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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Life Since 3/11

Because I am the kind of person that skips all the BLAH BLAH BLAH to get to the important stuff, I am going to save you the trouble.  I have written a lengthy passage here about our experience which I think might be helpful but first I will put up the things we as a family have learned from this and some of the things that we are left to think about now.

Things We Have Learned:

  • When something happens in Japan, no matter how far away from you it is, people in North America worry that it has happened to you.   CALL them ASAP. Trust me, grandma and Grandpa will be freaking out!  BUT don’t let them make you PANIC!!!!!! They are watching CNN and they are getting very exaggerated news.  They will want you to come home right away.  (It will probably be worse in the future if something else happens here)
  • We now know there is an AM radio channel that broadcasts in foreign languages news and information during times of emergency.  (Channel 740 in our city) Find out early if such a thing exists where you are placed.  We used our car radio but if you don’t have a car get a hand cranked radio (they can be used to charge your cell phone too).
  • Be prepared for disasters!  Make sure you have a bag packed with emergency things all the time.  Make sure the Families passports are inside along with food and water. If you still have a Credit Card from home put that in there too.  We now have a back pack with 4 liters of water and about 25 Powerbar type things, along with dried fruits and nuts. We also have clothes for the kids and diapers for the baby.   
  • Have some flash lights at home. They are very helpful! Many homes have burnt down because of the use of candles during black outs.  The are cheap and easy to find.
  • Make sure you have some cash on hand.  No power means no ATM’s.  We couldn’t get money for about 3 or 4 days after.  We usually have 5 or 6 10,000Yen bills (approximately $500 - $700 depending on exchange rates) on hand at home.
  • Make local friends as early as you can! They are your best allies during the worst of times. They are the ones who will know what is happening locally,  where things are happening, and where to get needed essentials.  We are very thankful for our neighbours, my co-workers and the parents at our daughters kindergarten.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  I asked some of my JTE’s to let me know if they heard anything about kerosine or gas at any of the gas stations and one of the office ladies made some calls for me and got me a tank of kerosine that afternoon from this little shop in one of the small little towns near one of my schools.  I would never have known about it and I couldn’t find Kerosine anywhere.
  • Learn what grocery stores are stocked locally vs which ones are national chains whose supply comes from far away.  The 3 stores wh are local to our area stayed much better supplied than the big chain stores did.
  • If you are prepared for something to happen you wont panic when it does! (One ALT in our Town left 3 days after the quake, it caused a lot of problems for everyone that knew her). Panic leads to more problems.  Well prepared, well thought out steps, even in the midst of a crisis are essential for the Family JET.
  •  It can be good for kids to learn what it means to conserve and not be able to get what ever you want whenever you want.  This will be a time that I think will teach us as a family just how much we really have, what we really NEED when it comes down to it, and how lucky and prosperous we are.
Some Things We Still Have To Figure Out:
  • How much will the cost of living increase post 3/11? Will we be able to afford the new cost of electricity, gasoline, kerosine, food, and the many other things that will increase in the coming months on one JET salary?
  • What will happen with the Nuclear Power plant? Will Akita continue to be a safe place to raise young children?
  • How will the JET program fare as the government shifts its focus to the rebuilding effort?

Now for the Blah Blah Blah

Let’s start with that day.  We were very lucky as a family, my wife and kids were together at home when the earthquake struck. I was at school and was required to stay there until all the students were taken care of (about an hour and a half). But, having the girls with someone they can communicate with was a huge help in calming any fears they might have had.  Now this is not something anyone has any control over but it was the best case scenario for us.  Another Family JET who we are in contact with whose children were both at daycare at the time mentioned that it was much more stressful for both parents and kids. 

We are Life on the edge of a disaster is a very strange thing.  There is this overwhelming sense of sadness and loss for those who have been affected by it, but at the same time an equal sense of gratitude and thankfulness for your own safety.  We were not directly affected in terms of physical damage by either the quake or the Tsunami but by the 24hr mark we knew everything had changed.  Life in Tohoku would not be the same.

With No power and no phone lines for about 24hrs we didn’t really know anything.  We don’t understand Japanese radio and we didn’t know the channel of the International Language Emergency Broadcasts so we had no idea there even was a tsunami, never mind the kind of news that was being broadcast around the world.  Only once we were able to connect with our families back home were we able to hear exactly what happened.

Until that point life was pretty much normal for us as a family.  We were having a black out party.  Keeping the kids occupied and having fun.  The grocery stores and line ups for gas gave us some clues but it didn’t click in until that first phone call. 

It quickly became a matter of conserving everything, and making sure you have enough food, diapers, toilet paper, water, and everything else you might possibly need for the next month.  This is harder than you might think for the Family JET.  But, the most important thing was not to panic.  We wanted to make sure that we did not pass the stress of this event and what it might hold for us on to our kids.  I don’t think we were very successful but we tried to show them that we had to do some things to make sure we were going to be okay but that as long as we did these things we would be fine and there was no need to worry. 

One thing that made life more stressful for us personally was that although we now live and work in Akita Prefecture, my wife used to be a JET in a small village in Oshika Honto which just happened to be the closest place to the epicenter of the earthquake. We had many friends in the areas hardest hit by the tsunami and no way to contact them.   It is a very difficult thing to be in complete shock or to cry and worry and mourn and not have it affect your children.  Well, maybe it is better to say it is impossible to do all of that and not have it affect your children.  We did the best we could to explain things to our 5 year old in simple terms so that she would understand why we were crying and stressed out.  We are very lucky that our daughter is a very resilient little girl didn’t seem to let any of it bother her.  The first thing she said to me when I got home on March 11th was “Daddy, don’t worry I’m not afraid of earthquakes.  I’m only afraid of zombie ghost skeletons.”  That what you get for letting 5 year old watch Scooby-doo I guess. 

At the grocery store the first things to go were instant noodles, and toilet paper.  Then milk, bread, natto, tofu, juice, and other things that are familiar and comforting to the local people quickly followed.  Things like meat, root veggies, snack foods and surprisingly RICE seemed to stay in steady supply.   We walked everywhere for two weeks, and if we couldn’t walk we didn’t go.  The trains were down for a while but even once they were back up trying to get a Family of 4 to and from anywhere by train is not fun. 

It took the entire spring break, until early April, before things were almost normal again.  We still have to figure what this new Japan holds for us as Family JET’s but, for now, we are thankful to be here and excited to see how these amazing people will rebuild this great country.


  1. So thankful that your family are doing well and taking all this in stride. I continue to enjoy reading your experiences. We are still awaiting the interview results.

  2. I definitely took the quake and tsunami as a sign to get my butt in gear and get an emergency backpack put together (something I promised myself I do this time, but hadn’t got around to doing yet.) I’m glad to hear to your family is doing okay. We’re so far from the affected area, but like you have friends in the affected area.

  3. Your tips are great! They really apply for anyone anywhere. Glad to hear that your family is doing well.Keep your chins up!