We had a new blind fitted in the bedroom today. It looks very nice.
I mention this because international media reports seem to be suggesting that Tokyo is caught up in mass panic, teetering on the verge of social breakdown and ever greater catastrophe.
This is very, very far from being the case.
I was teaching in Ochanomizu again today, and it took a bit longer to get there than usual, because only local trains were running, and only about half the normal number. “A bit longer” however, is “half an hour longer”, so an extra third. That’s well within the normal range for disruption caused by a breakdown or an accident. Some reports appear to be suggesting that Tokyo is suffering food shortages. That’s also not the case. I ate lunch at the food court in Mizonokuchi, which was operating normally. You know, people paying for sandwiches and noodles and deep-fried octopus, rather than having rice balls handed out by rescue workers. It is true that there are long queues for petrol. On the way home I saw one petrol station that had sold out, another that was selling, and another where a tanker was refilling it. I’d just like to draw attention to that last one. Our local supermarket was selling fried chicken, sushi, and fresh meat and fish as normal, although they were out of rice, and batteries and torches have vanished. But then, when the power company is promising to cut off your power for three hours every day (and do they? No. Can’t keep promises, these people) you quite naturally buy batteries for your torches.
But panic sweeping the city, as Reuters reported? Absolutely not.
Japan is also rather less obsessed with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant than the rest of the world. Obviously, it is a serious concern, but everyone has been evacuated from the 20km radius (the reactors are on the coast, which partially caused the problem, but also halves the area that needs to be evacuated), and radiation levels everywhere except inside the plant are still safe. It could still develop into a nasty accident, but not into a world-threatening disaster. I think there are two reasons for this obsession. First, it’s nuclear. Let’s all be scared of “nuclear”. A lot of people are saying that this shows that nuclear power isn’t safe, but it’s still possible that the result of this will be “You can hit a forty-year-old power plant with a magnitude 9 earthquake and a 6m tsunami in quick succession, and get nothing more than a highly localised radiation leak”, which sounds pretty safe to me. We won’t know whether it’s safe until it’s over. The thirty-year-old plant 10km along the coast seems to have shut down safely with no leakage, incidentally. Second, it’s the only bit of the disaster that looks like it might get worse, and everyone loves to speculate about how bad it could get. (The prominence given to the collapse of the Japanese stock market rather supports this interpretation.)
Even people who are being supportive of Japan and tweeting their support for the fifty workers risking their lives at the nuclear plant tend to forget the hundreds and thousands of workers risking their lives to rescue people from collapsed houses in towns devastated by tsunamis. There are fires burning, gas tanks exploding, constant aftershocks that could collapse the structures, and the ever-present risk of another tsunami, if there’s a large aftershock in the wrong place. The rescuers are doing a fantastic job, but not just at the nuclear power plant.
It’s often said that if you read news coverage of a subject you know something about, you lose all faith in the media’s accuracy. That’s certainly the case here. Of course, most of them don’t speak Japanese, can’t get out of Tokyo, and need to file a dramatic report. Even if there was a well-organised flow of reliable information, it would be hard for them to use it, and, given the genuine chaos in parts of northeastern Japan, there most certainly isn’t.
So, ignore the picture the international media is painting. Tokyo is fine. I don’t need emergency shipments of supplies. (Yuriko’s parents are sending some more batteries and extra flour, which will cover us perfectly well.) The further north you go, however, the bigger the problems get, so if you want to do something practical, I recommend donating to your local Red Cross, because they will channel funding to the Japanese Red Cross, which is already working on the ground.