Thursday, March 31, 2011

A struggle continues...


A week ago I wrote about our experience of the earthquake and the ordeal that followed. I had also shared it as a note on Facebook since many people are not aware that I also write a blog. Many of my friends responded to it with kind words. They said that my note had given a different view of the crisis from what they had seen or read about it in the media. Being in India now, like most of my friends, my family and I have to rely on the foreign media for “Breaking News” on the Japan crisis. Thanks to our friends in Japan, we get to know more realistic updates on the continuing crisis in Japan. 

In this blog, I decided to share my views on what makes Japan and its people differ from the outside world :

  • Having seen the media coverage of the entire crisis in Japan on NHK and other Japanese channels, I have stopped relying on the foreign media. Japanese media gives complete clarity about the news items. Minute to minute details with video footages are broadcast on the Japanese news channels. This is something the non Japanese media needs to learn. Most other foreign channels usually provide updates followed by the correspondent’s personal views leaving the audience with no choice but to believe it. Whereas the Japanese news correspondents are rarely seen expressing their own views. At most we see a few citizens expressing their feelings. While in other countries people rarely leave a chance to point fingers at local authorities and administration, this is not the case in Japan. The Japanese people have full faith in their government and are rarely seen blaming the government or other authorities. Instead they are hopeful that things will improve and they follow every advisory or instruction with sincerity. I feel this is what makes things easier for the authorities as they can go ahead in their duty without having to worry about resistance and criticism.
  • The Japanese government’s way of handling the situation is worth mentioning. The government website is up to date with information, advisories and facts. As such people have full faith in information provided by the government. Also in most other countries, the head of the government appears in a televised message expressing condolences to the affected families and declaring a monetary compensation. The Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano were appearing on news channels 5-6 times a day with the latest information and advisories and were also answering media’s questions. Infact we read in the newspapers that Mr Edano had not even gone home for few days since the quake as he was on duty. Something we cannot expect from our politicians or government officials.  
  • The nuclear crisis that began due to earthquake and tsunami continue to affect millions of people. In most other countries, the blame would have been passed on to natural causes beyond human control. The Vice President of TEPCO ( the company to which the Fukushima nuclear reactors belong) visited the evacuation centers personally and apologized to the evacuees for the disaster at the plant. This can happen only in Japan. Elsewhere there would be a series of criminal proceedings, blame game, absconding officials and bailable arrests.  
  • The Early Early Warning (EEW) system in Japan probably saved lot more lives. Under the EEW, earthquake warning could be sent out to millions of people a minute before the quake struck. This warning message is sent out on local TV, radio and mobile phones so that people can take safety measures immediately. All earthquakes above a certain magnitude are covered under the EEW system and in the days after the big quake, we continued receiving these alerts during strong aftershocks. Moreover even as other news items were being broadcast on TV, the EEW message would flash on TV with the epicenter being marked on the Japan map. All this even as the aftershocks were being felt. A far cry from the “breaking news” which is telecast much after the damage is done in most other nations. 
  • What is most important in any crisis situation is the public behaviour. All relief and rescue operations, efforts and aid are useless unless the general public cooperates. In my view, Japan will rise from this current crisis sooner than any other nation in similar situation would have. And this purely possible because of the Japanese people. The Japanese people and their attitude during the entire ordeal cannot be ignored. In my previous blog, I had mentioned about the patience, helpful nature and the amazing qualities of the Japanese people. What needs to be appreciated is that these qualities are evident even a fortnight after the crisis began. We can see this in the mails and messages that our Japanese friends and colleagues continue to send. The people have accepted this crisis as a struggle and are making best possible efforts to overcome the situation in a peaceful, calm and patient manner. Food, water and fuel are still in short supply. Most stores are open for few hours during the day but they do not have much supplies. Especially water, drinks and vegetables are in short supply due to radiation threats. There is a limit on the quantity of drinks and water that a family can purchase. What is admirable is that people do not resist or argue but are cooperating. There are still no incidents of looting or plundering. Since tap water has been detected with high iodine levels, it has been declared unsafe for consumption especially for children. In the affected areas, government or municipal authorities are providing bottles of drinking water to families with children. People queue in long lines (sometimes 3-4 kms long) from as early as 5 am for gasoline. There are no instances of traffic jams or breaking of traffic rules. People do not speak of suing the government or power company to compensate them for losses. They just seek the government’s help in rebuilding and relief operations. Even the demonstrations against Nuclear power in the country are not marked by any kind of violence. Some of my friends who could not evacuate from the city due to personal reasons have shown amazing confidence and positive attitude. Instead of cribbing and complaining about their helplessness, they have been volunteering in evacuation centers. What is worth mentioning is that the entire nation is collectively fighting this crisis. When scheduled power outages were introduced in areas not affected by the quake or tsunami, people cooperated instead of cribbing. Moreover these power outages were not applied in the affected areas because it would hamper relief work. People started using lesser electricity, fuel and water in most of Japan as the same would be useful in days to come. This amazing self restraint is something people the world over can learn. Graduation parties in schools and universities, Cherry Blossom ceremonies, annual firework festivals have all been put off for the year in most parts of Japan. Restaurants and shopping malls close earlier than usual timings. Decorative lights and neon signs are not being used to conserve energy. Infact people have stopped using elevators,heaters, toilet warmers etc unless it becomes necessary. Even local election campaigning is subdued, something unheard of in other nations. All this without even being asked to do it as a rule. This amazing sense of restraint can only be expected from the wonderful people of Japan.

  • While the government and the people are doing their bit, things are looking positive even on the corporate front. Many companies which were affected by the quake, tsunami and nuclear crisis had to suspend operations. My husband’s company too had to suspend the Iwaki operations for two weeks and reopened only this week (28th March 2011). A colleague of his who happens to be my close friend writes that all the employees of the company turned up at work with high spirits and a boosted morale to resume work. They gathered in the company premises and waited for instructions from the Administration manager. All employees collectively helped clean the mess and restore the work environment. Even in this situation, the company’s president has sent a mail apologizing for the inconvenience caused to our family and expressing his hope that we will be able to return soon once the crisis ends. Further the HR manager sent a mail apologizing that they could not do much for us, despite arranging for our safety and immediate evacuation to India in no time. Even now most employees have had to leave their families in other parts of Japan as the radiation threat continues in Iwaki.  
While the nuclear threat continues, elsewhere things are looking positive and life is slowly returning to normalcy. Rebuilding operations are in progress in the northern parts of the devastated region. In other times, this would have been the peak tourist season because of the famed "Sakura" or cherry blossom season. With the Cherry Blossom season beginning in Japan, hopes are alive that Japan will recover from the crisis soon. 

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