Sunday, April 17, 2011

cultural after-shock

Photo credit: P-kun for insisting I take a screen shot of the session.

[warning: long read ahead]

This week I got to be a guest-speaker in a Media Studies class for 1st year Masters students in Sweden...via Skype. It was a fun experience and they were willing to listen to me to talk for 1.5hours... how can I not like that?!

The class was quite multicultural, the students are part of some Global Studies programme so there was a Bangladeshi, a Tanzanian, Kenyan, Syrian, Chinese, German etc.

During the introductions, one student mentioned "I hope you're not in Tokyo, all the radiation!!" It reminded me of how the rest of the world felt about this place. I joked about how she shouldn't worry, radiation can't spread via Skype.
But unfortunately, a plaguing misrepresentation of what's happening in Japan can.

I was glad to be home during the main disaster, even though my place got nothing more than a toppled up toaster and clock. My friends who were here on March 11 talk about the stress of living through the Earthquake, while the upper half of the country was being washed away and then staying on through radiation fears while being constantly rocked by after-shocks. I don't envy them.

Usually getting back to Japan after a break in Fiji is tough, but this time, as much as I loved being back home, I also couldn't wait to come back. Tokyo has become my second home in the last 2.5years, and it was weird monitoring the news from outside, trying to figure out whats going on.

I didn't have any second thoughts about coming back, although I think that also had a lot to do with which news media source you followed. It made for interesting arguments between my brother and I. My parents were amazingly supportive, and I will forever love them for that.

Finally being back helped reinforce my ideas of how things weren't as bad as the media made it seem, and that this wasn't some end of the days, zombie movie set. Life seemed to continue as normal.

But then I would find little clues on how they were anything but.
The frequent aftershocks, and the proper earthquakes thrown in between. Initially they were a bit unnerving, but I quickly got use to them. Although it makes you a bit paranoid, even the wind tapping at my window some nights makes me think its the start of a shake.

Then there are the slightly emptier shelves at the convenience stores, darker streets as shops try to conserve energy (Foreign friends exclaim, I can now see stars in Tokyo!), and the descending escalators in train stations are all switched off.

There is a kind of solemnity in the way people go about their lives. The hanami (sakura watching parties) out in the parks are still fun and lively, but a notch quieter.

There is also a noticeable decrease in foreigners. Friends share stories of embassies calling back their nationals. Other talk about few that freaked and fled. I understand their fears, and would be interesting to see the long term effect this will have on Japan.

I am also glad to be back because seeing Japan go through this, renews my faith in its people. This time I came back and people didn't seem cold, they were resilient. I heard stories of how they worked through the emergency, how they complied with the rules, even the unspoken ones. The tales of compassion, those that came out and took charge and made sure everyone was ok.

The class clown in one of my part-time teaching jobs went to every floor in his building after the earthquake and reassured people that everything was ok, while organising for the distribution of water and blankets. He's one of the youngest in the organisation, and helped calm his own superiors. This guy has never had any training in disaster management.

I would usually hit a low after getting back from home; thinking about my friends going about their lives, having children, getting jobs, promotions, fridges. I'd start questioning my life, what I was doing here. But this time, there is no where else I would want to be. This time I am looking forward to exploring, discovering and getting to know more of this incredible country, and in helping it get back on its feet in any way possible.

(apologies for the long post, this doesn't even cover half of it!)



Gurumi said...


YAY for screenshot!

...and I shall save the rest of my ramblings for email.

sharky said...

woah, can't believe you read it... was more for self-rejuvenation/fortification than anything else.

also, check out the photo credit ;)


Accidentally-Seasoned Hobo said...

I knew it, media has a tendency to blow things out of proportion.

i was more touched with you affection for Japan. I have felt that more than many times for many places...join the club....of accidental travelers ....:)

Anonymous said...

You should know that one of the students who requested to leave early during your lecture--actually stayed till after your class. At the end of the class she came to me with a huge grin...'you know I really enjoyed the class" she said. "I told you, you would" I shrugged. :)

Awesomeness in the Flesh said...

Awesome well-written post!

Wilson said...

Nice to see you living your life :) Also never apologise for the wall of text. Your blog. Your choice.

As an aside: The word verification was....'boring' lol