So how are you? Are you doing ok? How is everything there? What’s happening? You alright?
These and other variations on the same theme have been pinging around the world into the inboxes and ears of many residents of Japan since the earthquake of 11 March. There is no easy way to answer such questions, it seems, because every time I try I come up with something different.
Just as I wrote those words, the earthquake alarms that many people have on their mobile phones sounded, before my table in the cafe shook lazily, almost soothingly, as if a giant foot was somewhere trying to rock a cradle holding Japan to send us all to sleep. It only went on for a couple of seconds, so can’t have been very big or must have been located far away. Once I was sure that my cup of tea wasn’t going to spill I returned to my writing.
Such complacency must seem incredible to Westerners, faced with images of the devastation in the North and worrying about us here in Tokyo. If I stop to think I am also incredulous at how quickly I have become used to aftershocks and alarms, how swiftly I can now calculate levels of immediate danger and decide if they are worth getting out of my chair for. Similarly, it feels as if we have all become armchair experts on all things nuclear, discussing levels of radiation exposure, possible side-effects of iodine tablets and the relative impacts of micro- and milli-sieverts in the same way that we once engaged in more idle chatter.
Yet, in spite of the essential rescue efforts still going on in the stricken areas, continuing attempts to save the power plant from meltdown and the reintroduced programme of rolling blackouts, life is returning to a semblance of normality in the capital. People are commuting and shopping and eating and drinking, as they were before. I will be back at work later on today and the return to the familiar routine is soothing to the nerves, if likely to prove detrimental to the writing schedule.
The decision to stay in Japan and in Tokyo was the right one for me, I feel sure. However, that should not be taken as criticism of anyone who made an alternative choice. We all had to make a decision we were comfortable with, in the face of rapidly altering facts and opinions from an array of experts located around the globe. We all had different factors to consider and it would have tested the judgment of Solomon at times to know which were the deciders. Only someone who was here would know the agony of that choice, which is why I am saddened this morning to read this from the Japan Times:
I have seen some nasty stuff written by some (foreigners) who stayed about those (foreigners) who have left
Shame on anyone engaging in such nastiness. Was it worth it to move a family out of possible harm’s way, to head home to give loved ones a hug or simply to sleep one night in a bed that was unlikely to be rocked by that giant’s foot? Of course, I recognise the pull of such concerns as I was almost swayed by them myself. Although in the end other factors won out for me, I don’t have it in me to condemn anyone who chose to answer the question ‘are you ok?’ in person instead of via email, Skype or status update.
But many people in this fantastic country that I am lucky enough to call home are unable to answer that question positively and will not be in a position to do so for a very long time. Please send as much help as you can, the British Red Cross appeal or Second Harvest Japan are both doing sterling work. My answer to your question? Yes, yes I am and thank you so much for asking.