Sunday, March 13, 2011

I wake up at 5am to make pancakes, meditate and say some prayers, and decide to start a blog to record my experience of this nightmarish ordeal for Japan - the most powerful earthquake on record, a tsunami that has wiped whole towns and villages off the map, two partial nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima and three more reactors facing a similar fate, a death toll expected to rise into the tens of thousands, an uncertain food and fuel supply and incessant aftershocks including a 70% possibility of aftershocks with magnitude of 7 or higher.

First thing I do is check the latest news on the state of the nuclear reactors. At this point, that's the most imminent threat, and the situation is increasingly uncertain. I Skype my brother, and we talk it out. On one side, the Japanese media is doing everything it can to contain the situation and keep the population calm. The foreign networks on the other hand are criticizing the Japanese authorities and Tokyo Electric Power for giving confusing accounts of the situation, and stating it appears to be the worst emergency involving a nuclear plant since Chernobyl.

My brother tells me to get out of Tokyo as soon as possible, but I'm not so sure. I call my friend at City Hall to get an update on the situation. She tells me they've decided to hold school as usual on Monday. Seems like they're listening to the Japanese networks' take on the situation.

I Skype my parents and tell them what's happening. We go over the potential health implications of nuclear fallout, and look up the cost of flights out of Tokyo on Monday: $700 to Seoul, $1000 to Beijing, $1700 to Montreal, $3100 to Dar es Salaam. It's not an easy decision. The Japanese public, my supervisor and school, are all under the impression that things are under control. How strange would it be for me to evacuate the country? That's the catch. Nobody really know what's going on, and once they do (should things deteriorate), it's too late. Roughly 36 million people (the population of the greater Tokyo area) want out, and that's just not possible.

The other option is staying in Chiba City and getting my hands on some potassium iodide which blocks the thyroid's absorption of radioiodine during nuclear fallout and reduces the risk of cancer. The same pills the Japanese government is distributing to those evacuating the afflicted area. Not something I can so easily get a hold of. So my parents find a simple alternative - wakame and nori (seaweed) that is apparently the next best thing, and I just so happen to have two bags full.

I'm curious about what's going on downtown, so I grab my camera and head out to pick up supplies. I'm surprised to find lots of people out shopping for White Day, a Japanese observance exactly one month after Valentine's Day in which men return gifts to women who bought them chocolate. The atmosphere is really somber and strange. It seems people are desperate to get back to life. I walk into the local Perie shopping mall which had been closed on Saturday and find people concentrated in the food section, hurriedly buying up stocks of bottled water and other goods. I pick up a couple bottles of pasta sauce and some AAA batteries for my flashlight and head to the drug store to see if I can find some potassium idodide pills, or ヨウ化カリウム (youka kariumu). The clerk shows me to the dietary supplements section and a bottle containing a few milligrams of potassium. Just as I'd suspected - nowhere to be found.

Loft department store, Chiba City

My Facebook feed is loaded with posts by friends living in the surrounding area. Two in particular catch my eye. One concerns the Prime Minister announcing that there will be three hour power cuts across 8 prefectures starting tomorrow between 6:20am and 10pm, and the other is an emergency evacuation card that I've been reminded to fill out and put in my emergency pack.

I head to bed around 10pm.

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