AAA member, Yoko Ikeda lives in Koriyama-city in Fukushima prefecture with her family. She is a recent graduate from the Graduate Center, City University of New York with a Ph.D. in anthropology. Here she gives an account of her experience living in Japan in the earthquake aftermath. Thank you, Yoko!
Koriyama is in the middle part of Fukushima prefecture, not near the ocean at all. My city was not affected by the devastating tsunami. Some buildings were damaged when the March 11 earthquake hit, but houses around my house had only minor structural damage, if any. Most people reported that much of the damage occurred from things falling inside the house and made quite a mess – the same was true for mine. Although parts of this city are without water and electricity, my area got them back within the same day of the earthquake. I believe nobody was killed or seriously injured in my city, although it is possible that such news has not been widely reported because of the massive disasters going on in many other places.
We are still getting many aftershocks. It is unbelievable how often we are having earthquakes each day. Even though we are used to earthquakes in general, what we’ve been experiencing now is unprecedented.
Many evacuees from the nuclear power plant area are here. There is no evacuation order or restriction to be outside in Koriyama right now and many stores are open. Because of the massive scale of the problem Japan now faces, there is some scarcity of gasoline and heating oil here, too. It seems that we are getting enough food supplies in stores that are open, but people often have to get in line to get in some grocery stores right now and the lines at the checkout are pretty long – 30 minutes to an hour at the store my mother went to.
Many businesses are open and people are going to work, but the limited gasoline supply makes commutes stressful. Transportation services are limited due to the damage to roads and railways. Long-distance busses just began running again or are about to resume on a limited basis. I don’t think there is train service in my city at this time. And given the shortage of gasoline, people do not feel comfortable going too far, unless they absolutely have to. I’ve heard many people complain that they feel stuck at their location due to the gasoline shortage.
I think that the biggest concern for people in Koriyama is what is happening with the broken nuclear power plant. Some people are worried about the nuclear power plant situations and have left the city; but for now, the overwhelming majority is here, living as normally as possible. Some people are taking radiation precautions by trying to minimize their time outside, and if they have to go out they wear a mask and hat. I hardly have been outside myself, but I don’t really have to since I am currently job hunting.
Since the Fukushima daiichi nuclear power plant is there really to provide electricity to the Tokyo area, Tokyo is now facing electricity shortages and doing some planned blackouts. The government is asking people to conserve energy as much as possible to minimize the impact of the reduced electricity supply.
In other parts of Fukushima, where the tsunami hit, many people are worried about missing people, and/or the immediate problem of the lack of sufficient food and heat at their shelters. Many evacuees in Fukushima and in other parts of Tohoku (Northeast Japan) are facing bitter cold weather and insufficient food. It’s frustrating to see people facing so many problems.
As a person living in Koriyama right now, I am worried about the nuclear power plant, although I think the level of radiation detected in my city is still ok given the circumstances. The level is about 2.8 to 3.8 microsieverts per hour. I’m also continuously checking on how the media is reporting the problems of the Fukushima daiichi overseas, and it seems pretty doomed. I still cannot believe how Fukushima is in the world news for such a sad and disastrous reason like this one.
The Japanese news media is analyzing the situation; however, they are also reporting on the local needs. The local radio, Radio Fukushima (RFC) is a station that many evacuees rely on. Aside from reporting on current events, they are reading email from people exchanging information about supplies and missing persons. Instead of emphasizing how doomed the situation is, I think the radio is trying to report the events in a matter of fact manner and inform people without making them feel fearful and hopeless. I hear a lot of positive and encouraging messages from the radio sent by Fukushima people who are all in this together.
Want to hear more from Yoko? Follow her on Twitter @yokosnowynyc