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Joanne Henry: Finally home from Tokyo

Now ten days after the earthquake in Japan, I’m home from Tokyo, on terra firma in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Terra firma indeed. The first two nights back, I woke often to what I believed were more aftershocks.

Now ten days after the earthquake in Japan, I’m home from Tokyo, on terra firma in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Terra firma indeed. The first two nights back, I woke often to what I believed were more aftershocks. Should I find my shoes at the door, at least move to the center of the room? No, I’m home.

Last night’s call to my son, (25) reached him entering the train station enroute to work – business as usual. In fact, that is very much what his company expects. It will be a regular day, (I hope), with work ending around 7 or 8 p.m. His ward in the middle of Tokyo, a business center, is less likely to be affected by the rolling blackouts that Tokyo Electric will start again today.

The company where he is employed as a translator is an event company; they put on large global exhibits like an eco-exhibit in Tokyo Tower, smaller fairs, national concerts and recently, the Tokyo marathon. They have manufacturing plants too, as well as those working where my son does, in an office. Some events were cancelled the week of the earthquake but others are back on track. The show must go on? Apparently. My son had been in daily negotiations/translating for his company with a US set design company the days before the earthquake.

There was an impossibly tight deadline and calls and emails came through the weekend and at all hours due to time zone differences. Three days after the quake, and a day after I left, he expressed some concern for safety to his boss. What if he were to work a few days from off-site in Hamamatsu, a city southwest of Tokyo where he had friends and past colleagues. Not a chance. Not even an appropriate conversation, apparently.

In the wake of all the pull-outs by foreign firms, my son tells me his colleagues have talked about how the Japanese reaction to this disaster is markedly different than that of foreigners. I also felt this difference in talking with a close friend of my son, a Japanese native who works for a large media company. He would not have considered leaving his company on the weekend this disaster hit and he worked long into the night that first weekend.

Perhaps we Americans in particular are seen as prone to panic, overreacting, taking rash action before the facts are in. I admit that I’ve had panic reactions in the past ten days as well. My calls have been counted. The times noted. I am still afraid. Of what? The unknown? As he watches media and US actions, my son is put off by television he sees on the Internet and over-the-top media reporting by some foreign journalists. (The Germans have been the worst, he says.) I’m worn down by the news, too, though I am checking for new quakes immediately before bed and on rising, with Google Alerts sent to ping me with a sound on severe aftershock news. A rumbling of my own making. That needs to stop.

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Friends and family now ask why my son is still not leaving Japan. Erik. The simplest answer is that he doesn’t think the facts require it, and he has work to do. He is now wearing a mask. He’s tuned to multiple news sources and has ready access to Internet news.

He believes another major earthquake could as easily strike further south or southwest in Japan as where he is, making a short-term move not as sensible as it seemed on day 3. I have no idea and I watch the news, too much. Of Japanese sources, I like Kyodo news. As he’s eating mostly cereal at home i think, I imagine he’s drinking some milk and I hope it is not from the dairies affected.

There were 16 dairies nearest the Fukushima nuclear plant that shut down over the weekend. My book club friends dropped off trail mix, crackers and cheese, chocolate, Oreo cookies. The sustaining foods. I shipped them.

I also am trying to discern which relief agencies seem best able to distribute now to the children and older people in the hard hit villages near Ground Zero.

These are the places where going without mil and local food will be a severe hardship after what they’ve already suffered. We have so much milk here in dairy land. As much as they do sashimi. What can we do? Maybe in the coming days, I can get at that. I welcome ideas. This US-Japanese connection will go on. . .

This post was written byJoanne Henry and originally published onJoanne Henry’s Weblog.