‘Trying to return to normal’Written by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Since 1965, a blue water tower has stood as a silent sentinel in Lenawee County’s Raisin Township. It is rusty, empty, and as of March 4, lying on its side on the quickly thawing ground.
The 500,000-gallon tower was brought down to make room for more parking. It looks like a felled prehistoric beast nobly trying to lift itself out of the mud, and as I drive past it each day, I mark the progress of its dismantling. There is no emergency rush to scrap the tower, but it fascinates me to see the effort it takes to clear the land of the 165-foot-tall landmark. Without the blue water tower, the Raisin Township skyline will never be the same; how can the mind make the leap to the survival adjustments facing those affected by Japan’s earthquake and tsunami disaster?
Having seen a week’s worth of photos of the devastation in Japan, I cannot fathom how long it will take to make some of its cities habitable. The punishing earthquakes, aftershocks, tsunami and nuclear crises that ravaged the country made Hollywood’s best digital effects seem feeble and lazy. The crushing water treated boats, cars, homes and lives with fatal indifference.
Upon hearing the news March 11, I checked Facebook to see if two friends who live in Japan were OK. Both of them were, and graciously took the time to answer some e-mailed questions about their experiences.
I met Donald Kerns and Jason Van Meter-Yamada during my time with the now-defunct Student Union Board at the University of Toledo. They moved separately to Japan after graduating in the late 1990s, at the suggestion of UT Japanese professor Joseph Hara.
Kerns, a U.S. Army veteran, teaches English at a private language school and for seven years has run an English language circle at community centers in Sano City, Tochigi, about 300 kilometers from the heart of the disaster.
“I felt the news as it happened,” Kerns wrote. “I was teaching a 3-year-old student when the first quake hit. It was magnitude 6 in our area. I carried her to the parking lot with her family and two Japanese staffers. When it stopped, we returned to the office and turned on the TV. Phones were down, but the 3G service allowed us to use the Internet. I went onto Facebook after the first aftershock.”
Kerns said people immediately went into “survival mode.”
“The convenience stores sold out of bread and pastries first. Instant noodles and ready-to-eat meals were also quick to disappear from shelves. Finding toilet paper is nearly impossible. Batteries and other emergency goods are also scarce,” he wrote. “Gasoline is also limited. Electricity at my home was off for a while. The trains and buses were stopped and the freeway was closed. I had several friends trapped in Tokyo and other areas.
“School lunches were affected; my son’s school let out before lunch. In the south, the school lunches have stopped until the end of the week.”
Kerns has not heard of any rioting or looting.
“Japan is handling this in a very Japanese way,” he wrote. “I do not foresee riots or mobs. Everybody understands and is doing their best to get through to the next day, even those who have lost or are missing someone. Right now, the main concern is about the radiation released from the damaged nuclear plants.”
Kerns said he has no inclination to leave his home.
“I don’t plan on leaving. Unless the nuclear issue becomes very serious, I won’t move within Japan, either,” he wrote. “I do have options if things become difficult. Earthquakes, typhoons and other disasters are nothing new to Japan. This particular disaster is larger in scale.”
Van Meter-Yamada is an English teacher at Interac Nagoya and lives in Seki, about four hours from the major disaster areas.
“We also live in the mountains, so we felt nothing more than a light jumble,” he wrote. “We are close enough to be worried if they have a total nuclear disaster; we could get some radiation no matter what the wind does.”
Like much of the world, Van Meter-Yamada saw the destruction on television.
“I had just come back to school from a field study. I watched the tsunami crash into Sendai live. That one was more than 33 feet high,” he wrote. “It is surreal to see that entire villages and cities are gone, missing half the population or more. It has been making me feel pretty sick.
“Japan lost 40 percent of its gross domestic product. That is a lot of jobs, and there are now a lot of homeless. There is no tsunami insurance; those people will be rebuilding from their own pockets. The Kobe quake was about 16 years ago and they still have not recovered financially in any way. That was one city and some suburbs. This is an entire swath of the nation. The economy is already taking a massive blow; banks are kind of going crazy. There were places like local sake breweries, around for hundreds of years, that are now gone. The history is gone. Those were cultural treasures.”
Kerns has adopted his new country’s calm demeanor.
“Just like Ohio has tornado and fire drills, we have earthquake drills and other safety drills,” he wrote, “but the devastating tsunami which jumped the protective barriers was not expected. The nuclear issue was also not expected. For the most part, we are trying to return to normal.”
I am grateful that my friends have been spared the worst and grateful to Facebook for being a vital link to them. Please join me in donating to the earthquake and tsunami victims by visiting www.redcross.org.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at (419) 241-1700 or at email@example.com.