Firsthand account from Japan


With the recent disaster in Japan, I e-mailed high school classmate Charlotte Kennedy Taka­hashi to find out if she and husband Hiro, who own a home in Hillsboro, were OK. I thought I would pass along her perspective of what is happening on the ground in her adopted country. Excerpts from her account, printed here, are from last week.

We have had no problems with our home or offices except to be constantly rocked around a lot in the quake and aftershocks.

Our house is well built with the gas and electricity switching off at certain levels of earthquake. We just switched it back on after the quake. We now know our high-tech house works (no nails in the superstructure as the wood pieces are locked into other wood pieces so that it sways and gives; also have the first floor that is concrete, which stabilizes in comparison to older houses).

The worst that happened to us is we had to walk home from work last Friday night as the trains were not running. It took us almost two hours—it was spooky walking with thousands of people down the sidewalk and everyone was quiet. There were even shops and homes that said walkers were welcome to use the toilet. Food came out in plastic boxes on the side of the sidewalk.

Some people ended up walking up to four hours to go home or staying with friends. Even after 30 years, I am impressed with how orderly and organized Japanese are.

It is too bad that northeastern Japan had a disaster bigger than ever imagined. No amount of human planning could have counteracted what happened. The human tragedy is so terribly sad, but true to form the Japanese endure with stoic control and order and add practical resolution as soon as they are able. I am sure the death toll will be gigantic—for like with Kobe, the toll on life will be beyond the immediate situation.

We personally have plenty of food, and restaurants are open—we just have bread and milk shortages but it is estimated by the next weekend the run on certain things will end as logistical access to west Japan’s resources will be under control.

Japan is the most advanced country in the world for disaster preparedness, as evidenced by our survival last Friday in Tokyo. It is clear in the way people behave and in the way the buildings in Tokyo responded. No one could have been ready for that tidal wave.

However, the U.S. and foreign presses are a disaster! I am so angry at the press concerning the nuclear plant and the relief efforts. They are doing so much guessing and false reporting and it is causing panic. I listen to CNN and then compare with U.S. military, U.S. Embassy and Japanese press and it is like there are two different worlds. The suffering that the American press is causing is terrible. They should be held accountable. We need a blog: “Tall Tales from CNN and others.”

The French got out of hand (thanks to their irresponsible press). Their embassy closed and all got on a plane and left and were not available to their citizens. How crazy is that?

Also, many foreigners (especially other Asians) who have never experienced an earthquake, or who are in a panic about the nuclear plants, are running. Our embassy is behind us. Ambassador Roos is doing his best to counteract the irresponsibility of our press. We just have to get the roads clear so that the GE generators will arrive at the plants.

The anti-nuclear people are having a field day, with CNN bringing in scientific quacks to interview for their day in the sun—and it’s unfortunate, as it will be harder to make the U.S. a nuclear energy country, which is essential for our economic survival.

We were just starting a nuclear renaissance with new technology that secures the plants in a way never before possible.

Just had a big jolt (No. 3). I prefer tornadoes—one can usually get away from them.

An update later in the week….

The roads are opening up to the plant and electricity and water are beginning to flow into the nuclear plant. In all fairness, the Japanese government—very weak government with 23 percent approval rating—has been weak in communicating what is going on, so that enhances the press making guesses.

I also think the panic is being driven by foreign firms afraid of lawsuits if something does happens and by insurance companies cutting their losses.

Also, the fact that many elderly people have been the victims of the quake and the tsunami is sad. Also, the elderly do not ask for help because of their particular generation (World War II) and some have died because they have not communicated their needs—a very Japanese cultural aspect—as they did not want to bother anyone and did not want to complain. They just endure.

We continue to shake. Some expectation of another big one just north of Chiba-let’s—hope not. (550 aftershocks so far as of this moment.)

P.S. Had to walk home from work again—two hours last night. The trains suddenly stopped. At least I am getting my exercise.


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