In my three and a half years in Japan I spent some time in Tokyo and Osaka, but the majority of it was spent in a small rural community very much like some of the ones affected by the recent earthquakes and tsunami. Farming communities which, like farming communities around the world, are struggling to survive against cheap imported food and a young generation who no longer wants to be stuck out in the inaka (countryside). Communities of people who do not represent what the neon, high-tech, modern image of Japan portrays to the world. People who live in beautiful old farm houses that have been in families for generations but have heavy tiled roofs which are prone to collapse during seismic activity.
As I watched the videos streaming of the tsunami engulfing the patchwork countryside of Japan I thought of all the people I used to cycle past on my way to work. I thought about how people who were too shy to speak to me would leave bundles of vegetables, still covered in soil, on my doorstep. And I thought about the day I went for a cycle ride, but ended up stopping to watch an old rice machine plant up a tiny (by New Zealand standards, at least) field. I vowed to stop complaining about the shocking price of rice in Japan after that.
I feel fortunate that the only person I knew personally who lived in that area was OK. But I have friends who are in pain over lost friends and relatives. I hate this. I have friends in Tokyo who are enduring blackouts and can’t drink tap water (not even boiled) or even buy bottled water because all the shops have been stripped of just about everything. I worry about radiation and aftershocks as they do. It changes how you watch the news when you have a connection. I am learning to scan the sensationalism to find answers about what’s really happening.
As with Christchurch, what is needed is money. It’s important that that money is not allocated to one place and one type of aid so that it does not become tied up with bureaucracy. Within a few months there have been life-altering earthquakes in half a dozen places. Some of these places get media attention and some, sadly, do not. If you can give to the Red Cross in your own country or another large organisation that you trust and which does not allocate its collections *, please do.
*After the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka it became apparent that funds collected specifically ‘for housing’ or ‘for food’, for example, became problematic. If one allocation had leftover funds, those funds could not be used in other areas where they were needed because they had been labelled for just the one, specific use. Money was wasted. There are rumours that oversized houses were built along the coast in Sri Lanka, because leftover money raised for housing could not be used for other situations.