Letter from Japan


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A friend's brother, Tom, went to Japan more than a decade ago to teach English. Tom liked it so well he stayed, getting an apartment in an area just south of Tokyo, and he's been living there ever since.

It took several days after the earthquake and tsunami for him to be able to get in touch with his family and friends. Here's that letter.

Since he wrote this, Japan has raised the alert level on the Fukushima nuclear plant from a 4 to 5 (of 7) and U.S. officials have urged Americans living within 50 miles of the plant to get out (the Japanese have a 12-mile exclusion zone).

"I don't trust the Japanese government," he wrote on Tuesday. "It's a Japanese custom not to tell people bad news and to emphasize that everything is all right."

Last night his sister-in-law posted on Facebook that Tom, more than 100 miles away from the nuclear plant, is now being told to stay inside with his doors and windows shut.

Here's his letter:

Thank you all for your concern about my welfare and the fate of my chosen hometown, Zushi City, southwest of Tokyo and Yokohama. Sorry I haven't been able to communicate better. The blackouts are happening sporadically, and I don't always know when I'm going to have power. Fortunately, my city was basically free from any grave disaster. On Friday at about 2:45PM Tokyo time, we had a very long and shaky earthquake. I was teaching at home at the time. My students and I went out of my house and back in about five times before we decided to cancel the class. It was scary enough to go outside and hold onto trees and fence posts, then it slowed down, so we went back inside only to have everything start shaking violently again. The electricity was knocked out for about 12 hours.

No TV, no phones, no cell phone service, no way to get on the internet, everything was knocked out. Then city trucks began announcing that we should all go to higher ground as there were tsunamis coming.

(more under the jump)

The red dot is the town of Fukushima; the pink dot is Zushi, where Tom lives.
  • The red dot is the town of Fukushima; the pink dot is Zushi, where Tom lives.

My house is far enough away from the ocean so that it would have to get over a 12-foot wall to reach my home. So I wasn't as worried as my friends who live near the beach and the river that flows into the ocean. They all spent the night in the elementary school nearby. I didn't have any food so I went to my friend's restaurant in downtown Zushi (further away from the ocean) and with candles and a gas stove that was still working even though there was no electricity, we ate and drank and listened to my transistor radio. At first the tsunami warnings said they were 3 to 6 feet high. As the night wore on those warnings got higher and higher, but thankfully not in our area. Our tsunami ended up being only about 3 feet and there were no injuries or damage. Some warnings were for 30 feet or higher. We really had no idea how big and destructive the earthquake and tsunamis were until the next day when we turned on our TVs and saw what you guys were probably already watching. When my sister Kathleen finally got a hold of me on Saturday morning 7AM? Tokyo time, I had gone to bed in a blackout, she woke me up early and she was the one to tell me it was all over the news.

All three disasters are happening far North of Tokyo.
1. Earthquake 9.0
2. Tsunamis 3-30 feet high or higher
3. Nuclear Plant Explosions

As of right now Tuesday, March 15, My hometown has not been directly affected by any of these because we are far enough away, and there are two large peninsulas blocking any major tsunamis.

Indirectly, we have been having 20 to 30 small quakes daily, like having a big semi-truck drive past your house. And we've been getting tsunami warnings daily, but only one 3-foot tsunami has actually hit our beach, and that was only the first day.

I am learning what life is like during wartime - long lines for gas stations that soon run out, going to the store and finding no milk, no batteries, no bottled water, and long lines of people buying triple everything because nobody knows when the next shipments will come to the supermarket. The blackouts are daily and we often don't know when they will come. The trains and subways weren't running yesterday. Today they are running about 50% of the normal schedule. Everything is electric, so the whole country is holding its breath waiting to see how the next few months will play out.

Everyone's biggest concern is the possible meltdown of one of the nuclear plants. As of the news today, there is no danger. But I don't trust the Japanese government. It's a Japanese custom not to tell people bad news and to emphasize that everything is all right. I just hope we get some objective experts in there to help out and let us know if there is really any danger.

Don't be too worried if you don't hear from me. It just means I'm busy and the electricity going on and off might be keeping me from my email and phones. I'm a 30 minute drive from Yokohama and 10 minutes from Kamakura, the town next to Zushi. I'm also very close to Yokosuka, the US Navy base. If those names pop up on the news, then it is okay for you to worry about me. Other than that, please pray for the people in the north who are really in the middle of this tragedy, who have lost their homes, their cities, and their loved ones.


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