How Can I Help Japan Recover from This?

Here are my thoughts in the aftermath of the 2011 Sendai Earthquake in Japan, my home and adopted land.

Hello everyone,

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”.

22 thoughts on “How Can I Help Japan Recover from This?

  1. Jenny Hodgkinson

    Thanks for that Shaney, an informative and realistic insight into what is REALLY happening over there. Take care….

    Jen (Di’s cousin)
    In Oz……

  2. Karen Baker

    Well said………

  3. Barbara Tong

    Dear Shaney
    Tx for speaking up and speaking out. I so agree with you and I want to assure you that Japan as a nation has earned so much respect from every sensible-minded person in the world. Yes I agree and resent those who are doing the fear-mongering – the US experts who are supposed to help but instead turn to the media and give dreadful catastrophic “assessments” ….

    I hope and will pray that your country will rebound quickly. I have confidence that it will because its people are so united.

    Good luck and god bless you.

  4. Tracey Taylor

    I wish every one in japan the best and if possible everyone read this blog posted by a high school friend who is living thru this and staying remarkably calm and informative! Good luck Shaney and keep us posted!!!

  5. Mairi

    That’s my girl!
    I also think that because the victims are not whinging and moaning, on camera, about how they didn’t deserve this, the western over-the-top media has very little footage of human drama to use. I would imagine that when CNN or CBC tries to get interviews, the Japanese people just say, “Too busy right now, I’m not interested, but thank you for stopping by to check on us.” That doesn’t make for good TV like looting and rioting!

  6. Jutta Museus

    A very frank posting, but one I totally understand!
    My thoughts about Japan and Japanese people – dignity, discipline, strength, respect!
    I admire the people for how they have handled this, you did not see all that whining and demanding as we have seen on disasters here in the past. I do not know how I myself would handle a horrible event like this, I just hope I would have half the dignity and courage!
    Thank you for your thoughts and info!
    I will continue to pray for recovery and healing!
    Jutta Museus

  7. It’s so good to hear from someone there how things are really going. It is terrifying, especially to those who have no experience with even a mild earthquake, to think of what would happen to our lives with such a natural disaster. So to hear that people are already moving on, opening schools even, is good to hear. You’re right though, the news IS fear-mongering and sensationalist these days. Add that to the language barrier and it is hard to get a true picture of what is happening.

    My heart goes out to the people and families whose lives have been so disrupted, and particularly those who have lost loved ones.

  8. Geoffoo

    Great post, Shaney — way to go!

  9. Gail McKellar

    Well said Shaney, well said!

  10. Crystal

    Wonderfully said Shaney!! Would you mind if I shared this and a picture of you with a local newspaper if they are willing to reprint it? I think it is a message that everyone here needs to hear!

  11. Francie

    Thanks for putting it all into perspective Shaney. I can just imagine that CNN is blowing things out of proportion for shock value. Here in Italy, things are being reported in a more realistic way. I think a lot of Italians have utmost respect for Japanese resilience and admire a government who works hard to protect and restore its society (Italians can only dream of having the same kind of representation).
    I hope that some kind of normalcy returns soon. I can’t even imagine how all the blackouts and food shortages (on top of the other factors) are affecting familes, especially children.
    I remember you from Canada (do you remember me, Crystal’s friend?) I’m happy that people like you are in Japan to help set records straight against what you describe as misinformation by people who freely report on things that they don’t completely understand due to language and cultural barriers.
    All the best and I’ll be sure to pass this message on to people I know to increase awareness about how things actually stand in Japan.

  12. Rev. Arlene Phelan

    Hello Shaney,
    A friend gave me the link so that I could read your blog. Thank you so much for posting it. I hope you sent your comments to the commentators whose information you posted here. I turn off and do not listen to them or write to them stating as you have. The news reports I listen to describe the people of Japan with honor and the greatest respect that you do.

    Somewhere there must be an English speaking person who also speaks Japanese and understands the culture to bring us truth.

    Why the majority of us are viewing the television is that we may offer our prayers. When we see the pictures, it helps us to be in compassion and remember throughout the day, that above all, we pray. I lived through the San Francisco earthquake and my daughter worked at the Marina. We know that we were very lucky and the terror we felt for months and years. We know that when we cannot send food and other help that is needed in so many communities, right away and we are thankful to see other countries in the world who do send this help. We send our love and support.
    Most sincerely, Rev. Phelan

  13. Lola

    I think some of what you wrote is a bit harsh. I think your heart is in the right place and you are very loyal and feel strongly but it comes across a teeny bit like a lecture or tonque lashing. We’re all on the same side:):)
    Morbid fascination is not what I have when I am watching the news. I am trying to stay informed (As much as one can with journalism as no matter what country or issue at hand, the media does distort and sensationalize and so this is not new with the Japan situation). I am not morbidly fascinated. Rather I am sad, shocked, have tears at times and them I am fascinated at the strength and human character of the Japanese people and you too Shaney:)
    I agree with what you say about information and misinformation. People must seek out all forms of information and go forward and make decisions based on what they feel is true and right.
    Yes, things are going very well in Japan. It’s the Japanese nature, the culture and for that, the people of Japan should be proud.

  14. Rachel

    That was a wonderful summary, thank you

  15. Lika

    Dear Shaney, thank for everything you are doing. it is extremly important for all of us. I just admire you.

  16. Thank you for this post. I am proud former resident of Kitakyushu City. In the midst of my grief and worry for Japan, I have been very bothered by the absurd criticisms I hear coming from television pundits playing the role of armchair quarterbacks. How anyone can second guess the work of those trying to deal with the aftermath of 9.0 earthquake, major tsunami and possible nuclear meltdown is beyond me. When the appropriate time arrives, I hope to be able to return to Japan and help with the actual rebuilding efforts. Take care.

  17. Rowena Cullen

    It was great to get your perspective on the situation in Japan Shaney, I agree with you about the approach of the international news media, and the reaction in some other countries to the nuclear event. It would be great to get a better picture of how people are getting on and coping in the worst hit areas. Some very touching images have come through of families being reunited, and acts of heroism among ordinary people organising themselves for a long period of surviving, and then rebuilding.

    In New Zealand we have just come through the recent severe earthquake in Christchurch, following which I’ve been in regular contact with friends and family, and some of my students in Christchurch, I’ve become aware that not only have people been making extraordinary efforts in their communities to start the recovery process, helping in their neighbourhoods and wherever they can while they wait to find out if their houses and all their personal belongings can be salvaged, and whether they still have a job. But also it is clear that aid money is necessary to assist the recovery because it can be instantly used to help, and that while governments have to follow their own procedures for assessing need, and allocating resources, Red Cross and Save the Children etc. are on the ground with food and cash to allow people to cope on a day by day basis. And they’ll be there long term. I wish I’d heard more about that on the internationa/national news in recent days.

    Meanwhile, I am also really pleased to hear that you’re in good spirits, and undaunted in facing the tasks ahead. You are someone who really does know how to make a difference.

    Please carry on keeping us informed about the situation.

  18. Shaney

    Thank you all for taking the time to respond to my article. I agree that it is a bit harsh. I wrote this on the first day that we started seeing some real success with the efforts to get the nuclear power plant under control. I actually meant to write a blog post about my experiences to that point, but instead this is what came out. It’s funny how sometimes you start writing and when you get to the end of your stream of consciousness, you are nowhere near your original goal, but you have taken yourself on a journey through the pockets of your mind. The harshness of my comments reflects the anger that I felt when I realized that, despite the fact that everyone in Japan was breathing a huge sigh of relief, the rest of the world was not there with us to share in our long-awaited moment of comfort. If the system of reporting were (1) based on fact, (2) meant to inform rather than entertain, and (3) able to be done in a more timely way, we all could have come together in that moment to celebrate the successes of humanity. I am a member of a Facebook group for the people of my city ( and we are all watching the press conferences in Japanese and translating them for the people who cannot understand them, or who cannot be there to watch them. This is helping to keep people informed. I wish we could change the way reporting happens so that the primary goal really was to inform, not just to entertain and attract.

  19. Christine Mallmann

    I think I do not really understand the anger in the article probably because I’m following the German News which are modest und try to express facts. It’s always said how much dignity and attitude of Japanese people are admired and how calm and sensitive Japan tries to find solutions to a catastrophe which has never been seen before and to which no one has the perfect answer right away. On the other hand, it is good to see that people feel close together and offer help all over the world. It makes me sad to think that this situation is the source of anger and hate.

  20. Junko Shimura

    Well said!
    Thanks am proud of you remaining in Tsukuba and telling the truth of Japan. Best wishes.

  21. Marina

    Dear Shaney,
    That was a wonderful report, I never listen to the media as I do know most of the time, their reporting is way different to what the reality is.
    For now, my prayers go out to all the people in the affected areas and I hope that they will be able to cope with their loss as well as rebuild their beloved country.

  22. Brian

    Well said Shaney. I fully agree. I also think that some of the foreign reporting has been useful to layout the facts and analyses that Japanese media are sometimes reluctant to do. Sometimes the forign media reports are factual and incisive…but the foreign readership hyperbolizes the interpretation anyway.
    In any case you are absolutely right, and everyone outside should try harder to offer support rather than criticism. We all prefer to hear “gambaro” rather than “gambare”

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