while the international media get caught up in the high drama of a nuclear catastrophe, things remain very bad in the quake hit area, the extent of which is only increasing as the situation develops and relief efforts are stretched. i recently returned from living in Japan for two years. i was based in Osaka, far from the the disaster zone (the Chinese government moved their embassy from Tokyo to the consulate-general there a couple of days ago). my friends, including the ones in tokyo, remain safe. the real tragedy is happening on the ground in the north east.
i thought it might be useful to share some voices and experiences from people living in Japan. these are from my friends on facebook and the kine-japan japanese cinema list, which i’ve been subscribed to for many years. there are some interesting thoughts and observations here on how people are responding on the ground in relation to the international media coverage. i won’t paste any pictures here, but my friend alex who also lived in Japan has a picture blog here with images taken by jesse ortiz, aika ortiz and erwin ortiz who have been working in the disaster zone.
if anyone i’ve quoted here sees this and has a problem with me using their words, let me know and i’ll remove them, but i hope it’s a useful exercise. comments at the bottom, if anyone else has voices to share.
“I just wanted to say that things are really horrifying and devastating in the northern regions which are affected directly by the earthquake and tsunami, but in Tokyo things are basically fine and normal given the present impeding circumstances. Of course, one can make oneself panicked by fearing about a possible nuclear power plant disaster like Chernobyl, or another big earthquake but most Japanese are calmly watching the situation, praying for the people working hard in directly dealing with the situation, those who themselves or their families are affected by the earthquake. Many foreigners who live in Tokyo have fled from Tokyo to safer areas, which is totally understandable, but makes me feel a little distant.
It took me a week to actually take a look at this mailing list. It’s just the way it is when one is experiencing a disaster like this, and I am not even affected, unlike those who have to live in the shelters with shortage of food, heat in the snowy cold weather, fear of radiation disaster, on top of everything, let alone having instantly deprived of their homes and loved ones… All they have is nothing but debts or mortgage of a house or a tractor that no longer exists or whatever they lost. But still many of them appreciate concerns and thoughts from people all over the world.” [ayako saito, tokyo, kine-japan, 17/03/11]
“My boss is stoic beyond belief – she just re-entered the building after a few minutes and when I came back an hour later, she was just sat in front of her computer clicking away, debris all around as if nothing had happened! … Well the epicentre was Miyagi prefecture up noth I think, so my boss has dismissed it as nothing at all! I honestly though I was going to die under that table – although I feel like I have bonded with my co-worker!” [nancy roberts, tokyo, 11/03/11 day of the quake]
“As someone who has been in Tokyo since August (currently in Kyoto to have a bit of a break from the aftershocks), I can say a few things.
1. The nuclear power plant story is being ridiculously sensationalized in the American media. Article after article and expert after expert have declared that there is absolutely no danger to anyone outside the immediate vicinity of the plant, and yet the major news outlets ignore these stories and continue to vamp up the fear. Worse, they do this at the expense of reporting on the real crisis, which is the 400,000 + people in the northeast who have limited food, water, and shelter and are already dying as a result.
2. Many people have made the decision to leave–at least temporarily–for a variety of reasons. Aftershocks were constant for the first 24 hours after the quake, and they continue even now. I personally have not slept much at all for the past week–partially because of the stress of the aftershocks, and partially because I have been dealing with frantic, panicked family members who were horrified that I hadn’t fled the city. I also worried about blackouts as my only heater is electric, it’s getting very cold, and kerosene / space heaters are completely sold out. I’ve left for a few days to get some sleep and try to re-group, but I plan to return. The bottom line is that even if there is no danger from the power plant, there are plenty of other reasons why people might choose to leave. And given the changing nature of the power plant situation and the huge amount of conflicting information available, I can understand why some people would be concerned enough to leave.
3. Regarding film archives and screenings–for the most part it’s business as usual in Tokyo. The scheduled blackouts have been avoided so far because people are doing a great job of conserving energy. Some universities have postponed classes and some smaller companies have shut down to allow their employees to spend time with their families, but most places are up and running. Very few Japanese are leaving the city (the shinkansen were crowded today as I headed for Kyoto, but Monday is a national holiday, so that’s not too surprising). If regular blackouts become a necessity this will of course impact daily life considerably, but for now other than slightly reduced train service, a gasoline shortage, and shortages of items like bread, milk, and rice (really just the result of over-buying, not an actual shortage), Tokyo seems pretty normal to me. I provide informal updates about the situation on the ground and links to helpful articles at http://gradland.wordpress.com. [lindsay nelson, kine-japan, 17/03/11]
“Dear all, please do not worry about me as I am miles away from the tragic destruction that has been caused by the earthquake and tsunami. I remain perfectly safe, but completely grief stricken about the tragedy that is unfolding here. I cannot thank you enough for your love and thoughts; I’m channeling them all where they are needed most: northern Japan, we’re thinking of you.” [roxanne borowska, shiga, 12/03/11 - day after quake]
“Although as one writing from the Kyoto/Osaka part of Japan that is distant from the immediate events, it is still possible to say a few things about what is going on here. At Kansai Gaidai there are nearly 400 students from around the world that are in some turmoil as pressures to return home from often poorly informed governments, parents, and so on who are often insisting on their immediate return regardless of the comparatively low risks faced by this area. Combing the web and foreign newspapers and comparing them with Japanese it is amazing to see the Orientalizing attitudes toward Japan and people in Japan, ranging from some French commentators referring to the reactor workers as “kamikaze” to impressions that people in Japan are unifed dupes of their government’s misinformation and that governments around the world are some how so much better informed and deeply thoughtful than anything going on here in Japan. Of course, the round the clock all-channels coverage going on here within Japan contains its fair share of absurdities both from official and unofficial sources. Yet patient looking around at the newspapers, TV and net sources also provides a lot of good information and viewpoints. It is tiring/distressing to see so many major foreign news sources spouting that they have the real information only to find them even confusing which reactor is which and garbling up other aspects. This is leading to a kind of hysteria that is the opposite of what is needed. People here seem to be going about their lives calmly while trying to sort through the news and events – it is often the Westerners that are going around with glazed eyes due to their reading of foreign accounts or the reverse – exhausted from long hours of email and skype conversations trying to calm down the anxieties of friends and relatives who are convinced that only by being outside of Japan can you know the “truth” of what is going on inside.” [paul berry, kine-japan, 17/03/11]
“Sometimes, it is difficult to respond so spontaneously.
The more implicated you are in the situation in Japan, it’s difficult to translate the feelings into critical writing.
Remember how long it took for leftist Americans to be able to start writing about 9/11 without feeling like you’re risking your
posiition, or alienating the masses.
If Kine-Japan has been silent, I’d take that as a sign of just how much “implicated” people feel in the crisis.
Perhaps it is now time to use our critical faculty to start challenging the worrying trend of “ethical” totalitarianism (perhaps it is enough to mention the cruelty of turning the inhumane work condition of the Tepco workers into humanist “heroic” stories), but I’d say it is a political choice to determine the right time to launch this.
a confused thought, no doubt, but I needed to posit this anti-intellectual response.” [shota ogawa, kine-japan, 17/03/11]
“Anyway we are aiding stuff till not delivered to victim. It seems than can’t deliver for disaster area. The foods are going corruption and people are starvation because of hunger. Its impossible to help victim at disaster area really messy and nothing life line. And that have nuclear happens. Everyone confuse everything bollixing.witch way is best? Must think best way and manage… We can’t go there if will go only make more happens and nuisance . I hope aid from garments and It will be quickly and soon.” [kazumi masutani, osaka, 17/03/11]
“I hope everyone can life of ordinary early [fast].” [shoko yamada 12/3/11 - day after quake]