It’s been a couple of days since the big aftershock and quite some time since I last updated what’s been going on for me personally over here. Despite it being far from normal I am getting accustomed to life ‘after the quake’ (thanks Haruki Murakami!). Some supplies like water, batteries, instant foods, etc are still hard to come by but what has shocked me the most recently is the lack of 500 ml bottles of Coca Cola. You know that something major must have happened if Coca Cola can’t get its product out. I can understand a shortage of water, but cola?
I’ve also received some care packages from kindly folk abroad. Shortly after the big quake work received some boxes from one of the companies we deal with in Korea. What was inside? Cartons of Korean instant ramen.
How bizarre life has become. I’m not a ramen fan, nor a fan of instant foods but these sure came in handy. I also received a flashlight from a good friend in Canada after I sent out a plea for one because there were none available here.
With TEPCO’s inability to produce a solid schedule for the blackouts we have no choice but to wait until the day before to verify if one will take place. This means that our work schedule is rather loose and we must wait for confirmation about the next day’s power before knowing what hours we will work. It’s a nuisance. With the weather getting warmer less electricity is being consumed so we are spared from extreme cases of odd work hours but we still are a far cry from the monday to friday, 9 to 6 life we were enjoying before all this happened. It does look like TEPCO will suspend the blackouts, at least until the summer, so perhaps we can get back to a routine with a feeling of normalcy to it.
I return home, more often than not quite tired, and turn on the television to get an update on the situation at Fukushima, however solid information is less than forthcoming and is a source of frustration for everyone. Japanese companies are known to keep thing hush-hush until they no longer are able to do so and then they schedule a news conference where the boss gets up and gives his most heartfelt apologies and they all bow deeply while hundreds of flashbulbs go off. The first time I saw this, shortly after moving here, I found it rather humorous but didn’t realize at the time how often things like this take place. It was alarming how many companies were apologizing. Companies who were selling beef from one area of the country labeled as coming from elsewhere to command higher prices, bakeries using ingredients that were past their due dates, companies that were selling components that could be used to assemble weapons to other countries. Each time the CEO calls the actions regrettable and apologizes with the perfunctory 申し訳御座いません (there’s no excuse). Of course there’s an excuse. You wanted to make more money even at the expense of someone else.
We have now received the news conference apology from TEPCO and their business practices are starting to come to light (highlighted in a recent New York Times article). TEPCO says it will compensate those affected, however it’s understood that they don’t have the financial wherewithal to do so and the government is going to end up doing most of the compensating. There’s talk of nationalizing TEPCO, meaning the government will be in control of it. Shouldn’t something like Nuclear Power be controlled by government and not a private company in the first place?
Back to the news, I was watching it two nights ago when the earthquake warning came on. It’s quite an impressive system. A chime will sound and a map of Japan will show on the screen with the area expected to be affected highlighted in yellow. Normally the highlighted part is one small area or a prefecture or two, but this time, the whole northern half of Honshu (Japan’s main island) was yellow. The warning stated a strong earthquake was on the way and to get somewhere safe. Not ten seconds later the house lurched heavily in one direction and I promptly grabbed my phone and closed my laptop and made my way to a door frame. The earthquake, just like the Great One, actually picked up in intensity about half way through and, standing in the door frame watching the pictures shake on the walls, I could feel the house rolling around on its foundation. Finally it finished and the television changed from the earthquake warning to the tsunami warning. The whole eastern coastline of Kanto and Tohoku was flashing, warning a tsunami was on the way and for everyone in those areas to get to high ground. ‘Not again’ I thought.
Fortunately, there was no tsunami. Ironically, areas that lost power and water from the March 11th earthquake were just getting those services restored when this one hit and knocked them out again. Thousands of people just wanting to get on with their lives but being unable to do so.
With the Fukushima situation somewhat stabilizing, or at least bad news if any being withheld, television news programs are starting to focus again on the thousands of evacuees now scattered around Kanto and further. One thing that I find touching is a series that NHK is running in which they go around to the various schools, community centers, where evacuees are sheltering and give the people there a chance to be on camera and send a message to loved ones. The messages are always emotional, from very happy “don’t worry we lost our house and car and everything but are alive” to people breaking down while trying to speak. I even saw an older man telling his boss that he was sorry he hadn’t come into work. I almost cried at that one for some reason.
I will say this, though. People often talk about Japan as a very xenophobic society, and that is definitely true, there is no escaping that, but because of this when a disaster of this scale occurs, everyone chips in and helps each other out. They are all one. People around the country are volunteering to go to the devastated areas and help with the restoration. Entire towns are offering to take on evacuees from other towns and make sure they can get back into life. Celebrities are out on the streets with donation boxes in their hands asking for money, even sending things like automobiles and thousands of toothbrush kits to evacuation centers. As an outside observer it is really an inspiring thing, yet completely foreign sometimes.
As of now there are 12,985 people confirmed dead. I see that number on television and have to read it twice then approach it from various angles in my head to comprehend it. On top of that there are 14,809 people officially listed as missing however this number is said to be very low. There are municipalities that were completely wiped out who haven’t even reported in to the government how many people could be gone. It’s staggering to me. Perhaps the biggest event I will experience in my short, unimportant life, and I feel sometimes like the world has forgotten about it. I go to CNN.com and scan the page for the word Japan and each time it seems to be farther from the top, like this news is being washed away like a whole section of this country has been.
The cherry blossoms started blooming this week and for a country that views Sakura (桜) as a symbol of life it could not have come at a more appropriate time. The cold grip of winter has loosened and life, however fragile and fleeting, starts up again. And that’s how it is in Japan now.