And life goes on.
It's weird to think how little time has passed. When you consider that there have been hundreds of quakes, multiple tsunami, several fires, and the threat of nuclear meltdown, when I think of how little sleep I've had and how much time I've spent on the phone, e-mailing, on Twitter, and glued to local news broadcasts, struggling through rapid-fire, specific vocabulary in my third language — well, it's amazing to think it hasn't been much over 36 hours.
I've been following some of the US and UK media off and on, and I have to say, I'm horrified. I see things like "Panic and desperation grip Japan", shot after shot of destruction, multiple experts nodding gravely and saying things like "the next Chernobyl", and hopelessly exaggerated death counts. I see nothing of hope, nor the resilience of the Japanese spirit that I've seen in person.
I don't live in an area that was affected by the quakes or any of the aftermath, but I have friends who do. These people saw an outpouring of support unlike anything I've ever seen before — shops opened their doors and offered free food and drinks to the displaced; all public payphones in affected areas became free of charge; home phone company NTT revoked charges for any calls made to or from the affected areas; myriad universities and hotels offered free space to anyone who needed it. Despite multiple banks, supermarkets, or convenience stores being smashed open by the quakes, there has not been one verified incident of looting or thievery.
The Japanese government has been broadcasting support and the importance of harmony, fellowship, and lack of panic. While other countries revel in the destruction, showing the same clips of the waves sweeping over Fukushima, the Japanese media focuses on little things: an elderly couple in Souma-shi, getting airlifted from their house, isolated on a mud flat in the midst of nothing but water; students from an elementary school, who fled to the second floor during the flooding, returned to their parents; people being pulled, alive and unharmed, from rubbish, and handed hot drinks and blankets by bystanders.
When news broke of the radiation leakage and the explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, I expected the televisions to be splashed with infographics of the potential fallout, showing kill zones and decay zones. But nothing happened. Instead, a Japanese official held up a diagram of the reactor's coolant system, explained how it was failing, and what they were doing to allay the damage.
In fact, the focus on rebuilding and rescue, the lack of sensationalism and destruction-porn has been so intense that it's made me, a foreigner, a little twitchy.
I wanted to know what the damage would be; I wanted to know if I was in danger, if I should be planning an escape, if I should be blocking all vents and door cracks with wet towels or rushing for the airport. Around me, the Internet teemed with speculation. But the Japanese government and media refused to join in, only speaking once experts had determined the actual situation. (Spoiler: we're fine.)
It was an upsetting experience for me; I relied on friends in other countries to supply me with information from the BBC (which seems to be the only news outlet not engaging in insanity) so I could at least have something to go on, only to find it negated several times. My panic was exponential compared to what it would have been if I were Japanese, calmly waiting to hear the results — which, in the end, were not worrisome at all, compared with what I put myself through.
I'm not Japanese. I will still seek as many information sources as I can, even if I am running myself ragged and sleeping very little. I don't think I can help it. But there's something to be said for the Japanese ability to take anything and keep going; for the distaste for panic and destruction that so permeates journalism back home.
Today I went out to lunch, and life was as normal here in Kansai as it could possibly be. People laughed and chatted; the televisions in the supermarket played advertisements, not the news; no one stood in street corners shouting doom and gloom predictions. At first I was shocked and a little horrified — why were they ignoring the horrible destruction that was happening to their countrymen? — but then I realized. Why should they panic? People here in Kansai have sent their support — money, supplies, trucks, shelters, phone lines — and that's all they can do. Creating a national sense of fear and panic won't make the tsunami stop, and won't keep the nuclear plant from a meltdown. So these people have decided their role is to keep Japan moving, to keep the national spirit up, to wait for news rather than manufacture it themselves.
I don't fully understand it, and I spent the day entirely frustrated as what I saw to be a lack of information. In my most panicked, cynical moments I thought it a testament to Japan's over-reliance on 'tatemae', that is, putting appearances before all else for the sake of public harmony. But the more I think about it, the more I turn on the television and see families reuniting, the more I think maybe they know something we don't.