You’ll pardon the pun, I hope, but it best describes the situation in Japan right now. I didn’t really feel ready to come back to blogging yet, but a few people expressed concern and I wanted to show you that I am still alive and to share a story from someone who lives not in northern Japan, but in Kanto, central Japan.
Firstly I should tell you a little about Gunma and Japan for those who don’t know. The map below will help you along. Gunma is part of the Kanto plain, and Gunma is number 10 on the map and is said to look like a swan in flight. We live close enough to the centre of Gunma. The places probably made most famous by Friday’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami are up in Tohoku, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures (4 and 7). Let’s just say that us Kanto people are relatively safe right now. The powers that be are predicting another earthquake which they think will be of significant strength although unlikely to be as strong as the original, to occur at any time. Here in Gunma, we aren’t sitting on huge fault lines that threaten to shift underneath our feet, but we do still feel earthquakes. I have to admit, when I first lived in Tokyo, I felt little tremors all the time, and deep down, I was really glad to leave for somewhere without the threat of “the big one”. Here, we’ll have one every few months, and even then it’s usually a case of,
“erm, is that an earthquake?”
Y- (looking at the ceiling light pull) “is it?”
then we carry on with what we’d been doing before.
So on Friday afternoon, after having eaten lunch out at a little restaurant and H off nursery with bad hayfever and sleepiness (yes, you see how seriously I take kindie), we started the drive home. There were lots of black clouds in the sky and I’d left the washing out, so decided to go straight home. We were about a 5 minute drive away, stopped at the traffic lights.
“Wow, this wind is strong!” I said to H (L was asleep, fed, happy and snoring).
Then we both looked at each other and said, “earthquake” at the same time. At this point the lights changed and everyone sped off, so I drove through the lights, then pulled in when I was at a safe distance from the junction and with enough room to pull in and not obstruct the road. Looking up at a row of huge fir trees about 5 metres away made me worry, but I decided staying put was probably better than speeding off. H and I just sat and waited it out. Her in a happy voice saying, “please stop earthquake” over and over again. It bumped and jolted us about, with a lot of up and down rolling ocean wave motion as well as jerky side to side movements. It calmed down, but it had already been going on for about 3 minutes, and who knows how long before we had noticed it wasn’t the wind. I drove us slowly home and got back to a hysterical neighbour sitting in the car with her two children.
“I feel so much safer in the car,” she said, “upstairs it felt as if the walls would fall in.”
We got inside the house, left the door propped open and switched on the television. We watched the tsunami warnings, and we saw the huge wave engulf acres and acres of farmland/homes/cars.
“Mummy, I think the people in the cars all got out and went somewhere safe,” H said.
“Yes, of course,” I replied, stunned at the magnitude (I know, but I couldn’t think of another word, really ) of this disaster.
We experienced several strong aftershocks almost continuously. This went on all night. We ate dinner, skipped a bath and I tried to carry on as normal. We had storytime, went to bed and then I came downstairs to watch the news coverage and to try and contact my husband. We couldn’t contact each other until later that evening.
Now it’s Wednesday. It’s been almost a week, and there is the threat of more quakes and possibly tsunamis. Moreover, there are problems at Fukushima Nuclear Plant, and especially for us foreigners in Japan, problems with information overload. We are hearing one thing from local news, then contradictory statements from overseas news. It has led to a lot of panic. I have to say that I was involved in the panic myself. Wondering whether or not to flee to the UK with the children, or to stay and risk not being able to leave at a later date. Some people I know in the foreign wives community here have gone or made plans to go back to their home countries for an undetermined amount of time. I have to admit, if I had no job and the children were pre-kindergarten, I may have been gone myself, just to be on the safe side. But I have not. I am still here. Why?
1. I don’t know much about nuclear power/bombs/radiation other than they are bad and can end up giving you cancer and/or killing you. Over the last few days, I have read and learned more about nuclear power than I ever did at school. Confident that the worst case scenario is not really one that will directly affect me and my family, I am still here.
2. As I said before, I live in a relatively earthquake-safe area. I choose to live here, and an earthquake could come tomorrow or in 3 years. I can’t just fly away every time somebody predicts an earthquake.
3. My husband would never leave his job unless it was a dire situation. This situation is really not dire enough to lose a stable job in this economy.
4. I have work too, my last kindergarten lesson next Tuesday and my family of four every Sunday afternoon. Every month, I earn enough to pay for two months of kindergarten for both children (L starts in April). I would surely lose this if I left.
5. L starts kindergarten next month and we would miss the entrance ceremony, him making friends, etc.
6. We just don’t physically have the money for a flight.
Now I’m not saying that I wouldn’t go if I really had to, because number 4 and 5 of my list could definitely be lost and started again if the risks were high enough and hopefully number 6 could be sorted with a credit card… But my point is that I LIVE here. I’m not a holidaymaker or a short-term visitor. I have a husband and children who have always lived here. I have a house, work, friends and family. So in these respects, I am pretty much the same as my Japanese neighbour. The only difference is that I have family in the UK too. Why are they still here? Because where else would they go? I have that possible escape route, but there is really no need to go to those lengths yet. We are safe here.
So here we are, with scheduled blackouts of three hours once a day, quakes and tremors still present, bigger quakes in other areas of Kanto, and an extremely windy day today. Health wise, I’ve made it back to the gym once on Monday. That was the day that I decided I had to pull myself together for the sake of the children and for myself. The shops had their lights down low, their signs off and some places were shut down early to save power. I have to say, aside from the crazy queues at the petrol stations (my town has no petrol left now) and the panic bread and toilet paper buying, I’m pretty impressed with the way people are handling this. I can’t imagine what it might be like in the UK. I’d like to think it would be similar, but it’s of course impossible to know.
Back to the health issue…and no, I am not complaining, just noticing, but I have had a headache, stiff shoulders and eye pain, along with vertigo since Saturday. I think some of it is stress, but the eye pain and vertigo I think has to do with the aftershocks. It’s strange when you feel as if you’re swaying all the time. It really does make you feel quite seasick.
I hope you are praying/hoping/dreaming/wishing/whatever it is you do, for the people who have lost their lives, their families, homes and livelihoods. In the face of all this tragedy, it really helps to realise what you have and make your complaints seem truly trivial.
Now I really have to write this, because I do not want to tread on toes here: For the people that have decided to leave and are scared, then I think you have absolutely made the right decision. There is nothing worse for you and your children to be miserable, stressed and afraid when you have the means to do something about it. My comments above are simply about my situation.