My friend, long-term resident of Tokyo and Jewish Community of Japan Board Member Larry Greenberg has remained in Tokyo throughout the earthquake and tsunami disaster, as well as the ongoing concerns about the situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Larry reflected on his reasons for choosing to stay in Tokyo despite the quick exodus of many other foreign residents.
At 2:46 pm on Friday afternoon March 11th I was seated in a narration booth at a studio in downtown Tokyo. As I read out the lines of my narration script the microphone in front of me began to shake. “Earthquake!” That word flashed into my mind and I looked out through the glass window that separated me from the director and the sound technician. Our eyes met and in a flash we shared the same thought “Everything is fine. Let’s keep on going.”
So, we carried on for 15 seconds or so until the entire room began to shake and we all knew that “this was a big one” and that it was time to get outside. As we walked down the steps the entire building was rocked by tremors and when we finally got outside we saw crowds of people rushing out of the surrounding buildings. We all knew that this was a serious quake and that something bad was happening and that this was going to affect us all.
After about 15 minutes the intensity of the tremors fell off somewhat and I looked at the director and the sound techie and simultaneously we all said the same thing: “Let’s go back in and get it done!” And so we went back inside and over the next 90 minutes we finished the project despite the constant aftershocks. Afterwards, as I walked 90 minutes back to my office amidst the crowds of people who were calmly walking home, I thought back on how spontaneously and naturally my Japanese colleagues and I each knew that something big had happened, that this was serious, but that right now we each had something important to do. And we did it.
It’s been 19 days since the disaster struck. During these 19 days we have learned that close to 30,000 people have lost their lives. We have seen images of entire towns being swallowed by walls of water. We have learned that in fact the Earth was shifted into a new orbit. We have watched as selfless heroes have struggled to bring the situation at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant under control. We have been concerned about an array of indices that have shown that there is radiation contamination across a wide range.
And yet there has been calm. People in Tokyo have gotten up, watched the news, eaten breakfast and gone to work. Some people have chosen to send their children away and many entire families have gone. But the overwhelming response on the part of the people of Tokyo has been to get on with it, to do what we each need to do and to stay calm and ask ourselves one by one what each of us can and should do.
And that is why I am here, why I am glad to be here and why I am proud of Japan and proud of her people. It is also why I am confident that once again Japan will recover from the challenge that it currently faces.