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Thoughts from Japan – a terrifying earthquake & tragedy

March 14th, 2011 · Greg Atkinson · 12 Comments

Lives for all us living in Japan changed from the moment the first terrifying earthquake hit off the North East coast of Japan on Friday 11th March.  We all live near fault lines and most of us live near the coast as well, therefore as the images of the disaster were shown on television I was simply lost for words – unable to process what I was seeing.

Down where I live in Kyushu we did not feel any tremor and although there were warnings about a possible Tsunami this danger passed. Thankfully I was able to tell family friends I was okay, unlike many others.  Further north in Tokyo and Yokohama where I had once lived for some years the cities were badly shaken, but there were mercifully just a few tragic deaths. (any death is tragic)

As I watched the local televisions news the tragedy unfolded before my eyes. The most striking moment for me was watching a Tsunami move into the coastal city of Aomori. At first as the water seemed to flow gently into the harbour and I thought briefly that the threat of a major Tsunami has passed.

By my initial relief turned to horror as the water in the harbour slowly kept rising and then spilled over onto the dockside.  It then kept rising sweeping all before it and large fishing ships were pushed across the wharf into nearby buildings and streets.

I watched as people in cars struggled to escape and building were swept away. Were there people inside the buildings,  did the people in cars escape? I could not know.  But later as I  found out, thousands of people in towns and cities hit by the earthquake and Tsunami waves did not escape and many thousands are still missing.

The images of the towns and cities devastated look very similar to the area where I live and this makes it emotion of the disaster almost overwhelming at times.  In the towns that have simply been wiped out I know in my heart few people have probably escaped alive but I dare not think about it too much and just hope there has been a miracle.

The courage and character of the Japanese people has impressed me beyond words.  Even as the terrible earthquakes struck emergency workers and ordinary people were trying to help others.  Fire brigade crews for example frantically drove through the streets to warn people to evacuate even as the waves rolled into their town.  Sadly we see today images of several wrecked fire trucks and one only hopes their brave crews escaped.

In the aftermath of the quake people have waited for days on the roof of their homes or at evacuation centres waiting for assistance. They queue up in an orderly manner for food rations and despite the continuing after shocks, have rallied to look for survivors even though many them have lost their own homes and tragically may also be unable to find family members.

Being safe in Japan brings with it feelings of guilt. I wish I could help in some way but it’s not possible at the moment.  Japan is my home, I am permanent resident here and this tragedy has made me feel my deep connection to this land like never before.

Sadly when I look back to the place of my birth, Australia,  I see Kevin Rudd attempting to use the tragedy to increase his international profile.  His actions and words fill me with disgust. As the Japanese struggle to deal with thousands of people dead, thousands of people missing,  entire towns devastated, oil fires,  gas fires etc. he is main focus is to demand the Japanese Government provide regular updates on the status of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

We know why Rudd is doing this.  It is to pump up his already inflated ego in an attempt to be a big international player.  I will never forget how he has tried to use the tragedy in Japan for his own gain and I will do my best to make sure the Japanese people never forget it either.

Then there are the idiots outside Japan on Twitter sending out false information and some gleefully expressing happiness that a disaster had struck the nation. Some were even calling the earthquake an act of  revenge for Pearl Harbour.  Words can not express my anger when I read such comments.

The Japanese national broadcaster NHK (See – NHK World News) and the local news media have been providing coverage of the disaster in a compassionate and respectful manner. Sadly now as the foreign media rush into Japan like this is some media event, the reporting from these sources fails to display much empathy with the Japanese people.

I seriously question in situations where resources like food,  water, petrol and electricity etc  are scare why the foreign media should be allowed into disaster areas.  If they can’t help find survivors why are they there? Why can’t they accept images and live television feeds from NHK or local media outlets? Why do grieving people need half a dozen foreign film crews sticking camera in their faces?  How does any of this help?

If it’s a privacy issue for Google to take your picture for Street View then why it okay for the media to take a picture during a persons private moment of grief and then publish it?

The excuse from reporters that they are simply “doing their job” is no excuse at all and some of the biggest scoundrels in world history have also attempted to dodge responsibility for their actions by offering up the same excuse.

As each foreign reporter lands in Japan they can’t wait to send out messages in Twitter announcing they have arrived. Amazingly they also often send out an update on the situation in Japan even before they have made it into Tokyo!  Their egos, arrogance and self importance are evident from the moment they land in a nation stricken by grief.

My already low opinion of the western media and the journalism profession has sunken to unmeasurable depths. There are of course exceptions and some journalists behave in an honourable way, but they appear few in number.

Finally my thoughts and prayers are for those affected by this terrible tragedy. I also have the utmost respect for all those working to save lives and deal with the aftermath of this horrific disaster including the many foreign aid agencies and rescue staff who have come to Japan’s aid.


12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 John Pulford // Mar 14, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    I can’t help but agree with you Greg, there are some f****ed people out there!

    For what’s its worth say to someone over there some do think of the poor buggars

  • 2 Elizabeth // Mar 14, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Greg, my prayers are with you and the people of Japan. I worry about the survivors having access to shelter, food, and medicine. I grew up in Hawaii and all of my childhood teachers were Japanese – they were wonderful ladies who taught me resilience and honor. Love and light to you and your chosen brothers and sisters.

  • 3 Aussie Tourist // Mar 14, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Terrible event. I don’t know what else to say.

    I know most Australians would like to help. How can we help? Is there an organisation you would recommend we can donate money or essential goods to. Do you have any advice on that front? That’s all we can do from down here I think.

    I got to say I am not sure what support the Japanese people would get when they have lost everything. Maybe you can let us know what sort of fallback they get.

    Thanks

  • 4 Greg Atkinson // Mar 14, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Hi AT,

    I think the Red Cross would be accepting support so you could try them.

    I really don’t know what support the victims will receive, at this stage it’s too early to say I guess as fires are still being fought etc and the search for survivors continue.

    Thank you for your thoughts!

  • 5 Greg Atkinson // Mar 14, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Thank you Elizabeth. I can barely image how terrible the situation is in areas like Sendai and Miyagi. Thank you again for your kind words.

  • 6 Carry Trader // Mar 14, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Well said Greg,

    I know someone who have friends in Sendai, hopefully all is going to be well over there.

  • 7 Andrea // Mar 14, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said. I am only a Working Holiday-er right now but however temporary it may be, my home is in Tokyo right now and I’m not going to leave it. And not being able to help is hardly bearable. The pictures from Sendai and Miyagi are utterly heartbreaking.
    German media are terrible at reporting about the disaster as well, very sensationalist and careless re spreading false/overexaggerated information that makes families extremely worried about members living anywhere in Japan right now. I had to stop reading any German news because they made me so angry, and am only trusting sources from within Japan now.

    Let’s hope there will not be another major earthquake and no new tsunamis. And then everyone will pull together to get through this.

  • 8 Firebug // Mar 15, 2011 at 7:06 am

    Great to see you’re well Greg

  • 9 Max Manning // Mar 15, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    I don’t know what to say. Sitting back in Australia it looks so surreal. I have been watching the video footage on TV and I can recall watching a wave that looked so harmless, but the devastation it unleashed, I just cannot comprehend it.

    The feeling helpless I have is not pleasant, but I cannot image what the people of Japan are feeling or going through.

    There will always be people that use these situations to their own personal gain, and you’re correct it turns your stomach.

    The Red Cross is taking donations and will accept anything people offer that may help, but money is what’s needed to help so that the Red Cross can purchase supplies that are desperately needed.

    If you wish to donate follow the link

  • 10 Greg Atkinson // Mar 16, 2011 at 8:26 am

    Thanks for all your thoughts and comments. Let me say the media is out of control here especially the international/non-Japanese media. Supplies are short in N.E. Japan but the media clowns keep loading up in cars and heading up there whilst people trying to get suppliers into the area are having trouble getting petrol.

    They are competing with each other for stories, spreading fear, sticking cameras in peoples faces and generally being counter productive to the disaster relief efforts.

    Please help and let your local media know..if they will listen that is.

    P.S If you want to ask me about what is happening here you can reach me via twitter: http://twitter.com/GregAtkinson_jp

  • 11 Ned S // Mar 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Interesting article Greg? :

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-27/kan-told-to-decentralize-japan-as-aide-says-big-one-may-annihilate-tokyo.html

  • 12 Greg Atkinson // Mar 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Hi Ned. The plans to decentralise have been ongoing since I arrived in Japan for my first work stint back in 1997 and various Governments have tried to do this but…big cities just seem to keep dragging people in the world over.

    Tokyo is still a growing city and there are plenty of influential people that want it to grow further. Personally however I am a fan of spreading the population and industry etc around a bit so I hope for Japan’s sake that this happens.

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