Here are my thoughts in the aftermath of the 2011 Sendai Earthquake in Japan, my home and adopted land.
Thank you for your kind words of support during this difficult time.
Life has slowly started to return to normal here. We have decided to re-open our school on Tuesday, March 22. (Monday is a national holiday.) We believe that the situation with the nuclear power plant is well under control and that since we are 170km from the reactors, we are not in the danger zone anyway.
A lot of you have been asking me about ways that you might help with the situation in Japan right now. One thing that you could help me with right now is getting the word out to your friends and families that what you are seeing and hearing on the news is NOT THE SAME as what is actually happening here. Due to language barriers (not many English speakers understand Japanese) and the time difference, many news reports that are being broadcast abroad are not only old, but grossly inaccurate. There was no time when this problem with the reactors looked like Chernobyl. We are not facing Armageddon and the total destruction of an entire country. I wish that I had’ve thought to take regular videos of what was going on and posted them to my blog so my friends and family could see the phenomenal and inspiring resilience of the Japanese people throughout this entire ordeal. Not only do they keep their heads cool, but they also fail to complain about being asked to sacrifice even more (for example when we were all asked to turn off our heaters last night despite the cold in order to conserve energy and avoid a massive, unplanned blackout). Do they mention that on CNN?
The reason that this is a problem is because the foreign media have been fear-mongering rather than reporting, and they are actually making things worse rather than better. Because of their lazy researching and failure to comprehend the full story, they have scared several countries/embassies into issuing “flee orders” to their citizens. You might think that it was a good idea for the embassies to do so, but the problem was that the timing was all wrong. The embassies issued the order AFTER the brunt of the crisis was over and people were starting to rebuild their lives. This had the effect of making countless able-bodied people flee the country, rather than come together and work on the difficult, but important, task of rebuilding.
I would also like to clarify that we are getting a great deal of detailed information here about the reactors and the other problems that Japan is facing. The foreign media is accusing the Japanese government of hiding information, but the problem is not with the Japanese government hiding information, it’s with the foreign media, not being fluent in Japanese, not UNDERSTANDING the information. This is an important distinction and one that I hope the media take some time to reflect on in the future. For example, in the past few days, I have personally located near real-time hourly radiation level updates on probably two dozen different sites in and around Fukushima. Did I have to badger the government to get this information? NO. I downloaded it from the internet. All the information anyone would want to see, out in the public, for everyone to download, free of charge. Uh huh. Either the Japanese government has fundamentally misunderstood the rules of hide and seek, or maybe there is a different reason why Mr. Joe Reporter didn’t get that monitoring data. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that our Mr. Joe here doesn’t even SPEAK the language of the country that he is reporting on.
Japan is a sovereign, first-world nation that is very capable of handling itself with decorum and dignity in a crisis. It has its own experts and its own capacity to pull itself up by its bootstraps and face down a problem. The world community needs to respect that. If your own country were facing a disaster on the scale of this one, would you want your leaders to spend all their time explaining their actions one-by-one IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE to people in other countries? Or would you, perhaps, prefer it if the other countries kept their opinions to themselves and offered their support and aid rather than rhetoric and vitriol?
I would just like to speak a bit more about the scale of this disaster. On the morning of Friday, March 11, Japan was a country like any other you might visit, with people going to and from work and making plans to hang out with their friends on the weekend. By evening, however it no longer remotely resembled the nation that it was earlier in the day. Whole systems such as public and private transportation, public utilities (water, gas, electricity), and the entire commercial and industrial sector were in turmoil. The earthquake that kicked off the show was larger than any other earthquakes that have hit Japan in living memory. The catastrophic tsunami that followed caused the kind of wide-scale and total destruction that you would find hard to look at in a movie, let alone face in real life. In the days that have followed, while Japanese people are struggling to regain their former lives, the country faces serious power shortages, water and food shortages, and gas shortages. Add to that the threat of a nuclear explosion.
No, really, add it all up.
9.0 earthquake + tsunami + Level 4 nuclear accident + gas shortages + food and water shortages + power failures + total stoppage of trains + total blocking of roads and highways + large, dangerous aftershocks that continue to grumble a week later + economic instability = ???
Now ask yourself how your country’s government would handle this situation. Do you believe that your country could do a better job of of keeping 127 million people safe and secure under those conditions? Would they do the right thing and make the right decisions every step of the way?
No, they would not.
And would it help if other countries, whose languages and cultures were different enough from yours to make communication difficult, decided to pick that time to argue about how the country handled any ONE of those crises?
No, it would not.
And, for my final act, I would like to ask you, have you seen any scenes of looting and violence in the aftermath of all of this destruction?
No, you have not.
The reason that things are already going so well in Japan now (and YES, they are), despite the continuing aftershocks, despite the threat of a nuclear accident, despite the shortages, is because Japanese citizens are honest, hard-working, principled, intelligent, and above all resilient people. And their government tends to be the same.
So before you turn on the TV and stare in morbid fascination at the latest picture of horror and destruction being repeated on an incessant loop on CNN, please ask yourself how that is helping you and your fellow countrymen be a part of the solution, rather than a part of the problem.
I would like to end this little outburst by asking you to consider the original question.
How can you help the people of Japan right now?
Think about what I have said and how much of this was told to you in your 3 minute “news report” on the situation in Japan. If you feel that you maybe didn’t get the whole picture, perhaps you would like to consider more carefully who, indeed, might be responsible for “hiding information”.