Tragic disaster

Map of Japan

It seems somewhat shallow and trivial to be complaining about the weather here when, on the other side of the world, people are coping with disaster on a scale which we cannot comprehend. Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of Japan, its people, cuisine and culture. My beloved and I have a number of Japanese friends and business acquaintances who have confirmed to us by email their survival of Friday’s tragic events.

The Japanese live with the ever-present threat of natural disasters, particularly earthquakes. The islands sit on a massive fault line where several continental and oceanic plates meet. The release of energy as the plates move past one another sparks earthquakes. Friday’s was of 8.9 Magnitude, 1,000 times greater than the one which recently shook New Zealand, the largest since records have been kept and, quite posssibly, the 5th largest ever.

Dozens of towns and villages along a 1,200km stretch of coastline were shaken by violent tremors and the massive earthquake spawned a 10m high tsunami (Japanese for tidal wave) which struck the port of Sendai on Japan’s eastern seaboard. It was these apocalytic images of surging water destroying everything and everyone in its path that put one in mind of Hollywood disaster movies. But there was no Bruce Willis coming to their rescue.

The world’s third largest economy is dealing with its worst crisis since WWII. The scale of the rescue operation is colossal, even for a country as well-prepared as Japan which has been shaken to its core by the scale and complexity of the disaster. If that were not all, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, built to withstand an earthquake of 8.2 Magnitude, 270km NE of Tokyo, has experienced 3 explosions in the past 4 days. Its reactors are allegedly intact but radiation levels around the plant exceed the legal limit. Despite hundreds of billions of dollars being pumped into the Tokyo stock market, share values have again plummeted. Many homes are without electricity and there are food, water and fuel shortages in the worst affected areas. It is still way to early to assess accurately the cost of the disaster either in monetary terms or in terms of loss of life.

The Japanese will however bounce back from this. A sense of impending disaster is deeply ingrained in the Japanese culture which prizes fragility, impermanence and transcience. Their most prized possession, the cherry blossom, achieves brief perfection in April before its petals flutter to earth.