Soma city in Fukushima prefecture was my home for two years in my early twenties. It is, what is left of it, just south of Sendai. Friends I have managed to contact are alive, stoic, and commendably Japanese. I’m still hopeful about others, but I taught literally thousands of children there, some of them from Minami-Soma, which was completely levelled.
This is an email from there:
Thank you Danny ! My family is OK, and my friends too. Of course I received severe damage in my shop. But the building does not fall down, my house too – We can live.
This earthquake is the bigest in the world – Magnitude 9.0. The size that nobody can imagine – Once in 1000 year?
Some friend lost their house by Tsunami-over 10m. Yurie lost her house. Tsunami came west of Nityu (daini-tyugattukou) - I saw big fisherman’s boat on the road near Nityu. Near beach, houses were broken and move in Soma, Isobe to Sinchi – Nothing.
Big damaged district is this earthquake from IWAKI (south of Fukushima ken) to Aomori-ken about 400Km, The buildings close to the shore are same as Soma – In a range of 400km Everything. Nothing.
Now over 2000 people died, more people disappearance – It is certain that 12,000 dead people are as above. Also The staff cannot control two nuclear power plants of Tomioka, and an evacuation order is given to the person within a radius of 20km.
However My family and friend are OK ! My family can use both the water and the electricity. There is the food, too. Please don’t worry. Thank you again – ARIGATO
I may not use the Internet again
The Japanese are well prepared for hardship. Living on a thin strip of land between mountains and the sea, with freezing winters and boiling summers, and with yearly typhoons, sporadic earthquakes and occasional tsunamis, they are the most robust and collectively effective people on the planet. The psychological response has been overwhelmingly optimistic. These are some comments from a chat with a Tokyo friend on Facebook:
I’m starting to notice that. What is most important. care each other and keep positive thought…
It’s nothing special but not easy.Japanese mind started change now. The world is going to become a better place. it’s start from Japan
I can’t help but think that is true, but what form could it take? A wave of anti-nuclear sentiment sweeping the world, forcing a more organic energy policy?
Here’s some bitter sweet twitter tweets, translated from Japanese:
At the supermarket: I just came back safely from the supermarket! Man, I was so touched at how everyone there was mindful of others, buying only as much as they needed and leaving the rest for the people behind them.
Gotenba traffic: Japan is really something! Yesterday, not a single traffic light was functioning in Gotenba City. But drivers knew to take turns at intersections and give way to others when needed. Local people were using flags to direct traffic at intersections. I drove for 9 hours but never saw a single car trying to get in front of another. Every single driver on the road contributed to the traffic situation and as a result there was no confusion at all.
Saving electricity for the North: I went to my neighborhood supermarket and was initially surprised that their neon signs were off. They usually are open till 1AM. I then found out that they were open, but were saving electricity so that more power could be channeled to the hard-hit coastal areas. Wow! More here
A Junior High School I taught at is a refuge. The bridge that was opened with great ceremony when lived there overlooks a wasteland.
Apart from the obvious apocalyptic connotations of disastrous quakes in Christchurch and Sendai within a month of each other, there is something apocalyptic in the fact that I could get news from both streaming national stations and individual friends through Facebook. An apocalypse is when the hidden is revealed, and certainly finding lost people is easier in the age of social networks. I was in touch with friends in Christchurch immediately after both earthquakes.
Soma didn’t have many sights besides the city shrine and a half-finished Buddha carved into a hill, so visitors were usually treated to Japanese icons of weirdness. These were mostly vending machines, selling eggs or lettuce or other commodities, and then there was the crab-shaped toilet (o-kani toire) by the sea.
O-kani toire used to look like this:
Now it looks like this:
Oh! crustacean convenience,
Standing square towards the raging Pacific.
Pincers poised, defiant
Until the very last.
In life much greater than the whale-shaped shower
In memory, a megalith of convenient crab-shaped architecture.
Impermanence! The destiny of all!
Convenience! The virtue of the exalted!
But scant are the forms in this passing world which merit
Gone! But forever etched in the hearts of those who sought your convenience
And found it resplendent in red and white.
Even when the sea was closed, O-kani toi-reh was open.
Gone but not forgotten
Oh! Excellent decapod of my youth
Oh! beloved convenience of the far East.
The sea really was closed for part of the year, with a knee-high chord symbolically removed as spring arrived. That still baffles me, but the general orderliness of the Japanese makes a lot more sense now, in the face of this disater, the stoic and grim discipline, the calm self-sacrifice. When our own collapse comes, are we going to be anything like as orderly? Or will we tear each other to shreds?
My English friends in Tokyo are staying put, I think my Soma friends have survived, and it is difficult to know what to think about the radioactivity, given the amount of claim and counter-claim. Japan soldiers on. I almost wish I was there, my possessions lost and radioactive clouds gathering, amongst the most evolved people on the planet. In Japan they don’t loot during a disaster, they clean up. Back here in Brazil yesterday, someone stole my sugar cane juice when I left it for a minute on a step which looked perfectly safe and sturdy to me.
I’m a bit shaken by it all, to tell the truth, and went completely batshit crazy the other day. The target was a fairly old and rather stupid acquaintance. His behaviour, which was just par-for-the-course pig-headed insensitivity for him, sent me into a rage. I was actually trembling with anger as I abused him.
Partly, I think I had trouble dealing with the fact that this guy should live whilst thousands of more thoughtful souls should drown or be crushed. But more importantly, life is very short, and I needn’t waste any of the limited number of breaths I have left sharing air with such useless hunks of flesh. He did often give me lifts, and his son is a fairly close family friend, so perhaps it is only reasonable that I be civil. But a lot of what seems reasonable suddenly appears false in the glaring light of mortality.
Is completely losing my rag and my manners the right way to remember my orderly and self-controlled Japanese friends? Perhaps not the best reaction, but at least it was honest. In the certainty of our impending doom, it is good to take note of what really is genuinely important, and ditch what is just clutter.