One of the main problems was that the power at the plant was down, thus disabling the cooling systems for the reactors. Workers, assisted by the U.S. military, have been dumping sea water on it to cool it down. Last week however, it looked like there was a chance they may not be able to successfully cool the reactors. That news, in addition to many of my friends and family urging me to leave, led me to my decision to temporarily leave Sendai.
I really, really did not want to leave. I was very concerned about my friends, students and co-workers who would be remaining behind, and I didn't feel right about leaving everyone else in a bad situation. But it also seemed like if I didn't take that opportunity to leave on a foreign embassy bus, it might be impossible to do so later. So I rode down to Tokyo on the Australian Embassy bus, and from there went to Osaka with some other American friends from Sendai.
We spent four days in Osaka, recuperating from all the craziness of the post-earthquake week and eating real food again. It was pretty exciting to be able to actually enter stores and see food on the shelves, rather than having to wait in line for an hour just to get a cup of ramen. I really can't complain too much though, because I feel I have been really lucky throughout all of this to have food and shelter, and to know that all my friends and students in Sendai are safe.
|Japan's best okonomiyaki, at Tako Tako King in Osaka|
|Being reunited with real food again made me cry a little... It was just so delicious!!|
But I couldn't handle being away from Sendai during such a turbulent time for very long. By about Tuesday of last week, I'd heard that power had been turned on at the plant again and they were making significant improvements. Radiation levels in Sendai have remained at harmless levels, although some of the milk and vegetables in the area have been contaminated. I felt that it wasn't completely safe, but it was safe enough for my comfort, to return. I felt that it was more important to come back and help my school and my community recover from this crisis.
Things here are much better than they were before, but we're still lacking gas, which means no gas stoves and no hot water. My current showering system is an electric kettle and a bucket-- it's annoying but then I remind myself that I like to go camping and do these crazy things for fun every year anyway. And I'm just so grateful to have my electricity back that it's hard to care about the small stuff.
|Taking our dirty clothes and dirty selves to Spa World in Osaka. We're totally rocking that homeless chic look.|
Many stores and restaurants are open again, but it can be difficult to find certain products. Dairy products are pretty much non-existent, everyone still has to wait hours in line to get gas, and I literally had to fight off an old lady at the supermarket to get some bread. (She already had a loaf, don't try to question my need for bread.) There's also still lots of aftershocks, which are more of a nuisance now than they are actually frightening. I don't even get out of my chair for a magnitude 6 quake anymore.
There's lots of volunteer work to be done. I went to my local volunteer center today and helped with cleaning a house messed up by the quake for an elderly person and gathering info on local stores and clinics. The victims of the tsunami for the most part seem to be receiving a lot of aid now, although of course funds are still desperately needed to help all of the homeless and injured. But not much help is available for people within the city who need it, which is why I felt it was important to help out in my own community.
If anyone is interested in volunteering in Sendai, please check this page for more information (it's all in Japanese, unfortunately, but feel free to contact me if you need help).
Also, I would once again strongly encourage everyone to donate to a disaster relief charity if you are able. Everyone in Tohoku is so grateful for the support we've seen from people all over the world; it really makes a big difference to those who are suffering right now.
Google has put together a great page that makes it easy to choose a charity to give to, to help with the disaster relief.
Thank you for reading! I'll be posting a few more Japanese theater entries soon, now that life seems to be calming down at last.