One of my good friends from college began taking Japanese language lessons more than a decade ago. He then up and moved to Japan and has lived there ever since. He sent around this email last night, which I am posting with his permission:
Update and Musings
my father suggested i write to everyone who might be interested to know what was happening in japan when i left, and when [my father] suggests his boys do something, well, he usually means it.
first, thank you for your kind inquiries after my health. i am fine and have taken refuge in our family’s hometown, ye olde village of hingham, massachusetts.
taken refuge from what, you may ask. allow me to break it down for you using my experience as my only (and subjective) point of reference.
things in tokyo were as orderly as they could be, but there was a distinct sense that things were close to becoming out of control in terms of the nuclear power plant and in terms of day to day life.
i should say that i don’t know of a single building in tokyo that fell down due to the quake. we were spared the devastation one sees in the news.
as far as the fukushima plant goes, of the 4 reactors 3 were active at the time of the earthquake/tsunami. at the time i left, they had to cool down all three formerly active reactors but had just one pump to get cooling liquid inside. at one point, the man with the task of making sure the fuel in this pump doesn’t run out left his post to do something else and, sure enough, the pump ran out of fuel and the rods were exposed. then the pool of water at the fourth reactor, which hadn’t been a problem at the outset, caught fire. then the power company started saying they were going to reduce the number of workers at the plant, which the prime minister encouraged them to avoid.
i have total sympathy for the delicate nature of what the workers at the plant are doing, but it wasn’t a confidence inspiring situation.
meanwhile, life in tokyo was unpredictable. stores ran out of basic items such as bottled water, milk, eggs, bread, rice, toilet paper, paper towels, and so on. gas stations ran out of gasoline. the power company was not able to provide as much electricity as before and rolling blackouts were put into effect for the cities surrounding tokyo (but not in tokyo proper). the times for these blackouts changed from day to day and region to region and conflicting information was given. for example, tepco (tokyo electric power company): “power in area x will be shut off from 6:00 to 10:00.” 6 o’clock rolls around and the power is on. people in area x: “we thought you were going to turn off the power in our area and we closed our shops and businesses because of this.” tepco: “people have been effective at reducing their power consumption so we had more power than we expected and thought you would rather have your power than not.” people: (throw up hands). furthermore, trains and subways were running fewer trains a day and some had service canceled altogether. train cancellations were mostly due to rolling blackouts. in order to conserve power, shops everywhere turned only half their lights on, which created a strange bleakness. in summary, day to day life was not impossible but unpredictable and more challenging.
allow me to say a word about the quality of the news coming from japan. personally i felt the japanese news was fairly informative and forthcoming about the situation at the power plant. it lacked much of the wild speculation common in western news.
there is a wide gulf forming a language barrier between japanese and english. i don’t believe japan is being willfully deceptive in the way it is presenting information right now. japanese is by nature an imprecise and prevaricating language. certainly this situation calls for precision, particularly with radiation from the power plant posing a risk to other countries as well. however, i think people who expect japan to suddenly change its language/culture to respond to a demand for a western style of presenting information will be disappointed.
ultimately, i hope my decision to leave tokyo will prove to have been totally unnecessary.
i hope this all makes sense.
Names were removed to protect the innocent. And, can I just say that my friend has impeccable grammar? Well, I just did.
Love you, buddy!
[cross-posted here at Angry Black Lady Chronicles]