Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Random Memories #70 - the last weeks in Japan - part 2

Seiyu supermarket with shelves picked clean in the wake of the March 11, 2011 quake.

This is part 2 of short series on my final weeks in Japan. Part 1 is here.

As I mentioned in my previous post, as my husband and I headed for the wire on our planned departure - a date which was chosen three years ahead of time - there were some late complications in the form of the discovery of a tumor in my neck. There was, however, an even bigger event which threatened to upset the apple cart on our time line and that was the March 11, 2011 earthquake.

Though very few people knew well ahead of time that we were leaving (for reasons I mentioned before), our families had been told of our plans. When the big quake occurred and the subsequent nuclear crisis in Fukushima, family members were encouraging us to leave a year ahead of our planned time. The thinking was, since we were planning to go anyway, why risk remaining? 

The temptation to join the flocks of what people were waggishly refering to as "flyjin" ("gaijin"/foreigners who were flying away in the wake of the disasters) was present, but neither my husband nor I were really "ready" to leave on multiple levels. Dropping everything and running was possible, but we were neither physically nor emotionally ready to leave. Ironically, remaining for that extra year boosted our economic gains prior to leaving since I got an additional part-time job rather easily with all of the Western chickens flying the coop. We saved more money than expected in that final year.

At any rate, both of us lived in the crisis with the thought in the back of our minds that it would have been "nice" if all of this could have waited until after March 2012 instead of happening a year before we left. The truth is that we were glad to have toughed it out, but would rather have been spared. There remains a sense of living through a shared experience with the other inhabitants who endured the quake, but I'm not sure if it has enhanced my life in appreciable ways. Mainly, it's about a sense of solidarity with people who were also there. 

When I say "tough it out", I'm not only referring to the shortages in food, water, and, oddly, toilet paper or managing the jishin yoi (earthquake sickness) and the moments of panic at the multitudes of aftershocks. It was also being surrounded by people who were more scared than we were. The emotional impact of being surrounded by panicky people who had to be talked down all of the time was also stressful. I spent more energy calming my students' fears than my own and it wasn't alwasy trivial keeping a lid on my own nagging concerns about drinking potentially radioactive water or breathing in winds blowing from Fukushima's nuclear zone. 

Knowing we were going to leave anyway made the entire experience that much more complex. We were the least settled we'd ever been and the "stay or go" question was a very serious one and our quality of life, at least in the moment, was not especially good. What was worse was that we couldn't talk about this quandry with anyone except our families since our planned departure was essentially a secret up until the last moment. And our families, who had our best interests at heart and were concerned for our health and well-being, were, in the most subtle of ways, pushing us in the direction of leaving. 

In the end, we decided within a week of the Fukushima crisis to definitively remain for another year. Making the decision and pushing early departure off the table made everything easier as we did not have to occupy a state of emotional limbo. After a brief period of indecision, in which even Japanese people were trying to escape their own country, we decided to stay on schedule for our March 2012 departure.

(to be continued)