The PJ Tatler

Japan, behind the headlines

While most of the headlines from Japan rightly center on the dangerous nuclear issues and the ongoing search for the missing and the dead in Japan’s north, a steady life of privation is settling on much of the country. The nation is truly facing its deepest crisis since the war. The Sendai quake severed supply routes for fuel and food, disrupting people’s ability to stock up their homes, gas up their cars and get to work — if their jobs have resumed. In the north, citizens are living on as little as one onigiri — riceball — a day. Even in Tokyo, nearly 200 miles from the hardest hit parts of Japan, the nuclear energy disruption means daily blackouts of about three hours. For some, that’s a nightly inconvenience when the heaters don’t work, or the TV and computer are dead. If you’re a shift worker and you happen to work when the power is out, chances are you’re not getting paid for those hours. The trains still have not resumed full schedules, which means many have no reliable way to get to their jobs. For many whose businesses, small shops and noodle and sushi restaurants, rely on the once steady and predictable flow of commuters across the capital, bankruptcy has become a serious fear.

Adding to the worries across Japan, there was a shallow, 6.2 quake in Shizuoka on Tuesday, with property damage, a few injuries, and aftershocks following. Shizuoka prefecture is home to Mt. Fuji. Though the government has not issued any volcano warnings for Fuji, the quake spawned rumors and fears that the big volcano may wake up. So far, the quake is the only evidence of that.

Meanwhile, the cold weather in Tokyo created a spike in demand for electricity, which has now triggered warnings of a massive blackout across the city. The country’s crippled power grid simply can’t cope with pre-quake levels of demand. But with kerosene for heaters running low, electricity is the only option for many. It goes without saying that the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant will never again operate at full capacity. It will have to be replaced, which will take years if not decades, depending on how the country chooses to replace it. Low levels of radiation have been detected on US bases at Yokosuka and Atsugi. Those bases and all of the other American military bases are heavily engaged in quake/tsunami relief efforts, with Yokota Air Base serving as the national hub of the relief workers coming in to Japan from the US. Disaster relief has become part of the Yokota training regimen, following the recent disasters in Haiti and Indonesia.

Through it all, the Japanese people have engaged in no looting. The Japanese people are taking the rolling crises with a sense of calm and working together that’s an example to the world. There have been no riots over food or fuel. Law and order have not broken down. The people search for their loved ones, and they will rebuild the cities and towns they have lost.

Despite their many travails, the evacuees were grateful to have survived and tried to keep up each other upbeat. “I survived World War II, so we’ll survive this, too,” said Kaoru Ninuma, 86, who wore a baseball cap stitched with the words “Japan Gateball Union” across the bow. “The war was tougher because unlike now no one was delivering food to us back then.”