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Japan Earthquake – Hope And Camaraderie In Times Of Despair!

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SHAKE. SHAKE. SHAKE. Oh man…phew… that was a big one. Just when people had returned to work from the long shake which is quite unusual, the earth shook violently again, and again and again. It’s been more than 10 days now, but the earthquakes in Japan have continued albeit lesser in intensity and frequency.

japan-earthquake

As you may know, Japan, the land of rising Sun is also the land of earthquakes. Everybody here is both mentally prepared for a small quake to occur now and then, in fact if there are no quakes for many months it feels odd and then a talk of an impending big one starts. Some,  like our family, keep the passports and some other quake equipment in a bag and handy to make a quick exit from the house in case of a quake. But the magnitude 9 quake in Japan on March 11 was unprecedented in Japan’s history of more than 100 years.
Indians in Japan is not a big community. However in Tokyo, there are still about 8000 Indians and about 10-11,000 nation-wide (down from about 15,000 before the 2008 financial crisis). The quake did one thing. It brought friends very close. In many cases even strangers have helped husbands to return from work, children to return from school and helped women with shopping and taking care of young ones.

Mailing lists (Googlegroups: ConnectIndians and Yahoogroups: Ice_Indians, OjimaIndians, KyotoIndians etc.), Facebook groups (Indian Community of Edogawa), websites (my site: and http://japanquakefacts.com) shared information about the quake, tsunami and the subsequent radiation and other stuff through frequent updates. People who are bi-lingual translated news and articles in Japanese to English to help fellow countrymen (and other nationalities too). People with some scientific background started interpreting radiation figures and calming jangled nerves about fear of radiation. Many Indians have volunteered for some relief efforts, donated food and clothing.

Indian travel agents worked till mid-night helping hundreds of desi’s to get back  home or to other countries as people just wanted to leave Japan. Some people moved south to cities like Osaka and Kobe which are more than 500 kms south of Tokyo, and effectively about 700 kms away from the Fukushima nuclear plant. Hotels in Osaka were full capacity so Indians there invited friends to stay with them. Camaraderie was on display everywhere.

Within a day or two after the quake, panic began to set in. There was now nuclear radiation also to worry about. There some big tremors of 5+ magnitude that tested people’s resolve to stay put. It was not long before some people started to pack their bags and began to leave Tokyo for the short term. Some optimistic people called such moves as over-cautious and suggested that people should instead trust the Japanese Govt. which was doing a lot to address the situation. Broken roads and footpaths were fixed within 24 hours (no exaggeration) of the quake to make it safe for pedestrians. Electricity, food, water and gas suffered no disruption. Banks, hospitals, trains, buses all operated normally. If there is one word that defined Japan – it is ‘order’ – and that too without police or guns (USA listening?). So, yes, the people who were asking for patience and cool headed reaction were not off the mark.

3-4 days after the quake, debates about whether to stay or not were no more raged. Tokyo was almost bereft of Indians. People had already acted quietly to ensure the safety of their families. What was worse was that Indian media had hyped the Japan earthquake, tsunami and radiation fears so badly that parents and relatives frantically called back their son’s and daughters back home to India. Long last friends some of whom people had not heard since college called them up and suggested them to return to India. They wondered whether we the NRI’s had become oblivious to the dangers to our personal and also our family’s health because of economic reasons. Mothers cried on the phones and begged that their children return to the safety of India if only temporarily. Well, some didn’t need any convincing but others who had managed to stay optimistic also succumbed to cries of love and tears.

I was recently joking to a friend that Tokyo now looks like the village from the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, where the child catcher has taken away all the children because now there are no Indian children to be seen. Same holds for people from other nationalities too. Many Japanese have stayed put in their homes while some have moved south to Osaka etc., or have left to other countries just like their expat counterparts.

It’s now more than 2 weeks the quake and many people are beginning to believe that things are improving now and some are even returning to Japan. I just heard that the flights from India to Japan are now full and difficult to get reservations. It was just the opposite not 10 days ago. Well, not long from now, people will return to their work and children to their schools. I don’t know if it is early or not but I, like everybody else, am looking forward to Japan returning to the pre-earthquake times. Sakura flowers (cherry blossom) are around the corner and just like the Sakura of Spring, hope blooms in our hearts that soon everything will be fine.

  1. Tarun says

    Well madhav, if you need only proof I can provide proof with agent name and air ticket.

    As demanded in my previous comment .. u should change the statement.

    Wrong version – “Indian travel agents worked till mid-night helping hundreds of desi’s to get back home or to other countries as people just wanted to leave Japan”

    Correct version – “Indian travel agents worked till mid-night helping themselves to make money as desi’s wanted to get back home or to other countries as people just wanted to leave Japan”

    But as you mentioned you can not confirm that they are only making money. So at least you statement to
    “Indian travel agents worked till mid-night as desi’s wanted to get back home or to other countries as people just wanted to leave Japan”
    because they are not helping and I stand on my point.

    PS: By the way how confirmed that they are working till late night and “helping”

    –Tarun

  2. Tarun says

    Hi Madhav,
    I like your points/article about 3/11 except one.
    “Indian travel agents worked till mid-night helping hundreds of desi’s to get back home or to other countries as people just wanted to leave Japan”
    Really???
    I think they worked till mid-night so that they can block airline ticket which they can sell to needy people at higher rates. On the other hand Japanese travel agents were offering airfare which is much less than what their Indian counterparts were offering.
    For eg same ticket with just change in traveler name, Japanese agents were at JPY86000 where as Indian agents were giving at JPY146000.
    FYI Online portals like makemytrip.com were also trying to take advantage in such situation.

    So I would like to request you to make correction to your above article.

    1. Madhav Shivpuri says

      Hi Tarun,

      Good point and you may be right. However I have no way of confirming it.

      As laymen we generally call the agents we have used before and (almost) trust them to give us good rates as it is still a business of repeat customers despite the fact that during normal times many people search and find deals on the web. In the case of 3/11 however, travel agents were not picking up their company phones (Indians and non-Indian companies as well) – they were that busy – making a killing on the fleeing foreigners? I don’t know. Entirely possible.

      PS: I take your view as a comment and but that doesn’t need altering the article.

  3. Madhav Shivpuri says

    Hi Altaf,

    Thanks to all of you at Trak.in for thinking about me and my family during the quake. Really appreciate that.

    Regarding the Japanese order, that is probably the most amazing part of this society. They will never break it even when nobody is there to enforce it.even in the disaster zone where they are being rationed a rice ball and a small bottle of water, I doubt if anybody says “Please give me some more as I am hungry”. They would rather stay hungry knowing that there is limited supply instead of asking for more than what is rationed. They know that the Govt. will take care of them and food and water again will be there tomorrow. However I think the last part, the surety about the Govt. taking care of them is a huge comfort. If we compare that to India or Africa, I think there will be a worry that food may finish and not be available if you don’t collect it today. So I think the confidence is also an important factor more than just nationalities.

    1. Viral says

      Madhav,

      Japan is like automation – It might take time for the country to recover, but had it been any other country, it could have easily taken years together to come out of it. This is the difference between a developed and a developing nation.

      The disaster management system over there is as fast as it could get (just like you told roads and pavements were fixed instantly). Not something like India, where such separate department exists but only on paper or not good enough to deal urgently.

      1. Madhav Shivpuri says

        Hi Viral,

        I agree with you and that it is very relevant to this context. See the road fixed in 6 days of the quake – http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/236508/Earthquake-hit-Japanese-road-fixed-in-just-six-days/Earthquake-hit-Japanese-road-fixed-in-just-six-days

        Just a disclaimer: Like any other country, Japan too has its pitfalls and this post should not be construed as saying everything is perfect here.

  4. Altaf Rahman says

    Hello Madhav,

    This is like ‘direct from horse’s mouth’. Very nice one. Just to let you know, the day when the earth shook, I put a comment under your comment asking you to put another comment informing all of us that you and family are OK. Later came to know that you are doing fine.

    Now coming to the question of “Order”, with in 3 days of the disaster, CNN, BBC were showing a programme where they highlighted the fact that dispite such major issue, there was no looting any where and people are orderly and helpi8ng each other.

    What I would like to point out to every one, is the fact that this comes from with in. Madhav is right when he said ‘Is US listening’. When there is a presence of police force, every one will be orderly. But when there is no one to oversee, if people show order as if God is watching them, it shows the higher culture.

    I have personally gone through 1977 cyclone in costal Andhra where people died in their hundreds of thousands. I am also aware of the looting that took place in the aftermath. Know from friends the tales where the so called rescue volunteers cut fingers of the dead just to steal gold rings. I am alos aware of the corruption that took place in distribution of compensations so many other things.

    What I would say is what ever we say about our grand past, culture, when it comes to individuals we are still wild and very primitive in sensitive issues.

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