I do not have to reiterate the magnitude of the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami and the seriousness of the current crisis of the Fukushima nuclear plants. It seems people outside Japan are more scared than the Japanese in Tokyo. This is my first time being not only skeptical but being outraged by many of New York Times articles for feeding unnecessary fears, looking for any sign of “power vacuum” and “unmotivated” bureaucrats, etc. Again, I am usually critical of the government and bureaucracy, and hate nationalism. But even I feel sympathetic for the government officials, the Self Defense Forces, and Tepco workers for dealing with multiple simultaneous disasters of once-in-a-hundred-years kind.
I am in Okinawa, probably the most remote place you could be from the crisis in the country. A couple of my American colleagues also “exiled” from Tokyo to Naha, and another bunch to the Kansai area.
I just wanted to tell the world that we have complicated feelings about the relocation of ourselves, feeling torn apart (I did not technically “relocate” but I helped a bunch of them arrange their move). We understand that Tokyo is not dangerous at all. The level of radioactivity will be miniscule even if meltdown happens. Because of that, the majority of the Japanese people in Tokyo are staying calm, devoting more thoughts to how to save power and deal with the scheduled blackouts. At the same time, parents and friends living outside Japan are freaking out. They tell us to get out of the country immediately. They read sensational English-language media reports round the clock without checking the Japanese geography.
The last thing we want to do is to cause any panic among the Japanese masses and to disrespect their united effort to overcome the crisis. So, even if we decide to move out of Tokyo, we just want to do it quietly, and to maybe Kansai (around Osaka), rather than outside the country. Actually there is a good reason for us to be outside the Kanto region because, the fewer people there are in the east, the less power is consumed in the midst of this power supply shortage, and the fewer mouths to feed. Even with this justification, most of us feel very guilty about looking like ditching Tokyo (which, again, is totally safe), or not running to rescue people in the north. We have one colleague who lived in Sendai for a long time, and is committed to supporting the community from within right now. Hundreds of thousands of people are in freezing shelters up north without enough food distributed. Children are showing symptoms of PTSD but left without means for treatment. And here we go, we are leaving Tokyo for “our safety,” mostly in order to maintain our families’ sanity.
Some of us are getting too much pressure from family members abroad, which is actually giving more psychological damage to us. Sandwiched between the Americans’ reactions and Japanese information, one of my friends expressed his confusion: “if everyone else is freaking out, does that make me the sane one or the crazy one?” My friend who has been in exile in Naha is also going through roller-coaster sways of emotions — excitement, loneliness, guilt, fear, powerlessness, and not-knowing-what-to-do-ness.
It really is good for our mental health if you could stop ordering us to get out of the country. We care about the people in Japan, that makes it important for us to be able to make domestic calls and have easy access to Japanese media. All foreign students I know take their own safety very seriously and are making prudent moves based on the information that is very reliable. Please look at the map, and listen to us. If we sound serious, please just “suggest” an option of leaving the country, but stop yelling at us to leave Japan immediately. I am not saying this in order to brag about our bravery, but because we want to remain safe and sane.