Since a 9.0-magnitude quake Friday, Japan's machinery of state has been swamped by a cascade of crises: a tsunami that wiped towns and village off the map; an out-of-control nuclear power plant, that has put the entire country on edge; and shortages of food, power and gasoline that have left the northern part of one of Asia's richest nations with the miseries of the world's paupers.
Authorities have hardly been idle. But in places such as Ishinomaki , a town on Japan's northeast coast now half-submerged in water, many are asking what happened to the country's much-vaunted flair for organisation.
Unlike victims of earthquakes in Haiti, Indonesia or China, those suffering in Japan expect their government to work and can't understand why a country as affluent as theirs can't keep gasoline, the lifeblood of a modern economy, flowing and why towns across the northeast have been plunged into frigid darkness for five days. "I never expected anything like this in modern Japan. It is like fiction," said Yutaka Iwasawa, a 25-year-old forklift operator.
The military, which has mobilised 100,000 troops for relief work, delivers water in stricken areas, hunts for bodies and has flown risky missions to dump water on a nuclear power plant belching radioactive smoke.
But the state, overwhelmed by problems, has abdicated some of its most basic duties, some say. "The government is not doing anything," said Akase Hiroyuki, a principal.
What riles Japanese, though, is the inability of their government to get a grip on the scale of a disaster that left about 450,000 people without homes, thousands still uncounted for and snatched away the certainties by which tens of millions had lived their lives.
Masayoshi Funabasama, a civil engineer said, "Things may look normal, but I can assure you nothing is normal."
Katsuyoshi Hiyasaka, a scrap-metal worker, took shelter at the school with his wife. Asked what officials are doing to help, he laughed and said: "I've been looking for them, but I haven't seen them yet."
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