So it’s been one full year since the earthquake and still not a day goes by without us thinking about it. Even being safe and sound here in Tokyo during the earthquake and seeing none of the carnage first hand, like most people in the capital I was glued to the news for the first days of the unfolding disaster. I remember walking home from work, helmet in hand in case of after shocks, while watching the news on my cell phone. As darkness fell truly shocking images came in from the port city of Kesennuma on fire from burning ships drifting in over the city drowned in the massive tsunami, and those images were massively more shocking than the earthquake itself for me personally. The days following the earthquake me and many other foreign bloggers fought hard to fight back the ridiculous news coming out of foreign news media. The bank of Japan pumped money into the market to stabilize a completely unrealistic stock market situation, the government of Japan had to route precious resources to calm citizens of Tokyo all the while leaving the people actually stuck in the disaster zone in a worse situation than what would have been necessary if foreign media hadn’t been busy milking the story for every penny it was worth. At the end of March I and a good friend decided enough was enough and we piled as much food and supplies as we could find into a small car and just went up there to see how bad it really was. We did it again in the first days of April, this time with a third friend and a much bigger van, raising a budget of about 8000 USD just by asking friends, friends of friends, and coworkers for donations. A few stores around Tokyo was asked to prepare our orders and we spent a whole evening gathering supplies as not one store had enough of what we needed (at this point there wasn’t any sort of rationing in Tokyo itself, as stores had had plenty of time to restock after the initial buying). From the places we had already visited we knew exactly what supplies they needed. Although we had planned a route of cities to visit we ran out of supplies early on. The farthest north we got on that second trip was to Kesennuma City, the place were those first shocking images were coming from less than three weeks earlier. I took these photos of burnt and damaged ships in the harbor, but up to a certain point the city was in essence destroyed.
Since the day I took these photos I haven’t been able to go back up north and see for myself how much has changed but several of my friends have made it a monthly ritual to spend a weekend work volunteering in the worst hit areas. It is a little surprising to me personally that it felt better to walk in the rubble and see it first hand than to see it on the news or in photos. The scariest part of going there was the journey home and the feeling that you aren’t actually doing enough to help. I still daydream of quitting my job and moving up there permanently, but I doubt that will ever happen. I know things have stabilized a lot in this year, but having seen the area both before and after the earthquake, I still think there are few places in any country as dynamic, as challenging and as interesting as the north of Japan right now. I hope I can visit soon again.
If you want to read my other posts on the earthquake, just go back to March 11, 2011, March 13 2011, and so on, through to April 2011. But much more than the blog posts themselves, the comments are what is interesting as dozens of people wrote words of support, commentary on what was going on, pitching questions, helping out and making sure me and everyone else in what almost felt like a little community (a Tokyobling community?!) for a couple of weeks. Seeing my posts twittered and mentioned on other blogs also really helped lift my spirits. Non mentioned and non forgotten, those comments helped a lot.
A few hours ago, as by a miracle, the heavy rains we’ve been having in Tokyo since yesterday evening stopped at exactly noon, just when the annual Aoyama International Festival was scheduled to start. As usual I wasn’t one to give up on an interesting festival just for a little rain, but even though I had an umbrella I was pretty much drenched just getting to the subway station. The festival started without any trouble at all, and although the crowds were pretty much nonexistent the traditional parade of different foreign and cultural groups took place as planned. One of the parading groups were the “Italians For Tohoku” who had the honor to represent Italy. I recognized Mr. Marco Staccioli (right on first picture, and last picture) who together with the group had done fantastic grassroots work to bring food and relief from the Italian community in Japan to the disaster ravaged North-east of Japan and especially the town of Rikuzen-Takata, the worst hit of them all. Thanks to private initiatives like this people like Mr. Staccioli and countless others all did their best and helped bring his two countries together, Italy and Japan. I haven’t seen anything about “Italians For Tohoku” in the news so I thought I’d do my best to bring them to public awareness. If you are Italian and reading this, please recommend the group and Mr. Staccioli for a medal or something, at least! It’s people like him, and all the others in his group that make me feel proud to be a foreigner in Japan! Italians For Tohoku, Grazie mille! You can read about their work here and here, and lots of photos and text in Japanese here.
Here’s a fun, free and educational thing to do in Tokyo right now: experience your own earthquake! In Akihabara the other day I saw this truck carrying an earthquake simulation room parked next to a busy street, offering free “rides” to experience different levels of earthquakes. If my memory is correct, it starts out at a level 3 and then goes up to 4 before hitting it’s maximum level of 7. It looks really fun and I guess most people in Tokyo have never experienced anything above a level 4, and at level 7 it is really shaking quite a bit even as a simulation. The heaviest earthquake I have ever experience personally was a level 5 which was quite scary even being outside and at ground level so I can only imagine anything stronger than that while indoors. Of course the company offering the experience is not altogether altruistic, there was also an interactive exhibit of how they retrofit older timber and stick framed buildings with modern techniques to make them earthquake proof. Being a building nut and having seen a few bad examples of how not to build I spent more time in that part of the exhibition. I wish more countries had trucks for public use like this. Japan is without a doubt one of the best places in the world when it comes to surviving an earthquake but as we have seen in Spain and New Zealand other countries need to raise awareness of this as well. The next time you’re in Akihabara, keep an eye out for this truck!
First of all let me apologize to all of you, and especially those of you who take the time to comment. I do not have time to reply to these at the moment. There might be a day in the far future where I can sit down and reply to all of your fantastic comments one by one. But trust me when I say that I read, and my friends read, all comments, and every comment counts. It makes our lives a little bit better.
It is the 18th of March, it’s now night time in Japan and it’s been a great day. Today was graduation day for most schools in Japan and the streets were full of kids in their finest school uniforms clutching flowers, posing in front of the school gates with their parents. I saw some children crying, because they were leaving the schools were they had spent 6, 9 or 12 years. It was emotional but happy. Even the police officers had their finest uniforms on and smiled at the happy scenes of proud children and their parents.
Also, the shops were full of produce, the trains were running, on time as usual. Tokyo was as clean as a whistle, for some reason even the litterbugs have stopped littering and the sanitation department is doing a great job as usual keeping our city spotless.
In Ikebukuro I saw a group of Chinese tourists busy shopping, all carrying huge bags and arguing about which shampoos would make the best souvenirs for friends back home. I think they were having a great time. I remember shopping in China when I was younger, and I sure had a great time.
But none of this made the news abroad, as usual. Foreign media keeps ignoring the real situation in Japan, both the good parts and the bad parts. In his speech to the nation Cabinet Secretary and national hero in the making, Yukio Edano said out loud what most people in Japan have been thinking since the initial trouble with the nuclear power plant became known:
“Our primary concern now is to help the people in the affected areas. The situation with the power plant is being monitored and handled by an international group consisting of the Japanese government, nuclear specialists, the US and Japanese militaries, the civil defense and the IAEA.”
This was earlier this morning, and I have talked about this press conference with a lot of people inside and outside Japan, both foreigners and Japanese and everyone, so far, agrees that he is completely right.
In the meantime life goes on in Tokyo and the rest of Japan. The sakura (cherry blossoms) trees are blooming and a huge groundswell support is sending tremendous amounts of food and supplies to the affected areas.
Instead, and quite to the disbelief of everyone in Japan, foreign governments have started calling foreigners away from Japan. Pressured no doubt by a public that is scared into an unnecessary state of panic due to the irresponsible, criminal behavior of international media. I won’t name and shame, but you all know who you are, shamelessly copying images of ruined buildings with headlines mentioning Tokyo with words like ghost town, panic, exodus.
Shame on you.
So while we don’t blame foreigners who are leaving the country, we realize that they are being pressured and scared into a state of panic by the media, their friends and families overseas. This media induced panic is not only criminal, it is also unnecessary, inhumane and expensive. People’s lives are being wrecked needlessly. People are leaving careers and homes because newspapers are scaring them into believing they are in danger. Levels of mental health are dropping rapidly in the foreign community and I meet many more foreigners in full blown depressions than I meet Japanese who suffer psychologically.
This has to stop. NOW. There is no other way to put it, hence I am asking you all, to contact your local news media when you find “incredible” news stories that just don’t make sense. Scrutinize pictures and headlines. Make sure they are true and relevant to the story they are illustrating. Don’t let the media get away with this assault on our friends and families. It’s time to fight back.
I have been on foreign news radio shows almost daily since this started, and no matter how many times I tell them they refuse to believe me. “You are at work? I thought Tokyo was evacuated! You’re eating out tonight? I thought there was no food in Japan!” And so on. And we all know what the real villains in the tabloids and TV news are doing: The Sun, CNN, even the BBC. So let’s contact them, one at a time, until they get the point. Send them to this blog, send them my photos. Tell them to contact me if they don’t believe you. I am open for interviews 24 hours. All days of the week.
In the coming few posts tonight I will show you photos that I took earlier today of this panicked ghost town they are talking of. It won’t be pretty. It won’t be easy. It will be boring. Tremendously boring photos of a city and a society in perfect working order.