News / Asia

    Stoicism Amid Disaster: Japanese Region Quietly Grinds to a Halt

    Evacuees gather in a gym in Koriyama, Japan
    Evacuees gather in a gym in Koriyama, Japan

    The Tohoku region of Japan is grinding to a halt. It is the area hardest hit by last Friday's magnitude 9.0 earthquake, the devastating tsunami that tremor generated, which, in turn, crippled a nuclear power that is now spewing radiation.

    With transportation routes destroyed or disrupted, the precious reserves of supplies that survived the natural disaster are quickly disappearing. Even when the roads are patched, truck drivers may be fearful of venturing too close to the crippled nuclear power plant.

    I'm based this week in what is supposed to be a safe distance away from the leaking reactors and steaming fuel rods, but radiation levels in Fukushima prefecture's two biggest cities were significantly above normal on Wednesday.

    I have been here since Saturday, the day after the quake. Each passing day there are fewer and fewer restaurants and stores open. Those that still have their doors open have fewer items for sale.



    Some eateries offer specials - such as the fermented bean curd curry I had for lunch Tuesday or the Yen 1,500 "Disaster Sushi Set" that has been my dinner twice this week. I admit I've chased the fish with a few cups of yet abundant sake (traditional rice wine) after particularly stressful reporting days.

    Some meals this week have been merely onigiri, rice rolled into a ball and wrapped in seaweed. A couple of those at midday, washed down with a typical Japanese "energy drink" (a dose of vitamins in a healthy liquid jolt of caffeine and nicotine), have sustained me until late in the evening.

    Most hotels are not fully functioning - some might have electricity but, for example, no running water.

    Here at the Route Inn, there is minor quake damage to the pavement. In the lobby is a certificate attesting to the building's high earthquake building standards.

    The vending machines in the hotel and elsewhere in Koriyama will likely be totally bare by Friday. (And I'll be without my liquid energy boosts). We have not had any cleaning service for a couple of days. A skeleton staff remains. They spend much time answering phone calls and telling the walk-ins, including the newly homeless, evacuees and journalists, that there are no more rooms at the inn. In reality, the hotel seems practically empty. Every day, myself and another American reporter are asked when we intend to leave. They seem eager to shut down the place, but reluctant to kick us out.

    Without a hotel we would be totally reliant on the kindness of strangers to take us in or we might have to seek refuge in already over-crowded refugee centers, which we have visited to interview the displaced.

    With no gasoline available and after the mass exodus of evacuees from the 20-kilometer safety zone around the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant, there are fewer vehicles on the roads each day. It is still possible to get a taxi. They are fueled by liquid propane gas and drivers assure us that reserves in the storage tanks, at least in Koriyama, remain adequate.

    In Sendai, a three-hour drive to the north, vegetable prices have doubled after the tsunami destroyed a chunk of the Miyagi prefecture's capital. That said, there does not seem to be the pervasive price gouging one would expect after such a calamity.

    Merchants may have traditionally ranked near the bottom of Japan's social hierarchy (below the samurai and farmers) but in most of the country trying to make a little extra money in times of adversity is just considered, well, unseemly and un-Japanese.

    The traditional Japanese stoicism is on full display. There's a touch of bitterness in a few voices and some subtle signs of frustration but no show of open anger.

    Everyone seems to take in stride the dwindling supplies of good and services. Maybe this part of Japan will soon see what followed in the dark days immediately after Japan's defeat in World War II: a thriving black market in scarce and rationed goods.

    A few people are even willing to voice the darkest fear - what the scientists and government officials still contend is impossible: a meltdown at Fukushima-1 with one or more reactors going critical, spewing dangerous levels of radiation across Tohoku.

    Sipping his sake and eating his "Disaster Sushi Set," a local construction planning company president reminds me and my colleague that modern Japanese descend from samurai warriors and kamikaze pilots who were willing, without complaint, to meet their fate. The bearded, smiling Takeshi Munakata says he believes in Japan and Japanese technology to pull the nation through the triple tragedy but if "I die, OK. No problem."

    We sip our sake, preparing for the day ahead.

    - VOA Correspondent Steve Herman covers Northeast Asia and is based in Seoul. He spent a total of 18 years in Japan.


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

    You May Like

    Beijing Warns Critics Over South China Sea Dispute

    Official warns critics that the more they challenge China's position regarding disputed territories in one of world’s busiest waterways, the more it will push back

    Will New Russian Force Be 'Putin’s Personal Army'?

    With broad powers to control riots, suppress dissent, National Guard may be aimed at sending a message to West as much as keeping peace at home

    Foreign Media in Pyongyang Barred From North Korean Party Congress

    Hundreds of international journalists invited to cover historic party meeting barred from entering actual event

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Image Recognition Market Seen Doubling by 2020i
    X
    Ramon Taylor
    May 05, 2016 10:05 PM
    From auto tagging on Facebook to self-driving cars, image recognition technology as it exists today is still in its beginning phases, experts say — and will soon change the way users and corporations interact with the physical world. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
    Video

    Video Image Recognition Market Seen Doubling by 2020

    From auto tagging on Facebook to self-driving cars, image recognition technology as it exists today is still in its beginning phases, experts say — and will soon change the way users and corporations interact with the physical world. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
    Video

    Video Child Labor in Afghanistan Remains a Problem

    With war still raging in Afghanistan, the country also faces the problem of child labor as families put their school-age children to work to help make ends meet. But, thanks to VOA's Afghan Service, two families whose children had been working in a brick-making factory - to earn their livings and pay off family debts - now have a new lease on life. Zabihullah Ghazi reports.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora