Tuesday 22 March 2011

Update on Earthquakes

So much for blogging every day. Real life got in the way in a big way during January and February - a whole host of things that will have to remain private so as to protect the innocent.

Anyway, a few people, knowing I lived in Japan, have emailed or commented asking if I'm okay. So I thought I'd give an update.

My wife and I moved back semi-permanently to the UK last year, but we were in Japan on holiday between the 5th and 21st of March, so we happened to be in the middle of Tokyo when the earthquake hit. It was a frightening experience - you could tell straight away that this was a big one, because you could feel the ground moving even in the street; you get lots of minor earthquakes in Japan, probably once every two weeks or so, but normally you only feel them if you're sitting down indoors. But essentially there was no harm done to either of us.

However, my wife's home town is Kesennuma city, very close to the epicentre, so the same can't be said of her family, who are all still in one piece but who have lost everything. When the earthquake happened they had about 10 minutes to grab whatever belongings they could, get in the car, and flee before the tsunami hit. Their house was only about 200 yards from the sea front and has been entirely swept away. Apparently all that remains is a single tile from the vestibule.

The main thing is that everybody's safe, obviously, but this has been a bit of a hammer blow to the entire family, of course. My wife and I came back to Britain as planned on the 21st, but will be going back to Japan as soon as possible to provide whatever help we can. We would have stayed anyway, but with no way of actually getting to Kesennuma (all trains are off and there's not enough petrol to drive) and without an infinite supply of money, we had no choice but to beat a temoporary retreat.

For anybody interested in the nuclear situation, I'd say it's been blown out of all proportion by a rather sensationalist and voyeuristic foreign media. Luckily the Japanese media, and public, have reacted in a very measured way, and in my view the behaviour of the government has been competent enough. The operating company of the power plant, Tokyo Denryoku, has been less than impressive in its handling of the media, but otherwise seems to have done what is necessary to prevent a crisis becoming a catastrophe.

My tip for the future is that Yukio Edano, the Chief Cabinet Secretary and government spokesman during the aftermath of the disaster, will have a big future in Japanese politics. He's been a constant on Japanese TV giving statements and press conferences, and has exuded nothing but calm, competence, and stability. This puts him in stark contrast to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who has been practically invisible and ineffectual even when he's appeared.