The effects of the March 11 tragedy have proven more severe than anybody imagined. The death toll. The death toll is now approaching 11,000 with the total number almost certain to top 20,000. Just to put this in perspective for Americans, the total death toll of both September 11 and Katrina was less than 5,000. This is an incredible national tragedy for Japan, certainly the worst since World War II.
Added on top of this is the effect of the ongoing nuclear reactor problems in Fukushima. Workers at the plant have suffered from overdoses of radiation, and those who live in the immediate vicinity of the plant are in jeopardy as well. Many have been forced to relocate at great social and economic cost. Just to give one example of the terrible impact, one organic farmer who lives near the plant has already committed suicide due to the loss of his farm and livelihood.
The Fukushima nuclear crisis is having broader impact as well. Power rationing is occurring in much of the center and north of the country, and, though it will lessen soon due to moderate spring weather, could pick up again in the heat of summer and the cold of winter.
All that being said, life is gradually returning to normal in Tokyo. Aftershocks have become less frequent, and radiation readings in the air and water are within the normal range. Exports of milk and vegetables from Fukushima are being restricted, but we have had no problem finding things we need on grocery shelves. Stores usually limit milk purchases to one liter per person per day, but if you need more you can simply go to another store. People who have left the city out of caution are steadily returning, and attendance at schools and workplaces is on the rise. Universities, which have been on scheduled break the last couple of months, are scheduled to reopen in April, though some have pushed back the start date to later in the month to allow time to more fully prepare.
We are set to finish our year here in June and return to the United States. We considered leaving early, but in the end saw no reason to, since aftershocks have subsided and radiational levels here are normal. Keiko’s family lives in far western Japan, which offers another safe haven in the unlikely event we would need it. We are looking forward to enjoying our last couple of months in Japan as we continue our research and our children’s schooling.
I can say that for me, the entire experience has been an incredible eye-opener. I have learned more about Japanese culture in the last few weeks than I had in the entire 17 years my (Japanese) wife and I have been together (and I can even say that I better understand and appreciate my wife because of this deepened understanding of Japanese culture). I continue to be amazed by stories I read of sacrifice here as well as of social organization before, immediately following, and after the earthquake. I look forward to witnessing and learning more about the quiet strength of the Japanese people as they rebuild their country in their own way.