It’s the eve of the New Year, Heisei 24, Year of the Dragon, and I hereby resolve to leave behind my complacency. I began the process during the Spring and Summer of this past year, and have been prodded by friends Angela and Jacinta to put my resolve in words. And now that I’ve booted up my laptop and begun, I might as well expand on my list of resolves. Here goes.
In the weeks immediately following the 3-11 disaster, I was relatively complacent about the hydrogen explosions occurring at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and the ensuing release of radioactivity into the environment. Despite the flood of concerned e-mails that poured in from family and friends abroad, some of whom I had not heard from in years, I felt no sense of panic, and never even remotely considered leaving the country. As the Tokyo Electric Power Co. claimed that the tsunami was “beyond imagination and expectations”, the fact that a meltdown might possibly have occurred and the Japanese people were purposely kept uninformed was a possibility that some part of my mind could not accept. While friends in the US were mailing me their thoughts about the “meltdown”, I continued to assure them that, in fact, a meltdown had not occurred and the situation was under control. We had been assured of it, and had no reason to think otherwise.
Needless to say, when NHK eventually announced that at least one meltdown had occurred
(an official announcement was made at a press conference on May 16, over two months after the fact ), the news felt like a cold slap in the face. Or so I assume. I have never, thankfully, been on the receiving end of such a slap, but I imagine it feels as jarring and piercing as Hosono Goshi’s announcement. The official explanation was that TEPCO officials had actually been unaware that the meltdown had occurred, but no experts were buying that, and ordinary citizens were outraged that even the possibility of meltdown had not been broached by the media. From that point on, I could no longer be complacent; I continued to watch the nightly news, but began searching the internet as well, for videos, blogs, and articles from newspapers and magazines around the world. Facebook proved to be a treasure trove of resources, as groups focused on volunteerism and information exchange began springing up and strangers banded together in an effort to translate information into as many languages as possible. Once I realized that truth was something that must be thought over, fought over, sought after and finally caught (after some effort, rather than received as a natural occurrence), I set about playing by the new rules. The truth that was gradually revealed was, again, uglier than I had imagined: beyond expectations. There were more lies, more cover-ups, more betrayals, and all supported by a system corrupted by greed and cowardice. A glimpse into that world has been more than enough to destroy my complacency (though I still have faith–that is another issue altogether), and I hereby resolve to make sure that complacency does not come creeping back up on me in the New Year. I will stay vigilant.
I also resolve to leave behind my sense of the impossible. Living in a very conservative neighborhood of a city that is considered “the country”, it is easy to fall into patterns. Folks in my neighborhood are early risers, hard workers, and keep fairly predictable schedules. This is especially true of my own family, where the influence of my risk-averse and extremely
health-conscious father-in-law rules the household. Visiting relatives are briskly shooed of the house at an early hour so that bath-time can proceed on schedule and everyone can get to bed “on time”. My husband also becomes anxious around late afternoon when we’re travelling, fretting that we need to find a restaurant as soon as possible so we can get home “on time”. Heaven forbid we might either skip dinner or get home after bath time! Drinking alcohol at home is done only in moderation, and red wine is preferred over white as “healthier”. Anything stronger would be frowned upon. The concept of throwing caution to the winds and dispensing with schedules and traditions is decidedly unpopular both in my home and in my neighborhood, as proven by the level of alarm and curiosity shown by my next-door-neighbor, Tamura-san whenever I leave the house at an “unexpected” (i.e. a time that she herself is not used to seeing me leave) hour. “Oooooh, where are you going??” she will fuss. “And what are you going to do??” She will not rest until she has the details, and I have become quite adept at providing facts just specific enough to satisfy her curiosity but just vague enough to preserve my own privacy. I provide all this information as an explanation of my own gradual slide into the world of healthy living, predictable schedules, and lack of adventure. Which is what I now wish to leave behind, if I can do so without risking the support and respect of my extended family.
I began leaving behind my “sense of the impossible” this fall, when faced with opportunities that forced me to choose between my potential health and stability and…..the lure of contributing to a good cause with the added bonus of adventure. It pains me to admit that there would have been no conflict of interest at all twenty years ago; I could’ve worked full-time and had energy to spare for racing about and having adventures. But I’m now fifty years old, and hesitate to push my body beyond a certain point. Racing about on weekends means a backlog of tiredness going into the workweek. I work between forty to sixty hours a week, and the sensible thing to do is to recuperate and conserve my energy when not working. Trips to Tokyo from Hadano involve long and tiring train rides, battles with crowds, and treks up and down steep concrete staircases…… But how (I reasoned) could I miss the September Sayonara Genpatsu anti-nuclear demonstration in Tokyo, when tens of thousands of people were expected?? And how could I not pay a visit in support of the Hunger Strikers for the Future, when these four intelligent and courageous young people had
given so much of themselves to support their vision of the future? I did both, on the same day, and came home energized. Bounced right back into work the next day and got through my week just fine. When my friend Linda called in October and asked if I’d be interested in a volunteer trip to Miyagi (involving a weekend of very early mornings and late nights) , I surprised myself by agreeing on the spot. I also surprised myself by doing it, enjoying myself immensely, and–best of all–not getting sick afterwards. Well, if I could do that, then I could certainly swing another day in Tokyo to support mothers from Fukushima who were sitting outside government offices for ten days to plead their case for government-funded evacuee status. I went, met a group of strong intelligent women, and learned still more about the complications of life in Fukushima Prefecture. On a roll, I then ventured back to Tokyo to participate in another event for Fukushima evacuees living in the
city, helping UK artist Geoff Read as he drew portraits of children; my contribution was listening to and recording their stories in words. In between all these events that involved commuting on the weekends, I interviewed the people around me to get a feel for their viewpoints, fund-raised like crazy, sent boxes of shoes to an orphanage in Aomori, and organized the staff of my school to donate money to send Christmas trees and presents to folks living in temporary housing in Miyagi (another project spearheaded by my friend Linda, whose energy is truly boundless). And by golly, I did it all and never got sick! True, it is now the end of the year and I am fighting an exhaustion unlike that of years past…..yet here I am, still able to type out another blog entry, and only slightly more short-tempered than usual. Must be that my definition of “impossible” was far too cautious to begin with. From here on in, I will toss it in the trash bin! Or better yet, burn it in the January ritual burning ceremony that takes place by the river every year. Along with amulets and charms from the Year of the Rabbit, my over-cautious nature will go up in flames, with a great whoosh! And if I do pay the price in the form of a nasty cold brought on by over-exertion, I must grit my teeth, drink hot tea, and forbear any excess whining.
Lastly, I hereby resolve to continue blogging, as long as I have something to say. I also resolve
to blog for the right reasons (attempting to either move, edify, provoke, or challenge my readers) rather than as self-indulgence or as a bid for either pity or praise. I resolve to resist the temptation to become obsessed with my ratings rather than my writing, or to draw attention to my own volunteer efforts and away from the folks on the receiving end, who still need publicity, sympathy, and practical assistance. As I say this, I realize that this entire entry is full of me; New Year’s resolutions are necessarily so, and I ask your forgiveness. Please do click on any or all of the links in this entry that lead to the people of Tohoku and their stories, as well as the people who are fighting to preserve and restore the fragile ecosystem and to keep Japan’s future free of nuclear power. In the end, this blog will continue to be about post-disaster Japan: a country that has barely begun to heal, and whose open wounds will continue to bleed for years to come.
I want to close, however, on a hopeful note. Healing has begun and volunteers from around the world have been a vital part of the process. Here’s a video that I’ve watched many times over, showing the joy of a group of Japanese children involved in an intercultural art project organized by a team of French film makers, and featuring narration by a granny that will make you grin through your tears. The film makers’ love of children shines through, and their talent for capturing expressions makes every second a delight. Fine music, too. Take a look at the video of a French art project in Tohoku. Enjoy it, and remember the children of Northern Japan in this New Year. Thank you for reading, and I wish you love and light in the Year of the Dragon.