• Saitama


A friend of mine went home to the United States shortly before the March 11 quake. When he came back in early April, he complained that we had lied when we assured him that Tokyo was OK. The escalators weren’t running, subway stations were dimly lit, and he couldn’t find his favorite foods at the store.

For someone who didn’t experience the quake, the change would be a shock. Tokyo, the city of infinite abundance, was restricted for the first time in half a century. But those of us who were here remember how much changed in the weeks after the quake, and we have developed a new understanding of what’s OK.

Our homes have not been washed away by a tsunami. We are not huddled in a shelter without food, heat or water. We have not been ordered to leave everything behind to live in a gym or a hallway. We are not relying on donations just to get a hot meal or a pair of shoes. We are better than fine.

Storefronts are darker. Shops close a little early. Office windows are open for ventilation. We turn off nonessential lights and appliances, but we don’t have to sit through three hours of darkness at a time, track blackout schedules online or watch NHK to see whether the next power outage will be called off. We don’t need to check the TV to see if our train line is running.

We know what the background radiation level is. It’s roughly twice what it used to be, yet still 10 percent less than in London, 20 percent less than in New York, and half of Hong Kong’s. We’re not rushing to figure out what microsieverts and becquerels are, or how many are too many. We can turn our TVs off for a few hours and feel assured that nothing vital will change in our absence. When Fukushima’s nuclear accident severity rating was raised, it was only an acknowledgement of what we already knew.

Some of us have dived into lending a hand. We check the earthquake groups on Facebook, join charities and volunteer groups, see what kind of help is needed. Now that we no longer have to line up for fuel, Tokyo is a launchpad. Our new normal will change again when the summer heat brings the return of power outages. That, too, will become part of the new normal.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

michael kanert

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