Monday, 9 May 2011


I was due to travel to Japan at the beginning of April, but due to the impact of the earthquake and the following Tsunami and subsequent damage to the nuclear power plant at Fukushima, the trip was cancelled. The tour operator (Journeys of Distinction) I feel made the right decision to cancel the trip, waiting a week before we were due to travel, but following not only recommendations from our Foreign Office, but also from contacts in Tokyo who were giving first hand accounts of what was happening, they felt that travellers would not feel safe. I was personally very disappointed. Japan is one of those places that has held a fascination for me since I was a child, watching Alan Whicker travel to the country where he towered above everyone and everything seemed so very different to the world that I understood. My view of Japan is one of contrasts, of Lost in Translation, of bright lights, and yet gentle people, super fast trains and uber efficient work force, and exquisite gardens and awesome mountains, and an unequivocal national identify and courage that surpasses that of most western culture. I still feel those things about Japan, but having watched the devastation on TV and spoken to those living there, I have gained an insight into a country I still have yet to visit, but feel I know so much more about. There are those who have families to bring up and livelihoods to restore and maintain, and although Japan has been pushed to the back of the news pages recently due to what is happening in the middle east, our recent Royal Wedding, the demise of Bin Laden, and our own petty politics, this does not mean the problem has gone away especially for those who live there. Amongst all the devastation there have been many gentle stories of bravery and kindness which have gone unnoticed in the media here. Sonoko, a mother of two year old Koma, who lives with her family tells of how her husband Johannes returned from the Tohoku area where the earthquake happened. ‘We have a donkey called Rosa as well as three other horses to take tourists on tours but wanted to use Rosa to cheer up some local children who had suffered loss of their homes. He was there for a week and returned with stories about what he had seen and also with a load of toys, including a large toy Kermit frog which Koma now plays with and a tricycle that he picked up. He told Koma these toys once belonged to happy families who lost everything and had to throw them away although they wanted to keep them. He told Koma he should cherish the toys as their original owners would have done. I remember the first thing I did after Johannes returned was to wash the Kermit.” It is not just those with families who are looking to the future with incredible courage and strength of spirit. Akiko, who is 32, single and lives in central Tokyo, works as an investment banker. She keeps very long hours during the week (9am to 1am), and like everyone else at the bank, has been told that it is business as usual. ‘Senior management here have told us Tokyo is a safe place to live. They also retained a specialist who used to work for IAEA and provide us with information regarding the radiation effect on food and water gathering lots of information from many sources. “I cover local government clients. Most of my clients are now busy helping sufferers of the Tsunami, so some of the projects are now postponed. Now we try to save the electric power, so the city is much darker than normal. Because of this, I try to go back home earlier and pay more attention to save electric power and water at my home than before. We think it was a good lesson for people who live in Tokyo and have used much energy. Some trains don't work as normal and it sometimes takes more time to get to the destination. I still go out after the quake, but not as much as I fear the radiation in the air.” ‘Everyone in Japan is aware that earthquakes can occur any time. However, I don't know if many people predicted this big earthquake based on the earthquake last year. I heard the story about a city councilor building a set of emergency stairs at the elementary school last December in preparation for Tsunami and all the children at the school successfully escaped from the damaged school. I assume that some people at the damaged area had prepared for Tsunami. ‘I think things to get slowly back to normal, so I don't think I want to leave Japan. I don't know if it is safe, but I want to stay here as I have lovely family and friends here and love my job as well. We know so many people all over the world try to resolve the serious nuclear power problems and we appreciate such support. ‘We have kept normal services at the bank and we held several town hall meetings hosted by senior managements in the week after the earthquake and the senior managements emphasized that we should think about the community, not ourselves under this severe situation. ‘Many clients keep their normal life and we need to provide our services to them. Therefore, I think nearly everyone at our company keep working as normal while we have options to consult managers if we can and want to work from foreign offices or home. Most of my friends are staying in Tokyo but some friends who have very young babies have left. I think it’s important that we, people live in Tokyo keep our normal life and business saving electric power and water for Japan’s recovery.” “Admittedly, a week after the earthquake, few people went out and I heard that the revenue at restaurants decreased by 80-90%. However, now more people are going out and socialising in restaurants. We're required to save electric power, so some restaurants and department stores close their shop earlier than before, so people go back earlier. But overall, I feel that people started to get back to their normal life in Tokyo and try to spend money at restaurants and shops to support the restaurants and shops. We feel fear a little bit and we're tired as we still experience earthquake [now it’s less than before], but we hear good stories about people who have hope still in the most damaged area and we want to help each other, so I think people try to have hope. They have much more hope than they did immediately after the earthquake.” “Our company has the matching gift program. I and many my colleagues supported Tohoku area by donation. If I donate $100 to Red Cross, my company add $100 and we can donate $200 to Red Cross.” “Yuto, one of my colleagues who lives in Tokyo has visited the damaged area with his friend every weekend and painted pictures with people at the damaged area. He works as normal from Monday through Friday and drives a car for a few hours heading to Tohoku area every Friday night. He wants to cheer up people in Tohoku area by painting pictures together. Almost 30 people, from young children to elders gather and enjoy painting.” My friend’s husband runs medicines wholesale company. He kept working day and night including weekends to deliver medicines smoothly to Tohoku area after the earthquake. I heard that a restaurant in Tokyo closed their restaurant for a few days and visited Tohoku area to provided cooked food for free. I also saw the news article which many famous actors visited Tohoku area and prepared meals outdoors. “I visited many temples and shrines in Kyoto with my parents and prayed for early recovery in Tohoku area this week. We found the words praying for Tohoku area and donation box at every temples and shrines in Kyoto.” I intend to take that trip to Japan next year. When I heard of the disaster I saw no good coming from it, but having interviewed many of those who are living through the experience and who have grown emotionally and spiritually as a result of the consequences, I look forward to visiting this most enigmatic of places and the amazing people who live there.

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