Our hearts are all with the Japanese today, after the terrible earthquake there.

But, having covered the 1995 Kobe earthquake (which killed more than 6,000 people), I have to add: Watch Japan in the coming days and weeks, and I bet we can also learn some lessons.

It's not that Japan's government handles earthquakes particularly well. But the Japanese people themselves were truly noble in their perseverance.

There's a common Japanese word, "gaman," that doesn't really have an English equivalent, but is something like "toughing it out."

That's what the people of Kobe did, with courage and common purpose.

Japan's orderliness and civility often impressed me during my years living there. After the Kobe quake, I looked all over for a case of looting, or violent jostling over rescue supplies.

Finally, I was delighted to find a store owner who told me that he'd been robbed by two men.

I asked him: And were you surprised that fellow Japanese would take advantage of a natural disaster and turn to crime?

He looked surprised and responded: Who said anything about Japanese? They were foreigners.

Uncomplaining, collective resilience is steeped into the Japanese soul. Indeed, it might be better if Japanese complained a bit more -- perhaps then their politicians would be more responsive.

Japan's perseverance will be on display in the coming days.

My hunch is that the Japanese will, by and large, work together -- something of a contrast to the polarization and bickering and dog-eat-dog model of politics now on display from Wisconsin to Washington.

Our hearts go out to Japan, our deepest sympathy for the tragic quake. But also, our admiration.

Nicholas Kristof is a New York Times columnist.