Voices from Japan (II): Yu

My friend Yu

Shanghai/Shizuoka-- My friend Yu is a sort of 'institution' in my life. I met him on my last night in Spain in 2000 and ever since we've been in close contact. In those days when - yes, unbelievable to imagine now - internet was a novelty and I could count on the fingers of one hand the numbers of people I could email with, he was my "e-brother". We wrote to each other almost every day, to the point that he had somewhat become a member of my family and even my flatmate, who had never met him, would ask me about his latest accounts.
Back in those days, Yu was my window to Japan, a country I had dreamt of ever since being a child and which I hadn't visited yet. Other than through Yu's emails.

I recently interviewed Yu for a story that I was about to publish on a magazine. Last-minute the article couldn't go to press, so I asked him for permission to publish it on my blog instead. And his reply, once again, proves of that adorable Japanese soul and attitude which even in such circumstances doesn't seem to crumble:
"I have no problem that you use my comments on your blog. Ask me anything without hesitation if you need to know about the situation of Japan. As a member of Japanese society, I want many people of the world to know the problem we are facing."

Yeap, already some food for thought...

So, here's the perspective on the disaster that unfolded in Japan exactly one week ago by this Japanese man in his mid-30s that lives in Shizuoka Prefecture.

S.: Did you notice anything unusual or particular when the earthquake occurred?
Y.: I did not notice anything about the earthquake at the moment, but when I watched the video of tsunami, I realized this earthquake was an unusual one.

S.: How do you estimate the size of this disaster to be?
Y.: Until now the news say that 15,000 people died or are missing, but I think that the number of victims will be around 20,000 people in the end. It is literally a disaster.

S.: According to some news, many people are starting to feel uncomfortable with the information they are being provided. They claim the reports are inconsistent, they don’t know whom to trust and they fear that not all the truth is being said to them. What’s your take on this? Do you feel reassured by the public information you are receiving at the moment? Do you trust what authorities are telling you?
Y.: I do not trust the public information, because I think the information is controlled.

S.: Do you feel safe now?
Y.: NO. Because I do not know what will happen next, another earthquake, tsunami, or nuclear power plant problem, etc. I think there are no signs of safety at present.

S.: What are you afraid of?
Y.: Especially of the nuclear power plant problem.

S.: Are you considering to move out?
Y.: No. Because I do not want to leave my city.

S.: Tell us about how your personal life changed since last Friday.
Are you still going to work? Yes.
Are you stocking up on emergency goods? Yes. Water and toilet paper.
Are you experiencing power cuts? No.
In general, I've started to think about death and life after the earthquake, especially when I watched the news about the victims.

S.: What do you think Japan is mostly in need of at present?
Y.: Nuclear power plant specialists and gasoline.

S.: How does daily life around you look like now? What differences do you notice?
Y.: People cornering the basic necessity items in supermarkets, food, water, gasoline.

S.: What’s your impression about the way how the Japanese people are coping with this situation?
Y.: I think that, historically and empirically, many Japanese people know that cooperating with each other is the best way to change this kind of situation as we have had many earthquakes.

S.: How do you think the Japanese culture is contributing to handle this massive disaster?
Y.: I think the culture of cooperation is contributing to handle this massive disaster.

S.: What’s your impression about the way how the institutions are reacting to and coping with the difficulties? Are they well coordinated? Do they seem to be ‘in control’?
Y.: Army and rescue units are doing well. But the administration and the electricity company which manages the nuclear plants are very bad. They seem to try to hide important information.

S.: Do you think Japan was prepared to cope with something of this nature and scale?§
Y.: Maybe Japan was. But as the reality shows, it did not work at all.

S.: The Emperor made a very rare appearance on tv broadcasting a public message. How is that being perceived?
Y.: I did not know this news. I think it shows how serious this problem is.

S.: Do you believe the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear problem could have been prevented? If yes, what do you think went wrong? Do you think someone knew of the danger and hid it?
Y.: The earthquake, the tsunami are not preventable. But the nuclear problem could have been prevented. I think this problem is a man-made calamity. If the company maintained the nuclear plant well, the problem would not have happened or it would have been less serious, I think.

S.: What’s your viewpoint on the nuclear threat: do you feel at danger?
Y.: Yes, I do.

S.: Do you think the danger has already started?
Y.: Yes. Many data about atmospheric radioactivity show the danger.

S.: Japan has already experienced an epic atomic disaster. Even though you haven’t personally experienced the 1945 nuclear disaster, how do you relate to that now?
Y.: I think the 1945 nuclear disaster is a kind of a trauma for Japanese people. It is like collective memory. For example, in my case, I live in a city very far from Fukushima where the nuclear plant problems is taking place. I feel fear, and anger. I recognize that it is not “their problem", but also “my problem".

S.: How do you expect your life to change after this catastrophe?
Y.: I think more about the disaster. I feel the fear and I've learned the importance of the cooperation, of helping each other. So my rules of personal conduct will be now based on this feeling.

S.: How and when do you think Japan will recover from this situation?
Y.: At least 3-4 month for stabilize social uneasiness.

S. :What do you think are key challenges in the short-term?
Y.: Aid for the victims.

S.: And in the long-term?
Y.:To establish comprehensive rehabilitation plan

S.: How long do you think it will take Japan to get fully back on its feet?
Y.: 2-3 years, maybe.

S.:The world seems to be currently undergoing some major changes with the large scale upheavals unfolding in North Africa and the Middle East, on top of the ongoing challenges. How do you look at the status of the world at the moment? What is the message behind all of this?
Y.: In my opinion, the post cold war regime is weakening. And as Information technology has developed, authorities can not control the information and ordinary people.