Psychology 773
2011. Vol.2, No.8, 773-776
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. doi:10.4236/psych.2011.28118
Enormous Earthquake in Japan: Coping with Stress Using
Riichiro Ishida
Faculty of Medicine, Niigata University, Niigata, Japan.
Received July 21st, 2011; revised August 24th, 2011; accepted September 21st, 2011.
Every person has a will to achieve meaning and purpose in life (PIL)/ikigai. According to previous studies,
PIL/ikigai provides people with the ability to integrate stressful psychological events from the past, present, and
future with less conflict or confusion. This ability results in decreased anxiety and lower sympathetic nervous
system activity during psychological and physical stressful situations. PIL/ikigai develops by positive experi-
ences in one’s life such as experiencing sympathetic listening by others and being affected by persons and/or
events. Overall, evidence shows that PIL/ikigai is an effective technique for coping with stress and helped many
people cope with the enormous earthquake that occurred in Japan in March 2011.
Keywords: The East Japan Enormous Earthquake, Stress, Purpose in Life, Ikigai
Many people are aware of the enormous earthquake that took
place in eastern Japan on March 11, 2011. The earthquake had
a magnitude of 9 (7 on the Japanese scale) and triggered a tsu-
nami with a height of more than 10 meters. These events, in-
cluding many large aftershocks, destroyed cities over a vast
area. Furthermore, the earthquake and subsequent tsunami re-
sulted in a serious accident at a nuclear power plant (Tokyo
Electric Co., Ltd., in Fukushima Prefecture) that led to a radia-
tion leak from the damaged plant [The Niigata Nippo, March
13, 2011]. This radiation leak led to many misconceptions and
fears among Japanese citizens. As a result of these events, a
large number of people had to leave their homes and live in
gymnasiums or fabricated houses. Many people, including chil-
dren, continue to cope with the consequences of these events.
The recovery efforts and rescue and relief activities have been
ongoing, and many people involved in these processes are
showing signs of mental and physical fatigue. The clean up
from this disaster is also expected to continue for a long period
and contribute to increased stress. Effective techniques for cop-
ing with stress should be shared with victims of this disaster.
Based on previous studies, the author wishes to propose to psy-
chologists that achieving meaning or purpose-in-life (PIL)/
ikigai is an effective technique for coping with stress.
Anxiety is associated with an unknown future in the face of
various conflicts and types of confusion [Atkinson, Atkinson,
Smith, Ben, & Nolen-Hoesksema, 1996; Smith, Nolen-Hoek-
sema, Fredrickson, & Loftus, 2003]. Any stress causes anxiety
and can lead to imbalances in the autonomic nervous system
[Atkinson et al., 1996; Smith et al., 2003]. If the stressful event
continues and/or the person cannot effectively cope with the
stress, he/she may experience mental and/or physical diseases
such as depression or coronary heart disease [Atkinson et al.,
1996; Smith et al., 2003]. Thus, stress affects both the mind and
the body.
Coping with Stress Using PIL/Ikigai
Many philosophical, literal, religious, psychological, and
medical techniques for coping with stress have been proposed
[e.g., Arai, 2007; Fahrenbach, 1907; Ginger, 1995; Irie, 1982;
Ishida & Okada, 2001; Kida, 2006, Atkinson et al., 1996; Pas-
cal,1897; Smith et al., 2003]. Recently, we found evidence that
“PIL and “ikigai,” two social attitudes, have been identified as
effective techniques for coping with various kind of stress
[Ishida, 2008a; Ishida, 2008b; Ishida & Okada, 2006; Ishida &
Okada, 2011a; Ishida & Okada, 2011b; Ishida & Okada, 2011c;
Ishida, Okada, & Bando, 2004a; Ishida, Okada, & Bando, 2004
b]. PIL is based on the existential philosophy that appeared in
Europe and has been around for more than 150 years [Kida,
2006]. Its basic premise is “Everything changes. You only get
one chance at life. Every person should achieve meaning in
one’s life [Ofman, 1980]”. The idea that “everything changes”
has existed for centuries, appearing in Japanese classical litera-
ture from the 12th century [Takagi, Ozawa, Atsumi, & Kin-
daichi, 1959]. “Ikigai” means “worth living” or “meaningful-
ness of life,” and appeared in the Japanese classical literature in
the 14th century [Goto & Kamada, 1960]. PIL and ikigai are
commonly based on the intrinsic and natural motivation that
“Every person has a will to achieve meaning in one’s life
[Crumbaugh & Maholic, 1972; Frankl, 1972; Kamiya, 2004;
Kuroda, 1966],” and proposes the importance of “now” “here”
and “goal orientation in the future”. Those without PIL/ikigai
commonly feel empty of mind, that is, live in an existential
vacuum [Crumbaugh & Maholic, 1972; Frankl, 1972; Kamiya,
2004; Kuroda, 1966]. In addition, those without PIL/ikigai also
have a strong need for approval from others [Ishida & Okada,
2011a]. In contrast, those with PIL/ikigai commonly perform
tasks for their own satisfaction and pleasure rather than to gain
approval from others [Allen, 2000; Bundra, 1997; Ueda, 1993].
However, this does not mean they think of only themselves and
ignore others’ happiness but rather indicates that they transfer
their interest from themselves to other people and events.
[Kamiya, 2004; Kuroda, 1966; Kuroda, 1969].
According to our studies, PIL/ikigai provides people with the
ability to integrate stressful psychological events in the past,
present, and future with less conflict or confusion [Ishida,
2008a; Ishida, 2008b; Ishida & Okada, 2006; Ishida & Okada,
2011a; Ishida & Okada, 2011b; Ishida & Okada, 2011c; Ishida,
Okada, & Bando, 2004a; Ishida, Okada, & Bando, 2004b]. This
ability results in decreased anxiety and lower sympathetic
nervous system activity during psychological and physical
stressful situations such performing a time-limited task that will
be evaluated by others, or meeting a person for the first time
[Ishida, 2008a; Ishida, 2008b; Ishida & Okada, 2006; Ishida &
Okada, 2011a; Ishida & Okada, 2011b; Ishida & Okada, 2011c;
Ishida, Okada, & Bando, 2004a; Ishida, Okada, & Bando, 2004
b]. PIL/ikigai decreases psychiatric/somatic symptoms under
stressful situations [Ishida & Okada, 2006; Ishida]. This, in turn,
influences the immune function and decreases the mortality risk
[Abo & Kawamura, 2002; Hui & Fung, 2009; Koizumi, Ka-
neko, & Motohashi, 2008; Krause, 2009; Kremer & Ironson,
2009; Murata, Kondo, Tamakoshi, Yatsuya, & Toyoshima,
2006; Nakanishi, Fukuda, Takatorige, & Tatara, 2005; Pinquart,
Silbereisen, & Fröhlich, 2009; Seki, 2001; Sone et al., 2008;
Tanno & Sakata, 2007]. These studies suggest the value of PIL/
How PIL/Ikigai Contributes to Life Even in a
Stressful Environment
Newspapers in Japan often report victims of the earthquake
disaster from viewpoint of PIL/ikigai. Several examples follow:
Patient helper (female, 62 years old): This woman has
worked as a helper for patients in the damaged prefecture and
lives in a gymnasium with other families. She regrets that she
could not send old aged patients to their home safely on the day
of the earthquake. She has experience as an aerobic exercise
instructor for dementia patients at an institution. She started to
teach aerobic exercise with music for others in the gymnasium
and experiences great satisfaction at seeing others’ faces fill
with pleasure. Her students say: “We have most interesting time
during aerobic exercise with others.” (The Yomiuri Shimbun,
July 8, 2011).
Junior high school student group (males and females, 12 - 14
years old): People living in fabricated houses get to appreciate
Japanese traditional dance in their area. Junior high school stu-
dents who engage in cleaning gymnasiums and fabricated
houses as volunteers decided to engage people with dance. This
allowed them to exercise and exhibit their skills. An old woman,
one of people who was watching, remembered her grand-
daughter who died during the earthquake and was moved to
tears while watching. The students decided to do dance exhibi-
tions from now on to give vitality and pleasure to people estab-
lishing lives in a new area. (The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 8,
Retired person (male, 68 years old): He lived in a gymna-
sium and now lives in a fabricated house after losing his wife
and dog to the tsunami. Along with volunteers of a nonprofit
organization, he planted morning glories on the outside of the
fabricated house. He says “I experience great pleasure caring
for the morning glories and touching the earth.” (The Mainichi
Shimbun, May 31, 2011).
Oyster farmer (male, 43 years old): He has engaged in plant-
ing oysters for 25 years. He lives in his half-broken house and
lost his fishing boat to the tsunami. However he cleans the
beach every day and is attempting to start planting oysters for
people who like eating them. (The Mainichi Shimbun, May 31,
Housewife (66 years old): She took out an address book
when she and her husband escaped from their house on the day
of the earthquake. She lives in a fabricated house with three
grandsons and a granddaughter who lost their mother. She de-
cided to keep a diary in the address book. She firmly believes
that describing the events relating to the earthquake in the diary
will help people in the future. (The Asahi Shimbun, July 6,
School teacher (male, 26 years old): He worked at a junior
high school as a supporter for retarded students and was a bas-
ketball coach in the school club. He escaped to the third floor of
the school with his students on that day of tsunami and now
lives in a school with other people. He takes great pleasure
being a volunteer basketball coach for junior high school stu-
dents now. (The Asahi Shimbun, May 31, 2011).
Paralympics athlete (male, 62 years old): He was a medalist
in the discus throw in the Paralympics. He could not move the
lower half of his body after an accident that occurred when he
was 40 years old and worked on a ship as a fishermen. When he
was 49 years old, his friend taught him the discus throw. His
house was not destroyed by tsunami, but a lack of oil kept him
from training at the rehabilitation institute, and this broken
exercise routine meant he could not perform in the Paralympics.
In spite of these events, he started training at a nearby track
field with his wife’s support; she measures his throwing dis-
tance. (The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 3, 2011).
Restaurant manager (male, 40 years old): He lost two restau-
rants and a bar to the tsunami. In spite of these events, he
started a business again using used a ramen shop with an only
area of 30 m2 and opened a sailing car that sells grilled meat
and omelets. His goal is to ensure that the people in the area eat,
drink, and smile. (The Mainichi Shimbun, July 4, 2011).
Proposals for Development of PIL/Ikigai
Many events correlate with the development of PIL/ikigai,
including the recent disaster in Japan. These events often pro-
vide people, including victims, with a chance to consider im-
portant questions such as “What is the relation between nature
and human beings?”, “What was the meaning of my former
life?”, “What was the meaning of another person’s life?”,
“What is a real happiness?”, and “How should I live from now
on?”. These questions may help people establish PIL/ikigai.
Several techniques can help with the development of PIL/
ikigai. One involves finding people who will “listen with sym-
pathy”. People tend to feel worried, conflicted, and confused
when attempting to solve problems on their own. This process
can lead to the development of anxiety. However, sympathetic
listening by others can help a person integrate stressful psycho-
logical events, which can decrease anxiety. Sympathetic listen-
ers can include parents, friends, teachers, neighbors, and psy-
chological counselors. It should be noted, however, that the
main job of the listener is to provide a sympathetic ear and not
to try to solve the problem for the person.
Another technique to help with the development of PIL/iki-
gai is “affecting persons and/or events”. When person is af-
fected by people and events, his/her anxiety may decrease. For
example, many entertainers, comedians, athletes, novelists, and
others visited the disaster area in Japan and have taken part in
various activities with victims, such as singing songs, talking,
performing magic shows, playing baseball, reading picture
books, and cooking. These events can help people relax and
feel less anxiety. Similarly, seeing members of Self-Defense-
Forces, police officers, fire fighters, other groups, and individu-
als from not only the damaged prefectures but also from other
areas, as well as people from other countries, take part in re-
covery efforts and rescue and relief activities, also impacts
people. In many cases, se eing people “give back” to others can
inspire them to give of themselves, which is an important factor
in the establishment of PIL/ikigai.
“The East Japan Enormous Earthquake” traumatized many
people, both physically and psychologically, and receiving war-
m-hearted support from friends and strangers has helped many
people deal with this disaster. The earthquake and the warm-
hearted support will provide people with a chance to consider
the meaning of one’s life and contribute to developing PIL/
ikigai as an effective technique for coping with stress.
This manuscript was completed four months after the earth-
quake (July 10, 2011).
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