nuclear plant are so bad that Britons as far as 150 miles from Fukushima, in the capital Tokyo, are being advised to leave.

Yet, the Japanese remain calm, gracious and noble – staggering, considering the cataclysm they are facing.

The emperor has even appeared on television to reassure people (this means things have got really bad, apparently).

But nobility, calmness and decorum were not, unfortunately, qualities reflected in the behaviour of French scientist Maxime Gremetz.

The scientist managed to suspend a French parliamentary meeting about the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan because of his uncontrollable road rage – storming into the room shouting that his car was blocked-in.

Gremetz was reprimanded by science committee chairman Claude Birraux, who pointed out that this was not acceptable behaviour, given the plight of the Japanese facing a nuclear crisis potentially on the scale of Chernobyl.

How embarrassing.

And what a contrast to the conduct of the Japanese, facing the biggest disaster since the end of World War II.

News footage has shown Japanese mothers fleeing the nuclear-affected areas laden with bags, cases and children, desperate to board trains and planes leaving the affected region.

But they’re doing so graciously and without a big fuss.

Yet the opening of an Ikea store in London a few years back resulted in huge riots, fights and shouting as greedy customers fought to reach the front of the queue.

Five people were hospitalised and hundreds crushed.

One ambulance worker said he feared it was going to be ‘another Hillsborough.’

Why? It’s pre-packed furniture, for Christ’s sake. Get over it. You can get much better quality stuff off Ebay anyway (some cracking solid oak tables, I believe). And it’s cheaper.

But we’re all guilty of unjustified fussing.

Last week I travelled to Tunisia and my suitcase went AWOL for three days.

In most places, this wouldn’t be a problem, you’d nip to the nearest equivalent of Marks and Sparks and buy a packet of full briefs (they keep you in, don’t they).

But in Djerba, I started to wonder whether women wear underwear at all.

You cannot buy decent knickers for love nor money over there.

Eventually, in a back-street back-alley shop, I found a man selling very bad knickers. Hundreds of them. And all the same garish pattern.

So, for two days I was limited to ill-fitting briefs and the dirty clothes in which I travelled.

I tried to remain gracious about it – Japanese if you like – but on the third day I cracked and complained very loudly to the airline.

My case appeared. I was re-acquainted with my clean clothes and facial care.

All was well.

And then, several outfits and 36 hours later, we arrived at Djerba airport to a scene not of chaos, but of serenity.

A carpet of thousands of displaced people – Bangladeshis, Sudanese and Ghanaians – filled the building. They had crossed the border from Libya and sought refuge in Tunisia’s enormous refugee camps. They were now being sent home – in their thousands.

Some were standing, some slumped over their bags and others were sleeping.

It was quiet and there was no trouble, no shouting, no pushing, no shoving.

Yet, much like the Japanese waiting for trains leaving Fukushima, this was the most important queue of their lives.

The reward for pole positions in these seemingly endless lines was not one of reduced self-assembly furniture with daft names like LACK and MOLGER but one of life and death.

If there was ever a circumstance in which road rage or Ikea-like aggression were justified, it would be this one.

Then, once through security, and away from the crowds something started to niggle at me.

It was that bloody case.

And then it hit me. I’m just as bad as those people in Ikea. getting upset about nothing.

At least I could laugh at my comedy knickers.