Insight

A Reality Check from Tokyo

This letter was sent by a US citizen who lives and works in Tokyo.

Sent: Wed, Mar 16, 2011 11:10 pm
Subject: Japan Earthquake Update

Hi all,
 
The earthquakes now have Tokyo surrounded, under siege....being on all sides of the capital, but the frequency of larger aftershocks has subsided over the past 24 hrs. God needs to take up a different sport .....because he really is a lousy darts player ..... he keeps missing the huge Tokyo bulls eye...although he is improving his strike rate and has us pinned down now. It is just a matter of time. We still expect another big quake but it looks like we may have to wait a few weeks, or months. Even so, the buildings are still swaying and we get a major jolt every 2-3 hours but most of these "vampire quakes" come after dark and between 11pm and 8 am. If the Miyagi quake at hit at night people would not have had time to evacuate.....we would have seen hundreds of thousands of deaths from the tsunami, so luck has been a major player in all of this.
 
Regards Foreign exchange rates: The media is saying that the currency movements are due to normal Japanese moving their foreign currencies back to Yen. This is not 100% correct. Many foreign and Japanese businesses have been instructed by their foreign CEOs/CFOs (who are trying to help Japan...much appreciated) to pay their local staff and consultants, vendors etc from the overseas offices, to make it easier for local accounting departments (due to the rolling blackouts and family issues). Japanese and foreign firms have literally hundreds of billions of dollars held in foreign currencies (as cash at bank). In Australia alone it is $60-70 billion held as cash and probably 5-10X more in the US and Europe. So, this is a short-term affect. However, the USD should move to 75 Yen but may go even lower (70-75 this is considered the long-term base prior to the USD/JPY flipping).
 
Many people are working from home if they have laptops or PCs and can login remotely, and some have taken unpaid time off from work. It is not quite business as usual but most people are acting that way and just getting on with normal life. We are staying indoors as much as possible, in the unlikely event of serious contamination (face masks do not help, the people you see in the news wearing them are trying to avoid viral infection).
 
Some foreign governments have been instructing their nationals in Tokyo to leave due to the nuclear meltdown. The UK, French, Australian, UK governments have all done this but most (likely all) long-term foreign residents believe they are better informed and are not budging. The radiation reading in Tokyo on Tuesday was only 4 times the daily dosage - and that after a cloud of radioactive dust came over Tokyo. We would need much higher (+100X) doses, and for an extended period, for it to be a real issue. Having said that, the Fukushima plant is not such a great distance from Tokyo, a bit over 100km direct and we expect all residents within 80km will be evacuated (everyone within 30-40km ....over 200,000 have been already).
 
The French have even withdrawn their rescue teams from Miyagi and moving them further north even though the location where they were was less at risk than Tokyo & Yokohama (from radiation fallout). The New Zealand team is still working at that same location the French were because they say are "better informed" and had already prepared anti-radiation sickness tablets before they came here. The US and Australian governments are flying a lot of food into those affected areas and the US military have been very supportive.
 
Around and hour ago an executive from a construction company who are in the middle of building right next to us, for one of the political parties, knocked on the door to say they are delaying construction work until mid-April. (My immediate thought was that maybe they were waiting for the building next to it to collapse....but that is not correct.) He told us his family are in Miyagi. They lost their house and saw people get washed away but somehow managed to escape. Yet - like many Japanese affected in this way he is still working and simply said "shoganai" and - "What can we do about it except get on with our lives? Japan will rebuild and we will do things differently this time".
 
I spoke with another Aussie who has been here at least 10 yrs this morning and a Brit - they both said the same thing: the expats and those on short term contracts who have been in Japan <5 yr are all panicking and leaving, but long-term foreigners (+10 yrs) seem to understand the situation much better and are all saying we can do more to help if we stay - and we are not abandoning our family, work colleagues & friends etc. The Aussie contacted the Australian embassy only to be told he was not on their list.... they thought he had left the country years ago....so I guess I am not on the list either??
 
Many Hollywood actors have made a lot of money out of Japan and come here frequently to promote their movies and do lots of commercials - but the only news we are getting in Japan about Hollywood is that they are complaining about a 60% loss of income due to Japanese theaters being closed! Plus, we are constantly barraged with adverts from charities asking Japanese to donate to help Africans .....in the middle of the wort natural disaster in Japanese history! It is not just insensitive. It is just plain stupid. All the above need to fire their marketing campaign managers.
 
The US, Australian, New Zealand, UK, Korean governments (I think Canada is in there somewhere) have all publicly said that they "will do anything and at any cost to help Japan" - and have followed up on that with real actions. The support from these governments is unprecedented. From a Japanese perspective this really is very very greatly appreciated. Russia keep saying that it wants to join this "elite?" group, but before that can happen it has to return the islands to Japan and recognize that even if you don't agree all the time mutual protection means acting in the same way that these countries do. In other words, Russia need to stop using (or threatening to use) their veto rights to help dictators massacre their own people. (NB- I have been lobbying governments around the world to get UN representatives democratically elected and remove the veto, otherwise the UN is no different to the dictators they support). We keep hearing news reports with comments like "Japan deserves it" emanating from Russian and Chinese politicians, which is at best in rather poor taste. They cannot expect to be treated as in-group if they act that way. The other countries do everything in their power to help knowing that they could - and probably will be - the next country hit with a natural disaster e.g. NZ.
 
We really do need to thank China, the French, Germans and so many countries and people from every country around the world. Your support is well received and very much appreciated.
 
 Next week there is a soccer match scheduled between Japan & New Zealand ....rather amusingly it was originally planned to support the New Zealand Christchurch victims!
 
Have no doubt: Japan will rebuild and will not winge and complain while doing so. Within a week it will be business as usual. But, it is far from over. The infrastructure can be replaced (it will be double the reported costs in the media at the end of the day). The scars just take much longer to fix.
 
I just need to pop outside now to take another puff of that nuclear scented smoke...."Passive nuclear smoking"....a new concept. Perhaps we can market it and make some money to help the earthquake victims?
 
Everyone says thank you, and to everyone around the globe, that has helped in any way.


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