“I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for…that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary.”
Paradise lost, John Milton
All the Bad Parts of the Bible.
When the initial Earthquake rattled Japan, it was intense. I immediately wrote a blog about my whereabouts at that moment and what transpired there after. It was all pretty ridiculous and that’s fine. I have my moments.
Everyone has been watching the news coverage of the events unfolding here. Massive tsunami ripping Sendai apart and dragging it out to sea. Huge destruction in Northern Japan. Fires in Tokyo. The Dainichi Nuclear Plant in Fukushima is crumbling away and radioactive elements are in the air.
Rescue workers and the government are scrambling to keep things from spiraling even further out of control.
People are trying to contact missing loved ones.
It could easily get worse. This is the message being sent by the foreign media and although it is not wrong, it also isn’t totally right. It isn’t the whole story.
The streets I walk along everyday in Tokyo are a little more quiet. People are moving a bit more quickly and there is a tension, something nearly palpable in the air. The people who have homes and families, jobs and dreams here are attempting to push forward and continue living, because there is no other option.
I stopped a stray soccer ball kicked across the street today by two boys, probably 10 years old, who were playing outside my home. I trapped the ball and kicked it back. The smaller boy, moved quickly to receive my pass, smiled and said “Arigatou” over his shoulder as he dribbled back towards his friend. I watched them both move away from me, laughing and joking like boys do, then I went about my business.
This simple event, something that could happen at anytime on any day, seemed to solidify a feeling I had in my heart and mind. It changed that feeling from merely a strong sensation, to a cold steel promise, and it hardened my resolve. It crystallized it.
Options and Choices
Since Friday, many foreign residents have left both Tokyo and Japan. Many foreign companies have closed their offices and sent everyone home. The French Embassy released an alert advising its citizens to leave Tokyo and flee to Osaka.
Not everyone has left; far from it. But enough have left that people have noticed.
I received an email today from a Japanese friend that read simply “Are you leaving Japan too?”
7 of her other foreign friends had already taken off. When I told her that “No, I live here. I’m not going anywhere.” she let the flood of emotions she had go. Fear, Disappointment, Loss.
Although it surely is a personal decision to leave Japan when times are hard, it makes a very deep and negative impact on the Japanese people who either can’t leave, or won’t leave their home.
While someone getting on a plane to escape might see it as a smart move, the people they are leaving behind see it as a kind of betrayal. And rightly so. It is betrayal in the form of abandonment.
Of course, it’s not only one’s Japanese acquaintances who feel this betrayal, but anyone that was once called “friend”.
Fidelity is the quality of being faithful or loyal. This is important when defining real friendships. The only friendships that matter, the only relationships in fact, are the ones we have with people who will stay when the pain comes. When the lights go off and people start screaming, the people who are still standing there with you are the ones that matter.
That is the commitment of real friendship or of any meaningful relationship.
To stay or to go
So, things get hard. The badness finds us. If you make a choice to leave, to leave your job, commitments, friends and home that is your decision. If you don’t feel there is a responsibility to stay, then there truly isn’t one and your leaving is reasonable.
Be aware that the flip side to that is that now you’ve made your feelings well-known. You have clearly demonstrated what matters to you and what doesn’t, and most of all, you’ve shown others where you’ll go when the next set of hard times shows up.
Do not expect to come back when everything is fine and find your relationships the way you left them. Fidelity it turns out, becomes vibrantly, wildly important to those who had something to lose, and stayed to keep it safe.
Virtue untested, is no virtue at all. What virtue could I ever claim to have if I climbed on a plane and flew to safety, while ten-year olds with no choices play in the street?
I could claim to have none.
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Wow,this is a really moving post. And, I do find people here are general touched when one not of their own says, “this is my home” or “I live here”. I now understand why Japanese tend to prefer to use the word “stay” rather than “live” when referring to foreigners in their midst. Although, one hopes that many will take more notice of those from outside Japan whom have made these islands their home as well.
A moving post, indeed, and I can echo the concern that Japanese friends have expressed about how foreigners are ‘abandoning’ their temporarily adopted home. I would gently offer, however, another viewpoint which suggests how we are all united in some way, and our reactions, different as they may be, are demonstrative evidence of our shared humanity, not differences.
When disaster strikes, we all want to be near people with whom we have close ties – family, relations, loved ones. For some, that will be people inside Japan, regardless of their nationality; for others, that will be somewhere else. Much of this depends on the intentions of the ‘foreigners’ living here.
Undoubtedly for some, Japan is home, much the way I think of Thailand as home, though my passport would suggest otherwise. Some with whom I work call Japan home. Some are here temporarily (for several years) for work. The long-termers with whom I work feel no need to leave; some of the others do. The differences are great. The people with whom I work routinely change work places every few years; as a result, many have not developed deep roots here. Moreover, many, because of their many moves, have already been involved in other disasters previously including the big quake in Taiwan, the tsunami in Thailand, and political uprisings in various countries. This means that these people are experiencing a very different emotional reaction to what some others are experiencing. And their reactions are valid.
For those who work for a foreign company, who have not learned the language, their experience is also influenced by the ‘fear factor’. While the merits of learning a host country language are undeniable, that is not the point here. There are also those short term residents who do not understand Japanese, who find the situation of trucks driving around the neighborhood making announcements they don’t understand quite frightening. To exacerbate their fear, such short-term residents, whose loved ones are primarily abroad, are hearing from “people back at home”, who are watching the news and asking them to ‘leave’. Some will chose to leave only to put their families at ease. And right now, for people everywhere, concern for our loved ones is a sentiment that all people share.
I understand, and your comment is thoughtful and well developed. I also would point out that I covered everything you said, all be it in brief form, when I wrote that…
This post was not written with the intention of “talking people into” staying. It has nothing to do with that. This is only about those of us thus far that have stayed, and for me personally, why it feels so absolutely imperative that I, in a time of crisis, both support and frankly, suffer along side the people that have protected me and given me so much. This is not a post about never leaving Japan, it’s about not leaving when the hurt comes because you have reasons not to.
If someone else does not have these motives, very well.
Those are not someone else’s sentiments that are detailed above. They are mine.
Cheers to the reply and civil discourse. Your feelings of attachment I understand, and I appreciate that the sentiments are yours; my reply speaks more to the line where you note that, “Although it surely is a personal decision to leave Japan when times are hard, it makes a very deep and negative impact on the Japanese people who either can’t leave, or won’t leave their home.”
What I mean to suggest is that there are ways of viewing people’s choices as unifying, as ultimately similarly ‘human’.
My hope is that we won’t perpetuate a negative reading, but rather contribute to the understanding. Certainly I’ve seen colleagues who are leaving act insensitively (without considering how they speak in front of nationals who are staying), and the negative impression this leaves is obvious, and exactly what you note. Your post helps to remind us to be sensitive when meeting our needs of considering those of others. This I applaud.
When you write to those leaving that “you have clearly demonstrated what matters to you and what doesn’t, and most of all, you have shown others where you will go when the next set of hard times shows up” I would suggest that we have minimized how difficult a choice that has been for some, some who will find ways “to stand alongside” their local friends in a way that also meets the needs of their own families who are not here to be with them. I suppose I merely want to blur the lines, to suggest that such divisions are not easy, nor always constructive.
Truly perspective and “point of view” define ones life.
That is part of the post, my perspective.
And although some might find the fairly clear lines I illustrated unsettling or self righteous, these are my thoughts and feelings none the less. In some situations, clear distinctions are necessary.
One thing about “perspective” is to also embrace other points of view and take them into consideration.
I’ve read your post and although it is clear where your heart lies, you seem to distance yourself from the people who make the agonizing choice to leave for their own protection.
Survival is an innate sensibility we all share. Making the decision to “abandon” a catastrophic situation doesn’t mean a person has no “virtue untested”
You seem to be scolding and even judging those who choose to leave as some sort of character assassination. Let me ask you this? If you had children and you had a choice to stay and risk exposing them to untold amounts of radiation or returning to your home country so they have a chance at staying healthy, would you?
I mean circumstances do dictate certain actions and what’s happening in Japan is a circumstance that is dictating many actions.
“So, things get hard. The badness finds us. If you make a choice to leave, to leave your job, commitments, friends and home that is your decision. If you don’t feel there is a responsibility to stay, then there truly isn’t one and your leaving is reasonable.”
That graph speaks volumes. Of course there may be reasons for someone to stay, but there may also be many more to go.
That doesn’t mean a person’s character or virtue is “untested” nonetheless.
Willy my man, this blog has nothing to do with other peoples virtue, only mine.
If I use straight language it’s because I detest this obsession we have with being politically correct. People have different motivations for what they do, and I am not here to write about them.
I am writing about me.
I think if people find this post offensive or condemning they are either overly sensitive or feeling guilty. Either way, I don’t think that’s my problem. I wish them the best, they just are not too terribly high on my list of priorities now.
The people here are.
Good comment by the way.
I have read this post several times now and have gotten more from it everytime. It’s good to think about these things BEFORE the hard times come, to harden our hearts when those hard times inevitably comes.
“If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.”
I think you will recognize the quote.
That quote is so appropriate for life man. I am glad you have gotten something out of that book, I took loads from it. Thanks for pushing this post as well, I hope it makes some people know that staying is not a bad choice, even if its hard.
For a brief moment I thought I read a passage out of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, but Google told me otherwise. Spoken like a true stoic in any case. I think I’ll read that book. Thank you for the recommendation!
I also have read this post a few times as I often do with your posts. This one, however really hit the funny bone,so to speak. Could not agree more. I have been here for 16 years now, have a Japanese wife and 2 daughters and have been running my own business for the last 7 years. While sometimes, there are things and people that drive me batshitty here, it is the place I have made my home and running to me is not even on the option list. Rather than run my friends and I are helping by collecting food,clothes,blankets etc., and actually driving and delivering these items to the victims of the earthquake and following tsunami.While I am in Yamagata ken, a little closer to the bad zone,some dudes I know, friends of a friend are pushing up from Gunma and delivering much needed items to the very villages and towns where people have nothing. So yeh, all you runners, don’t run. Stay and bloody well help. Take the good with the bad. I’ll say this, the appreciation I have seen in the last few days from Japanese people toward us for helping has been amazing and has brought my community a little closer. And for the future I think many people will view us (foreigners)in a different light. I have had it good here for a long time so now is payback time and I have no problem with that.Keep up the good posts, you have become my weekly bible.
I’m sorry, but leaving to protect one’s life is the hugely different from skipping out on a bad date, or ignoring your friend when they’re whining about how they hate their job or their boyfriend is soooo mean. There’s no nobility in standing in a crowd of lemmings who are immobile because it’s the easiest thing to do.
Leaving to protect one’s life is normal, organic, and NECESSARY. And snide comments about “foreigners” really don’t help your case. It has nothing to do with not learning your language, not respecting your culture, or not liking your country. Their loyalty is to THEIR language, their culture, and their country. And under your rules — be loyal to your own — they’re doing exactly what you say they should do.
Thanks for commenting, but you missed the point. In fact you missed several points.
This has nothing to do with cultures or languages or anything vaguely like that.
I made it clear in the post that if people feel no responsibility to stay here then they SHOULD go. So what are you going on about?
This post is about my feelings and my motives.
Japan is having a hard time now, I feel a debt and a connection to Japan, hence I remain here, come hell or high water.
Conversely, if all hell were to break loose in the USA or tragedy struck my family, I would be there with them for however long they needed me. But it hasn’t. Japan is in pain and Japan is suffering now.
If other people don’t feel that way, then fine. But they should not expect for me to be waiting here with open arms and smiles when they decide to return once things are “safe”. Although I am not upset with them, the dynamic we had will have changed, and I hope they can understand that. People bond during a crisis. If you aren’t here you are out of that loop. It’s really that simple.
For some this won’t matter and that’s fine. Again, choices and priorities.
I think I have made mine clear.
P:S: In case you remain confused, I am not Japanese. I am a “foreigner” living in Japan. I hope this helps clear things up.
I also think you have a hard time with people with differing opinions and are almost defiantly opposed to those opinions.
Your loyalty should be commended but those whose loyalty lies with their loved ones elsewhere should also be appreciated.
You offer no points of view about why others choose to leave other than “if they can find no reason to stay then they should go”
It’s an extremely personal choice, which should be considered as well.
Again, I hate to beat a dead horse, but…this blog post isn’t about other people and their points of view.
It’s about mine.
I have an understanding of how others feel and I can grasp why they react the way they do. That doesn’t mean I have to write about it, or even appreciate it. I just “get it”. That’s it. I don’t need anymore. There are bigger fish to fry and other things to spend my time considering and working on.
Choices and perspectives yet again.
While some are leaving because they feel they are looking after their lives,others are just leaving because of the mass induced panic, which also is present in the behaviour of lemmings,eg. they all follow each other off the cliff. I don’t think the comments are “snide”, but more directed at those foreigners who come to Japan and say they are here for the long term, while the good times roll, but cut and run, when things turn a little rough.I am speaking as one of the “foreigners” who agrees with this post and am staying and not only assisting but giving moral as well as physical support. There sometimes comes times in life when you can choose to make a stand and this is one of them.
Mark, you get me, you get the post. Good luck with the work you are doing for the people that need a helping hand.
Thanks bro and stay safe down there.Keep up the good posts, they keep me going while I’m working on emptying some future water containers too.
Haha…gotta keep freeing up new water containers, especially at times like this.
I’ve read your responses. And yes, this is your blog and your opinion. Blogs that are self masturbatory and self aggrandizing are neither interesting nor enlightening.
Your original post was eloquent, your responses, not so much.
I would only say this. Your opinion is your opinion, but if you don’t want to engage in thoughtful discourse with those of differing ideas then maybe a public post should be avoided in the future.
By the way – I did enjoy your original post and it did give me food for thought.
I have engaged in “thoughtful discourse” with you and have done my best to express in a succinct fashion how I feel about the comments you made. I will try again: they do not matter to me.
Your points are well understood and I appreciate them. I’m sure you could have enlightened someone that had never considered that side of the story. My point is that I already have, and I simply don’t care. I am in a country in the middle of a national crisis. So those that flew away are not a priority. Their motivations are not a priority nor are they really appropriate for this post or its comments.
A better idea is for you to write on your blog about their motivations. You can make it as full of depth and introspection as you like and I will come and provide “thoughtful discourse” there, because it will be appropriate. I’m not being sarcastic, I genuinely hope you do this and send me a link.
Aside from that, unless you have something new, I’m looking forward to your post.
P:S: Some of the most amazing literature known to man it seems, would fall into your “self masturbatory and self aggrandizing” category. Literature aside, most blogs are exactly that. If you want an unbiased and balanced account, please go read a newspaper.
hey Willy maybe you should not read blogs if you want an exchange of opinions. A blog is by definition, the thoughts and opinions of the writer, not those who either agree or disagree. Also try to say what you want to say without using such derogatory diatribe because it doesn’t really further your cause to me as another reader and I suspect maybe other readers too.
I’m using words because that is what a writer does. By the way, this post was linked to on Gawker (a site known for diverging commentary) and that is how I found it, so if gaijinass didn’t intend for responses or differing replies then he could have just posted and not responded to anyone, except you Mark because “you get it” and the blogger “doesn’t care”
Good for you both. I’m off to read more about what’s happening over there from all perspectives.
Cheers and have a great day!
Well I have emptied today’s, tomorrow’s?? quota of future water containers, so I’m off to catch some shut eye. See you all on the next topic..
We will, I’m sure…bye Willy.
Thank you for sharing. Than you for your humanity. If you dont mind I share this blog on my facebook, so many of my friends are interested in your side of the story.
Thanks for sharing your perspective on things, I think you have a good attitude and you write well. I enjoyed reading some of your earlier posts also. I hope that things go better in your neck of the woods…
I’m really glad I stumbled upon this. It was well written, and you expressed the perspective of a Tokyo resident really well. I live in Tokyo, too, and I had to watch my closest friends leave the country — temporarily, of course, but difficult nonetheless. However, in my experience, a lot of foreigners living in Tokyo have had to deal with panicked family members deluded by sensationalist media. My family lasted about a week before buying me a plane ticket and making me leave for a week or so. Even so, I regret agreeing with their decision, and I wish I had fought to stay. I understand how you feel — I’ve encountered a lot of kindness since moving here, especially immediately after the quake, and I hate the idea of “abandoning” them without giving back.
thanks for the comment Natalia.
I am glad people are reading it. It just seemed to me that everyone was trying to leave, and nobody was talking about those of us who have stayed.
Thanks for writing this post! I feel along a lot of the same lines about not abandoning my new home country. Even though I’m in Kansai atm and wasn’t affected, I know people here who have gone home or just skipped next door till things calm down. Sad to seem them go, but does show where ones allegiances truly lie. Your post has helped my family and friends overseas understand why I’m staying, and moving up to Saitama in a few months time.
Look forward to reading more!
1. Those with small children will always choose caution over all else.
2. The Japanese officials have bungled this reactor situation from the start, and throughout the crisis, has failed to inform or admit the severity of the problem.
3. The Japanese Gov. For the most part, has refused much of the assistance offered to it by its closest ally.
I myself have chosen to stay, but have sent my family home until the severity of the situation and the safety of the area is better known by those of us here.
I am frustrated that the U.S. has so many resources and manpower in the country, yet the Japanese Just won’t let us help.
God bless my second home, and all those who are suffering and displaced.
Many people I know with children have stayed and are taking precautions here. However as I said in the post, if someone feels different than I do, that’s reasonable. It’s simply not how I feel.
Also, although many have thrown blame on the Japanese government regarding this Fukushima situation, it could be drastically worse.
Finally, looking at Americas absolutely horrific imperial record abroad, I fully understand the Japanese Government wanting to keep a cap on the level of involvement the US military has with its nuclear program. History clearly shows when you open Pandoras box, for whatever reason, it’s then quite the challenge to close it. Japan knows first hand.
Yes I am necroing this thread as I stumbled upon it tonight.
Left after the shit hit the fan. Seeing how bad things were (and still are) I still felt I made the right choice. I was too close to the plant for my comfort (45km), I had zero faith in TEPCO and the Japanese government as well. Also, my allegiances was never to Japan as it was a one year break that became 5.
Sad thing is I never had the “I miss Japan” feelings some get when they leave. No burning desire to return. I now realize that Japan was never my 2nd home but a temporary detour in my life that ended quicker than I planned. That being said I donate to charities that help in Sendai as I feel some obligation to help.
Lastly, I would never begrudge anyone for leaving if the shoe was on the other foot.
Much respect to those who stayed. If their personal convictions are that strong despite a chance of future illness they have my respect.
Also necroing, and my apologies.
I was teaching English in Ryogoku at the time of the earthquake and certainly had to deal with the panicked family members and my own crippling fears in the days following the earthquake. What ultimately made me leave was the simple fact that the bosses of my contracting organization (an American company) told me to leave. I went down to Okayama for a few weeks and stayed there with some friends until I was given the all-clear to return to Tokyo. Had I not been “told” to decamp, I probably would have stayed.
But on a more practical level, my school had actually just let out for a lengthy spring break and it turned out that I only really missed a couple of class days–the rest would have been vacation for me and I would have ended up being by myself in Tokyo without work to go to. Thinking about that, I realized that it might have been BEST for me to leave–because I could leave, much more than most Tokyo residents with families and responsibilities–instead of staying there and unnecessarily tying down food and water resources while not actively contributing at my workplace.
I was 23 at the time, had only been in Japan for a year at that point, on a contract that went for a stated maximum of two years, so I suppose I didn’t feel excessively loyal to my workplace or to the friends I had made at that point. Again, everybody had a different situation to work through.
The earthquake absolutely changed my life, though. Obliterated my delusions of safety and control and the meaningfulness of my life, and made me realize how deeply afraid I was of dying. Stuff I still work through.
I can’t even begin to say how much I HATED having to leave in April, 2011, but I had already decided to leave well before the quake hit, and we didn’t put in the paperwork to renew my visa which expired on 4/18/2011. I am NOT a “flyjin”, in fact, I left family behind, and they are still there. I wanted to go to Sendai and help, my wife as well, but with the visa expiration coming so soon (I had been in western Kanagawa for 10 years), we had to prepare for the move to the U.S. The only reason I haven’t been back yet is I just can’t afford the trip right now… I WILL be back as soon as I can, Japan is in my soul, not just my heart and mind