Dear friends around the world,
Where shall I start?
The huge earthquake started in the afternoon of 11th March. Everything has changed since then.
It’s 10 days now, but we still don’t know what will happen next. Things seem to get worse and worse, first the earthquake, then a huge tsunami, then fires, followed by more earthquakes and aftershocks and tsunamis, then the nuclear power plant accident/problems. We might have a serious economic crisis later.
Of course the psychological trauma will be tremendous. The effects will be very complicated and long-term. Stress and trauma will cause lots of alcoholism, various kinds of addictions and dependencies, family violence and dysfunction, delinquency, etc. This will affect not just people who’ve lost loved ones and homes, the injured, and immediate helpers/rescue workers, but also people who’ve had no direct damage but are living in this unstable situation.
Many international friends have asked me whether I’m ok. I am fine, not directly affected and my family is also in a safe place. So, please do not worry about me. But I really appreciate your concerns and offers of help.
As I cannot write back individually, I decided to write more general reports (hopefully regularly). As the situation is changing every day it has been very exhausting, stressful, and disconcerting. Also, as it is so chaotic it’s difficult to remember everything, but I think it’s important to keep a record and to tell you about what I am experiencing, feeling and thinking so that you can imagine what it’s like to be in Japan right now and think what you can do for Japan. Also you can think about what we should do as human beings because this disaster is not just about Japan but about our planet.
It is just the beginning. We have just begun a long journey which is totally unforeseeable.
I was at home, luckily, when the first huge earthquake occurred. I live in Kunitachi, which is a western suburb of Tokyo. I experienced a sideways shaking/swaying that was very long lasting, probably about 5 minutes on and off. It was very different from the Kobe earthquake in 1995, which was a sudden up and down movement. (At that time I was in Kyoto which is near Kobe). From the type of shaking I knew the epicentre would be far away, but I imagined the damage must have been huge near the epicentre.
As the shaking went on so long I went out and neighbours were also leaving their apartments. A neighbour who came out later told us that the television said that epicentre was in Miyagi (in the Northern part of Japan) and the magnitude was 8 or so. From my experience of the Kobe earthquake (magnitude 7.3) I was afraid that many people had been killed or injured. I was also afraid that big fires would start.
I live in an old apartment which is not very earthquake proof, but I went back home and put the television on. Then I saw images of the tsunami coming in real time. It was unbelievable. It was tremendously huge, coming very fast towards the shore, and engulfing the land. I was hoping that people there had escaped to high places. The image was taken from very high up, so I couldn’t see any people, but I could see houses and cars, trees, and big ships all being washed inland with the tsunami, and fires were starting within the tsunami. I also saw some pictures with snow in some areas. I kept watching television, flicking channels, worrying that the damage would be as huge as the Kobe earthquake, which killed 6,433 people and meant 300,000 people had to be evacuated because housing was damaged, destroyed or burnt down.
The telephones and mobiles were not working most of the time and most transport stopped in Tokyo, so many people were stuck and became ‘kitaku-nanmin’ (‘refugee’ people who could not get home). A lot of the news was about these people. It seems that Tokyo people didn’t realise what was happening in the worst areas because they hadn’t experienced an earthquake like the Kobe one. So many people were still in normal mode and just thinking whether they should cancel some meetings or travel.
My teenage son walked back home from school early. I knew that there would be big aftershocks and in reality there have been many. As I mentioned, the apartment is not very earthquake proof, he was afraid to be in the apartment and slept in the car in the parking lot where there were no big buildings around.
To be continued….
I’m writing this mainly for my friends in the world who are worried about me, but also I’m writing for people who I don’t know yet but who could be my friends, or colleagues who think seriously about creating a global culture which is gentle and psychologically sound.
So I will briefly introduce myself for people who don’t know me. I’m a cultural psychiatrist, trauma specialist and medical anthropologist. I teach trauma from social and cultural perspectives at Hitotsubashi University which is located in the same suburb of Tokyo where I live. If you want to know more about me, please check my website.