New Emissary

A Brave Face on a Crisis

Stopping in Niigata on the way to the earthquake and tsunami-hit zone, things look normal. But looks can be deceiving.

First I’d like to say thank you to all of our readers, my colleagues and friends who have reached out with messages of support and concern from around the world. Your thoughts in this difficult time are very much appreciated by all of us.

Early yesterday afternoon, I began a journey to the north of Japan by bullet train from Tokyo. The trains were delayed by about an hour due to the ongoing aftershocks, but the journey was relatively smooth. It was a clear sunny day, making it all the harder to believe it was anything but a normal Sunday. People were out shopping, walking the streets and I even saw a tennis court in use.

When we arrived in Niigata, a region that's no stranger to major earthquakes after suffering a major offshore temblor in 2007, the surface normalcy was much the same. Shops were all open, traffic looked normal, people were out walking their dogs. It was all a huge contrast to the images on the TVs indoors. Most channels have devoted their entire coverage to the disaster, flashing scene after scene of devastating damage to homes and roads from the areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami, along with maps showing flashing red and yellow areas of concern. The numbers of casualties and the missing from each area scroll along the tops and bottoms of the screen.

Despite people trying to get on with their lives, the TV images highlight just how bleak the situation remains here in Japan. The death toll in the Miyagi area alone is now being estimated as possibly topping 10,000 as thousands remain missing across the affected areas. Meanwhile, although the government has said there’s no need for panic, there’s still uncertainty as officials try to assess the damage to two nuclear plants in Fukushima. And from Monday, Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) is set to begin phased power blackouts.

Tomorrow, I’ll be driving up the coast from Niigata with an animal rescue team to some of the areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami, so I’ll report on developments as I go, here and on Tokyo Notes through Andy Sharp.

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