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.
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.