The best way, honestly, if you are sick of watching the news or if you don't trust CNN (and you should not trust CNN because they over-dramatize everything - Japan's "earthquake tsunami nuclear catastrophe" is no exception) is to take a look at my facebook page. You will see my own status posts along with my friends in Japan and their messages or status posts, and you can see how people are doing, what their main concerns are, and what kind of information they are passing to each other. Many are linking to good blog articles, informative or interesting news articles, or useful websites. A lot of people are talking about how to get help to the victim shelters up north - where to send money or material donations. Right now, to be quite honest, many of us are very worried about them because there are 10s of thousands of people sitting in those shelters and frankly, there are not enough supplies to go around. They are asking other prefectures to send what they can, however, they are not asking Chiba or Tokyo.
Why? Because, we cannot get much of the same stuff here. If you go to your local stores at certain times of the day, you can sometimes get things like meat, bread, rice, etc. Paper products are also in short supply. What they need in the shelters is mostly food staples and paper products, even sanitary napkins for women and diapers for babies. There was a blizzard there on Friday and into the night. It was cold here too, but no snow. Everyone is trying to conserve energy right now, so we can't use our heaters much at all, or warm our bath water, so no baths, just short, showers. It is not much of a sacrifice when you think about how much people are suffering up north - from loss, shock, cold, etc. Even the businesses are using less electricity or shorter open times so as to conserve! It's amazing how much people down here are cooperating.
Yusuke's relatives in Miyagi, though all accounted for, called us last Thursday and said they are now out of food. They are living in their house still, but there is no where to buy anything. (And, we think we have problems down here....) I think his mom or Yusuke's sister Nanako will try to send something up there, but they are worried that mail trucks cannot get to that area.
So, some friends and family have been asking me if people are leaving in Japan in droves. First of all, please know that most people who are leaving are foreigners. Japanese people don't have anywhere to go abroad, and if they were to run away, they would go west or south of Japan. The foreigners leave for a variety of reasons. I know more than 30 foreigners who have already left and several more who plan to leave soon. Some are AFWJ members, others are JET teachers or English teachers. It is my understanding that they have a variety of reasons for leaving.
Possible Explanations for Leaving Temporarily
1. Some are leaving now because they were already preparing to leave Japan in the near future, and decided that perhaps leaving sooner than planned would be smart. In fact, two of those people were from the Fukushima area. They, in fact, left alone. Their husbands are staying behind with their Japanese parents, at least for now. I think their visas had not come through yet anyway.
2. Most, who leave, have every intention of returning soon, either because they think things will calm down and return to normal in a few weeks or because they have to work. For teachers, we currently don't have classes, so it is easy to take vacation time right now. For people who are housewives or who can do their work from anywhere in the world, it is easy for them to take off. For still others, they were already planning to go on a spring trip somewhere, and the timing just happens to be right now.
3. Other reasons for leaving: People who have small children want to protect them from possible radiation poisoning because even small levels are not good for them. Though Chiba and Tokyo are in the clear now, some are afraid that the wind could change, the weather could change, etc. and then it would be too late. Same thing if they don't get control of that last reactor - if that blows, it would be too late. Panic would ensue and then we would never get out. This is an island country, with not many places to run to, and with such a short supply of gas and a high chance of traffic jams, you truly would be trapped here. But, by Friday, it looked like they were getting control of it and over the weekend, it definitely looked like that. I think that many young people left Japan for now simply because their families back home were screaming at them over the phone to leave and the pressure was getting at them.
4. The after-shocks continue and this is unnerving for many people. We have had a few earthquakes unrelated to the big one. It is psychologically affecting everyone here, putting many on edge. Japan has at least one earthquake per day, somewhere in the country. Usually, they are small, but these days, any size will have people pausing in their conversation and looking around for "hanging objects" that would normally not be moving, such as a light string, to see if there is an earthquake starting. Taking a break from that would be really nice, I think.
5. The biggest reason that people are leaving the Tokyo metro area may be because of lack of supplies (gas, food, water, etc.) and the blackouts are causing problems like some banks having to close their ATMs during certain hours. Luckily, my bank and ATMs are fine so far. The problem of not being able to get daily living supplies is very hard on us, and not being able to buy and send anything up north makes it that much worse. (But, let me just ask this: if you go to the USA and spend your days over-indulging yourself at Walmart and then come back to Japan in 2 weeks and find that not much has changed, have you really done yourself a service? You'll still have to get used to living with less, and perhaps baking your own bread once in a while!)
6. The stress that it causes for our husbands who have to worry about their wives at home in another city with the kids - there is always the chance that they can't get back home easily. I don't think this is a biggest reason though - most wives have learned to take care of themselves in the absence of husbands, who work a lot anyway.
But then there are many reasons for NOT leaving, and I will list some of them here. My main one, I decided, will be listed as #1.
1. I don't think 2 weeks abroad will change anything. I might get over the earthquake feeling I have every other minute, but at the same time, I'll be forced to talk about what happened, watch it unfold even more on CNN, and then have to prepare to come back here all the while worrying about my husband and his family, my friends, our home, my job, and all the things I was "going to do during spring break before the new school year starts." I'll still have to do all that stuff when I get back.
2. This huge earthquake happened in Tohoku area, which is north of us. Several years ago, you may remember a huge earthquake in Kobe, which is west of Tokyo (it seems south to me, but actually it is west). Another one, soon after I moved here happened in Niigata, a rural prefecture west of Tokyo. The Big Kanto Earthquake (Tokyo and surrounding areas) is predicted to happen sometime within the next 20 years. This earthquake, if it happens, will cause serious devastation to Japan. Because I was standing on the reclaimed land last Friday and saw the liquifaction take place right before my eyes, and then what I experienced when I picked up my kids at daycare (also on reclaimed land) and what happened at my school sports ground where I work only one block away, and on top of that, the ravaged land around my mother-in-laws apartment building, which happens to be in the same vicinity - all these things put together would be enough to scare anyone. BUT, there is more. Isobe, a neighborhood near mine, but bordering the Tokyo Bay, began sinking because of liquifaction and many of the houses began collapsing into their neighboring houses. My friend, Tiffany, had to evacuate her house and is now in a hotel with her kids while their family searches for a new place to live. Disneyland and Disney Sea are closed until further notice, but if you see the liquifaction that took place in their parking lot, you can only imagine what happened inside their parks - they may never recover from this. Nearby, in Urayasu, where several of my students and colleagues live, their houses - though still liveable, suffered a lot of damage too because of liquifaction. This liquifaction is dangerous stuff. I never believed anything about it until 3/11 when I saw what it could do in a matter of minutes. There would be no chance to run away if the epicenter of the earthquake were in fact in Kanto. Our apartment building borders the location where the beach used to be, so in some ways, we are safe and would only need to run across the big highway and up a hill - only after we have climbed down 12 flights of stairs with our dog and two kids and our emergency backpacks...which don't actually exist yet!
So, here is what I decided - stay in Japan, get used to living with less - whether that is temporary or permanent - it does not matter to me. I just want to see the North begin to rebuild and help their people as soon as possible, and if I can, I want to do something to help too. But, even MORE THAN THAT, I want to prepare myself and my family for a possible Kanto Earthquake in the future. This means that we need to have some serious talks about whether we should continue living in this area, move further west or south, leave Japan altogether, or move to an apartment on a lower floor. Many options to consider here, but what needs immediate attention, is building proper emergency backpack kits, preparing ourselves in other ways and deciding all that needs to be done. Meanwhile, trying to move on with our lives - bills still need to be paid, kids still need to get ready for their next year of daycare, preparations still need to be made for my next school year, my next grad school class starts officially today - there is a lot to do!
But, one thing that came of this disaster is that we became a team. We are in this together and we have to do what needs to be done to protect our children. I will post more later about how we plan to prepare for the future, as I think this is long enough, but please know that we are thankful for your thoughts and prayers. If you feel like you really want to help, donate to Red Cross or Doctors without Borders or any of the other amazing organizations who have come in to Japan to help the people up north. And, please don't worry about us for now. We are doing fine and we will get through this because we learned a lot and became stronger because of it.