It has been a long week. Thank you to everyone who posted over the last week, I really appreciate it. It is now Sunday night, 9 days after the Tohoku earthquake. The earthquake caused a tsunami which pounded the coast of Tohoku, the region north of Tokyo. It destroyed ports, towns, cars, homes, and took an unknown number of lives. They are still counting the dead, still looking for the dead. The images which flooded the internet and the television look like a warzone.
In Tokyo, however, people have been somewhat distracted from the horror of the earthquake and tsunami's effects by the malfunctioning of the Fukushima I nuclear power plant. Located conveniently next to the ocean, its systems malfunctioned after a pounding by the tsunami, leading to a nuclear accident and frantic attempts to get the plant back under control. The first explosions took place on the day after the earthquake, and the situation deteriorated from there. Much has been written about the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and their less than stunning track record, and there has been a lot of criticism in the press of the government.
The thing that has really annoyed me, however, was the media. The situation is of course very bad. Reactor buildings exploding and increased radiation levels are generally not a good thing. But the media loves a good story, of course. And "the world is ending" is a much better story than "this is a problematic situation of limited scope that a lot of people are working hard to fix". I can't really talk directly about the nuclear situation, as I was not there, but I can talk about the situation in Tokyo.
Everyone was of course shaken up, both literally and figuratively, by the earthquake and its aftershocks, and by the news of what had happened in Tohoku. Then when the Fukushima plant became an issue in the days after the quake everyone started worrying about that. The French and Germans were the first to leave en masse, with their embassies advising their people to leave.
Over the next few days a number of other countries changed their advice and suggested that their citizens leave. Some countries, such as the US and UK, organized flights for their citizens out. Many people took to their heels and headed across to western Japan to await the worst. There were food shortages resulting from hoarding and power shortages that reduced lighting and train services. But the world didn't end. Media from all over the world, eager to scream and shout, were more than happy to find the most scared or paranoid person they could, interview them, and then broadcast their rantings as fact.
This led people overseas with family in Japan to freak out and demand that those living in Japan leave or go to another part of Japan before the nuclear plant blew up and spread radiation all over Tokyo, ushering in the end of the world as we know it. The scientists generally seemed to be saying that even in the worst case scenario Tokyo would be fine. But for the most part the media beat up the story as much as they could, creating an environment of fear that led some to flee. They didn't flee totally without reason, of course.
Last night I was in Shibuya for a goodbye party. Incidentally, this was for a planned departure, not for a "I'm freaking out and jumping on the first plane home" departure. It was a bit dimmer than usual, with some lights off to conserve power, and the huge screens over the Hachiko crossing not blasting J-pop for once. But the streets were still pretty crowded with young people in crazy clothes and odd hairstyles. The restaurants were still open. The convenience stores, like the supermarkets, are not quite as well stocked as usual, but they are far from empty.
The paranoia seems to be subsiding somewhat. I'm not sure if FDR was 100% correct when he said that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself", but he was definitely onto something. The worst appears to be over. I might be wrong, but I think from now things will gradually get back to normal, and the long slow task of rebuilding will begin. I am fortunate in that I don't know anyone who was killed or injured, but a lot of people have not been as fortunate. It definitely helps put things into perspective.