Mar 18, 2011

5 Lessons I Learnt from the Japan Earthquake

It has been a week since the Japan Earthquake. *Sigh* What a long week. For the first few days, with the continuous bombarding of bad news like earthquake, tsunami, nuclear plant explosions, and finally a M6.4 earthquake in my own prefecture, Shizuoka, the period has been pretty trying for me.

To tell the truth, I had not been sleeping well, since the earthquake in Shizuoka. Guess, it is much harder for a newbie (to earthquakes) like me. That was my first earthquake alone.

So based on my personal experience, mostly drawn from the Tuesday's incident (the earthquake in Shizuoka did shaken up things a bit for me), here's 5 lessons I would like to share:

Lesson 1
Prepare an emergency pack right from the start, and know the drill of what to do when an earthquake happens.

If you are like me, a total noob to earthquakes, then maybe you can share my sentiments. When the Shizuoka earthquake struck, I had just finished skyping with my family. Then my apartment shook, my furniture shook, everything shook. Me included (out of fear though). That was my first time. Shock. Blank out. I did not know what to do. The only thing I did at that moment was to find someone to talk to. (I was alone. I had no one to say "Earthquake! Was that an earthquake? omg...." to.) I tried skyping again (my family did not pick up the call), I started facebooking, tweeting, sms-ing my neighbors... At that moment, I needed someone to talk to.

That was such a wrong move. Lucky for me, it was a small one (according to the locals. To me, it was so scary! Buildings don't move. If it did happen in Singapore, it means it will topple the next second!)

The correct thing to do is to hide under a table, off the gas tap, and leave the house when the tremors stop, as there will be aftershocks. But for this time, it was only M3.0 at my area, so according to the locals, people do not leave the house for such a scale.

So how to know when to evacuate? Watch the news.

Here's a list of emergency pack items and what to do and lots of other useful information.

I did not have a proper emergency pack, too. I cleared away the expired food items which my predecessors had left, and did not replace them, nor check if the bag had all the required items. Only after the Japan Earthquake happened, I started to work on the bag.

Lesson 2
Get earthquake notifications on your handphone.

I got my iPhone application,ゆれくるコール, from this article. It also gave instructions on how to activate one for other Japanese phones.

I do regret not getting an iPhone in Japan, though. My iPhone is the one I brought from home, Singapore, so it does not have 3G connection in Japan. My earthquake notification application can only work at home, when I have wifi.

I highly recommend JETs to get a smartphone instead of a local phone. Well, if you do, then you should have a regular line. For me, because of Softbank issues, I had to switch from a regular line to a prepaid card, and hence, I do not have access to Yahoo! and so, I can't activate the earthquake notification on my local handphone set, just like the other locals. :(

Lesson 3
Check the sources of the news you get.

Sometimes, overseas news sensationalize the news, and loved ones at home get so worried about our safety. Most of the time, just reading the headlines are misleading. They often just write "Japan", or quote the worst figures, to grab readers' attention. But if you read further, more likely than not, it is only affecting a few prefectures and not the whole of Japan.

But in reality, most of us in unaffected prefectures, life still goes on. Nothing much has changed. For my case, school is as usual. My neighbors still farm. But there have been some cases of hoarding, like I heard from my JTE and other ALTs have difficulty finding toilet paper, tissue paper, milk, bottled water, etc.

Hence, this stresses my first point, which is to prepare the emergency pack early.

Lesson 4
Get your re-entry permit, preferably, the multi-entry one, early.

From the news, there had been a rush by foreigners to the Immigration Office to get their re-entry permit, so as not to lose their visa should they make a trip home.

There are 2 kinds of permit: 3000yen for single trip only and 6000yen for multiple trips. I would recommend the multiple re-entry permit.

Lesson 5
Be as resilient as the Japanese.

Overnight. Mass destruction. Ironically, most of the destruction are not caused by the M10.0 earthquake, but the deadly black tsunamis. And like Murphy's Law, another disaster followed, explosions at the Fukushima nuclear plants. Today, the incident level of the nuclear plant has been raised from 4 to 5, from a scale of 1 to 7.

But the resilient Japanese did not slum into despair nor chaos. Looting, which was common in natural disasters like these, did not occur. Instead, look at how they took it all in stride, and carried on their lives with dignity. They continued to queue. No one snatches the rations. No one took a second serving. In other 9 prefectures, scheduled blackout was carried out for these days. Each group had a blackout of 3 hours rolled out. When trains are affected, they queue, wait, cycle or walk. Gas and water may not be available for the 3 hours. They prepare beforehand. Gasoline is now a rare commodity. It's ok, they will queue for hours to top up. The rest of Japan now work towards energy conservation.

Unbelievable, isn't it? I believe if such a disaster occurred in Singapore, supermarkets would be empty. Food hoarding is totally expected, given our kiasuism, which probably stemmed from the fact that Singapore is not self-sufficient, so if any mishap should happen, our food supply will be cut. And that encouraged our selfish behaviour. Such a huge contrast to the Japanese, who believed in a group mentality. Yes, it's a double-edged sword. Many have criticised and said that the Japanese society is such that, the one who sticks out will be hammered down, everyone has to conform to a certain standard. But, it is also this characteristic, that gives them confidence to rely on each other (everyone will conform, no one will 'betray'), and rebuild them lives. Just look at this example of how efficient they are at picking up the pieces and rebuilding again.

If these have not touched you, then maybe the story of the Fukushima 50 and other many small heartwarming stories featuring selfless individuals like me and you would. Indeed, instead of criticizing, why not look at how selfless the Fukushima 50 team have been sacrificing their lives for the rest of Japan, or even the world. Why hoard those potassium iodine pills when you are thousands of miles away, when you have a team of 200 people rotating in groups of 50, exposing themselves to the radiation in the plant, trying to save the plant, trying to save everyone. They are the ones who really need those pills.

A very cute video explaining the nuclear issue.

The one thing I can't do, yet, would also be how well they can hide their insecurities, worries and fear. My colleagues have been leading their lives as per normal at work. Right after the next day of the earthquake. Me, on the other hand, was totally in panic mode. All I could think of is... is Tokai Earthquake coming, too? I don't want to die in Japan! I haven't drawn up my will! But when I talked to them privately, they told me, they are worried, too. Maybe not the little earthquakes that shook me both literally and emotionally, but more of the nuclear radiation leak, as this is something unknown to them as well. They also have relatives who live in the disaster zone. And they do complain to me that some forms of hoarding are happening now, and they find it frustrating not being able to buy toilet paper for daily life, or bottled water for emergency packs. But most of all, they told me, they can't be afraid, because Japan is their home. They have no place to run to. And it will be their destiny. Come what may, they can only embrace it bravely and overcome it.

Indeed. I am afterall, a gaijin. Japan is not my home. My home is Singapore. That's why, I would want to return to Singapore. I have a choice. My heart still lies there. My family and friends are there. But... will Singaporeans stand by Singapore should a disaster strike? I really hope, so. We need the Japanese spirit, too.