March 20th 2011

My 5th update, which I have been thinking about for the last day or so. It’s all quite surreal here, life is normal and at the same time ever so not normal; people are calm, but if you listen to conversations on the train, at Starbucks, you hear the same topics over and over again. There are far fewer people out and about. Tomorrow is a public holiday, so it probably would be quieter anyway, but clearly a lot of people are staying at home.

On my way to church this morning my local station had a notice saying between 70% and 80% of trains were running. A lot of lights in shops etc. have been dimmed and everything just feels subdued. In the shops supplies are OK, not as depleted as they were a few days ago. It is quite ridiculous to know that there is less bread in the shops but you can buy the most elaborate cakes in any bakery you pass. Although rolling power cuts have been scheduled, I have so far heard of very few actually happening, and they are listed in the newspaper as something that may happen.  Shinagawa was scheduled for one yesterday but it didn’t happen.

I had a tiring week, just keeping up with what was going on, trying not to let the excesses of the media get to me, and going into school. I don’t think I’m sleeping so well, and often have a nap in the afternoon / early evening to catch up. Until Wednesday I was definitely feeling the stress and anxiety, but from Thursday I started to feel better and by yesterday was feeling quite OK. I think one reason was the absence by then of people who left at the beginning of the week. I had a few people really feeling extremely anxious and sending their stress my way, and I didn’t like that at all.  (I think I mentioned it at the time.) After they left I felt much better.

There was a second wave of people who left towards the end of the week / over the weekend, and I think their reasons were mainly based on the need or desire to calm family and friends overseas.  To any of them reading this, I send you greetings from Tokyo on a sunny afternoon. I miss you and am looking forward to your return! I hope you can come back in time to see the cherry  blossoms.  Now the people who are still here are the ones who are taking a calmer, more measured view and I feel better talking to those friends.

As I said, I went to church today, and that was, with hindsight, not a good idea, because I came home feeling quite wound up. I had coffee afterwards with a friend (no coffee for a week so that was probably not a good idea!) and since I got home another friend has called me, so I am feeling better. Basically it is this: this morning the priest didn’t mention the earthquake / tsunami / nuclear power stations at all in his sermon, he just talked about Greek verbs (!!!). If you look at the church website there is a notice that the church and attached hall (where the nursery is held during the week) were unharmed by the earthquake, and the button you can usually click on to donate to the church has been changed to a place to donate to help the victims in Miyagi. Apart from that, nothing. No e-mails from the church during the week, nothing. The fact that the church has done nothing all week for the international community is completely shocking to me. As a community within Tokyo we have failed our neighbours miserably. I am not giving you the link because there is nothing to see there.

School has now finished for this school year. We won’t be in again until April 6th. The students didn’t come to school all week apart from the graduating 6th years on Tuesday, but the teachers have been in every day. I think we have all kept each other going and by the end of the week we were starting to feel a bit more positive. Of my 2 British colleagues, one is in Osaka because her mother was distressed about her being in Tokyo and this was the compromise to keep her mother calm. The other left Tokyo on Monday and flew out of Osaka on Thursday, because her partner was severely anxious after what had happened and he probably needs to think about whether he wants to stay in Japan now.

It is interesting to watch the foreign community changing. One friend said to me a few days ago, that he thought those of us who have chosen to stay would always have a special bond. I agree with him. There are certainly fewer foreign residents about, and at Starbucks this morning a Japanese woman pointed us out to her friend (she was sitting right next to us so we heard every word) like an endangered species.

On to information about Fukushima and Miyagi.

It seems the news from the nuclear reactors may be getting better, gradually. The people who are working there are heroes. The British Embassy continues to say that Tokyo is safe but is giving out iodine tablets to any British citizens who want them as a precaution. It is a pack of 2 doses, to be taken only in the event of an emergency when either the British or Japanese government tell us to take them. I’ll go tomorrow to get some since it is probably a good idea but in the meantime I continue to munch my way through dried kombu and take my multi-mineral tablets.

In Miyagi the people there continue to suffer in evacuation centres. Nothing seems to have changed for them in the last week. I hope and pray that the nuclear reactors can be stabilised soon because then we can really focus all our attention on them.

We continue to have aftershocks every day. The biggest ones are magnitude 5 or 6, so quite big.  They could continue for ages yet so we have to get used them I suppose but they rattle us in more ways than one.

I have continued my new hobby of chastising the media for its unhelpful tone. Since the BBC has taken to using a photo of 2 young women wearing masks as the image for their ‘Japan Disaster’ coverage, I would like to point out again, they have hayfever, and are trying to avoid pollen, not radiation. I have found the BBC disappointing in their choice of language; in the last 24 hours I have heard words like ‘catastrophe’ and ‘apocalyptic’ batted around and I say again, it is not helpful.

Cultural note: You may hear in the media that Tepco (the company operating the reactors) has apologised. Whatever translation you see will sound ridiculous because that kind of highly formulaic Japanese just doesn’t translate. This kind of corporate apology is usual in Japan and is  not the too little, too late, offensive-sounding statement it may seem if you see a translation.

I think that is everything updated for now. To everyone who has told me they are praying, thank you so much. To you all, please keep the people of Miyagi and Fukushima in your thoughts. In Tokyo we are anxious but safe and staying calm, but the people there are enduring severe hardships and are bearing everything with dignity and fortitude.


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