Well it appears there has been another fire at the Fukushima No. 2 plant this morning. The release of radiation is making it difficult for emergency workers to keep working at the reactors – the current plan is pumping seawater into the cores to cool them – so the temperature cannot be controlled, causing more radioactive pollution; a vicious cycle, indeed. Check the NHK news site for the latest info. I for one am staying at home today again.
On a different note, I feel the lurid voyeuristic interviews with obviously distressed victims and relatives – and the closeup shots of deeply private moments such as families being reunited – are sickening and self-defeating. Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected, every one has their own story and tragedy, and selectively broadcasting hysterical wailing women and very obviously shell-shocked people who have lost everything and are in a complete daze, so that viewers far away can sniffle into their handkerchiefs yet keep their eyes glued on the television set, is pure vulturine ghoulishness. People apparently want to hear grossly detailed descriptions of the hundreds of corpses washed ashore in Sendai or Iwate, but not the 2,000 in one town who had been given up for dead but found by the exertions of the military and rescue workers (indeed over 25,000 missing people have been rescued by the emergency services to date), or the immense efforts of Japanese companies and citizens’ groups around the country to send food and aid to the stricken north.
One thing that does not really seem to be making it into the media is how completely amazing the local people have been. Although I was far from the coast, thank God, we had no electricity, running water or telephone/internet communication in Morioka. There was no looting of shops or property, no haranguing of officials, bickering or murmuring, and people stood in line patiently queuing to buy food or petrol – often for hours, in near-freezing temperature - without queue-barging or fighting. With no electricity the traffic lights were out, but traffic ran smoothly even in the big intersections with drivers giving way in turn and letting pedestrians cross too. There is something decidedly un-manning about not having information and the abject feeling of helplessness as aftershocks continued nearly every ten minutes, which can lead to immense frustration and spontaneous outbreaks of anger, but even when the earthquake struck I did not remark much hysteria or raised voices where I was. I cannot imagine behaviour like this in Tokyo or Osaka, let alone England or America. When I made it into Shinjuku station on Monday morning, already over 70 police had been called in to protect Tokyo Metro staff from the foot-stamping tantrums, queue-jumping, shouting, shoving and general lycanthropy that inevitably took place.
On panic-buying: this is an unfortunate trait that is raising its head even here in Tokyo. In my local supermarket there is no bread, rice, bottled water, batteries, candles, toilet paper or fruits. My local pharmacy is closed and many of the larger stores close early each day. It’s probably not going to come to it but I set aside one of my big deep-sea fishing cool boxes with water. Otherwise I am well-found in food and hygienic stores and thankfully, am not in one of the Tokyo zones that is subject to electricity rationing – but I still have extra batteries for my fishing headlamp.
Lastly, I have been inundated with kind messages offering support and asking what can be done. Currently there are more than 440,000 homeless refugees in evacuation centres who suffer a lack of the most basic commodities: drinking water, warm clothing, food and sanitary supplies. I would say that if you are in Japan, you might want to donate any spare warm clothes or blankets you have to your local citizens group; it was perishing cold at night where I was - well below freezing, the kind of cold that makes you forget your own name - and it is forecast to get colder over the next few days. I am so lucky to only had to have experienced two nights of it. Alternatively, as it appears there is conflicting information about whether or not they will take clothes or food items, you may want to make a monetary donation to the Japanese Red Cross. If you have reservations about how much of your money will actually reach victims directly or want to give food or other items, you may want to instead make a donation to the Tokyo-based charity Second Harvest, who do very good things. On a more practical note, if you are living in an unaffected area in Japan day-to-day I would make a conscious effort to use less petrol or electricity than usual, stay off mobile phones and texting whenever possible (it was quite frustrating when I was in Morioka, constantly calling and getting through once every 20 attempts), absolutely do not spread rumours or chain e-mails (among others I received a ludicrous one about iodine, from someone I had believed to be an intelligent person), and keep informed of current developments by radio or television.