I am not a particularly brave person. Nor am I terribly magnanimous or self-sacrificing. I am not ignorant either. If anything, I am over-informed. Everyone is a nuclear physicist these days, so I will not bore you with my own analysis of the radiation threat.
A few months ago I had a nightmare. I awoke from it abruptly, drenched in a cold sweat. Immediately, I looked around my person so as to confirm that the dream had not been real. In the nightmare, I had moved across town. I no longer lived here in the old city, where I open my door to greet the Sumida river every morning. Instead, my husband and I had made the terrible decision to move into a cheaper, concrete jungle of a neighborhood in another ward.
It seems ridiculous in light of recent events, but that was really the extent of my bad dream. Leaving the city itself, it seems, was too horrible to even dream about. It was literally unimaginable.
The main reason my husband and I have elected to stay in Tokyo during this especially trying and unnerving time, is fairly simple: It is our home.
Having relocating here after graduating college about eight years ago, it is safe to say I have lived in Japan all of my adult life. That said, it amazes me how many people- Japanese and foreign alike- have been giving me advice under the assumptions that a) they are experts in radiation and b) Japan is not my true "home." Just because we were not born here and are not members of the Japanese race, per-se, it is suddenly as if my husband and I are only on a very long vacation among the Japanese.
This is just wrong. Tokyo is my home and my community. I pay taxes here and am well acquainted with all the employees at the local grocery stores and fish markets. Down the street from me lives a girl who is entering the sixth grade this April. She has been my private student- my favorite, I will add- since she was a first-grader. Every Wednesday night after I finish her lesson, her grandmother serves me dinner. Every Wednesday night for the past five years. My unsolicited advisors, does that sound like a vacation to you?
When I think of "going home," I think of our apartment in Ryogoku, with its tatami floors, sliding doors and balcony upon which I beat the crap out of our futon every Sunday afternoon.
I had the opportunity to very inarticulately explain some such sentiments today, when my husband and I were interviewed by a Taiwanese television network (in Japanese, no less!) at the metropolitan government building in Shinjuku where they were accepting donations to send up north to the affected areas.
"What have you brought here?" the reporter asked us at first.
"Basically the stuff that we read they were accepting," I hope that I conveyed (I'm finding that my Japanese becomes fairly broken in very stressful situations). "Daipers, heating pads, fever-reducing sheets, that sort of stuff."
"Where did you find these goods? Did you have them at home?"
"No," I said, "we spent the morning going to different drugstores and supermarkets around the city, to see what they had left."
Even though we couldn't find many of the goods which are needed, I would have said to the camera if I had even a fraction of my wits about me at the time, it lifted our spirits a great deal just to feel, however briefly, that this was something we could do to ease the suffering up there. While we were out in search of supplies, sometimes it was hard not to feel like our efforts were futile as we stared at so many empty shelves. Still that feeling of helplessness was completely erased when we saw how many other people, from all walks of life, have inundated this building with similar relief supplies, with whatever they could find. Now I know for sure that sticking around and doing everything I can to help out my adopted community is the only course right now that is powerful enough to give me any comfort at all.
But I didn't say any of that. I was too freaked out by the camera and the microphone.
Then however, she asked a question that I felt very strongly about. "So a lot of foreign residents are fleeing the country. Do you plan to go home too?"
"It is true." I took a breath and told her,"that a lot of foreigners I know are leaving or have already left. But for me," I went on, "when I think of the word 'home,' I think of Tokyo. I think of right here."
"Do you still have confidence in Japan?" was the last question she asked me.
"Absolutely," I replied. "The Japanese people are amazing. I absolutely believe in Japan."
And looking at these pictures that I took in and around the metropolitan building this morning, who wouldn't?