Students at Temple’s Japan campus react to a semester abroad cut short.
I waited eleven years for the chance to [live in Japan]. When it finally came, it came with an earthquake in hand, but I wasn’t afraid of the earthquake; I was more afraid of leaving,” said Kim O’Malley, a junior Asian studies major who was studying abroad in Japan. “Now, thanks to unsatisfactory decisions, I don’t have a choice anymore.”
With electricity expected to be restored to the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactors just days after this announcement, and with it serious cooling efforts, the timing was puzzling. The World Health Organization insists there is no risk of adverse effects from radiation outside the immediate evacuation area
Study abroad students make significant sacrifices to go abroad, and those still in Tokyo would have probably at least liked Temple to wait to see what effect the restoration of electricity would have on the situation before canceling what for most is the experience of a lifetime, especially since their classes will probably continue without them.
At TU Japan, both matriculated and study abroad students share the same classes. So some may have a hard time understanding why their semester is canceled even though most of their classmates will be allowed to see those classes to completion depending on if conditions refrain from getting worse.
Furthermore, the March 20 chartered flight, which was scheduled for just days after the flight began to be discussed and two days after the announcement of the cancelation of classes, is likely far too abrupt for some students, when many students had taken the postponement of classes as a chance to travel.
“Since classes were canceled until the end of the month, I purchased a ticket to Thailand to have a little vacation until things get back to normal. I’m bringing shorts and flip-flops, since the high in Bangkok is 98 degrees on Saturday,” said Andrew Landry, a junior communications major and matriculated TU Japan student.
O’Malley took the same approach.
“I am spending my time in my favorite city in the world [Kyoto] and seeing all there is to see,” she said during an interview from Kyoto, Japan’s former capital.
Many students had already left the country before these optional evacuation flights began to be discussed late last week.
“I feel that those decisions may have been rash,” O’Malley in reference to those who quickly left the island nation after the events of the last two weeks, including the nuclear situation.
For students studying abroad at Temple’s Minato, Tokyo campus, earthquakes are nothing new. After the first few tiny tremors, most accept them as part of the Tokyo experience and pay them no mind.
However, even though the epicenter was rather far from Tokyo, Friday’s magnitude 9.0 earthquake and its aftermath has been unlike anything anyone has experienced in Tokyo in recent history. Even its aftershocks have been large enough to make note of.
Many TU Japan students were at school when everything started.
“When the quake struck, I was in the [TU Japan] library on the 4th floor,” Landry said. “At first, everyone was kind of laughing it off, because tremors are pretty common in Tokyo, but it just kept getting worse. I was looking at the Japanese librarian to see how worried she was, because I figured that she probably had more experience with earthquakes.
At first, she was smiling, and then she started looking concerned and started telling everyone to leave the library and take the stairs down.”
“As everyone walked down the stairwell, the shaking became worse and a few girls let out cries. Mostly, everyone was calm and silent,” he added. “I think everyone was aware that panic could cause a stampede and be more dangerous than the quake itself.”
Although the quake caused unfathomable devastation to parts of the northern Japanese coast, Tokyo was largely spared as it is both more than 200 miles away from the epicenter and partially shielded from tsunami from the north by the Boso Peninsula, which forms Tokyo Bay. Tokyo’s aftermath has largely been power outages and looming uncertainty.
While there is a risk of a nuclear disaster and some inconveniences in Tokyo, the world media has been guilty of a deal of over-dramatic fear mongering, repeatedly showing photos of empty Tokyo store shelves, crowds at train stations, and comparing the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant to a doomsday scenario such as Chernobyl.
“It is certainly human nature to take tragedy/drama and run with it, but seriously we aren’t writing a horror story here,” O’Malley said. “This is real life. At least report accurate information.”
“The media’s fear mongering is pretty distasteful. The reality is that there is little news to report. In the absence of real information, people continue to write stories,” Landry said. “The situation in Tokyo right now is pretty close to normal, with the exception that most of the foreigners are gone. We went out to a restaurant last night, and it was packed, and we had a great time. Everything seems normal, except that people have been panic-buying staples such as rice, bottled water and toilet paper.”
There are bare shelves, but much like Philadelphia before a blizzard, empty super market shelves can be attributed to panic-buying mass quantities of food as much as any actual shortage. As for the railways, they have been given priority access to electricity during rolling black-outs, in attempt to keep the railways as close to normal functionality is possible.
“It’s a good time to go to restaurants, because no one can hoard burgers, sushi or fresh ramen,” Landry said.
With the nuclear reactor situation continuing to develop, Japan is in a limbo. Recovering from this disaster is not as simple just putting on a brave face and picking up the pieces.
Lee Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.