Saturday, March 19, 2011

After a week

Hello family and friends! Greetings from Osaka, the most fun place in Japan. It’s also blissfully far from radiation and aftershocks. We decided to come here for 2 nights before we head to Korea for a pre-planned 10 day trip. It’s been just the thing. Yesterday we got off the bus, checked into our hostel, went to Spaworld and then met some friends for dinner. After that an adorable hostess wearing bunny ears pointed us to an Irish pub full of foreigners (reverse culture shock moment!). We did meet a family who left Tokyo a few days ago because there’s no food there in the stores and they didn’t want to be caught in the rush if everyone starts leaving.

So, here’s the update. We know about as much as you do. We watch the Japanese news in English and read Kyodo news, BBC, CNN, etc. We can check the radiation levels in Nagano on a site that we Google-translate to English. There have been a record amount of aftershocks and we’ve definitely felt some of them. As for the nuclear reactor situation, it’s starting to seem like it’s not going to be resolved easily or quickly. It might be a tense situation for weeks or months as they continue to cool the reactors. Our plan is to go back to our house in Nagano when we get back from Korea and continue to watch the situation and check the radiation levels like everyone else. We did bring all our money, documents and backed up our other computer in case we can’t go back for a while. However, it seems like it will just be an ongoing sticky situation with only minimal effects for people in our area. We are really happy and lucky that we have electricity, water, etc as many others do not right now. There is a limit on how much gas people can buy. Also, there were some things missing in the grocery store when we went a few days ago (instant ramen, toilet paper, water, etc.). We may experience some inconvenience in the coming weeks but nothing compared to what they’re dealing with in the eastern part of the country.

Last week was a very confusing and tense time. People from home were hearing over inflated news about the situation. Meanwhile, it was business as usual in Nagano. We finished out our school year with closing ceremony, graduation ceremony and teachers’ party. Our Japanese colleagues seemed cool as cucumbers. However, towards the end of the week those we talked to individually did seem worried. Some of John’s teachers in Matsumoto were planning on sending their kids to Osaka after school was finished. It seemed kind of eerie that everyone was so calm and seemingly nonplussed, but it’s also really comforting and soothing that no one is riled up. We’ve been remarking on how the reaction would likely be much more extreme in the US. We wish there were a middle ground between Californians buying iodine tablets and the subdued response of the Japanese. What’s clear is we all have a lot to learn about radiation, what a safe level is, how it gets and stays in our systems and the effects. One of the most informative explanations of the Fukushima Daiichi situation can be found at The Guardian. Also, you might want to read the Wikipedia "sievert" page here.

To us, in a situation like this, there seem to be two things at play: the actual reality of the situation and the perception of the situation. It’s critical for the Japanese news to be judicious in the information they give, as they can’t have 30 million simultaneously fleeing Tokyo. Thankfully, from our perspective, Japanese people are conscious of the larger good. They are willing to use less gas and electricity, haven’t hoarded food as much as those in other cultures might and are mobilizing to send assistance to impacted parts of the country. At our community center, where we teach a weekly English class, the whole first floor was full of boxes packed and ready to send to the Sendai area.

We are really grateful for everyone’s concern for Japan and us. The Japanese are admirably resilient and we feel a kinship with them and their country after living here for almost 14 months now. The workers at the nuclear reactor are true heroes, putting their life at risk for all of us here. If you are able, please consider donating to one of the many aid organizations working at feeding and housing those affected by the earthquake and tsunami. We ended up donating to Shelterbox but Oxfam Japan, Salvation Army, Red Cross and many others are also options.

We’re planning to be back in Japan on the 29th. Until then we hope to relax and a bit and not check the news as incessantly as we have been. Thanks again to you all for your concern. We’ll keep you updated.

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