March 15th and 16th in Tokyo
by Kenneth Shima on Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 10:38am
Yesterday was bad. Grey and colder than the previous: a misty slate-colored sky that felt welcoming to nuclear wind. City life felt muffled as the normal drone and brightness of the metropolis was tempered by electricity rationing. Fewer trains, fewer commuters, people quiet with their coffee and cigarettes as if neither had flavor but we suck it down anyway, for comfort. Shopping bags spill onto the sidewalk, fallen from a goods-laden bicycle, it's Japan so no one bothers to steal, yet no one picks up either.
People in Tokyo hastened plans to move to the west. From abroad more messages of care urging us to move somewhere else. From Tokyo friends I read messages of safely arriving elsewhere: Paris, Seoul, Okinawa, Osaka, or Kyushu.
I went out, took care of paperwork at the town office, had a burger with Mo, then made dinner for my co-workers at the bar, and dinner at home. I don't remember falling asleep. All of this normalcy is interlaced with moments where we feel compelled to make decisions for our own safety, and ultimately, decisions we feel could effect our mortality. Passing toilet paper lines twenty deep at the drugstore I can feel the growing tension. I wouldn't call it panic, rather the consumer-provider relationship is breaking down. You can't simply buy what you want when you want it, yet we've grown up in a world where the most common response to anxiety is to consume.
The geiger counter spiked in mid afternoon and we too thought of how we could flee and not be here. I wonder what sense of relief comes from not being here? This question made the day more difficult than any aftershock, grey sky, or consumer hoarding. People are getting out, on trains, planes, and buses. I found myself rushing to finish cooking the staff meal at the restaurant. I rushed because at that moment dusk arrived and the divide between "life as usual" and "we're getting the fuck outta here!" resounded in my mind causing a sense of limbo, of fear of rain, of exposure, at the same time spiriting me toward home but away from home.
Today is a beautiful spring day and businessmen push baby carts in the clear(?) morning air. As I take out the trash a dolled-up girl fingers her cellphone while piloting her bike with the other hand. Birds sing, peach trees are in bloom.
There are many things I need to do in preparation for moving home but the pace of progress has turned glacial. I don't want to ride trains and my normal alternative, a bike, also bears a sense of exposure. I will spend today packing, cleaning.
Watch minimal news and read few articles. If my friend's emails are too panicky or too detailed about the "hanging in the balance" state of the meltdown I pass over those too. I watch the geiger counter. I am unable to make the "next step" come to fruition.
"are you guys gonna go?"
It's necessary to go out and see that 33 million metropolis of Tokyo continues to flow. Shops are open, papers are delivered, trash is picked up. If we stay inside closed rooms, illuminated by news screens and a solitary fear of irradiation, we might go crazy. We don't have it so bad in Tokyo. As the center of the country, as the metropole, we are also centered on ourselves. We are turning the disaster in on ourselves with our escape plans and stockpiling. My Japanese relatives are all staying here and this makes us stay here. This stubborn sentiment is of a sense of place. Foreigners are quicker to move elsewhere, we are already temporary, but Japanese friends and family (and myself too) are tied to each other in a net that binds our world, this place, together. It is relationship of emotional, biological, give and take of energy that is the basis for a sense of place. Place make us reluctant to tear that net, for to depart from that relationship undermines our being.
Aftershocks continue with some force. Even in our current earthquake-acclimated state, one tremor last night sent us into doorways or out to the streets. We are plagued by a phantom wobble that could always become something greater.
Motoko's brother said something interesting on the phone yesterday that I've been trying to understand: he doesn't mind being swept away by a tsunami or crushed in an earthquake, but he cannot forgive or accept death by an unnatural disaster like radiation. I think I'm starting to understand what this means: to be killed by a random act of nature retains one's balance with earthly existence but in the man-made causality of a nuclear disaster we can find no such randomness or balance. In this sense, people's fear is tied to a much deeper sense of regret at our human condition itself: as progenitor and failed master of a world we created.