Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nuclear Free

Regular readers will be pleased to discover that in the last week I have neither lost all my hair, nor become infertile, nor grown a third eye.


The particles of radiation in the atmosphere that I am breathing seem to have either drifted South or been safely dispersed in the clouds of hot air being simultaneously expelled from the gaping maws of the myriad international media organizations getting their jollies out of using words like "apocalypse", "Chernobyl" and "melt-down" in the same breath as the name of the country in which I currently reside.

It makes me crabby. Hype is Not Helpful. Hype is scary. Fear stemming from the publicised problems at nuclear plants do not need to be exacerbated by sensationalized scare-mongering. Nor do poisonous editorials pointing the finger at the Japanese tendency to downplay local errors do any good to anyone.

A tsunami, an earthquake and a cooling failure all happening in quick succession is enough alert even the most mild-mannered Japanese person to potential problems. No one turns a blind eye to the spectacle of 2000 dead bodies washing up on beaches. We felt it ok? We watched the lights sway. We get it.

Many of my friends have come under immense pressure from family and friends to evacuate Japan, notwithstanding residency a safe distance from the disaster zone. Many have caved and departed, and to those people, I say, good on you. If you have the means to escape, and are genuinely fearful, then there is no point in cowering in your cupboard until people cease prophesying your death by acid rain. Terror is no fun at all.

For Japanese people, however, escape is not an option. Not only are many people bound by family, and jobs, and finances, and contracts, but the Japanese persona finds strength in perseverance. They're not stupid. They know that their government is capable of evasion and fallacy. They know firsthand the devastating effects of nuclear activity. But they also know that Japan is their country, their homeland and their heart. It's all well and good for a foreigner - this is a stepping stone, a pause, a vacation. If something goes wrong, then there are other avenues, less seismically-active avenues, to pursue. But for those born and raised in Japan, Japan is where they will die. Whether it be at 80 years old in their own beds, or beneath a pile of rubble tomorrow.

Last week I had my first enkai (party) for my school. It was held in a small, authentic, sushi restaurant in Susukino. All members of the English faculty were there, folded up neatly on the tatami mats. It was shameful to witness that I was the least flexible person in a room where the median age must have been upwards of 45. There was no mention of The Big Three, only poignant leaving speeches through mouthfuls of raw fish. There was emphatic drinking and farewells and fondness, but no allusions to death and suffering.

Near the close of the party, one teacher engaged me in conversation, which led inevitably to the earthquake. He asked if my family were worried - I affirmed that they were, though well-informed enough not to be giving into panic. He asked if I wanted to leave Japan - I responded that I did not, though if the situation got worse, I would consider it. He was understanding at the same time as being totally unswayed by my arguments. His English was not as good as some, and he took pains to try and convey to me the way he felt about events further south, his emotions and desires and reactions.

He said - "I feel like my heart is being... pulled".

He said "Japanese people... don't run away. We rebuild. We will... build it again".

He said "I am not scared".

He said "Japanese people don't.. show. Demonstrate? Demonstrate. We don't demonstrate. We do". He nodded his head. "We do". And looked away, ending the conversation, taking another mouthful of beer.


  1. Ok. But don't forget that that IF things do go wrong, Coriolis means that New Zealand is safe. Coriolis forces are the greatest.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. You're amazing. I love wise, rational and self-aware Scarlett. Japan suits you well. X