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

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    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.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.