Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Unless you’ve had your head buried deep inside some sandbox in a place a million miles from the nearest social network or wireless connection, you’d already know precisely what I’m leading into if you bothered to note the headline tag to this post.
So let's get straight into it.
On Friday March 11th, at around 2:45pm local time, the east coast of Japan was hit by an earthquake that tipped the scale at around 8.9 – 9.0 on the Charles Richter magnitude charts.
I’ve since learned that we survived the fourth or fifth biggest earthquake in recorded history, and the worst ever in Japan – which is one of the world's most seismically active places.
But Tokyo was lucky compared with other places in this country just north of our city, like Miyagi Prefecture.
Straight after the earthquake there were tsunami waves of up to ten metres (33 feet) that struck the Pacific coast north of Tokyo, ploughing inland up to a dozen kilometres – sweeping away the towns and cities along the way.
The footage has been so surreal: That tsunami rapidly filling the streets of the city of Kesennuma as people watched (and filmed) from atop hills; cars and air-conditioning units bobbing and floating by, followed by houses that started moving and weaving between overturned boats; the aftermath with ships and trucks on top of highways and houses. It was like looking at The Day After Tomorrow rolled up into Dante's Inferno.
But the sad truth is that it isn’t surreal at all. This is no dream. It’s been neither fiction nor the unrealistic segment of a disaster movie – it's cold, hard reality.
Somewhere around 10,000 people have been killed, though no-one knows the true extent of the fatalities even now – at the time of writing this – seven days after that initial disaster. Our thoughts go out to all the people affected.
But I say “initial” disaster, because we’ve since suffered aftershocks numbering in the hundreds and varying in intensity depending on the area. The other night night in Shizuoka, near Mt. Fuji, there was another earthquake with a magnitude of 6.4.
I got woken up by an aftershock at 5:00am yesterday morning - rattling doors and shaking bed. When we went to the supermarket almost half the shelves were empty as people are stocking up in case of another emergency.
And yesterday my daughter and wife flew down south to join the in-laws in Fukuoka.
It makes me far happier to know they're safe(r) - especially since there are the melting-down nuclear reactors at Fukushima, 170 miles north of Tokyo.
These babies were initially damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, and are currently out-of-control, spewing forth radioactive particles that are being felt as far south as, well, here in Tokyo.
OK, so I've seen my fair share of Japanese disaster flicks; in fact in my time I’ve been a fair bit of a fan.
I loved Godzilla movies when I was a kid – the way in which he walloped little balsa-wood versions of Tokyo and Osaka – and I still DJ out the awesome theme song to 1961 monster flick Mothra, written by Yuji Koseki and sung by The Peanuts.
But this past week has been a little too close to home, and I say that not just because I currently live in Tokyo. The quakes and shakes this time were real, not cheap FX on celluloid with high-definition surround sound.
It’s eerily like the plot in Sakyo Komatsu’s novel Nihon Chinbotsu (Japan Sinks) – I saw both the spin-off movies made in 1973 and 2006 – but defies the page or the artificial image of a viewfinder.
Real people have died, and thousands of other bona fide human beings have lost loved ones and friends. They’re destitute, lacking basic provisions, and braving up to zero-degree temperatures up north.
This is going to take a long time to clean up and forget.
And while the Japanese people here have been astoundingly resolute – not here the looting and general mayhem on the streets you see in other lesser disasters elsewhere in the world – it's a mind-numbing situation and an emotionally debilitating one to see this country and these people go through all of this.
In the meantime the best thing to do as hang onto the coattails of a sense of humour about it all – and gaze somewhat wistfully at the Japanese kanji "kibou", which means “hope”.
Which brings me full circle to some untimely, self-indulgent navel-gazing... but I guess that's what blogs are all about, especially ones like this which have only a couple of entries anyway.
Amidst all this madness I'm releasing my novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, which is coming out through Another Sky Press in the U.S. on 31 March.
As previously mentioned here it's a sci-fi/noir tome that's set in Melbourne, Australia, but mostly rewritten here in Tokyo and heavily influenced by my 10 years in Japan.
I'm going to stop with the hype right now. It tastes wrong. If you're interested at all in checking out the novel, fantastic - thank you. If not, that's cool too - but please think in some way about how, in whatever small or seemingly inconsequential way, you can assist Japan. It all helps.