Japanese inspired and angered; resigned to more quakes

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 10:21 AM

By Terril Yue Jones

TOKYO (Reuters) - While images of brutal destruction wreaked by a devastating earthquake and tsunami have stunned the nation and the world, Japanese are finding both inspiration and reasons to vent in the aftermath of the disaster.

One sentiment that is emerging is that such a calamitous event could occur again at any time, in any place.

"We don't know when it will happen to us," said Masatoshi Masuda, 52, a seal carver in the southwest city of Kagoshima, far from the deadly, three-meter-high waves that surged across farmland, villages and cities in Japan's northeast Friday.

Masuda noted that an active volcano, Mount Sakurajima, spews ash onto Kagoshima almost daily. And not far away is Shinmoedake, another volcano that began erupting in late January in its most significant activity in some 300 years.

"We're worried about what will happen next time," Masuda said. "But whatever happens it won't be a surprise."

A clearer picture of the deaths from the massive quake was emerging with estimates reaching at least 10,000, and damage at least in the tens of billions of dollars.

Letters to the editor printed in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper Sunday ran through a range of emotions, from praising the spirit of extending helping hands to strangers to fuming why infrastructure could collapse in this technologically advanced country.

Akiko Takushima, 46, of Yokohama, which neighbors Tokyo, said the tragedy brought out the best in people. She was forced to walk for more than six hours to get home Friday night when train service in the Tokyo region was shut down.

"It was terrible, but I was touched by many warm hearts along the way," she said, singling out people who served passers-by tea or recharged cellphone batteries.

Aiko Miyake, a 21-year-old from Ashiya City, in western Hyogo prefecture, who was in Tokyo for job interviews when the quake struck, wrote that the events left her sober and pensive. Experiencing the temblor made her think of Japan's last severe earthquake, in Ashiya's neighboring Kobe in 1995, when she was 6 years old.

Others found things with which to find fault.

Naohiro Hoshina, a 47-year-old worker with a shipping company in Fujisawa, west of Tokyo, wished recovery to tsunami victims but fumed at how local mobile phone systems were taken out. "Isn't the basic point of having a mobile phone to make phone calls?" he asked.

Government aid efforts has also fallen short, Akemi Kanno said Sunday in Rikuzentakata, a town in the northeast prefecture of Iwate that was devastated by the tsunami.

"At the quake response headquarters, they are not providing food. All the lifelines are down," Kanno, 53, told Reuters.

"I went to the headquarters but the mayor was standing outside laughing, and that made me upset," she said. "I do not know what the national government is doing."

Naomi Shioda, 52, Niigata City, said she trusted authorities. "I think the government understands the best so is in the best position to speak and to save lives."

The tragedy struck close to home because her son just finished his second year in college in Sendai, a city to which many Niigata residents aspire to live, and it took six to seven hours for him to get word to her that he was safe.

Shioda says she is resigned to "the big one" hitting her backyard. "I thought it would come to Niigata," she said. "But I didn't think it would be so strong, or that I'd be watching it live, watching people die."

Now, after shedding many tears while watching newscasts, she can't watch anymore, she says, and avoids TV news.

Mami Takano, a student who just finished her first year at Waseda University in Tokyo, was traveling on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido when the tragedy struck. She was glued first to Twitter reports on her phone, then to the nonstop TV news.

She agonizes over the quake and tsunami victims, with reports of hundreds of bodies found in some towns, but says these last few days have taught her a lesson in social media. Some of the Twitter reports were false, she said, such as one saying a Cosmo Oil refinery going up in flames would lead to toxic rain.

"Good judgment is very important," Takano said.

(Additional reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Alex Richardson)