Saturday, March 26, 2011

We are all Japanese

Even if we don't have a Japanese passport, we should all consider ourselves Japanese.  The massive 9.0 earthquake that hit the country didn't affect "another" group of people.  It affected our fellow brothers and sisters. And the next natural disaster could easily affect you and your immediate family.  Over the past few weeks, I've seen how this tragedy has affected many of my classmates who either are from Japan or of Japanese descent.  Now that my network is quite a bit more global, tragedies like this become a little more personal. 

I view this blog as not only an outlet to share my opinions and stories, but also to spread other opinions and stories.  At LBS, we have a mechanism that allows anyone affliliated with the school to send a message to the entire LBS community which includes tens of thousands of people.  One of our alums has been sending periodic updates, and I thought I'd share them on this post.  It's a first person point of view, and there are some poignant parts, especially the last sentence in the 25/3 letter.

March 19, 2011
Dear All,

I am glad to see some actions from LBS to support refugees in Eastern Japan.

Here are some insights about life in tokyo without any media filter.

3/11 was of course a terrible experience and the strength and length of this earthquake (3 minutes) was unseen. I will never forget it...everyday strong aftershocks remind me that life is very fragile.

Since the nuclear plants broke down Tokyo area (35 million people) has simply not enough electricity. So we have a daily schedule and the city has been divided in 5 groups, everyday electircity is shut down for 3-4 hours. We cannot ask electricity supply from the western part of japan as their power plant use a different frequency. Electricity power ourages will at least happen until the end of April. This implies also disruptions on train services. Shops are closed...which is really unusual in Japan, traffic lights stop and make street crossing a dangerous experience.

We had clearly issues getting products as logistics had been disrupted. What we missed was milk, eggs, water, gasoline, rice, etc...

Now it looks a litte bit better, although you can only take one bottle of milk per person or 20 liters of gas for your car, we cannot complain.

Many companies are relocating people to the Kansai area (Osaka-Kobe) not because of radiations but because you just cannot have your business as usual in Tokyo right now.

There is no real panic due to Fukushima. Although many foreigners left through their embassies recommendations, Japanese stay calm.

But the real issue starts in what is called 東北 in Japanese. there old people die because there is no heating with negative temperatures, they have no drugs, no food but still hope. In an aging country this area counts many many old people and it is difficult to image how they can survive.

As modern as Japan is, getting hit by a 500 kms 10m wave, earthquakes, nuclear issues is certainly too much.

Thank you for any kind of support you can provide.

-LBS alum
March 25, 2011
I received some mails to give an update on japan so here it is.

2 weeks ago we were all shocked by the wrath of nature. Everyday was full of bad news and it was extremely difficult to think about tomorrow.

Life in Tokyo changes very quickly.

If we had issues finding eggs, milk,...or even toilet paper&tissue (Japanese have a huge consumption of those last 2 items) things have changed.

What we clearly miss now is water. There is simply no water in the supermarkets or convenience owners say it will arrive soon though. Actually it is not entirely true, I could find some small bottles of Perrier...and mysteriously there is no Coke for 3 days now. Because of the contamination by radioactive iodine we need to be extremely careful. Of course it is said to be only dangerous for infants, but radiation changes quickly, depending on wind, rain, etc...So most of the Japanese in Tokyo try to avoid to drink tap water. Because iodine has a half-life of 8 days I keep tap water in bottles and use it 8 days later to cook, I don't drink it though. What really worried me is cesium and they start to find some.

Tokyo governement is distributing 3 small bottles of water per infant and just lifted the warning on tap water today, but new areas are hit now with rates from 120 to 210 bq. I start to be an expert in radiation now. On mother on TV said 本当の事を知りたい I want to know the truth!

Vegetables is an another critical issue. Japanese eat a lot of vegetables and those from Fukushima are clearly banished. There is an official exclusion zone of 30 kms around Fukushima nuclear plant...but they found Cesium contamination 5cms underground in a village 40 kms far from the plant. I feel so bad for the people that were cultivating it. The government said it will compensate for the loss. But money will not compensate one life's work gone away. One day or another the Japanese government will have to explain why thy didn't extend the area to 80 kms after the U.S. recommendation. But in Japan there is only one way, the Japanese way. So everybody faces the issue together, aligned...Japanese spend a lot of time in meetings to make sure that everybody agrees, but the execution part is very impressive.

Imagine that in one day you tell 35 million sof people: We don't control the nuclear plant, winds are sending radiations all over Tokyo, water is contaminated, there are risks of massive earthquakes again, there si not enough gazoline for everyone to escape, etc... Well at least the government could avoid a huge panic...but when I see young children playing with sand in the Park in front of my home...I kinda wonder if releasing piece of informations one by one was really the best solution?

Electricity outage continues. I must admit it is quite depressing when everything stops for 3 hours but I cannot complain, at least I can use electricity 21 hours per day. Business is really disturbed and many big companies are relocated in Osaka, smaller companies that can't afford it stay and make their best.

Earthquakes are really part of my life, everyday...Actually I have a warning system in my home. It is connected by optic fiber to the government network. Every earthquake send first short signals that are detected by this system and a voice (quiet scary voice actually) warns of an earthquake tremor coming. I think it is not working so have no warning and you are hit by a 5...or the system warns you of a 4 in the middle of the night...and nothing happens.

From all other the world TVs are impressed by Japanese behavior. I am also impressed, imagine a supermarket without water for two days, one employee was bringing water to the shelves...well people were just patient and waiting without pushing each other.

What impressed me the most was what is called HyperRescue. If Japanese are humble, those super firemen
were just incredible. They know that they have been exposed to radiation, they do their job without any hesitation. They go on TV and believe me give so clear and plain explanation. I just pray for them to be safe. Most of them were coming from Tokyo, Yokohama and Kawasaki. There were way more volunteers than requested.

Some sad news come also from the tohoku, the area most hit by the the way the wave was officially measured at 23.6 meters.

I particularly remember 3 stories among so many.

In Japan valentine's day is a day where women offer gifts, almost exclusively chocolate to men. Men offer...nothing.

But Japan has the white day, 1 month later men offer in return a gift.

One woman was complaining that her husband never offered some gift. When the earthquake hit the area he called his wife immediately and warned her of tsunami coming. He said that cell phones will be cut very soon and couldn't finish. Because he warned her she could escape the tsunami with her two young children. 3 day later the boss of her husband said they had found his corpse. He also brought all his belongings...among those ones was one diamond ring that he bought for the white day.

One old person heard the tsunami alert, he decided to go to the tsunami wall to close the gate and impeach the water to enter. Which was useless because the wave just swallowed it in a second. He could climb a hill just on time. But he left behind his family...all died. He said that he took the bad decision.

One caregiver put her family in safety but returned to the city to save old people,he could save many but made one trip too much.

A last thing that shocked me was that Japanese had to bury the corpses because there were no gaz to burn them...Japanese don't bury corpses. There is a cemetery but the grave 墓 (haka)is just a place where you put the ashes. It is extremely expensive to have a haka. When you go in the city hall you can see maps wher places are available. The first time I saw it I thought it was a plan where people could buy land for their houses. People said that as soon as they could they would take back the corpses and hold a full budhist, shintoist or christian cermony depending on their religion.

In Tohoku schools are really the heart of the city. Many refugees go to this building. School buildings in Japan are extremely robust. One young high-school student lost all her family, but she helps old people everyday, cooks rice and clean the building.

We probably spend too much time watching superhero movies on TV...The North of Japan is full of ordinary people who deserve our best attention.

-LBS alum

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