In her classic novel Shiokari Pass, one of Japan's best-loved authors, Ayako Miura, introduced the character Nobuo Nagano who upon realizing that a part of the train he was riding on had come loose from the rest of the train and was heading back down a steep hill, threw himself on the tracks in order to stop its descent, thereby saving the lives of hundreds of fellow passengers.
"Nobuo came to a swift decision," Miura wrote. "Now, when they were traveling so slowly, he could stop it with his own body. For an instant the faces of Fujiko, Kiku and Machiko flashed largely before his eyes. To shake off this vision he shut them tightly. In the next second his hands had left the brake wheel and he had jumped down, aiming for the rails....'it's stopped, we're saved!' somebody shouted, and a woman suddenly burst into tears. When someone announced what Nobuo had done, there was silence for a moment and then the passengers broke into a rapidly mounting excitement. In twos and threes the men jumped from the high platform into the deep snow. Its pure whiteness was spattered with bright red, and Nobuo's body was drenched with blood. They leaned over it and wept. In death, he appeared to be laughing."
Miura, a devout Christian, hoped her readers would draw parallels between Nagano's self-sacrifice and that of her Savior, Christ's, but there is also something quintessentially Japanese about the sacrificial spirit that caused Nagano to trade his life for the lives of his fellow passengers.
As workers battle catastrophe at stricken nuclear power plants spewing toxins into the environment which will not only spread to the nation's capital of Tokyo but also across the Pacific Ocean and into the United States, a nation and the world's well-being may rest on the work of a handful of modern-day Nobuo Nagano's, willing to sacrifice their lives in order to save the lives of countless others.