Friday 18 March 2011

Day Eight

Dear Friends
This round robin has snowballed. I started it as a way to let close friends and family know that I was OK but it's taken on a life of its own. As well as receiving very welcome messages of support, I have become re-acquainted with old friends I had lost contact with and even discovered relatives I didn't know I had in South Africa. Thank you to you all.

But a word of warning.  If my mail doesn't come in it's not because I've succumbed to radiation sickness. More likely to be something mundane, for example, that I haven't been able to start Senzaki-san's computer. Keep calm, don't panic.

One week on. Looking back, the time of the quake seems like a film. We're used to earthquakes here, just shrug them off. But this was like nothing I've experienced before. It was truly frightening. And the chain of events it unleashed have been of biblical proportions. But in spite of the tension over the reactors, things do seem a bit easier today. Yesterday was very tense, but today the Self Defence Forces and Tokyo's fire-fighters seem to be getting water into the reactors. No reports yet on how successful it has been but things seem to be under control more than they have been, and perhaps stabilising.

I hear the workers in the plant who stayed are being dubbed the 'Fukushima Fifty'. As I said a few days ago, this has really sorted the sheep from the goats. To go or to stay? It's a decision we're all facing. Yes, I would love to be on the bus that the British Embassy is organising tomorrow from Sendai to Tokyo. But I can't walk out on 100 employees. One of our staff phoned in today for advice. His wife's family are urging them (him included) to leave the area and stay with them. It's his decision but we did make it clear that he is a valuable member of the team. In the end I think he made the right decision, he took his wife and small kids to the station and put them on a bus, then he came in and he'll be here next Tuesday when we go back to work after the holiday. Don't get me wrong, I'm no martyr, and if radiation levels got really high, then I would close the factory and leave. The hard thing now is to try and be level headed and not be affected by the many people who are in a panic and leaving. 'If you can keep your head, when all about are losing theirs ...'

As things settle, we are beginning to think about the long-term effects. Business goes on as usual with our customers in the west, but we still haven't been able to contact over half our customers. We know that many on the coast have suffered severe damage and their owners will be weighing up what to do: to rebuild or give up. There will be lots of unemployment. Fukushima is an important agricultural area. Will the 30 km zone be out of bounds, like at Chernobyl? And as I said before the Fukushima brand for safe food is in tatters. Our salesman who lives in the 30 km zone has moved his family to relatives 350 miles away. It's uncertain what will happen to his house. Will he get compensation?

Yes, things are getting  better. The supermarkets (York Benimaru) opened for business today (the first day since the quake) and was apparently crowded with people buying food. And the NHK Radio had some music on today. For the first time. The wall to wall reporting has been harrowing. But still no petrol.

This weekend is the spring equinox, a holiday when people visit the family graves although I doubt many people will be going to the cemetaries this year (no petrol). In this area, there were no flowers at this time of year so they used to make them, out of wood shavings, dyed bright red, purple, yellow and green. I shall find a little place to put my flowers (the local shop still had some) and remember all the people who have died in this terrible disaster.
Love to you all - and keep calm!

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