One year on

What is there to say at this point? The Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 was probably the worst natural disaster the millions of us that decided to live on this (seismically unfortunate) island will experience in our lives.

There were several hundred thousand in prefectures of northeast Japan that had their lives changed forever. The primary victims lived in towns destroyed by tsunami, lived in close distance to the NPP or had homes destroyed or had friends or relatives that were swept away. Then there were the secondary victims, those that were out of power and basic services in the still cold end of winter months, had homes that were damaged or destroyed or businesses that went bankrupt due to inability to work or any other number of reasons. There were the residents of Urayasu that lost water and gas services for weeks after the quake. There were farmers in Tochigi, Ibaraki, Fukushima and more that could not sell their products. Finally, there were the rest of us. The majority of us on this island didn't succumb to any disaster. We all saw it on TV just like people all around the world.

Brix were shat

Those of us anywhere in the Tokyo area or west of it were VERY lucky. Other than the pain of seeing thousands of northwestern friends' and families' lives turned to living hell and the indirect effect from the meltdown, we got off virtually scot-free. Although there was a chance that the nuclear situation could have gotten even more out of control, it didn't, and our lives were not directly affected like the 330,000+ people in Tohoku forced to evacuate.

Personally I was safe in my office in Ginza for the main quake and the many shaky weeks that followed. There was a week or two when the whole world was freaking out about the nuclear situation. Many of us here southwest of the disaster zone were glued to our computer monitors madly taking in every iota of information we could about microsieverts, becquerels per liter, debating whether to stay or go. Everyone took it in, processed it, and made their own judgement about how dangerous it was. Some left for good. Some left temporarily. Some stayed. The amount of information and misinformation flying around the web those first weeks was incredible. How could anyone expected to be conclusive about what to do? It was first time for virtually all of us to experience a nuclear crisis first-hand.

Courtesy of jurvetson

Courtesy of fleep.com

Remember this gem? Turns out it was bullshit.

I ought to give a shout out to the voices of reason in the virtual onslaught of online "experts" that emerged after the crisis. They are the ones that put in hours to translate, report, blog and get out the word about what was actually going down. Some invaluable sources after the meltdown: @martyn_williams @timeouttokyo @hikosaemon @hirokotabuchi @W7VOA @1rick (notice they are all twitterers. Mainstream media was worthless when the shit hit the fan)

Well, that's pretty much how I feel about it, looking back. There are a million side stories (example) that have been discussed and wrangled over in the meantime. Many people choose to focus their anger on the people they see to be "responsible" for the disaster. There is no doubt that some (ahem, TEPCO board of directors, ahem, NISA and METI cough cough) could have acted with the needs of the country instead of the needs of shareholders in mind pre-3/11. Some people surely should be punished and an example set. That said, it may make you feel better, but pointing fingers doesn't end up helping the situation. There needs to be reconciliation. Forward-thinking people need to focus their talents to solve the deep problems that this country now faces (energy stability, food safety, bringing back tourists, how to pay for reconstruction, aging/dying countryside, etc.).

There is still a lot of work to do. I choose to believe that there are people that are resolute about fixing this mess. If there weren't, there would not have been people like Daiichi plant manager Masao Yoshida and the workers that stayed behind risking their asses when NOTHING was certain and local politicians like Shimada mayor Katsuro Sakurai (who was one of the few to accept debris from Tohoku for processing) putting their personal convictions ahead of their fickle, ignorant constituents. Fist bump to them and let's hope that they are not the minority.

PS. Watch this Frontline doc to see the razor's edge that the country was balanced on at the beginning of the nuclear mess.

PS2. 311 SUCKS!


  1. Well, Hiroko Tabuchi is the NYT's Japan expert, so that's a bit of mainstream media on Twitter, I'd say.

  2. She works for the Times but she offered plenty of useful information outside of official articles.