by May Graziella Masangkay
I saw a Japanese commercial ad hanging over my head during one of my morning train rides, and I couldn't help thinking of the impact of that phrase.
At a time when our sensitivity is drawn to all things that speak of hope, safety, and security, the ad had a message that hit home – beyond all this seeming hopelessness and senselessness of unexpected and unprecedented natural calamity, there is a future to look forward to. There is, if only we have the heart and courage to embrace it.
Much has been said, written and shared about the March 11 experience, which later unfolded into the triple disasters of a magnitude-9.0 earthquake, ensuing tsunami that ravaged Japan’s northeastern and eastern regions, and the nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant, which to this day continues and signals a long-haul and protracted battle.
Individually and collectively, we find ourselves trying to process our thoughts and feelings while sifting through volumes of information about what was happening around us. Pre-quake and post-quake, our future plans may have altered. Consciously or unknowingly, we find ourselves struggling with the changes in our routine. And whether you are part of the immediately affected group in the northeast or in the relatively farther and not-as-affected, we all seemed to share one thing – our desire to hold grip on any sign of normalcy.
When the disaster broke, I was at a meeting with my other colleagues at the 20th floor of our news headquarters. The rare alarm that signaled a breaking news set off in the entire building, the elevators were shut down, and we had no choice but to wait where we were and bear the swaying which continued for some time, together with the eerily squeaking sounds.
Soon after, bits of information came gushing in…the severity of the quake, the tsunami alert, the situation of nuclear plants, etc. After the quake subsided, I rushed back to my assignment (or “beat” as we call it) and the day unfolded with a series of press conferences, doorstep interviews, briefings, and what not. I just did not have the time to “process” the almost magnitude-9.0 scale of fear and anxiety I felt.
Being in the line of work that I was, getting information asap was a bittersweet thing – on one hand, I had information that would be a good source to rely on and be rational, but on the other hand, there was the risk of being overloaded with information and anxious. I was somewhere in between.
During the first few days of the quake/tsunami/nuclear crisis, everyday was a discovery of something new -- a fresh event to be worried about. One minute, the government was assuring that everything was under control, and another minute, there was an explosion in one of the reactors. Then came the advisories of embassies, the exodus of foreigners, exodus of Japanese to western and southern parts of Japan especially during the subsequent three-day weekend holiday.
I was having a hard time trying to make sense of what happened. Everything seemed so surreal. The safety and security and peace that I often associated my life in Japan shattered in an instant. I suddenly felt scared of being alone, of taking my usual leisure walk lest the quake hits when I am outside, of going out without my emergency bag. It was like everyday was like an alert day for me.
It was unnerving to see friends leaving one after the other even as you try to hold your ground here in Tokyo, amid the continued aftershocks. It was stressful, to say the least, to assure your families and friends back home that you are alright since the Fukushima plant is still 220-250 kilometers away and there is no concrete evidence of Tokyo being affected bigtime, when moments after, updates of the worsening situation of the plant grab the headlines, and words such as “meltdown” and “Chernobyl” seem to be appearing constantly.
I was a foreigner, but growing up here in Japan and working here for the past decade made Japan so much of my home that it was not an easy thing to just pack my stuff and leave. I believe many of us felt the same way and hit at one point or another that big question -- should I stay or should I go?
Fast forward to now – a month since the tragedy struck, signs of normalcy are emerging with people who left Japan trickling back, trains operating as usual, grocery stores no longer lacking in supplies, and people more willing to talk about the ordeal.
For me, people I talked to happened to be from my faith community -- the Couples for Christ community which has been like a family to me because through it all, for whatever reason that bound us here, by obligation to work or by choice, they were there and it gave me hope and encouragement.
One of the dominant realizations for myself and, as far as the people I have talked to were concerned, was this deep, newfound appreciation of all things that are “normal” and “ordinary.” I have come to embrace the joys of all things “ordinary” and “normal”. In a fast-paced society like Tokyo, I usually went by my schedule without taking too much time to appreciate every little thing that passes me by. But during the rush hours in the morning, I found myself listening to every clanking sound of people walking and running to and out of the train; I became more observant than ever to every little detail, whether it was the shape of a flower I passed by, the expression of each person on the train, the ticking sound of the clock. I found comfort from any sign, however trivial and silly, of a normal, pre-quake life.
Interestingly, the Western media have pointed out at the “extraordinary” value of calmness and order displayed by the Japanese people at the disaster-hit areas. Having been raised in Japan, I have always thought that such calmness and order was the norm. It was simply normal to fall in line and wait for your turn, to share with others if supplies are lacking and be considerate, to think and act for the greater good. And now, when someone points out about it, you realize how such “ordinary” values are being praised as “extraordinary” when in fact those values deemed as extraordinary should have been ordinary in the first place.
We all have our reasons why we choose to stay or leave. We all have our different tolerance levels for situations. Leaving at the height of the disaster may be, as some argue, betrayal or chickening out, but I think it’s more than that. The disaster has considerably changed our routine, priorities and the way we look at our lives. The fear and anxiety of what happens next is still there. And it’s really every individual’s way of coping with things, every individual’s right to determine or decide for himself what he wants, what he values, and where he wants to be now and in the coming years. I believe it also boils down to how much you trust the government of Japan that it can put things under control, how much you are willing to bear and wait and see how things will unfold, how much attachments you have in Japan. No one can or should decide for you. If you are not at peace here in Japan, then go. If you feel that you want to stick around and be part of the reconstruction efforts of Japan, then do so. There are no right or wrong answers.
And after having processed your thoughts and feelings and changes in routine in this time of uncertainty, after having a grip of the senselessness of what happened, maybe the question will be -- What now? What can we do? What should we do?
And I believe we will have different answers for that. It may be service through your current work. Or volunteer work, in and our outside the disaster-hit areas. Or trying to be as normal as you could, buying things and attending events in the hope of stimulating the economy, which would in turn help the rebuilding efforts in Tohoku and the whole of Japan. Or you could be rearranging your priorities to spend more quality time with your loved ones and together do something to help those in need.
It doesn't have to be big. I recently attended a charity event for the Tohoku victims and there was a boy who came and donated toys and books so that children his age would find comfort and be happy in those gifts. Young as he was, he already knew what it meant by giving and reaching out to people.
Just like a lot of us of foreign nationals in Tokyo, I have not been directly affected as people in Miyagi, Iwate or Fukushima. I have not been deprived of sleep, food, water, home or all other basic necessities. I have not lost a family, friend or neighbor. Nonetheless, I feel affected. Why? Because we continue to feel the effects of aftershocks, radiation fears, and rolling blackouts. Because what happened in the Tohoku region could have happened to us. Because, though we may not be related to them, Japan has become our home.
As I keep on thinking and processing all these mixed emotions, I find myself again and again gazing at that Japanese ad again on the same morning train.
And I am hoping and praying that as the days pass, if there is one thing to be sad about, I would be able to erase that by finding 101 reasons to smile and be happy about. And I would like to believe that one day, I would realize that when I look at that ad, I can look around and see things are back to all things normal and ordinary, smile, and say to myself:
Talababa sa Japan: Marso 11, 2011 (II)
- Richard R. Gappi
9:48 PM, Martes, 15 Marso 2011
Angono, Rizal, Pilipinas
nasaan ang sangandaan
ng ngatngat ng lamig
...at panganib ng nukleyar
na nakaligid, nakabitin
sa litid ng ating titig?
na parehong tumatawid
humapay ang bigat,
tumagilid at lumigwak
na singbilis ng kurap.
Ito ba ang buntong hiningang
pangungusap sa pagpikit
nang madilim na ganap?
Ano ang hugis ng dilim?
Paano nasasalat ang kanyang said?
Sukatin sa titig
dahil isang bolang itim
ang malamlam na tingin.