Wednesday, 23 March 2011

10 days later...

It's been 10 days since the big earthquake hit, and the Western media seems to be bored already. The positive side to this is that Libya is getting some headline space again... I see that the U.S./U.K. couldn't quite manage to sit back and watch, after all. The nuclear reactor situation in Fukushima is still causing panic and hype, but it feels as if the constant panic has eased off. Perhaps enough scientists have published statistics and reassuring words. However, the death toll keep increasing. It currently stands at 9000 and is expected to rise. Today, I heard that a JET teacher from Miyagi had been found dead. Of course, that isn't to say that the situation is suddenly only tragic when a foreigner is caught up in it - but I think that all of us, as English teachers, feel a pang of sadness when we hear that one of our own group has passed away. I suppose that it also brings a cold shiver or reality - how that could have been any one of us.

Don't let the fact that news reports have started to fade fool you into thinking that things are OK. As time goes by, the people in shelters become colder and hungrier. Many who were not directly killed by the tsunami may not survive the shelters, especially as many of them are elderly. Your donations could save lives.

In Hamamatsu, a friend of mine has been collecting blanket and food donations outside the station. City Hall are arranging these donations, but have not advertised them, which is pretty strange. Still, a good amount of blankets were collected the other night, and on Saturday one of the local bars held a fundraising night for the disaster victims.

Things feel more or less normal in Hamamatsu, although it may all be on the surface. Some factories have closed (how temporarily, I don't know) leaving many of the immigrants (from Brazil, Indonesia etc) searching for part-time work. A lot of people that I know are leaving; some because of fear, some because their families are being fed fear from the media back home and are begging them to return. I heard that Hamamatsu Matsuri, the biggest event of the year here (during Golden Week) has been cancelled, as have a lot of enkais (end-of-year school staff drinking parties) as they do not feel it is proper to celebrate while their brethren suffer. I heard some reports of low supermarket supplies, especially rice, toilet paper, nappies and instant meals. I haven't noticed it much myself, apart from the Cup Noodle aisle of my local supermarket. Still, we still have power and food, and people are trying to continue with their lives as normal - what else can anybody do?

A lot of people were leaving this week, anyway, as the school year has come to an end. This also means that a lot of new teachers are coming in, or at least they would be normally. In a Facebook group called Interac 2011, I met a lot of new ALTs who were placed in Sendai, Fukushima, Miyagi... had the earthquake hit just a couple of weeks later, well... of course, now, Interac are doing their best to place the newcomers in safe locations, but suffice to say a lot of them have cancelled or postponed their plans.

Still, a great number of the new ones have decided to come across anyway. Their flights may have been diverted, the Tokyo training moved to Osaka, and their parents may be distraught that their child is moving to a "disaster zone" (even when the placement is hundreds of miles away from any of it), but many of them have expressed a desire to help, a desire not to let the children down. Admirable? Crazy? I'm not sure. Had this happened a year ago, when I was ready to up and leave, I don't think I would have come. But coming to Japan has, so far, been the greatest thing to happen to me.

It's messed up. Some people come here to teach, and they end up being taken away by a tsunami. Others marry a Japanese person and spend the rest of their lives here. Some will leave after a year or less, having only seen the very tip of the iceberg. For me, I have grown and learned in so many ways, met some amazing people, felt like an adult for the first time in my life, found the love of my life and - in the last two weeks - realised the true fragility and preciousness of everything. So, to those who have decided to come here despite the last week's disasters, pain, panic and fear... you are very, very brave. Perhaps your motivation for coming here is not simply to help. Perhaps you just want to escape from living with your parents, to finally start making it on your own. Perhaps you won't be able to help as much as you had hoped. For your sake, I hope against hope that your journey is a good one, and that it does not end in the heartbreaking way that it did for one girl on the JET programme up in Miyagi. My thoughts are with her family right now, for I can't imagine how they must feel.

1 comment:

  1. gwyneth,
    how much money can one possible save per month in japan as an english teacher? (£ or $)
    i am considering it next year.
    i will be visiting fukuoka in the week, first trip to japan