OSAKA – As an epic battle between man and his nuclear creation rages in Fukoshima, in Osaka, where a light dust of snow speckled the sky on Thursday, the only trace of the sickening uncertainty experienced by communities in the north is the realisation that the city is filled with temporary refugees.
They’ve come here, not in droves, but in significant numbers, filling hotels and trains.
“It’s okay, we are very worried about our friends in th north,” said Miehara Yamamoto, 23. The artist said most people she knows in Osaka and surrounding areas – where she only just moved a few months ago from Tokyo – have friends and family staying with them.
“I am happy I am here and I can help.”
Then there’s also the matter of the aid effort underway.
The head chef of the Gasyu-Toutou restaurant told us that while supplies aren’t running low in Osaka, that sending food up north meant that prices would go up here soon.
Farther south still, on Kobe, there’s a living memory of the last natural disaster to hit Japan – the comparatively diminutive magnitude 7.3 earthquake that hit the city in 1995.
On a cold January morning, shortly before 6 am local time, the city of Kobe – with a population of about 1.5 million – was hit by the Great Hanshin earthquake.
Here, an impressive museum – The Earthquake Memorial Museum, which is part of the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution – is a constant reminder of what could happen in an earthquake-prone country.
And while the volley of adversities hitting the areas affected by the earthquake, tsunami and now a potential nuclear meltdown are far more complex than the Hanshin quake, survivors of that catastrophe have faith that the Japanese people will pull through.
There’s also a grave sense of what it will take to rebuild, for while Kobe was neither flooded nor evacuated for radioactivity, hundreds of thousands were left homeless, some living in temporary housing for as long as five years. And many lived without gas, electricity or running water for months, walking long distances, carrying buckets of water for hygiene and cooking.
Kazuhiko Okada, 76, told me that it took around 2.5 years before things felt as though they’d gone back to normal in Kobe.
“It will take longer,” he said, referring to the devastated communities north of Tokyo, adding that he’s “worried about the nuclear fault” and that he’s very disappointed with the Tokyo Electric Co’s response to the crisis.
Okada feels that the government, however, is doing what it can – widening the evacuation zone would be a mistake at this point, he said. (Currently at 30km, even though the US has recommended its citizens stay 80km away from the affected zones around the Fukoshima plants.)
“I feel there is no other way,” said Okada.
“Japan is very narrow – if they expand the (evacuation) the area, then panic will happen in all of Japan.”