After completing six? seven? weeks of exile in North America, Stella and I are finally in Japan. We left our home several days after the earthquake in North Eastern Japan amidst fears of radiation, relocation, food shortages, and uncertainty, believing that it was better to wait and see how the situation developed from afar rather than from within.
It was hard to know what the right thing to do was; the Japanese media downplayed the situation, assuring the population that despite a potential meltdown, the situation was not dire, while the Western media played it up, with images of slow moving destructive water on repeat, ticker-tape announcing aftershocks, comparisons to Chernobyl, selling ad space. People we knew started leaving Japan. We got tweets, Facebook messages, and emails imploring us to get out.
And so we did. Stella and I left. Mr. Chef stayed behind, holding up the fort, caring for our two cats, and coping as best he could. We are based in a city that is deemed relatively safe. It is safe. Our respective embassies had not advised evacuation. There was work to be done. And so he stayed.
Did we leave too hastily? Did we react to fear? Should we have stayed, linking arms in solidarity with our fellow (adopted) countrymen?
Evacuating expats have a very bad reputation in Japan. The tourism economy is down 70 percent. Planes going into Japan are empty, those leaving are full. Companies are sending foreign workers home. Factories are limping along, unable to find parts to fill orders. Some Japanese people think we’re too skittish: fair-weather friends. They’re calling us fly-jin (i.e. gaijiin = foreigner).
The Japanese mentality is to accept hardship. Suffering builds character. That’s why children wear shorts to their unheated schools in the middle of winter. It teaches them that life is hard. Better learn to suffer with grace. Maybe there’s something to that. A little something.
This will be a huge blow to Japan. An economy already suffering from the downturn. And the last crash before that. It’s huge, the impact of this earthy shift.
Still, selfishly, I’m glad we went. I know just how lucky we are to have been able to leave when we wanted. To have been largely unaffected by the events of March 11th. It could have been much worse. And In the face of all those thousands of people who did suffer, I feel guilty.
But we’re back. And wishing Japan a speedy recovery.
hope hope hope