Today marks the first anniversary of the 9.0 Tohoku earthquake in Japan, where a tsunami following shortly inundated miles upon square miles of land, helped send a Fukushima nuclear power plant into meltdown, and devastated the lives of countless hundreds of thousands of people.
This is the likes of a disaster many hope never to experience.
Foreign media and alarmists exacerbated the nuclear issue and spread panic by splashing headlines and stories of impending doom, death and destruction to all in Japan and the spread of nuclear clouds around the world. The worlds attention became less and less about the victims of the earthquake and tsunami, and became more about the nuclear issue, as reported in this recent Telegraph article.
So, one year on, how many people have died from radiation from Fukushima? Zero. How many died at the plant on the day? Two – both drowned from the tsunami. Indirectly, not from radiation? One 60 year old worker died 14 May 2011 from a heart attack caused by overwork, and another man, in his 60s, this January also from a heart attack while pouring concrete for the plant.
Seems like a storm in a teacup. Well, almost. Water used to cool the reactors found its way into the ground or leaking into the ocean instead of being contained and pumped into storage. Food produce was found to have higher than normal levels of radiation in them, with the produce in some cases being banned from being sold. Also, back in March, I wrote about a radioactive isotope of iodine finding its way into the water supply. Radioactive material had been detected over central Tokyo, some 140 or so miles from the nuclear power plant. Perfect fodder for the alarmists. However, if you live in Hong Kong or Denver you are continually exposed to more ionised radiation than you are to the ionised radiation in Tokyo post March 11th.
How did all this affect me?
To begin with, people started panic buying at the supermarkets – 160 miles away from the disaster area! Some food items were scarce, and this provided the opportunity for the supermarkets to push their prices up. I even had trouble buying my canned peaches. Normally cans don’t sell well at all in the supermarkets near me. The only canned fruit left were some rather expensive peaches which cost something like five times what I’d normally pay for mine. It seems that people do have their limits even in a disaster.
Secondly, the trains were running on a limited service in and around Tokyo. This was due to the fact that with the Fukushima power station down, there wasn’t as much power to supply the grid, so everyone was being asked to cut back. This meant that train journeys took longer than usual, a lot of the services weren’t running, there was no fixed timetable in some cases, and some lines weren’t operating. Not fun for someone like myself who travels all over Tokyo every day for work and to get home.
And finally, the hysteria in the papers and the news infected my parents, and with continual pressure from them, in June I finally agreed and left my adopted home of over a decade and a job I loved.
Now I’m back living with my parents and unemployed – not too many jobs for Business English Trainers, Corporate English Trainers or English teachers (I’m not qualified to teach in primary/secondary school, not that I’d want to) in England. A friend insisted I go for a job at Cambridge University Press where he works. As much fun as the job sounded, I think I’d rather be abroad.
So, to begin with there was only the transportation and the reduction in stock at the supermarket and the price increases. But a few months later saw stock levels returning to normal as people finally realised that there was nothing for them to worry about being so far from the disaster areas. Essentially, where I was living, there wasn’t such a big deal.
How have I been spending my time?
Less than a week after getting back into the country I had started a post-graduate diploma course. I spent many months getting over culture shock (I’d been in Japan a very long time), and knuckled down on doing my family tree. I have around 150 names so far on just my mother’s side, with many more people I know of but don’t have names for yet.
I have also become the de facto person to drag along whenever one of my parents has a doctor’s appointment or hospital visit, after which I become the shopping carrier as we go to the supermarkets and outdoor market.
I’ve also been going though some of my old things, throwing things out and reorganising everything else, scanning old photos onto the computer and fixing them up, DIY around the place, babysitting my cousins’ children, fixing computers and exploring the area where my parents now live.
Being at home has the unfortunate consequence of my parents (and some of my relatives) constantly trying to “introduce” me to girls (nine I think at the last count) so I will get married and have babies ASAP.
The lack of friends I have here has meant that I probably spend more time talking to my friends on Skype and on Facebook in Japan than I do face to face with people in general in England.
On a more positive note, all this spare time has also given me the chance to finally get saxophone lessons, start planning out a book on teaching/training in Japan, and has left me rather good at valuing antiques thanks to Antiques Road Trip.
What does the future hold?
Well, I’ve recently had a company ask me to apply for one of their teaching jobs in Saudi Arabia! Fantastic. Unfortunately they wanted an immediate start and my mother has other plans for me. She’s due in for her second cataract operation at the end of the month, with a follow up three weeks later. If there are no complications then she intends to drag me along to Hong Kong as I will be needed to do heavy lifting and carrying which she can’t do on her own.
After all that, the plan is probably to go to Malaysia or Singapore, where I can pick up a bit of culture and enjoy the warm weather. Unfortunately good jobs in my field are scarce there and the pay is bad. I’d much rather be in Japan where I can get work easily and get well paid for it. As the Japanese would say, 残念ね。Maybe I should think about Saudi Arabia.
Below are some photos taken from The Daily Mail showing some striking before and after pictures of just after the tsunami and 11 months later. Have a look at their website for more incredible images.
And here’s a video from a Japanese TV program showing what progress has been made over the course of the year at five different locations. The numbers you see in black at the bottom left of the video represent the month and the date the images were taken, with the last shot of each location given as “yesterday”.
There’s much more I could write about the earthquake, the power stations, foreigners leaving, hysterical (and uneducated!) people going on about radiation, the loss of jobs, financial markets and everything else, but I shall leave it for today.