3 Weeks after Quake

Don’t Drink

Sorry for my silence over the last week;

I even hesitate now and hesitated since the last update to provide any kind of report when, in fact, I am largely confused and in the glowing-dark too (so what isn’t new here?).

… and thirsty. Gosh, with the Order to avoid drinking tap water I am forced to rely on beer which drives my spouse crazy but keeps my friends / colleagues in stitches (I am funnier drunk, they tell me at the office, in court, etc.).

I share two terrific technologies with you. The first is a webpage that shows the occurrence of earthquakes in a variable time-sequence. Very cool and informative; click to see here.

The second I use in conjunction with the first; it is an app downloaded to my cell-phone and discovered when shopping last week for groceries Standing in a long line for the register, a lady two-people behind us said loud-enough to be heard and somewhat panicky “jishin ga kuru, kure yo!” (an earthquake is coming!). Twenty seconds later – sure enough – a strong jolt shook all the shelves surrounding us and send shivers throughout the entire packed store.

Earthquake technology is predictive and highly accurate within 10~40 seconds of a quake here in Japan. Sometimes the timing is off … and sometimes you only get a split-second-warning … but the magnitude and the foretelling are pretty amazing. The best part is the automatic buzz sent to your cell-phone with a text message announcing the seconds and magnitude of your hit. While unsettling and disruptive of sleep and normal daily activities, it is kind of nice to know when to dive-for-cover; click to see here, guidance to download to your iPhone.  So, if you are curious about what is rockin’ my world and maybe why I have grown suddenly, ummmm – “pensive”? … check-out the charts before sending me a joke or a link to some other site. Keep the invitations to refuge, however, coming; my daughter is still holding-out for a Bali invite.

The family here is fine. My daughter’s ninth grade restarts on Monday (tomorrow) and she is already moping. She will have 7 students in her class. She hasn’t even opened her backpack since trudging home two days after the big quake hit 17 days ago, apparently praying that part of Japan where her school is located will simply slide into the sea. Third son Kelly’s 12th grade classes resume Tuesday but he is more circumspect. Track & Field season will likely suffer and so the very real prospect of a running-scholarship diminishes. He figures he will take a year-off anyway so while thankful for a breather on college funds, I worry about what will become of him.

In fact, we worry about a lot these days: about food, water, air, my business, the future of our adopted homeland, the foodstock from the seas, my hair, etc. Fresh green vegetables are practically non-existent, milk & yogurt has disappeared, there is no bottled water, face-masks are innocuous, the electricity flows unevenly, the trains are packed.

The reactor situation continues to grow worse without a marked improvement in the flow of timely or reliable news. The instruction to not drink water four days ago from the central government was a cold slap of reality in the face, like a clumsily-aimed limp fish coming as it did. The very next day the reports of yellow rain throughout Tokyo were even more terrifying. While yellow rain actually happens seasonally due to the massive pollen from the now mature cedar trees planted throughout the Japanese archipelago 50 years ago, the timing was unwelcome and too suggestive. Thank god it wasn’t purple because I would lack the Pollen Excuse. And then faithful wife Akemi would force me back into jogging daily and lapping-up water directly from the nearby river (at least at home I have a pink Hello Kitty bowl).

It is still too early to pick-up and leave though many have done this. It is not that I just don’t have the wherewithal, our lives are here and the prospect of living off the land someplace else is too daunting – at least I am street-savy here. I would be lost in Atlanta, Denver, Florida, Costa Rica. Fluent in Japanese? No one would care. Tipping? I forgot how. Not bowing? I think it is an involuntary tick I have developed by now.

But Bali? THAT would be an entirely different matter.

Interestingly, there is a growing backlash among the Japanese against those who fled so quickly… meaning of course the foreigners on the big packages and hosted by the major companies who employ them here. In fact, a new word has come up recently that is even more derogatory than the normal term applied universally to foreign devils here – “gai-jin”.

The new word for those who left is “fly-jin”, a clever twist on the word by substituting the English word “fly” (as in fly-out) for “gai” which is translated in English as “foreign” (essentially translated as ”flight-person” vs. “foreign-person”). Many are predicting that, intercompany and elsewhere in other social circles, there will be increasing prejudice against these foreign managers / executives (as if anyone needed another excuse) from the rank-and-file, stay-put locals.

I can understand the sentiment as it is not directed just at foreigners; Executives, Management and in particular the political appointees (amakudari) within Tokyo Electric and within the massive nuclear industry here are under a microscope these days for the same reason.

There are in fact two focal areas in the news increasingly over the last several days and building in momentum: the horrific stories of near-escapes slowly filtering out from among eye-witness survivors, and the sloppy accounting, illegal payments, mismanagement of the events before and during the disasters… not just at the facilities in Fukushima but in the Parliament, the Tokyo Stock Exchange, in the Banks and within financial institutions, etc.

I guess some of these stories may eventually be sifted-out and circulated in English but even for me to address lightly, these are in the vernacular (Japanese) and are just too numerous, too local and maybe too layered with non-verbal cultural specific cues to escape the centrifugal force of purely-in-Japanese reporting.

At the same time, however, these stories are supplemented by good first-hand investigative reporting (clearly a watershed for budding journalists) and are compelling at the human-level. Just for example (and again there are thousands), the story of the busload of children almost making a spirited escape in front of the first wave, only to be toppled over, pushed into a pool of spilled petroleum, and instantly igniting in flames; the incredible number of old folks in the irradiated zone who, when forcibly moved, die within hours; the complete absence of the President of Tokyo Electric in ANY news reports and the revelation of his orders to prevent the intervention of sea water for two days to prevent a total write-off of the valuable machinery. More comes out daily.

Finally, while this situation presents Japan with an opportunity to reveal itself to the world, it is a double-edged sword. Not only will the twinkling of starlike aspects of Japanese culture be exposed but the warts will be as well. Those things that absolutely drive me crazy about this place and those things that married me to this culture & people will all come to the fore in spades for sure. Even now, the stoic collectivism and order of the Japanese is a marvel under the circumstances but a fact of everyday life here for anyone who stays for more than a visit. Looting? Never entered anyone’s mind.

But similarly the concentration of leadership in undeserving individuals, the mindless belief in authority & authority figures, the universal conformity even in the face of alarm are likewise underpinnings of social strength that frequently escapes logical explanation. It may take some shaking-out but I am convinced that Japan will evolve quickly and remarkably as a result of these last few weeks.

Unfortunately, I fear that a blight will also be assigned, too… not just geographically around the Fukushima reactor sites but reputationally as well. This is already happening as embargos on Japanese products and harbors are already taking effect. This can be a very long societal trudge through very deep and very sticky muck & debris. And this just in the last 16 days!

I will end this now before another startling new set of facts is revealed and I have to rewrite this again… like the radiation levels are 10 million times greater than normal? Like the leakage is already creeping up the seawater coastline north of Fukushima? Nhaw….

More to follow…  clicking “like”, volunteering a comment or re-posting would be warmly appreciated.

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