I am sure many people will share my feeling, that it’s hard to believe that already one year has gone by since our near dooms day here in Japan. A year ago today our world was turned upside down at around 14:46 in the afternoon when Japan was hit by its first M9 quake on the Richter scale. Half an hour later something even worse happened, the tsunami, which then caused the sadly famous nuclear meltdown disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which had withstood the quake, but not the 14 meter high tsunami that hit it.
If it had just been the quake, things wouldn’t actually have been that bad. Sure, a few buildings collapsed and a 1000 people or so would have lost their lives I presume, but the consequences would never have been so devastating if there had been no tsunami. In total about 19,000 people lost their lives. I guess more or less every paper in the western world and any TV station will write something, show something about Japan’s triple disaster of 2011, so I will leave the official line now and rather write something personal.
How do I feel one year on? Pretty much normal under the circumstances, except for the fact that I have become a bit hysterical about the building I work in. To have felt it swaying at a felt magnitude of “5 strong” on the Japanese “felt intensity” scale was no fun at all and every time it shakes now a little bit, which still happens some, one, two, three times a week, I am getting heart throbbing. I am pretty un-phased anywhere else, though that is probably naive, but I don’t mind being at home or outside or wherever when it shakes, only the company building freaks me out. Guess that is because I was there when it happened and because I have this underlying fear that the building will collapse if anything stronger than a felt “5 strong” hits us in Tokyo one day. The fine cracks in the building’s stairwell have been plastered over and my trust in that building is gone. I don’t know if my fears that it will collapse when something worse than “5 strong” hits us are justified but the fear sits deep and I don’t like it to be in that building when it shakes.
As mentioned before it shakes on an average of two times per week and this is amazing proof that you can live with a lot of earthquakes. We had more than 5000 all over the Japanese islands since the big one. It’s not pleasant and there is always the fear that it gets worse, but under felt magnitude 4 nothing even falls and in principle you can shrug a quake like that off and that is what we all do. Even felt magnitude 5 is not really bad, it’s scary but usually nobody gets hurt. It’s the big one that we all fear that is said to hit Tokyo one day. Sitting on the edge of a tectonic plate there is no doubt that a big quake will happen again: the question is when not if. There are a lot of predictions, panic etc. going on as to when that will be. Many a scientist is calculating through earthquake prediction models but so far they have all proven to be bogus.
I thought about leaving to Japan to go somewhere else, but where? There are frequent earthquakes along the entire ring of fire from my beloved New Zealand over Indonesia, Taiwan, to my beloved Japan, and across the entire coast line of Northern and South America. There are earthquakes in China in Turkey and Italy and so forth. I don’t exactly feel a desire to live in the Saharan desert… hey, India doesn’t have many earthquakes, I have never been to India yet, maybe I should travel there and see if I like it. The essence of that is: it ain’t safe anywhere in the world and I’d rather live in fear of quakes than in fear of being shot or raped as I would have to fear in many other parts of the planet.
Now, do I think about Fukushima? Much less than about earthquakes, not at all really. Radiation in Tokyo is less than in Berlin, haha! I drink tab water. I do not avoid produce from Fukushima prefecture. I am not seeking it out, but when there is no other choice, so what. I feel very sorry for the people who have been uprooted by the nuclear disaster. There are many ghost towns now around the power plant.
Japan is a first world country after all and meanwhile everybody who lost his or her home lives in makeshift houses etc. and does not have to starve. At the moment people in the northern areas of Japan are suffering worst from joblessness. Many companies, especially in the fishing industry have gone out of business with their facilities being swept away by the tsunami. I saw a statistics recently: out of 4600 businesses in the tsunami affected area still about 1500 have not resumed operations. Gambling (pachinko) and drinking are major problems in the north now, because people don’t know what to do with their time.
Towns that have been wiped of the map are contemplating whether to rebuild, there are talks about rebuilding on higher ground = in the mountains. But Japanese mountains are young and steep and it would be a major undertaking and have a lot of environmental impact to ablate some of these mountains to rebuild towns. As for the area around the power plant… that land is dead for the next thirty years or so. Nobody died from the radiation and I don’t think anybody will, but nevertheless many many lives have been destroyed by the nuclear disaster.
So, I just changed jobs within the company and that means I have committed myself to another at least two years in Japan. I don’t know what will happen after that. One advantage of my new job is that I am traveling a lot = the time I spend in the company building gets reduced, I like that!
The atmosphere in the company has eased too. Many expats have left and did not return, some returned for a short while but tried hard to get assignments elsewhere and are gone now, but some new “brave” expats have arrived too and the Japanese colleagues are friendly and forgiving and say stuff like, well, agreed, the Japanese expats fled New York after 9/11 too.
All in all life has long returned back to normal for the people outside the tsunami and nuclear power plant disaster area and I hope it’ll stay that way for a while and I hope the lives of the people in the affected areas will also get better soon.
I wish you well, Japan, and a few peaceful years ahead.