Gaijin Gunpla

Two weeks after the quake,and one week after I said goodbye to my family, things are starting to fall into what could be called a normal routine, although it is far from the normal that I would prefer. Instead of worrying every minute about the Fukushima Reactor I’m lucky now to write about some little triumphs in my life. For one, bread.

I’m a 36 year old man who is writing about how happy it makes him to find bread to eat. It’s amazing when you think about it. But when your life is flipped upside down, the little things become big things and more important, such as the highways being opened. With the highways opened everyone waited for one thing, gasoline. Line ups were forming at gas stations, sometimes a day ahead of when they would open. In some cases people were lining up at gas stations even though they didn’t know for sure if they would be open that day. One frustrating episode last week saw me get off work at 3 pm whereupon I headed immediately to a gas station in the hopes they might be open. The long line indicated they were so I took my spot and waited. Fifteen minutes later a gas station attendant appeared and hung a sign on a vehicle four cars ahead of me in the line. The sign, crudely written in marker, stated simply “Gas finished”. That car would be the last of the lucky ones and the remainder of us left the line and headed in different directions to try our luck elsewhere. I would have no luck that day.

The next day I took an early break at work in order to do a circuit and check out the local stations. There was a line forming at one that hadn’t yet opened so I pulled in there and waited. A short time later an employee of the station came and informed each car in line that they were just making preparations to open and to wait patiently. Success! I had 3,000 yen in my wallet which I intended to use all on gas if necessary. When it came to be my turn I pulled in and started pumping gas in my car. The gas flow cut off when I was at 2,790 yen, but I was determined to get as much gas in my car as I could so I babied the last 210 yen worth of gas into the tank and left completely full. With gas now at 149 yen a liter, 210 yen was less than a liter and a half.

With my personal gas dilemma solved, for the time being, I had to think about how to replace that last 3,000 yen in my wallet. The situation with gas is improving, but still not adequate, so I thought it best to always keep small bills in my wallet allowing me to get gas any where at any time. However, since the earthquake, the bank where my pay is deposited has had their automated teller machines out of service. I cannot access my money. Fortunately, the news stated that the bank planned to have everything fixed soon.

Until the gas situation resolves itself I am being very careful to use my limited fuel efficiently, which means I can’t go really go anywhere other than work and back again and have to drive the most fuel-efficient speed possible. Apparently, I am not alone in this thinking as the pace on the highway has slowed down altogether, like a record being played on the wrong speed setting. For my vehicle, the most efficient speed seems to be just under 80 km/h and for a guy who averages about 105 km/h on that highway this is dreadful. It takes me that much longer to get to work, somewhere I don’t really want to go sometimes, and seemingly it takes forever to get home, somewhere I really want to be. Ironically, though I say I really want to be home, there’s not really a reason for me to be there other than to sleep in my own bed. With the rolling blackouts I will get off work early and return to a home that has no power. I drop off my bags and go for a walk somewhere until I notice the streetlights come back on. This is my signal that I can return home and, with the little time in the day left, do something for myself but I don’t really feel like doing anything.

Sure Japan has changed massively in the last two weeks. People seem to be even more introverted than before, if that is even possible. I have noticed changes in myself as well. For one, I feel rushed now. I feel I need to do what I’m doing right away, that it needs to be taken care of immediately in case something happens preventing its completion. Another change I noticed just last week is that I don’t listen to music anymore. Before the disaster, every day on my way to and from work I would have my ipod hooked up to my car stereo and I would be listening and singing along to a whole variety of music. I wore my ipod on the train and when I was walking around. Music has always been in my life, in the background always, and sometimes brought to the forefront by myself or people close to me. Now I just drive in silence. When I realized this I plugged my ipod back into the car stereo when I left work but was pulling off the highway just finishing the commute when I realized that, although I was listening to the music, I wasn’t hearing it. I had driven the entire way without taking any of it in. I don’t bother to turn on music anymore.

I am caught in the middle of something I am unable to describe adequately. Fortunately, I wasn’t caught directly by the earthquake or tsunami, and still have a house and home to call my own and a workplace to which I go to pay for it all. However, I am not unaffected. Lack of food, water, electricity, and gasoline has made my life completely different than what it was before. On the surface everything seems the same but the inner workings are far different. I will admit that it bothers me. A lot. But I also know that it makes me seems shallow and selfish. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost homes and family members and I get angry about not being able to turn on my electric blanket when I’m sleeping in my big bed in my own house.

But perhaps what is really bothering me is that I am missing out on an experience. I’ve been sleeping on people’s floors and working strange hours and haven’t yet been able to sit down and view the earthquake and tsunami, and the aftermath, with complete perspective. I feel the Fukushima Reactor problem has stolen the spotlight away from the earthquake and subsequent tsunami and that there is something there, intangible yet graspable, that I am not getting. When you consider a natural disaster it’s total and it’s complete. Nature acts and we bend and/or break. Man does what it can to face up to nature and wherever nature wins it can’t be helped and we sit back and mourn, re-evaluate, sit in awe of something we have always known was beyond our control, and move on. Man made problems aren’t cut and dry, and Fukushima is a huge example of that. At Fukushima, mother nature just highlighted problems made, and often ignored, by man. I want to be able to witness the awesome power of mother nature without being faced with the unavoidable shortcomings of man. But we don’t always get what we want.

The news is perhaps another example of this. We are no longer witnessing destruction but the coping in the aftermath. I don’t know which is worse. The television news crews are focusing more and more on the individuals involved in this disaster and it’s heartbreaking to have to watch, but I can’t ignore it. To turn away means to dehumanize them. It’s painful, but easy, to say that there are now over 10,000 dead. It’s a number, and for most of us unfathomable. I can deal with numbers. But when the news shows a man and woman returning every day to the school where their children were last seen at 2:46 pm, Friday March 11th, to look for them, I see the humanity, and the pain, and the anguish. And I notice that I don’t see tears. These people are too numb, too much in a state of shock, to shed tears. If I recall correctly, and with all the numbers being thrown at us I may make a mistake often, there were 115 children at that school when the earthquake struck. 77 of them have not yet been found. 77 sets of parents have to set out to find their child on their own or await word from local authorities and the worst part is that word may not ever come.

The world now watches to see what will happen with Fukushima and things there don’t seem to be getting better. Radiation in drinking water was found at the water plant in Kawaguchi, a city where I used to work, and Kanamachi, a city where I used to live. Advisories against eating vegetables produced in Chiba around Noda, Kashiwa, and Abiko, all places I have been to (I go to Noda twice a week for my martial arts training. Well, used to before the rolling blackouts robbed me of that) are bringing this nuclear ‘problem’ closer to home. I’m not worried enough yet to get out of here, although some friends and family members are worried enough for me to encourage me to hit the highway. The struggle with daily life causes you to focus inwards and I can see this happening in Japan. People are now focusing on trying to get their lives to some kind of manageable place and earthquakes, tsunami, and other problems take a back seat. I just hope this journey is a short one.

Categories: Life in Japan

8 Responses so far.

  1. Zeta Newtype says:

    Hope the journey is a short one indeed, Syd, may be a long road but I’m sure normality will return in time.

  2. ChroniK says:

    I’m sorry I haven’t been commenting on your posts about Japans disaster. I just can’t find the words to say anything really, all I can do is keep my mind distracted from it. Several times I’ve wanted to say something, but I just couldn’t. Japans always been a place I’ve wanted to go to, but now I’ve come to wonder
    “All the places I’ve wanted to go and see, but now have been wiped away.”, “All the people I could have met and enjoyed to talk too, are now gone.”, “A good portion of Japan is gone, Japan won’t be the same when I go.” and “Am I not experiencing what I should be experiencing?”

    I was hoping to go there as an exchange student someday or maybe when I save up enough money. I would be seeing a different Japan then the one everyone else saw, would it be the same of different I question. I guess I can’t really saw for sure, since I haven’t been there yet ^^;. All I could say, is that I wish I could enjoy Japan in its entirety, when I go there, I will be sure to cherish whats left.

    My prayers go out to you Syd your family and the people of Japan.

  3. Krelik says:

    I hope things in japan get sorted out soon. But I think this tragedy did scar people emotionally. I just hope those emotions can be overcome in the future.

  4. Evan says:

    Hang in there Syd. It’s funny but even though I live on the other side of the world I haven’t had any real drive to do gunpla since the earthquake. Is it related? Maybe, maybe not. Hard to say really. Point is that even though I’ve never been to Japan, I cant help but feel for all those people whose lives have been affected.
    And even here in Wisconsin there are effects. One of my crew was supposed to have been heading to Japan for study abroad this week…but with Fukushima and all it seems my alma mater nixed the whole thing…bummer for him. And speaking of the nuke plant, I agree, the news coverage has been dominated by that lately. My thoughts are with those brave souls trying to get the situation under control, but there is only so much repetitive coverage you can watch on CNN…It is a serious situation but there is so much more that is going on…
    I hope things get back to normal or at least something close to it soon enough…and that you can be reunited with your family asap. In the meantime, I’ve found there’s nothing like a good book and a scotch or brandy to make one take leave of the real world for a bit. Started reading Musashi last week, and I am hooked…

  5. Busterbeam says:

    i feel for you man. thanks for writing these. its good to hear a personal story about this stuff to help make it all seem more real.

  6. saotome says:

    hang in there syd!! everyone is with you! i have faith in japan that she and her people will pull through this and emerge even stronger!! 😀 😀

  7. Dingo says:

    Just a couple of more days (I hope). Please keep your strength together.

  8. sonar says:

    Your accounts are captivating reads that I would think would also be cathartic to write.. Please keep sharing your experience with us all for as long as you feel comfortable in doing it. I hope it is therapeautic to do it. Be reassured that there are those of us out here who want you to feel like you’re not alone, though you may feel a bit isolated.

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