Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Gaijin's Nuclear Update (Morning of Thursday, March 17)

(While writing this, helicopters have began flying over the reactors dropping water and making readings of the radiation levels.)

Though it's been 6 days now since the initial earthquake started the chain reaction of terrifying events here in Japan, immediate danger still seems far from resolved. Even after reading tens of articles and watching Japanese news for an hour so far this morning, I'm not really sure how things are going. As an American living in Toyama, Japan, it's hard at this point to make sense of the polarized opinions, feelings, and reactions.

'"We are at the beginning of the catastrophic phase," Sebastian Pflugbeil, president of the private, German-based Society for Radiation Protection, said of Japan's efforts to pull the Fukushima plant back from the brink.' says an article from "" last night.(

"If cooling operations do not proceed well, the situation will ''reach a critical stage in a couple of days,'' an agency official said." reports Kyodo News this morning, which claims itself as "Japan's Leading News Network", and seems to present one of the most unbiased articles I've read. (

Yesterday in the school office I simultaneously swept the web for all hours of daylight while watching the Japanese news on TV and periodically asking Japanese around me what was going on. Yesterday things were steadily worsening, and if I could draw any consensus from the information I got yesterday, it's that something needs to happen as soon as possible! I read no reports that said "Everything will be fine if nothing happens over the next few days."

I've received nothing more than the initial message from the authorities of the JET Programme (my job) stating the facts of the initial tsunami and earthquake and requests to donate money. What are other JETs doing right now? What the hell are the JETs doing in the affected prefectures??? Yesterday I read an account of an Australian English teacher, who along with a few other fellow English teachers who lived in Fukushima, immediately fled to their home countries fearing exposure to radiation and upset at the lack of information and concern by the authorities in their area. (Link to the article: Have any JETs been killed in this series of tragic events? Been exposed to fatal or cancerous levels of radiation?

Well, as soon as I got to school this morning, I turned on the TV and started sweeping the news for information ... nothing seems to have changed.

Until yesterday, the news had a constant broadcast primarily focusing on the immediate nuclear dangers showing current images of the damaged nuclear reactors, substantial speeches from authorities, and animated models to inform people of what is happening in the reactors. Also, video was periodically shown of the areas destroyed by the tsunami and the current status of survivors as well as statistics and predications of those who perished. Despite criticism of the Japanese authorities, I was impressed at the level of coverage by the mainstream Japanese media.

This morning the reports are diluted with uninformative round-table discussions between young TV hosts. Online, I've found articles that are already talking about nicknames for those workers who have remained at the plant to work on the crisis and are deemed heroes. These men are absolute heroes in my opinion as well, but the situation is worsening and you're already giving credit for resolutions??? The headline of Yahoo News was, "Dog in Japan won't abandon ailing friend" This is the best you've got??? This is the most current news on the current nuclear disaster???

AS I WRITE THIS NOW IN THE SCHOOL OFFICE, HELICOPTERS ARE FLYING OVER THE REACTORS... but there is no one around for me to ask what's going on! Wait ... one of the teachers just came up and helped me put the audio into English, bless his soul. (I'm doing my best to keep my biased and judgemental generalizations to myself, but it's obvious I tend to exaggerate impressions a bit sometimes. Also, at this time I don't have any classes today and so have the liesurely time to make my full-time job researching this matter while other teachers still have classes to teach. Now, a few teachers are amassing around the TV because it is a break between classes.)

Helicopters are apparently flying over the reactors, dumping water and measuring the levels of radiation. !!! Yesterday it was said that this was too dangerous because of the estimated levels of radiation. What changed between then and now? I don't know yet. Are those people consciously and willingly going into what really is probable fatal levels of radiation to take these measures of emergency? Have they confirmed that it is safe to do so? Don't know yet.

Anyway, by the current visible attitudes of people in Toyama, life has returned to normal. (Again, I'm trying not to exaggerate things, and trying to be as unbiased as possible, but am just trying to communicate what I perceive here, which is probably only a portion of the actual feelings. Though I've spent a good amount of time here and studying Japanese culture, I still often have absoultley no idea how some people here feel by their outward appearance). Yesterday, the news was on all day, and people periodically were checking up on things, but I sensed no feelings of worry. However I was able to talk with Terao Sensei about the epic possibilities of the Apocalypse stemming from this event to satiate my extreme American imagination. Ever since the event, I have been walking around expecting earthquakes at any moment, visualizing what I would do in such a case, and looking around at the air wondering if I am receiving unusually high levels of radiation. But all else in town seems to have resumed a state of normalcy. Yesterday, junior high school students came to my high school to read the results of their test scores determining if they were going to enter this school next year, so there were crowds of crying (both with excitement and despair) junior high school students, and high school students and teachers alike were observing the soon to be freshmen. Generally, it seems people high school age and younger don't know or care about what is going on, the elderly sit on street corners and in front of TVs rambling with each other, and everyone in between is running around frantically working harder than they should ... all just like normal.

Yesterday I was trying to balance myself between the normal world of Toyama, the seeming apocalypse that was proposed by a large amount of sources on the media, and what I could actually see on the media. My own personal thoughts of the whole of Japan downspiraling into a state of mass anxiety as the plants explode exposing the world to radiation drove me to spend a lot of time pondering my escape and role in the Great Apocalyse. I also drank about four times as much coffee as normal.

As school ended and night drew near, I went home to eat and prepare for aikido. Motivated by the need to "do something", I went to the dojo an hour early to practice jo; which was my solution to the end of the world. When picked up by sensei, I got in the car and we initiated conversation as usual, as just about anyone does in Japan during winter: "Samui desu ne." ("It's cold isn't it").

A few moments passed and I said:

"Soooo, the uh ... nuclear situation is pretty tough huh?"

"Yeah it is huh."

"Are you worried?"


"Are you worried about the nuclear disaster???"

"Oh yeah, it's going to be really bad for the economy."

I spent most of my day pondering the Apocalypse wondering if I was going to perish from exposure to radiation, and he seems absolutley unconcerned. I didn't really know how to pursue asking him about dangers of radiation, but I asked him about how this may affect him.

(NUCLEAR UPDATE: one of the teachers that pisses me off most just came by and turned off the news. He must be beri beri bizi.)

Sensei explained some things about the economy and how it affects his job as a Buddhist priest, but I didn't really understand and it wasn't satisfying me, so I asked him how Buddhist philosophy would address this situation. He said it was certainly a tragic event with the amount of death and loss, but it wasn't necessarily a bad thing. I didn't really understand his explanation after that, but I think maybe he was saying that it was good because it revealed to people the precious and sensitive nature of life and brought people together. He then began to explain a very interesting analogy about knives and nuclear power. He said there is no problem with nuclear power; the problem is with how it is used. Take a knife for instance, if you want to peel an apple, a knife is a wonderful tool. But that knife can also be used to kill people. The problem is not the knife, but how it was used by someone. It's the same with nuclear power. The problem is how we are using nuclear power. He was very characteristically matter-of-fact about the whole situation.

At the dojo, some chatter about the events started, but it was mostly about the fact that the usual variety shows had resumed on nightly TV, and someone had a story about someone they knew being stuck in the transportation delays in Tokyo. Somewhere in the training, very early on, I had forgotten all about the current events, and had a great aikido practice. I came home and turned on the news, but found no new updates, so I made dinner and watched the last episode of "Pillars of the Earth" on my laptop.

Now, I've been at school for about two hours, have drank way too much coffee, and am subconsciously convinced by my immediate surroundings that everything is OK, elated that helicopters are dropping water and taking measurements of radiation above the nuclear reactors, and just slightly more than annoyed by Japanese society (which is the most reassuring factor that things are normal). Now I'm going to get some more coffee and turn the news back on for a bit. What am I going to do after that? What am I going to think about if it's not nuclear apocalypse? It surely makes everything else seem a bit unimportant. Things seem to be improving though.


  1. Quite a mental dump brother.

    Beri beri Bizi Sensei was right. Turn off the news sometimes. There is still life to live.

    All my love brother.

  2. Is there a Japanese expression for accepting fate; dealing with the cards you are dealt?

    Or perhaps an unspoken version of that?

    Better balence that coffee with some good Japanese Beer...

  3. Hi Zacky,
    like you I'm shocked and afraid, hoping for some favourable winds. I always check a German site for the pollution cloud, no need to read German, just click to animate.
    All the best to the 2 of us!
    Hermann from Taiwan,1518,bild-192707-751256,00.html

  4. DR: There may be a more appropriate phrase, but one of my personal favorites is:

    Shikatta ga nai ... it can't be helped.

    Had asahi to wash down some tequila during poker last night!

  5. Hermann: Yes good luck to us both! Thanks for the great site recommendation. It seems things are going well now. Makes you weary of any other nuclear reactors around you though huh. Crazy world we live in. Good luck on the path.

  6. Huch, yes, it seems to get better now. But I still worry what people gonna eat and drink, in the long run.