Voices from Japan (V): Yoshie

People queue to buy toilet rolls and tissue papers in the district of Shinagawa, Tokyo on March 15.
Photo taken by Yoshie.

Shanghai/Tokyo -- Yoshie is a 25 years old student living in Togoshi, in Tokyo's Shinagawa district. In the afternoon of March 11th, when the earthquake occurred, she was in the office where she works part-time, in the district of Bunkyo. She immediately noticed the shakes as the ground was turning more and more shaky for a long time. Around her, one bookshelf broke, while magazines started falling down.

As I ask her how she feels now, she admits to feel unsafe, because of the nuclear crisis. "I’m very afraid of the expansion of radiations from the nuclear power plants" - she elaborates -"even if the water-spraying operations succeed, it will still not be a final solution to overcome the crisis. I feel at danger. Even if radiations do not harm my health immediately, they can harm me in the future if this unstable situation lasts.I’m thinking of leaving Tokyo, to go far away from the Fukushima nuclear plant, if this situation continues for another week or so."

In fact, she feels reassured by the public information provided about the earthquake. But when it comes to the nuclear accident, "I do not trust the government and TEPCO [Tokyo Electric Power Company] so much" - she explains - "in addition, about the scheduled blackouts, I do not think TEPCO is giving us enough information. TEPCO and the government do not give us any information about the amount of electricity we are lacking, and how and when it will be recovered. Therefore, people including me are very much stressed because no one knows when economic activities in the Kanto area [region including Tokyo metropolitan area] will be recovered."

Evacuation is clearly a thought in her mind. "I’m thinking of it" - she details - "because I’m afraid of the radiation spreading, even if public information say that the radiation level at the Fukushima nuclear power plant is decreasing. When I move out from Tokyo, I will go to Hachinohe-shi in Aommori prefecture because it is my hometown and my family lives there. However, Hachinohe is one of the cities damaged by the earthquake and tsunami and they are suffering a shortage of oil and gasoline. The Shinkansen [bullet train] from Tokyo to Hachinohe has stopped from March 11th, I would have to take a flight and bus to go to my city. My friends in Osaka, the west part of Japan, say that if I want to move out, they will let me stay for a while but I don’t think I’ll go there immediately."

People queue to buy rice in front of rice shop in Tokyo's Shinagawa district, on March 15th. The shop clerk was saying “If you have rice for the next a few days, please leave today,” with large voice.

Meanwhile, Yoshie stays on in Tokyo, although she leaves her apartment only when necessary. She's still doing her part-time job but her universities classes have been cancelled for the time being. "There are fewer people around where I live" - she noticed - "it is like during New Year’s holidays from Dec 28-Jan 3, when most people leave Tokyo to visit their parents’ or grand parents’ house outside of Tokyo."

With the increasing uncertainty about the evolving situation, Yoshie has also started stocking up on foods such as water, fruits, pasta and instant noodles. Luckily, she's not experiencing power cuts herself, but she was surprised "to find that my favorite Starbucks now closes 17.00, while it is usually open until 22.30", she describes.

Besides the nuclear threat which she believes to be priority to allow for Japan's recovery in the long-term, Yoshie is obviously concerned about the situation in Hachinohe, her hometown, which is experiencing a serious shortage of oil and gasoline. "I called my grandmother" - she explains - "and she said people have to wait for 4-5 hours or more to get gasoline. Even though there are oil tanks with oil in the city, some of the machines or systems to take it out of the tanks have been broken by the tsunami so people are unable to extract it."

Japanese people's traditional sense of solidarity and attention to the weak ones is of great help at the moment and explains how they still manage to keep calm, she explains. "However" - she anticipates -"if situations such as the shortage of electricity and food, fear of nuclear crisis and many aftershocks continue, I’m afraid Japanese people cannot keep calm anymore."

"I do not think the government and PM [Prime Minister] Kan have enough leadership" - she argues - "institutions are not well coordinated. There are a lot of shelters suffering from lack of food and oil. The Japanese government and PM Kan should be blamed. Some people in shelters have passed away due to the lack of medicines, food or oil to keep warm. They could have been rescued if the government had worked more effectively. The nuclear crisis could be smaller if the PM had required help of the US right after the crisis occurred."

Yoshie feels ashamed for the way how the government is handling some of the international aid offered. She read on BBC Live Blog about the British team that was sent back from Japan: "UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that any aid groups arriving in Japan needed to be integrated with the wider relief operation or to have their own logistical support, but that the UK team had had neither.”

"Earthquakes and tsunami are natural things and they are inevitable. We have earthquake drills and fire drills every year at elementary, junior-high and high school" - she goes on - "but for the nuclear crisis, TEPCO could have been better prepared or could have provided better nuclear power plant maintenance because the other nuclear power plant in Onagawa, operated by the Tohoku Electric Power and located closer to epicenter, suffered a more limited damage."

In turn, Yoshie was very surprised to see the Emperor's appearance on tv. "It was my first time to see the Emperor give a public message except for scheduled messages such as New Year’s address", she recalls.

A board in front of a Starbucks notifies that the store will exceptionally close at 16:00 because of an electricity shortage and safety reasons. Photo taken by Yoshie on March 15 in Tokyo.