I keep reading about people encouraging one another to "pray" for Japan in this time of great tragedy after a massive earthquake and accompanying tsunami devastated its coastline and killed hundreds of her people. I'm not quite sure Japan needs our prayers. Japan is regarded as the country in the highest state of constant preparedness for earthquakes. As such, the disastrous earthquake that struck Japan is a tragedy, but one that is not tragic in the sense of it being a preventable loss of life.
To me, the stoicism and quiet grace with which the Japanese greeted the unimaginable destruction and loss of life, mobilised its forces to assess and respond, and reached out to the global community to receive assistance speaks volumes of the magnificence of Japanese society. Japan's prayers are different from our prayers. Being a predominantly Shinto and Buddhist society, Japanese prayers generally express a profound respect for nature and an acute mindfulness for one's surroundings. Emphasis is on a life led in harmony with nature and recognition that one is but a part in a vast ecosystem.
In contrast, Catholics see nature as subject to man, and man subject to the "mysterious" whims of their wrathful and all-controlling God. As such, a Catholic's prayers put emphasis on their subjection to the will of God (to explain adversity) and their being showered with his graces (to explain good times). For Catholic Filipinos, prayer is surrender, while for the Japanese, prayer is expressed as reverence for a system of which one is a part. A Catholic's prayer is about deliverance from the physical world, while that of the average Japanese is about embrace of the physical world.
Thus, the Japanese have already said their prayers for those who lost their lives and were severely impact by the earthquake. But unlike ours that are uttered after the fact of a tragedy, the Japanese people pray before the fact. The vast and carefully thought-out measures they had put in place to anticipate and mitigate the risk of a disaster such as the one we are seeing today, is Japan's prayer for its dead and suffering today. Such a sort of prayer, in my opinion, is far superior to the Catholic's prayer. Being done before the fact, it frees minds to focus on acting with clarity of purpose when adversity strikes, rather than imprisoning minds with questions about and surrender to a god's "purpose" as the case would be for after the fact prayers.
While the loss of life in Japan in the aftermath of this year's monster earthquake is staggering, it cannot be said to be one that resulted from any form of reckless neglect. Because the Japanese had done all it can in life to respect the living it has little need for prayers -- only a focus on action and learning and the tangible support coming from nations that are, themselves, possessing of characters consistent with an ethic underpinned by respect for human dignity.
Perhaps Filipinos should instead reserve their "prayers" for their compatriots who remain victims of a long tradition of a lack of inclination to anticipate, prepare for, and mitigate against what the physical world can often unexpectedly spring upon the living.