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TRAFFIC: MARCH 11 In The Mirror

BY ALMA REYES

MARCH 11 IN THE MIRROR

Every year in March I turnstiles not deliberately operating; exagger- greet the spring blossoms of Japan in no atedly overlit electronic different way from the stores suddenly reduced previous year, perhaps, to dim lighting and just like everyone else blasting music gone; in Japan. Stores and food shortages continuing week by week with supermarkets start to glitter with pink decors people lining up outside on food packages; groceries from early some hang stalks of morning to stock up artificial sakura above food; sudden abundant the shelves. Anxious supply of mineral water toddlers in that orthodox dark blue suit person wearing a mask;

everywhere; every single

attire, accompanied by and minute-by-minute their likewise darksuited parents walk nothing else to watch on

aftershock alarms and

down the streets to the television except for the kindergartens for their earthquake effects and graduation ceremony. radiation updates? Museums, parks and riverbanks start to fill I have recorded a “live up with students who feedback” of such an are either on excursion experience on March 20, trips, or having just 2011: finished school, are eager to enjoy the first weeks of their spring break. The city is bright, cheery, and hopeful

TOKYO: THE DARK CITY

Living in Tokyo these days, ten days since the BIG quake, is no longer like living in the energized city of East Asia. Gas stations are closed—no gasoline; some bank ATM machines are not operating; supermarkets, office buildings, department stores, electronic stores, pharmacies, train stations have turned dark and gloomy due to power conservation—less ceiling lights on, lower-powered heaters (despite the current 12 C climate)...not to mention, less commodities in shelves that go empty from day to night, each single day. Some descending escalators no longer run (only ascending

escalators) so that people can use the stairs instead when going down; 5 out of 10 turnstiles in train stations are blocked to save power; some TV screens inside trains are black; less elevators in buildings are running to save power. Some of those big flashing screens on the buildings in Shibuya have been turned off. Akihabara has become quieter now with less pumping music and flashing neon lights. In supermarkets, maybe 4 out of 6 aisles are lit; the rest of the aisles have the ceiling lights turned off. Our neighbors have turned off their porch lights, which we normally keep on overnight for security reasons. I arrived at the supermarket 10 minutes before it opened and there was already a long line outside stretching about 10 meters from the entrance. It is NOT TRUE that Japanese are non-panic people and non-pushing people. As soon as the doors opened, people swarmed in like ants, picking up the grocery baskets and bumping each other; some running like crazy. The rice shelves were definitely empty. Cooked food was disappearing fast and people were just pushing around and looked like they were about to die in a minute. I have never seen this homey supermarket so packed with ants and lines in caterpillar lengthspeople hoarding toilet paper, tissue and whatnot;

disappointed faces looking at empty rice shelves...

Then, I remember commenting that despite having to live day to day out of the ordinary wherein EVERYTHING and I mean EVERYTHING in Japan as we always know it was “perfectly” convenient, readily available, with top consumer service, suddenly we had to deduce a little bit of “zeitaku” luxury living, and learn to survive frugallyless electricity, water and gas consumption and less expenditures—“WE ARE OKAY WITH THAT”. Life goes on despite all those drastic changes and people began to realize (only then) that we need not consume more than what we actually needed.

Thus, the irony of the entire disaster was it took a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear plant explosion for Japan to realize the need for power conservation. For a country that rebuilt itself so magnificently after WWII and turned itself into one of the most efficient and convenient cities in the world, the meaning of prosperity and high living had become so ingrained into the culture. Yet, the big question then, as it is today, is to what extent do the Japanese people fully understand the consequences of such a colossal devastation and to what level of appreciation can they maintain the pattern of simple living

Eight years not only swept by so hastily but also were quite indifferently buried deep beneath the ground. Let’s admit it. Living frugally never seems to be a “natural” way of life for Japanese. Camouflaging all the pain and horror of that phenomenon, more luxurious and unnecessary technological systems have been adopted; more desire for the hyper and cyber modernity of living has been felt. Would the country need another equally disturbing catastrophe to resurface the more important aspects of being alive? Who would ever know….

Then, television programs and news run the usual recap of the March 11, 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami disaster, paying once again, respect to the thousands of lost beloved ones and hideously devastated towns. Do Japanese ever still think about how unimaginably different Japan was during that month of March in 2011 when cities everywhere (especially in the Kanto and Tohoku regions) were almost completely black: train stations dark and dull with some