Dealing with Disaster: Days of Frustration


Driving through the mud in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture


Editor’s note: Hiroko Tina Tajima is a university professor in Tokyo and a simultaneous interpreter for the United Nations and the Japanese government. This is part of a series of updates to family and friends about relief efforts she has been organizing to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan. To get involved, contact her at [email protected].

March 24, 2011

Thank you so much for all your help. I get about 50-70 emails every day from all over the world. The sad part is that the Japanese government doesn’t move fast enough and they do not give us updated information and cities up north are confused. Even governors and mayors don’t know what to do and what the central government is doing. They don’t get informed, just like us.

NHK, our major TV station, FINALLY put together a program on what’s REALLY going on and what is needed, but they didn’t say much. It’s almost our national TV station, so they never criticize the government and just told us to “hang in there.” “Ganbatte” is not what we need. We need first-hand information and manpower.

Gasoline finally got to the Tokyo vicinity and expressways are now open all the way to Aomori, so if we have enough gas, we can basically drive to up north. Electricity is still unstable even in Tokyo, so trains are not running on schedule, so that’s not something we can depend on much.

We’re frustrated that we can’t do anything for those in the radiation of 30 kilometers of the nuclear plants, because NO ONE wants to go there. There still are people left in villages there and they have been sending a big SOS, but with the fear of radiation (especially after two workers from the plant were sent to the ER this evening because they were directly affected by radiation), I have asked the U.S. military for help, but they haven’t responded to my email and my volunteer partners told me that they (the U.S. military) are told not to go there.

Understandable, but we’re so frustrated that NO ONE can do anything for those people near the plants.

I even had a bad dream last night that people there were screaming as they died. I haven’t had much sleep in the past three days or so because I worry so much and am frustrated that I/we can’t even come up with any good idea. I’m stressed out.

I’m in Seoul right now for government meetings and am going home tomorrow afternoon.  During lunchtime today, I went to a supermarket nearby to see what’s available. Gosh… they had EVERYTHING that people up north need right now. In fact, the Korean government offered to send food items, etc. to Japan, but the Japanese government refused them, I heard. I cried … really cried in the middle of the supermarket surrounded by food, water, etc. People stared at me, but I just couldn’t stop crying.

Non-profit organizations and individuals are sending food, etc. to the city hall or prefectural government, but what they do is to take the things to warehouses and the stuff sits there for days, as they have no transport system set up, especially due to lack of gas. Now, petroleum companies are sending so many trucks/tanks up north, but that’s not enough.

Once I get home tomorrow, I’ll try to find someone who can drive a truck or two (or more) up north and more volunteers who can deliver the stuff on bikes or whatever.  Leadership is apparently lacking, ESPECIALLY in the government. Ugh…

I really, really appreciate all your generosity and help. Since we’re individual volunteers, not a non-profit organization, we can only acknowledge receipt of your donations.

Vegetables are disappearing from stores because the government said that those grown in Gunma, Fukushima, Iwate, etc. (up north) are contaminated. Farmers are devastated. The government has already started importing vegetables from China.

Good news is that I have found drug stores who can donate some stuff and sell things at super-discounted prices, so once I go home tomorrow, I’ll contact them (my friends have already contacted them) and move from there.

Gas companies started going to houses up north to get the gas pipes fixed, so from this weekend, some people can start cooking and taking a shower.

The recovery will take a LONG time. Maybe the next step is to get the people out from evacuation centers. About 3,000 people moved to Saitama (just north of Tokyo) and more prefectures are offering temporary housing.

The government has FINALLY started building temporary housing in Miyagi TODAY, but Japanese carpenters and contractors are pretty fast, so we’re hoping that people will be able to move there and have basic supplies and sleep on futon.

On a personal note, my 77-year-old mother, who is half paralyzed from a stroke about five years ago, fell when the earthquake hit Tokyo and had a minor stroke, but she’s fine.  I’m exhausted, but my spirits are high. Please keep us in your prayers.


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