In the past few weeks I’ve had a lot of time on my hands what with my day job being closed due to the mega-disaster.
Lots of time to think, although remaining focused on anything other than the constant twitter pop-ups in the top right of this screen has proven more difficult.
Not helped by a phantom earthquake malaise that has punctuated the actual aftershocks and earthquakes with imagined ones, like having your phone on vibrate and feeling phantom rings against your leg from the phone in your pocket.
It has been and continues to be a little surreal.
In the wake of the events precipitated by the March 11th Earthquake I’ve have taken a long hard look at my opinions about this country as the world suddenly focuses all of its attention here until the next tragedy diverts it away again (Libya, Yemen anyone?).
The incredible human suffering that has occurred has moved and affected me as much as the next humanist but the conclusion I have come to is that it doesn’t change any of my reasons for feeling so uncomfortable here.
So, a few thoughts that have been rattling around…….
Companies like TEPCO embody all that I find distasteful about Japanese business practices, a long history of half-truths and outright lies all glossed over with a few crocodile tears in a press conference, swiftly forgiven and forgotten.
The Japanese government fully complicit in all of it, on the one hand public pantomimes of condemning TEPCO whilst on the other hand protecting them from public liability, even whilst TEPCO lies to its workers involved in trying to stabilise the Fukushima reactors.
Yet we are supposed to look at the pictures of destroyed nuclear reactors and believe them when they tell us not to worry.
Minamata not ringing any bells for anyone?
The governor of Tokyo the infamous Mr Ishihara days after the disaster publicly said (and later retracted) that it was a divine punishment (which divinity is unclear, as it often is in a country where people see no inconsistency with visiting a Buddhist and Shinto shrine in the same afternoon and then buying Christmas presents).
A man famous for his outrageous statements (all foreigners are suspicious and Japanese women over 30 who haven’t had babies should be ashamed, to name but two gems) but who has been re-elected twice and is running again!
Yet I have been told I am a ‘bigot‘, for daring to point out anything negative here.
The Japanese press famed for its openness, transparency and hard-hitting investigative journalism (ahem) has begun it’s inevitable and predictable name calling and doctoring of the truth.
Barely a mention of the Yakuza who risking their lives are taking food and supplies to the affected areas (The Yakuza’s involvement in all levels of society an open secret, one not to be discussed) but ample time and column inches to start berating those who left (at the initiation it seems of the foreign community) and printing unsubstantiated stories of “gangs of marauding foreigners” terrifying the people in the hardest hit areas.
Once again as they did after the great Kanto earthquake and the Kobe earthquake trying to paint it as an US (the Japanese) and THEM (everyone else) situation.
The term, which I can barely stop shaking with anger long enough to type of “fly-jin” has entered the lexicon(It even has its own website now, wtf?). A pejorative term for the foreigners who fled (their word not mine, I prefer the much less emotionally weighted term ‘left’) Tokyo at the height of the crisis surrounding the Fukushima reactors.
The discussion of whether those people were right to do so is barely worth having – of course those in senior positions who fled leaving their employees are reprehensible, but the reason it is so offensive is that the Japanese also ‘fled’ in huge numbers, one only has to look at the photographs from Haneda and Narita airports in the international media to see the sea of Japanese people also pushing at airline counters for tickets.
A falling back on the worn out stereotypes of the incredible stoicism and banding together of the Japanese as if these were especially Japanese traits, despite very good evidence that in these kinds of situations PEOPLE everywhere always pull together and help each other. Articles appearing questioning why there has been no looting, downplaying stories of millions of yen stolen from a destroyed bank in a tsunami hit area and sexual assaults taking place in shelters.
Scant mention too of the shocking selfishness of Tokyo residents who panic bought everything in the shops from toilet paper to cup noodles and all the bottled water on the day we were told the tap water was unsafe to drink for infants, leaving mothers and fathers desperately searching the internet for water deliveries.
Instead of focusing on a non-existent radiation danger here in Tokyo all of us need to focus our attention to the thousands of people in the north with no homes and not enough food, due in large part to a bureaucracy preventing supplies and medical attention reaching them, who are suffering in temperatures close to zero in areas that will take years to rebuild.
You say ‘fly-jin’, I say if a similar situation occurred in Los Angeles and the American government said “don’t panic” but the Japanese government said “get out” the airports would be full of Japanese people.
You say bigot, I say eyes wide open.
We all say tragedy.
Let’s Focus our attention on doing whatever we can to help instead of petty infighting and name calling.