When I think of 'Tohoku', the northern part of Japan that starts at the prefecture just above us and goes up to the northern tip of the mainland (Hokkaido is the big island just off that northern tip), I think: rice farmers, small business owners, small farmers, many, many older people because it is a relatively poorer area of Japan and so the young all flock to Tokyo. It would break anyone's heart to see all those pictures of the devastation, but that it is Tohoku seems to make it worse, somehow. It will take them years to come back from this. Some towns, never.
I was trying to think of how to explain the 'stereotype' of Tohoku people. Is it even helpful? I don't know. I am just following what my mind gives me. Think of New Englanders, maybe people from Maine (or my stereotype of them -- Pat can correct me). They are used to very harsh winter conditions, many different rough weather conditions, in fact. They are are self-reliant and resilient and perhaps not given to chatter, shall we say. The strong silent type, who is serious and hard-working. A pride of place, as their 'country' is one not for sissies.
They are used to tsunami warnings, they are used to big tsunamis (I've been hearing for years about some of the notorious ones in the past 100 - 200 years), but it all depends on how much time they had to get away. It is all being complicated, of course, just as it was in Kobe 15 years ago, by the lack of communication. If everything is washed away, there is no way to get the full picture.
We are still watching the nuclear power plant news, but there is nothing we can do but wait and see.
All my Tokyo friends are okay. Our part of Chiba is relatively safe.
I am starting this now -- 6:30 pm my time -- and will finish it up and send it before I go to bed, which will be your morning and then you will know more than we do, by the time we wake up tomorrow.
I feel wrenched in a thousand ways. I feel like I did on 9/11 -- I can hardly stand to watch any more television, yet I need to know what is going on. Too, because of the nuclear power plant situation, we really do have to be up the minute informed.
I think of how Japan's economy is fragile enough as it is and now we have this? With the best will in the world, how do we help all these people? I think of these families and how do they start to put their lives back together? But I thought the same after Kobe and though things (as friends tell me) are not the same there even now, you do put the pieces that are left back together.
Teams from the US, Australia and NZ are on their way here, as we speak. Only a few days, in fact, since the Japanese team got back from NZ.
How do I sleep with these images in mind, and we are not even badly affected, here??
The news is showing us before and after photos of different cities. The interpreter (and I know from Takeshi how professional they are), as she finishes talking about one photo, can be heard catching her breath as if she is doing her best to hold back tears. As we are, all day long.
They have asked everyone in the nation to preserve electricity as so much is down in Tohoku, so that is something (thank you!) concrete that everyone can do to help them. Stores in Tokyo are closing early, etc.
The Prime Minister just spoke, as of 9 pm:
He says that the explosion was NOT the container itself. The inside of the container, with the nuclear fuel inside, was not damaged. It was the outside concrete wall that fell off.
His expert says the radiation levels AFTER the explosion were measured and they did NOT go up and are, in fact steadily, decreasing.
They are going to fill the container around the core reactor, with sea water, to further cool it down.
Earlier reports of the container itself exploding are wrong.
He explained in more detail, but the gist is, don't worry. While I wouldn't go that far, it seems a less frightening picture than an hour ago.
Finally, the last piece of a picture of those in Tohoku: they are not into spring yet, as we are just starting to be. It is still quite cold there and they have snow in places. Most places have no electricity. But as happens, too, everyone is helping everyone.
Japanese PM's don't make inspiring or poetical speeches in times of crisis, yet I found myself profoundly moved at the suggestion that the opposition parties and the DPJ stop their bitter fighting over the budget (just going on now), recess the Diet (parliament) and all come together and work only on this issue of getting Tohoku the help it needs....