The past few weeks

Sorry to all for the lack of posting. On 3/11 the earthquake hit and I was good initially at using social media and my blog to let people know how I was doing, and then obviously I just stopped. There are multiple reasons for that, and just the general energy that each day took following the Tohoku earthquake and the uncertainty associated with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant kept me from blogging.

First thing to report is that I am hardly impacted by the earthquake and by the ongoing issues at the power plant. Radiation levels in Nagoya are at background levels. We are on a completely different power grid so even if I conserve energy it has no impact on the people who are going through the power outages (conservation is good no matter what, don’t get me wrong). For the technically minded out there, Nagoya is on a 60Hz system, and TEPCO and northern Japan use a 50Hz cycle. So the cost of conversion between the two systems are high. The biggest impact I’ve felt personally is that my favorite yogurt is currently unavailable. That’s a small price to pay.

At the beginning though, it wasn’t so clear exactly what was up. My colleague decided on Saturday night, after the quake hit on Friday, to evacuate with his pregnant wife and young son. Other gaijin were also considering leaving as well. My company had no official policy immediately following the events either. Of course I received lots of encouragement from around the world to leave Japan immediately. Apparently the entire island was going to be destroyed in the eyes of some people.

On Tuesday following the quake, my company offered voluntary home leave for expatriate employees and families in Tokyo, but not Nagoya. That didn’t go over too well with the Nagoya-ins, and eventually on Thursday that offer was extended to expatriate employees in Nagoya as well.

I continued to pay attention to the news, plus we were privy to good technical data and analysis of worst case scenarios. Also, we found various links to real data that included radiation levels in Nagoya, a colleague of mine built a little radiation dosage spreadsheet, and I quickly realized that if I did choose to stay in Nagoya, I would have plenty of time to evacuate if things really did get bad.

So I stayed. The general panic and exodus of the expatriate community did not go unnoticed in Japan, and those that left are being called “flyjin”, which is a play on the word “gaijin,” which means foreigner. The media is reporting that there are plenty of business relationships that need to be repaired as those that left slowly come back.

There is a difference, though, between how a local and how an expatriate should react to this situation. For the locals, this is their country, they have their ties, and it is their government who ultimately will be responsible for controlling the situation. They were being told everything was OK, so with some skepticism they accepted it. For the foreigner, given a choice to hope the information was correct and to believe they were not in danger or given the option to return to their homeland, the choice was pretty easy. A lot of my colleagues ended up sending their families home as they stayed on and continued working. The company’s policy all along was that it was safe and remains to be safe, but life in Japan is different than it was before the earthquake.

I am glad that I stayed, and so far I feel like it was the right decision. The period was pretty stressful though as information was fluid and the truth was hard to figure out. I really felt similar to the way I felt post 9/11 in Los Angeles. We were not directly impacted in LA, but definitely impacted as two colleagues were killed on one of the planes (I didn’t personally know them), and my brother lived in New York at the time. There was a general heaviness in the air all the time, and nobody knew exactly how to behave or the expectations on their behavior. That kind of stress is omnipresent and it takes a while to process everything that is going on.

Over time, the amount of thought and energy associated with the events reduce, and life becomes more normal. Of course, for people in Nagoya that happens much faster because most of us are not faced with any real hardship. What continues to be hard for me now is knowing how to help. I’ll have more on that in a later blog entry.