For as long as the first 18 hours after I caught the news flash of the deadly tsunami in Japan early Friday morning (NY time) on my TV in Brooklyn, I was unable to track down my own family members back in Japan, find out where they were when the earthquake and tsunami struck, and whether they were safe.
None of the phone calls I placed to Japan got through – either cell phone or via land line. It was “all circuits are busy” for the whole day. (Who would have guessed that e-mails and skype were the only two communication methods that turned out reliable during this most recent disaster in Japan?!)
I combed through every news page online, flipped through TV broadcasts (in Japanese and in English), and searched “Chigasaki” (a city where my mother lives) via tweets.
My biggest fear centered on the fact that Chigasaki, although located south of Yokohama, is a beach town. My nephew and my mother live not too far from the ocean.
Late Friday afternoon, I finally received an e-mail, from one of my nephews, letting me know that all of my immediate family members were accounted for.
It wasn’t until that evening when my mother, who lives in an assisted-living home, was finally able to reach me on my cell phone. She caught me when I was on a train going back to the Penn Station. I almost broke down when I heard her voice.
Only then did I realize how distressed I was all day long.
As a professional, the minute the news broke, I knew I had an epic story unfolding before my eyes in the nation of my upbringing. Rather than getting caught up with concerns over which I had no power, I went to work covering the story. Personally, “not knowing” all the facts that mattered to me fueled my fear as the day progressed. I’ve been in the news business for a long time, and yet, this was the hardest I’ve ever been hit by the reality that all news is not just local. It’s personal.
Over the last four days, I’ve been heartened by a ton of personal messages pouring in from friends and colleagues, both in the United States and abroad. Their praise for “the preparedness, the resolve and stoic Japanese people,” as Don Scansen, one of our regular bloggers at www.eetimes.com, wrote to me in his e-mail, not only made me stop and think (because I haven’t thought about it for a long time), and certainly warmed my heart. But as Scansen himself acknowledged, despite all that, we all fear that there will be “a horrible toll.”
What’s going on with Japan’s nuke plants is of a particular concern for me, right now. As the daughter of an A-bomb survivor (my mother was working in Hiroshima), I’m the first to admit that I am probably too biased on the issue of nuclear power. But that aside, the actions of Japan’s nuclear plant engineers and designers in their efforts to control the damage in Fukushima and elsewhere has the world, not just EE Times’ tech-savvy readers, in a state of suspense.
As I write this piece, I keep “TV Japan” on the television. I’ve just learned that not all traffic lights in Tokyo are equipped with emergency electricity – a recipe for chaos! Due to rolling blackouts scheduled, some train stations in Tokyo on Monday morning may not be able to handle the crowd. God forbid they should decide to drive.
The clincher came from NHK (Japan’s public broadcast network). The announcer gently suggested that viewers “might want to consider not going to work or not going to school today.”
I had forgotten that I caught my workaholism in Japan.
Thanks for for so beautifully sharing your story, Junko. I've lived in Japan for 26 years and fondly remember when you were a cub reporter here, many years ago. We live in Kamakura, an hours drive south of Tokyo. After the violent shaking not once, but with repeated many times with the aftershocks, severe food and gasoline shortages, rolling daily blackouts, and most of all, the chilling fear of what may happen with the nuclear plants, I evacuated my family including two preschoolers to Hawaii Wed. night. I write this looking over Waikiki, but instead of the usual feeling of relaxation, with a sense of sadness, despair, and guilt over leaving so many Japanese friends behind. I hope that all EE Times readers will rally to show the electronics industry support for one of the deepest pillars of the electronics industry, at this blackest of times. And please pray, that somehow the fearless workers putting their lives on the line fighting the out of control nuclear reactors will somehow succeed despite the horrific circumstances. No matter what happens, Japan will be back, you can count on it.
I live in Yokohama, and I experienced the earthquake when I was at work near Yokohama bay. It was quite a terrible experience. I thought I'd die there. Once the earthquake stopped, my colleagues and I got out of the building as fast as we could. Once I got out, I was able to make one call to my family abroad. I was very lucky because no one else was able to do the same. In Japan, cellular voice channels are used for emergency transmissions, and user calls get blocked. And that is exactly what happend a few moments after the earthquake. It was still possible to send emails and SMS messages. I am still in Japan, and I hope with all my heart that we will be able to overcome the problems at the Dai-Ichi nuclear plant.
I live in the Christchurch area in NZ that was also recently hammered by earthquakes during the last 6 months. We live just outside the city and were safe, but we were concerned about our son in university in the city.
Landlines and broadband were knocked out and cell phones were overloaded. We eventually managed to get a text message through. Since these don't require a full end-to-end connection they can often get through when voice cannot. They also use far less bandwidth so are the preferred means of communication during high utilisation.
Japanese search and rescue teams (as well as teams from elsewhere) helped in Christchurch. Now New Zealand teams are helping in Japan. It is good to see international cooperation.
Indeed your story is very well written Junko.
I'm glad for you that your family is well.
I'm very sorry though for the tragedy that your home country has faced and still has to tackle. I think once more they will come out stronger and victorious! My best wishes!
Thanks, Frank. Your kind words are very much appreciated. I am also glad to hear that your friends received the good news.
I don't want to be an alarmist; but as we further tune into the news, things may get even worse. We are posting another nuke story shortly.
Junko, you are a consummate professional and EE Times has done a great job covering multiple facets of this story, especially the ways in which our industry is impacted.
I can't imagine the relief you felt when you heard your family is ok. In talking with friends over the weekend who have family in Japan, they too were surprised to find that the internet was working, even though land lines and cell phones were not. And they also received the same good news that their loved ones were ok. If only everyone could say the same thing...
Thank you for your kind messages. The story is still unfolding. We have no idea where this will take us -- yet. Nobody wants to talk about the worst case scenario, but we should. Stay tuned on our coverage at www.eetimes.com.
Your blog is beautifully written. Your heartfelt and intimate perspective comes across loud and clear. I am relieved to hear that your family are all well. I had no idea that your mother was an A-bomb survivor. If only humans were able to use technology for good alone, then we would surely have a much more peaceful planet.
The nuclear power plants are scary indeed. I hope that the plant operators are able to cool them with as little radiation leakage as possible. I agree with you: the world is, or should be, glued to this story on so many levels. I wish that I could do more. Maria
Japan's preparedness, excellent infrastructure, well trained populace, and assistance of other nations will all undoubtedly mitigate this disaster. Unfortunately, a disaster mitigated is still a disaster.
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