Japan: Entire Towns Wiped Out, Entire Livelihoods Shattered…

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Am back at the officein Tokyo: check out my view. The city remains dim, no unnecessary lighting in the hallways, and we’ve almost finished a full work week. Woke up to the same things as yesterday. The reactor news seems like things are reportedly worse after the fact. These are not updates they seem more like confirmations after it’s too late. It’ll take years and years to resolve this one. In the evening we had another small earthquake which heightened alertness in an uneasy way. However stores seem better stocked, good news, I was able to have milk for the first time in a long time.

At some point today amid my emails, calls, and catchup; I talked to a friend who hosted a group of aid and relief workers today. Many were doctors that just landed and were shopping for medical supplies before heading up north. With this group were also a few people who had just returned from trip delivering food, water, and necessities to a few hard hit areas. Their description of the carnage was beyond what we see in the media.

Entire towns wiped out. Entire livelihoods shattered. One of their stops was to a shelter that housed close to 3,000 people. In the evening they cooked a hot meal for the refugees. To their shock the rag tag group huddled at the shelter were still wearing the same clothes they had on the day of the earthquake. Many had not had a hot meal for 2 and half weeks. When the food came they all broke down and cried.

This and many stories like this came from the witnesses who talked with my friend. It’s a terrible place up there. It is one of my strongest inner motivations these days to go up there and do something positive. Make a difference for those people. As for the people of Tohoku area, I’m not sure if many of you know much about them. When we visualize Japan from afar we see a rustic blend of days past integrated digitally with the modern age. Where the east is electric.

Japan is that and then some; most of the perception of this country comes from the areas on the Kanto Plain which encompasses Tokyo and the Kansai Plain that crests around the city of Osaka. These culturally are the same but socially the two areas have their own quirkiness and uniqueness. In these cities are the large business centers, commercial headquarters, and the urban megalopolis. Many of the residents live for their work in the big city and the sprawling towns bordering these cities are known as bed towns because people only return back late at night to sleep. A large demographic in the urban areas are very aggressive hardworking and high paced people. The slick suits, high-flying, big dreaming, stoic, well mannered, not open to true self expression, less friendly, and the stereotypical salary man.  Polite,but very reserved and distant.

The people in Tohoku in the northeast of Japan for the most part are different. There, the pace of life is a lot more easygoing. Many are farmers, fishermen, civil servants, and factory workers. Blue collar. The people work very hard, make considerably less in terms of income and have the same type of daily struggles as any Middle American. These are the people that feel it first when gas prices rise or the economy slips. The people of Tohoku are just like the country folks and common people who live in the present but almost overlooked fly over territory of the US between New York and L.A. From my travels they are incredibly open and friendly.

From my experience, each time I’ve visited one of these small towns; conversations arise easily and open laughter is plentiful. If you met them you would think that they are a lot like us Americans. If you lived in Japan as a foreigner you’ll understand that it’s always nice when you find a way deeper into the cultural fabric here. In Tokyo this could take years if at all, but in the places away from the hectic mindset of living in a mega city; people draw you right in, tell you about themselves, and sincerely want to know about your world. It’s always nice to be welcomed by strangers. The point that I want to impress upon is that these people are a lot more like us than we may think. Right now they need help.

They are simple people hit hard by a horrific disaster and its sideshow events. Since reading my daily entries I’m sure many have wondered why I’ve taken such attention to these recent events. Why I have such an inner motivation to write and why the burning need to go up there and do something useful. Well, for a few keystrokes, I’ll unlock the reasons for many of my reasons and share a glimpse of it. It’s dark, it’s powerful, and the recall is at times painful. It’s kept very well hidden and so deep many around me have no idea. It comes in  form of experiences. From it I owe a debt that I carry. In 1975 my grandmother and I fled to Saigon from Nha Trang. Life during the turmoil of a collapsing country at war was not easy. Fear, uncertainty, and hopelessness. There were times before we decided to leave that I awoke screaming and cling to her as gunfire roar outside our home.

I was a child, I had no father, no mother, just my grandmother and me. On a decided day we found our way to the gates of an American airbase and miraculously amid a swarming chaotic crowd an unknown American soldier spotted an Amerasian child with an old woman. Snatched into a jeep and rushed to a C130 airplane, we where flown to Saigon where we roamed the streets looking for places to stay. We were homeless carrying all we had, we were afraid.

Around us the world had gone crazy. Desperate and lost; we slept here and there and eventually a few of my grandmother’s friend took us in. At some point I was separated from her and made my way to a refugee camp in the Philippines where I had never felt more alone. That state of being is the worse feeling in the world. Times like those somehow feel like times like these. I hadn’t felt as much uneasiness in such a long time and it reminds me of how lucky I am today. By the grace of Fate, Karma, and God, I found my way to America and all the events then and there after made me who I am today. I carry a debt that has to be paid forward and the interest is high; to default is unforgivable.

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