Earthquake Aftermath: Posted on Facebook, March 13
As I sit in my comfy bed, drinking my coffee, and read about the deaths and destruction from the earthquake and resulting tsunami, my little ordeal just seems so insignificant.
A spur of the moment meeting time change brought me to Tokyo Friday morning and that is why I was standing on the train platform in the Otemachi subway building when the earthquake hit. The terror, the panic, and then the resulting calm was out of this world bizarre. The only contact I could make was a few texts from my iPhone to my son Christopher in the U.S.. I never received his return texts.
I looked for a hotel right away, but it wasn't soon enough. Everything took an inordinately long time--there were so many people that seemed to ooze up to the streets after the trains came to a halt. That night in Tokyo was kind of like an out of body experience. Waiting 45 minutes to use the phone. Waiting 45 minutes (uselessly) for a taxi. Power walking to Minami Aoyama to get warm, eat dinner and recharge phone and self. Waiting 45 minutes (uselessly) for subway back to Tokyo, took the Ginza line no problem. No place to sleep, so headed for the Bullet Train waiting area and laid down on the floor with a magazine under me. Someone gave me a newspaper, so that helped. The saga goes on, but is nothing compared to what the Sendai or Miyagi people went through.
I got in line to catch the first train in the morning, at 7:45, and that was only the beginning of a long day spent in line waiting for trains that never came. No information. No trains. Finally at a reasonable distance from my area, I got off the last train in disgust when they announced they were changing drivers. Oops, no they had no driver. Exiting the train station, the guy told me I could have a refund since the bullet train wasn't running, I took a look at the line and decided to skip it. Instead, jumped in a taxi to take me to my car waiting at the bullet train station where I had parked it Friday morning. Warm, alone and off my feet, it was 50 well spent dollars.
I may write more, but I may not. For now that's what I've got. Just one little person caught up in that massive sway of humanity that results when you've got millions of people trapped in a city with little or no trains moving. It could have been a lot worse. We could have been in Sendai, Miyagi, or Fukushima. And worse could be coming. I'm just reading the news now, so you all probably know more than me, but it looks like we could have a meltdown at the nuclear power plant in Fukujima. More devastation and the kind that lasts for generation. This is all so unthinkable.
Evacuations advised...but: Posted on Facebook, March 17
It's hard to write as I am worrying and worrying about my decision to stay here as the reports worsen. The American government took a sharp right turn on its stance early today, deviating from the Japanese party line, by urging American citizens in a 80 km radius of the nuclear reactor to evacuate or stay inside (as opposed to the 20 km-30 km advised by the Japanese government). But realistically, there is nowhere for the Japanese to go, even if they did start advising more drastic evacuation.
Late this afternoon, the American government took an even stronger position and has initiated "authorized evacuations" for American citizens who want to leave Japan. We should make our way to Narita airport with our passports in hand and minimal luggage. There we sign papers agreeing to reimburse the American govt for the price of a basic one way ticket to somewhere in Asia and we wait to get on a flight. Once we arrive at this as yet unknown Asian destination, we are on our own.
But as we approach 6pm here, Matthew is not even home from school and he refuses to carry his cell phone because it is against the rules. Who is this guy? Doesn't sound like any son of mine...oh right, he's Tadaaki's son, too.
I'm less worried about the crowds and delays going through Tokyo to get to the airport because (Japanese) Tokyoites are staying inside and I hear the streets are fairly empty. But foreigners and some Japanese are leaving in droves to go south or fly home. I still fear the chaos and feel safe in our house, despite that the wind whistles through cracks and small gaps in numerous spots. Airtight, we are not. But we do have well water pumped into the house in the cold water faucet and we have enough food inside the house for months....and lots of futons and warm covers, but no more kerosene for the heater.
Realistically, I don't think it's a question of if there will be a meltdown, just when. We're 225 km or 140 miles SW from Fukushima Daiichi. But I'm afraid of becoming more exposed by venturing out on the road to Narita (100 km from Daiichi, in fact). So for now we'll stay. And (selfishly) we'll hope for easterly winds to blow the nuclear cloud out to sea.
I hope I've made the right decision.
We are leaving: Posted on Facebook, March 18
This morning our 19-year-old son Christopher called me from Portland and was adamant that we leave. He would not let it go, so I told him to call his father. After their conversation, Tadaaki decided that I should take our two younger sons (14 and 16 years old) out of Japan. I was at my little Sunny-Side Up! Kindergarten finishing up the last day, having already postponed all end of year graduation programs due to the dire situation in Japan. I also cancelled the Spring Break language camp for next week.
I got home around 12:30 pm or so and Tadaaki rolled in a bit later. We discussed the situation and I decided to defer to his wishes. Almost relieved, but still not quite sure I was doing the right thing, I was lucky to find 3 seats on an ANA flight out of Narita tomorrow afternoon for only $1350 each. A couple days ago I had looked, found the same price for seats two days forward, but then 15 minutes later they had gone up $500 per ticket. Obviously, ANA is being nice...and generous considering the other gouging happening with airline tickets right now.
Matthew still is insisting he is not coming with us. He is making me crazy. The soft talking does not work. The tough love does not work. I really hoped Tadaaki could get through to him. Not sure that telling Matthew we might not be back for 10 years was the best tack to push him out the door. The poor guy feels guilt for leaving his friends and his country just when he is in a good space. I understand, but how can I leave one child behind. And how can he not understand this?
My good friend Yoshikai-san called today to say he was trying to find a way to get his 10-year-old son out of the country. Of course I offered to take him with us. By some miracle, Yoshikai-san was able to cut through some red tape to get his son Shunpei on our flight. Luckily he has come often to our house with his parents, and sometimes spends the night, so we are not strangers. His favorite Hachisu boy is Christopher, but he'll have to make do with Andrew and Matthew (if all goes well).
I did not want to go, I don't worry for myself, but I was agonizing about the decision I had to make for the kids and their future. Unlike Tadaaki, I do not think that our area will become unlivable and can't quite understand how he has see-sawed to that position after being so blasé earlier this week (Wednesday was it?).
We'll be in Gilroy at my sister Pam's house and I booked a return flight to Japan on April 1. At least the decision has been made. Now we have to get to the airport in one piece (along with Matthew).
At the Airport: Posted on Facebook, March 19
Last night was fraught with high tension and strong emotions. Tadaaki and Matthew skipped dinner. Matthew went to sleep still dug deep into his stance of not leaving. I woke him up to kiss him goodnight and tell him I loved him. Don't know if it had any affect, but this morning at 5:30 he was resigned to leaving.Unfortunately, by 7:30 he had gone back to bed and still wasn't dressed. We needed to leave for the train at 8 am and there he still lay an inanimate object. Near hysteria I tried dragging him from the bed but gave up and went downstairs to make his rice balls for the plane.
Tadaaki came home and succeeded in getting Matthew downstairs dressed and guided/prodded/pushed him gently out the door and into the car.
Matthew is bitter and feels betrayed to the core, but I think I can live with that if it means not leaving him behind.
He has now finished a crappy bowl of airport ramen washed down with a bottle of Coke and is moving on to an equally crappy hot dog with a bottle of Ginger Ale. Guaranteed to make him sick on the plane. "That's what I want," he deadpans. Of course, to torture the evil mom.
Anyway, we will be on our way in about 3 hours. Andrew is sleepy, Shunpei in good spirits, and I am ready for my airplane sandwich, a baguette stuffed with our friend's celery and onion, tuna, and Tadaaki's eggs (hardboiled). And I think I really need a beer.
In the meantime, Tadaaki is very shaken and still expecting the worse. I have not had time to read any news for 24 hours so will do so after I eat. I cannot imagine our area would become uninhabitable. That was not at all the sense I was getting this last week as I stayed glued to the computer screen and madly scanned the Internet for updates.
We're Back Home...in Japan: Posted on Facebook, April 7
It's after midnight here in Japan. And yes that means we are all back in the fray.
We left California on schedule April 1 despite my misgivings. Three weeks post-earthquake, I've lost the desire to fight as there is so much emotion and so many crises happening before our eyes. I suppose I should be a stonger mother and just say, "Hell no, you are not going back to Japan. You are staying in Gilroy (or Berkeley)"--so many generous family and friends offered their support. But somewhere between Tadaaki telling Matthew that we would all be gone for 10 years and that our hometown of Kamikawa would become a ghost town and then Tadaaki suddenly deciding to believe TEPCO was a bit more surrealistic than I care to deal with on a day to day basis. And I won't mention the horrific nightly dreams. Or the shouting as I woke up in the middle of the night. Or the sleep walking. I won't mention that because who the hell am I to complain. I have an intact house, and also many places to run to. I have options. Most of the people in Japan do not.
While in California,I tweeted US Ambassador of Japan, John Roos (a casual Stanford pal from Los Arcos Eating Club), that I could probably house some refugee children at SSU! I'm sure he has more than enough on his plate, so did not expect to hear back. Also I began to have second thoughts about taking care of extra kids. But I did not want to give up the idea of helping the evacuees, so emailed my friend Harigaya-san (mountain man, shishimai troupe, fascinating guy). Early days after the earthquake, Tadaaki had told me that Harigaya-san would take in refugees in his rambling mountain home. I knew he could help put me together with the people who are placing evacuees from Miyagi and Fukushima.
I rent two small side by side houses for the teachers at SSU! One went home to England and will not be back because of the radiation scares, so that house is open. I don't need (and can't really find) a new teacher right now, but don't want to give up such a great little spot as the houses are a set, so I'd suck it up and pay rent anyway for several months. That place could potentially house a couple small families.
SSU! has a large upstairs with two separate spacious rooms. Despite the English only restrictions while classes are in session, potentially a couple fairly good sized families could occupy those two rooms.
So, am I happy to be back? Not happy, but relieved to be back in my place and resigned to the fate of what happens. I cannot see any good outcome from the short or long term affects of radiation, despite what we hear. Recently I have been watching video news commentary from early on in the crisis. Funny how the moderate pro-nuclear scientists woefully underestimated what was on the horizon at Fukushima Daiichi. And ironic that the supposed "crackpot" anti-nuclear scientists often were dead on right in their projections.
So yes, I'm still worried. And yes, I wish my children were in the U.S.. And yes, we will do whatever we can to protect the little SSU! children we are caring for in these turbulent days.
In Saitama, mostly people do not talk about the threats of radiation. Only one mother really opened up to me via email that she is seriously worried about the lack of information from the government and TEPCO. Maybe that is because she is a professor, I don't know. A couple other mothers are pissed off because I left Japan during Spring Break. I abandoned my responsibility as a school director...during vacation? Well, I guess they have to have someone to be angry with since it doesn't help to rail against TEPCO or the government. Always easier when you have a real person to direct your bad feelings.
I'm picking up life here. First day of school tomorrow. I've discovered (and embraced) Google Translate in a big way during this time. I also spent an hour or more weeding my heirloom lettuce and cilantro in the field today (hold overs from a too late autumn planting). I feel good for having gotten my fingers dirt encrusted, scrabbllng weeds under the unseasonally warm early spring sun. Only one half row to go on the lettuces. Peas, garlic, and chives next. The dirt is dry, but I found myself not wishing for rain (and for the potential radiation it would bring). We have a long road ahead but it could be worse. We could be in a shelter, no home, no livelihood, no family.