Japan's Harsh New Reality

First person reports: Japanese struggle with blackouts as rescue efforts continue

The Japanese are learning to cope with some harsh realities as they fight to recover from last week's tsunami/earthquake.

I got a call from Masaru Yamada Tuesday, as he was about to board a plane to Tokyo. He was in New Zealand when the quake hit. His family is safe, but the senior staff writer for Japan Agricultural News is finding life in Japan has changed and won't be back to normal any time soon.

"We have a planned blackout every day, and it will continue for several months," says Masaru. "Our home area in Chiba city has two daily 3-hour blackouts, from 9:30-12:30 p.m., and another from 5 to 8 p.m.

"We had to have dinner with candles," he adds. "It may be romantic for one time, but it is not nice to be forced to do so for months. Blackouts mean no internet and no TV, but we have to cope with it."

I've known Masaru for 15 years. It was Masaru who offered me the use of his cell phone on Sept. 11, 2001, when we were in Finland for an International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) meeting and my phone would not connect back to the states to talk to my family.

Now hundreds of Ag journalists want to reach out and help Masaru and his colleagues. Ag journalists around the world have a warm spot in their hearts for Japan. In 2007 the IFAJ held its annual meeting in Sendai, the epicenter of the quake zone.

Hiroki Ose, president of the Japan Agricultural Journalists’  Association (JAJA) and senior commentator with the Japan Broadcasting Corporation NHK, says he appreciates efforts being made to support the people of Japan, who are "seriously suffering" from the crisis.

"More than 10,000 people are believed to have been killed," he says. "We are seeing extensive efforts to avert crisis arising from a series of failures on large nuclear facilities.

"Not only human damages, but also extensive damage on farming, will be inevitable."

The temblor measured 9.0 on the richter scale, the highest measurable level. Japan's worst previous quake was magnitude 8.3 in 1923 in Kanto that killed 143,000 people, according to U.S. Geological Service. A 7.2-magnitude quake in Kobe in 1995 killed 6,400 people.

"Most of our members are safe," says Ose. "However, we are still confirming the safety of every single JAJA member. Although the areas most severely stricken by the earthquake include parts of Sendai city, where we had the IFAJ World Congress in 2007, places we visited during the tours are generally safe. Thousands of people are missing and rescue operations in those areas are underway.

Ose says he believes continued coverage of the tragedy around the world will encourage the Japanese people as they struggle to recover and "stand up against this difficult situation."



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