panic, pressure, and peace..
It’s been a few days since I provided any real updates on the situation here in Tokyo and Japan as a whole, but obviously, that does not mean that nothing has been happening. The situation here is very fluid and changes day-to-day, sometimes even hour to hour, so even just a matter of days can feel like an eternity and make a world of difference.
Now that my earthquake story has been written, rewritten, edited, published, and edited again, I’m sure there are some of you out there who wouldn’t mind an update. Those who follow the news already know the basics of the situation as reported on TV, but I’m more interested in detailing how all that affected us here, so I’m not going to go into too much detail on it unless I have to.
One thing I’ve been continuously surprised by in this situation is how many of us here seem to be going through the same set of phases and reactions day-to-day. It seems that many people, myself included, reached what could be considered to be the peak of their directly related anxiety around Monday or Tuesday after the quake.
I don’t think that is a coincidence. As I mentioned previously, I believe that a great number of people expected Tokyo to return to a certain level of normalcy once the weekend passed, and once the reality sunk in that the situation was not improving and possibly getting worse, there was a whole lot of despair and doubt going around. My last update was written in the middle of that peak for me, and I think does a fairly accurate job of conveying the sense of uncertainty we had at that point.
On Tuesday many of us woke up not knowing or understanding what kind of situation we were facing with the Nuclear Power Plant and its proximity to Tokyo, and because of that things seemed very dire at times. The continued blackouts, train delays, empty shelves, and closures (such as my gym) also kept it obvious that things were not life as usual.
Supplies weren’t as low as before, but there were still some empty shelves at the local conbini
Shortly before I left work that day I got a message from Jessica asking to talk on the phone, which is something we don’t often do given the prevalence of text messages and emails here. I called her on my way to the station, and we followed it up with a lengthy Skype Date once I returned home to my laptop to talk through our thoughts on nuclear reactors, radiation levels, and other such information bizarrely pertinent to our new daily lives.
After our chat I felt much better and even pulled out my real camera to capture photos of dinner for the first time since the quake. Note that I actually turned on the overhead lights for few minutes for these pictures. We have been keeping them off in a bid to conserve power since Saturday, and once the pictures were taken they went off again. We ate by the glow of the evening NHK broadcast and a candle.
Whole wheat spaghetti with a tomato veggie sauce and creamy cottage cheese..
After dinner Eric and I settled in to watch something a little more pleasant than the news. In this case Farscape, which we had recently started after catching up on all five seasons of Dexter over the past couple of months. About halfway through the episode at 10:30 pm we were hit by two decent aftershocks, the second of which was actually strong enough to get us up off the couch and into a door frame, though it fizzled out shortly after that.
Unlike most of the other tremors, which were hitting off the coasts of Fukushima, Iwate, and Chiba, this one was centered in Shizuoka to the west and on a completely different plate. Being directly under land it was rated quite high on the Japanese scale, reaching up to shindo 6-weak closest to the epicenter. Our area was rated at shindo 4. The tremor was unnerving at a time when we had started to get accustomed to the shaking, and ended up sparking wild speculation the following day about Mt. Fuji exploding.
My sister, who had apparently been following the news, called via Skype very soon after the quake hit. After catching up a bit she took the opportunity to show off the new-found smiling and socializing skills of my 4 month old nephew August to us. I tried to get his attention with a knit penguin I made Eric a few years back, which was amusing. I am also pleased to say that now, some day far in the future when he asks me what I was doing after the earthquake in Japan, I can reply that I was watching him getting his diaper changed via Skype… and that? is priceless.
I felt much, much better when I woke up the next morning. I think that the social interaction of the day before restored some normalcy and perspective to my life, and it also helped to see Twitter overflowing with interesting facts about the level of radiation detected in Tokyo the day before. Some of the fun ones involved comparisons to second-hand smoke and dental x-rays, as well as a demonstration in which a professor with a Geiger counter got a higher reading from bath salts than the air outside. My favorite, though, was the information that a roundtrip flight from Tokyo to New York City would result in something along the lines of 2-3000 times the radiation exposure than the current level in our area.
By the time I left work Tokyo was being hit with extremely strong and bitterly cold winds. It was absolutely the strongest and coldest wind I have ever experienced, and getting to the station was quite difficult. Each gust felt like being doused with ice water. Charity yoga had been cancelled for the evening, so instead I passed through Shinjuku on the way home to visit my beloved Doughnut Plant, check out the situation around there, and see if I could get some milk. Doughnuts were aplenty, milk and bread.. not so much.
Business as usual around Shinjuku– except for the empty bakeries
Eric was feeling stir-crazy after his second full day of working from home, so we ventured out down the street to BurgerxBurger for dinner. Eric usually eats there on Wednesdays while I’m out at yoga and teaching, and I joked that the owner might miss him if we didn’t show up. Hah. I got a chicken sandwich and opted to try it w/ the teriyaki sauce usually only an option for beef burgers after I saw Eric order one of those.
Things felt perfectly livable and even hopeful throughout the day, and by evening I was feeling relatively confident about our situation again. Unfortunately, as tensions eased somewhat in our minds here in Tokyo, it seems the foreign media was taking a turn for the worse, and sensationalism in coverage of the nuclear reactors was reaching a frenzy. That night, and throughout the next morning, Eric and I were bombarded with emails, tweets, phone calls, etc. from various family members and friends insisting that we leave the country, or at very least the city.
Eric and I had never sat down and decided 100% that we would be weathering out the entire situation from Tokyo. Obviously we were loath to leave our home unless absolutely necessary, but for the most part we had been taking things day by day and leaving open the possibility that we might have to take a short trip if the situation deteriorated. The sudden onslaught of pressure, however, backed us into a corner where we felt as though we were having to defend a stubborn determination to stay despite obvious health risks.
I’m going to distract you from the bleakness of this section of the post with pictures of doughnuts!
My gym was opened again on Thursday, so I went in the morning to get in the last workout of my current strength routine (Rachel Cosgrove, Phase 1, workout B <3!!), which was really nice after two full days of gym closures.
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of checking my phone on my way to the shower, and was greeted by a barrage of twitter DMs from Eric’s family, and a message from Eric himself saying he had received no fewer than 10 phone calls in the hour I had been gone, including one from my sister (to her credit she was the least forceful, only saying that Gus would love to see us, which was honestly the most compelling argument to visit home of them all). Twitter was also abuzz with tales of a mass exodus, and many alarmists were tweeting things like “KANTO FRIENDS, GET OUT NOW!”
I tried to brush it all off, but on top of the uncertainty we felt on our own the additional pressure was just too much. I actually broke down in tears in the gym shower in disbelief at how I could have ended up in the situation of being under such intense pressure to leave my home for fear of nuclear fallout when last week my main worry had been ensuring I was including enough protein in my diet and whether or not I’d be able to convince Eric to take kickboxing with me.
After several panicky phone calls I decided that I needed to spend the day at home making some decisions about what to do next. Since I had made it quite close already I dropped in to the office to let my coworkers know what was up, and even told them there was a possibility I might not be around the next day due to familial pressure.
Back at home Eric and I listened to the latest reports from NHK and discussed our various options. We even got out a suitcase to pack in case of an emergency, but at that point it was extremely difficult to tell how much of our anxiety was related to the actual situation and how much was a direct result of the pressure. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t quite come to any actual decision that wasn’t contingent on factors currently unknown to us. The only thing we were absolutely certain of was that we did not want to leave Tokyo unless we deemed it absolutely necessary.
Seriously, though.. the seasonal Sakura & Sakura-an doughnut was phenomenal, and Ujicha wasn’t bad either
As the day wore on reports and blog posts started popping up from friends and strangers around Tokyo voicing eerily similar experiences to ours: the entire expat community was under a massive assault from worried loved ones overseas. The general sentiment through all if these stories was that pressure from family was at a peak and currently the single most stressful aspect of the entire post-earthquake ordeal; far outstripping nuclear concerns or fears of another earthquake.
At around 5:30 I ventured out to a private English lesson I’d scheduled the week before. Most of my other students had cancelled, but I think by Thursday English seemed like a welcomed distraction. We had to adjust our meeting time and place due to power conservation closings, but managed to meet at a nearby Starbucks for an hour of trading earthquake experience, talking about nuclear fallout, and discussing parental pressure. It was a very memorable lesson.
Signs that life goes on – the newest seasonal offering at Starbucks Japan: Cocoa Cappuccino
By the time I got back home it was starting to become apparent that weren’t likely to follow through on the earlier panic in the immediate future, though the possibility still remained open for later on; and by Friday morning we were feeling much more confident and at peace about our situation and decisions (or lack thereof) so far. The suitcases that Eric had hauled out the day before never actually got packed, and Friday progressed as though the acute anxiety of Thursday morning had never happened.