Thanks to everyone for your kind emails and posts on my Facebook page. My prefecture, Fukui, wasn’t hit by the tsunamis and suffered no damage from the quakes, so my wife’s family and I are safe. I’ve spoken with my friends out east and they are all okay as well, though their towns are in much worse shape than mine, with no train service, broken streets, and rolling blackouts scheduled indefinitely as they try to make up for the loss of some very important nuclear power plants.
When the 9.0 quake hit, I was working at home and felt a slight wiggle which gradually grew bigger into a gentle rocking. It took a bit to realize that it was in fact an earthquake, but I could feel it wasn’t so strong, so I wasn’t worried. It lasted for about a minute, with gentle, almost relaxing rocking that didn’t cause any damage; and then I remembered that the last time I felt a rocking like that was during a really bad earthquake in Niigata which cause a lot of damage. I knew this one had to be far away and strong as well, so I turned on the news (and opened up Facebook) and basically left the TV on for the next 48 hours.
Watching the live footage come in was really very surreal. It’s one thing to see pictures of destruction and watch clips from far away, but its a strange feeling to watch them unfold live. But I was really impressed with the way the initial news crews handled everything — broadcasting live from violently shaking newsrooms, wearing hardhats and holding on to their desks as lights swing around above them and shelves collapse all around them, all the while calmly telling viewers to find cover. (The initial shake lasted a few minutes, but aftershocks continued for the whole day, and still continue now, so over there the country really hasn’t stopped shaking yet.) After the big quake stopped, the tsunami warning system kicked in, and the screen was soon covered with city names and the precise minute the tsunami would hit the town — and to think the GOP targeted tsunami warning systems for cutting back home — and a system of live cameras on the beaches as well as helicopter crews captured everything on tape.
The quake didn’t seem so bad, as it didn’t seem to level any towns, but when the tsunami hit, that perception vanished entirely. The waves look almost peaceful, like the ocean yawning and climbing up a few feet, absorbing a town like an amoeba, and then sucking everything back to sea, leaving nothing behind. It all played out in slow motion, but the truth is it happened so fast. I looked away from the TV to type a single message on Facebook, and when I looked back the water level had risen from a few inches above sea level to 30 feet, and it was depositing boats on top of buildings, flinging cars (with people inside of them) about, and picking houses up, residents and all, and taking them out to see. It was unimaginably horrible. I’m sure you’ve all seen the videos by now so I don’t need to go into detail.
The whole time I have been really impressed by the organization of the country. There is no looting going on, no taking advantage of people. The news is trying its best to present facts rather than speculation (which is more than I can say for the Western press, which is shamefully exaggerating numbers and reports to make everything seem more apocalyptic than it is — and then cutting right to commercial) and the government’s response has been quick and unequivocal. Moreover, everyone in Japan is coming together over this, and finding a sense of national pride and hope in a country that is generally so pessimistic it makes Eeyore look manic.
As you know, Japan is a rich country and is much better prepared to deal with this than Haiti was during that terrible disaster. However, being rich doesn’t necessarily mean having the resources to deal with everything. Countless houses were destroyed and thousands are dead or missing, and many thousands more now in refugee homes. Japan has no land for these people to go to, meaning that they will be living in crowded schools with about 2 square meters per person for the foreseeable future, and with no electricity in that area for a long time, as the power plants have been destroyed. So as rich as they are, that means no refrigerators, no heating (it’s still snowing out there), no toilet paper, no drinking water, no sewers, no supermarkets, and right now there are no roads to bring that stuff in from the outside. People are working round the clock to help, but it is pretty dire. The Red Cross is accepting donations, and even though Japan is a rich country, people still desperately need help — even a few dollars can buy a lot of toilet paper.
I know a lot of you are keeping Japan in your hearts and your prayers, but you can do a lot more by opening your wallets than by folding your hands.