Friday, 1 April 2011

The nightmare that is this month

So, three weeks ago we had an apocalyptic sized earthquake and massive tsunami here.  It was my last day of work, and I got stuck walking home eight hours across Tokyo and part of Kanagawa.  That wasn't really the bad part.  At that point I was in survival mode and making an adventure of it.  I was also completely unaware of the actual damage, and I kept myself that way because as soon as I started paying attention, as soon as I saw videos of moms looking for their kids and a woman asking if a hospital somewhere was taking care of her missing daughter-in-law who was too pregnant to run fast and went missing, I broke.  There are still over 5,000 people missing, presumed dead.  There are thousands more in schools and temples trying to get by.  They interviewed a group of moms a couple of weeks ago asking what the shelters needed, and they described how all the kids had colds and diaper rashes, they wanted to be able to at least bathe the babies in warm water, and that there were a lot of people who had lost their contacts or glasses and couldn't see to take care of the kids.  Just to note - almost every Japanese person I know has terrible eye sight and wears really strong contacts.

Today at the vet I almost started crying again with the news on.  I avoid watching it.  I know it's hard for people back home to know how real all this has been here.  To everyone back home, Fukushima is just a name that's hard to pronounce, Sendai is some city across a giant ocean, and they have no idea what Tohoku is.  For most of the people I know will be forgotten when the next disaster hits somewhere or filed away as "I'm glad Chris got out of there okay," but it never will for me.  All those people who died, the towns that just ceased to exist, they were closer to me than the people who died in New York on 9-11.  For me, Fukushima is 150 miles away.  Sendai is one of the five major cities all of my favorite bands tour.  I'm not reading interviews in subtitles or hearing them voiced over, I'm hearing pain in the words as they are said.  Apparently there was a fire in Tokyo caused by the quake... it was on the other side of the city from me, but I went there today.  I could see the NHK building in Odaiba from a bridge.  I passed through Tamachi on my way there then found out tonight that a ramp to the roof of the Costco there had collapsed on the 11th.  Bottled water is still hard to find because after the 11th everyone panicked and bought it out.  The same with any instant or easy foods.  Bread was sold out everywhere for over a week and is still the first thing to sell out.  My local stores are just now getting rice in.  Since they found radiation in some of the tap water on the east side of the city, even juice and soda has been hard to find.  The vending machines are all sold out.  Everything is dark - stores, office buildings, signs, trains - in an effort to conserve energy and make up for the lack of output. 

I'm not putting this up here for sympathy.  When it comes down to it, the effects of the Tohoku earthquake were and are an inconvenience for me.  I chose to walk home because I was afraid my window was busted open and I didn't want to leave the cats in the cold to possibly escape.  (My windows had, actually, shaken all the way open, and my apartment was freezing inside.  The cats were fine, but very cold and hungry since it'd been almost 24 hours since they'd eaten.)  I walked on no food because I was a flake that morning and forgot to bring myself a lunch and all they had at the store was a tiny salad.  I was out of food and water in my apartment, but I was still able to find enough to eat and juice to drink.  The weeks of tremors have been aggravating and distracting, but nothing is broken, and I have no legitimate reason to complain about them.  I've had it easy compared to many.  I'm writing this because next week, barring any disaster at or getting to the airport I will be back in Michigan, and to be completely honest, I'm terrified of facing the people I love.  I know what is said is meant in love, but no, I am not happy to be getting out of here.  I'm terribly sad and stressed and don't know what to do with myself.  Even before this I was sad and torn, and a few times, angry about the reactions and things going on here, I've said I'll be glad to be gone, but that's not true.  This place, it infuriates me to no end, but it's been home for four years.  That's almost all of my adult life.  I'm sure, in time, I'll be happy to be back in Michigan, but it's going to take time to adjust, to get used to being among Americans, to driving on the right side of the road, eating a salad with a fork, responding to people in English, all those little things that you really take for granted until they're either gone or completely different.

Everyone wants to know about Japan, and everybody has their own ideas about what it's like here.  Most people haven't got a clue.  The stereotypes of Japan are all wrong, but even Japanese people will go about saying things like "Japan is mysterious and difficult to understand."  Students of Japanese culture will often flat out ignore the reality and believe what they want to believe about Japan.  Western media shows a Japan that isn't real, it's a superficial image interpreted how people want it to be interpreted.  A really good discussion on Orientalism is here (click on "Legacy of Orientalism" on the left), on the Penn State University website.  I wish I could make everybody read that before they ask me questions because even when I answer, whether they do it intentionally or not, most people don't hear what I say.  They hear what they want to hear and interpret it to match what they believe Japan should be.  For non-scholars it's an innocent mistake, and if the person I'm talking to is willing to listen, really listen, it's a topic I'm more than happy to discuss. I've lived here four years, and apart from that I spent six years studying Japanese and Japan.  It's something I've loved for a decade, and when you've only lived through two of those, that's a long time.  The thing is, I need time.  I need to process my life before I can talk about it.  I've been crying the whole time I've been writing this, sobbing sometimes even.  This is hard for me.  This month has been draining.  My best friend left seven months ago, and I've been alone almost every day since.  The job that I thought I loved turned into a nightmare.  It's been a hard year.  Even leaving my school here and returning to America after having the best three months of my life with Lindsey and Chieko, adapting to life in America was hard.  I don't honestly think I managed completely before I left again.  I started bawling in the middle of Hudson's after encountering something counter to what I had gotten used to here.  I couldn't eat most American foods.  I went to an anime convention with my friends and couldn't understand why I was surrounded by Japanese things but everyone was speaking English.  No one understood me when my English failed and Japanese popped out.

Being in Michigan is going to be difficult.  Even though my family loves me and I have friends there, it's going to be difficult.  I'm going to need time to adjust, and I'm going to need the space to adjust in.  I'm partly writing this for my family to read, since they're the main people who follow this blog.  I won't be able to explain in person any of what I said here because it'll upset me and it won't all come out in English which will just frustrated me more and it'll all just become an incoherent string of babbling and crying.  In time, when I'm ready, I would love to talk about Japan.  It will take me longer to talk about what has happened since the Tohoku earthquake.  If you think of it like talking to someone in upstate New York about 9-11 in October of 2001 you might get something of an idea of what this is to me.  And I'm putting this on the internet, rather than emailing it, because this earthquake has not only effected Japanese people, it's effected the entire ex-pat community here as well.  We're also the ones who have to deal with reverse culture shock and friends and relatives who don't really understand what this is to us no matter how much they love us and care about us.  I don't know if anybody will actually read this, and I know I'm incredibly long winded, but if what I've managed to articulate about my feelings and experiences in writing here helps somebody else describe theirs then it's worth it.

Thank you for reading this far, and I hope what I've written makes sense because right now, I'm not sure I can say it any better.

1 comment:

Bridget said...

hey Essie, I just wanted to let you know that coming home after the earthquake is hard for me too.. um.. I'm basically going through everything you said. I'm having an extremely difficult time explaining to people how far away the tsunami and Fukushima reactor were from me, and how little they really affected things were I was.. and just.. yeah.. so.. I know. I know.
lastly, omg!! you used my professor's textbook to reference the legacy of orientalism!! yay!! so that made me happy :)
anyhow, take care, and if you're feeling frustrated or anything.. just like.. give me a holla ok? we can comiserate.