We spent a wonderful week visiting friends in Japan on our way home from Saipan. While we were there, we only felt the earth shake once and though it wasn’t any stronger than many of the tremors we’ve experienced in the past, it did last longer.
The physical effects of the devastating March 11 earthquake that ravaged parts of northern Japan were fairly minor in the area where we were but it has clearly had a powerful effect on the psyche of the people. More than five months after the big one hit, it’s still at the forefront of their minds and it constantly comes up in conversation. When we arrived at Seiko’s home, she hastened to point out the cracks in the cement stairs at the side of the house and the new flat screen TV that replaced the one that fell and broke.
Stairs can be repaired and TVs replaced but what of people’s fear? What will its long term effects be? Seiko was relieved that her son, Ayumu, was napping when last week’s tremor came. At three years old, he’s already lived through the biggest earthquake in Japan’s history and its many, many aftershocks. Whenever he sees a weather report on the television he gets upset because the weather map looks like the one that appears when earthquakes are reported and he thinks that another one is coming.
Seiko’s husband, Atsuo, used to dream of owning a house close to the water but now he’s happy to live further inland. Areas of prime real estate built on reclaimed land around Tokyo Bay plummeted in value when the land proved to be unstable after the quake. We visited a Japanese garden in that area last week and found that sections of it were closed due to earthquake damage. The pond which would have once been clear and clean is murky and algae covered now because the water circulation system was damaged.
Though they know that the water in their area has been declared safe to drink, our friends Smoky and Ikuko drink only bottled water now for fear of radiation poisoning. They have a larger yard than most Japanese families and food shortages following the big quake prompted them to turn part of it into a vegetable garden so that they won’t be left in want again. It now produces delicious tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, and kabocha. They also planted some small trees which will eventually provide them with fruit.
Like many Japanese, Smoky and Ikuko are also doing their part to conserve energy following the catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Though the Japanese summer is extremely hot and humid, they use their air conditioner very sparingly to help avoid more of the rolling power blackouts that they lived with in the weeks following the earthquake and tsunami. This community effort to conserve power is also very noticeable in public places such as shopping malls where many of the overhead lights are not turned on. With the air conditioners turned down or off, the terminals at the international airport are noticeably warmer than in the past and some of the elevators are not in use.
Though the earthquake has clearly affected the people and how they live, we were pleased to see that Seiko didn’t panic when we sat at her table last week and felt the house begin to shake. It’s definitely a bit disconcerting to watch the light fixture above your head sway back and forth but we weren’t really frightened either. We were happy to be back in Japan with the people we’ve come to love and more than willing to take our chances on being all shook up!