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Letter From Japan: Life After Disaster

Up until two days ago, activities around Tokyo, where I am writing from, were resuming a certain degree of normalcy. If one did not venture into a supermarket or corner store – and befitting their name, one can be found on most any corner – things appeared to be the same as before the devastating earthquake and tsunami that shook this fault riddled land exactly two weeks ago.

Under normal circumstances, the transportation system here is such that I can ship a refrigerator in the evening and have it reach any destination in Japan the next day for about $30 to $50, depending on the size of the fridge. Even in the past two weeks, I have often received packages by 9 a.m. that were shipped at 7 p.m. the night before, from cities that are more than 500 miles away.

But the needs of the survivors in the heavily-affected areas have led to near-empty shelves at most stores. It is nearly impossible to find bottled water, batteries, milk, bread, rice and other necessities, as Tokyoites scurried to purchase these items in mass just in case another large quake hit closer to home.

After the initial tremor, aftershocks came often and with strong magnitudes, rattling nerves and leaving inhabitants bewildered and scared.

Because of the problems at the affected nuclear power plants, many foreign companies recalled their foreign workers and many embassies – including that of my native Colombia – organized airlifts to transport citizens back to their homelands.

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Just as the Tokyo Electric Power Company(TEPCO) and the many specialists that were working on stabilizing the damaged reactors seemed to be making headway, news came out this Wednesday that the tap water in the Tokyo area was infected with radioactive iodine, making unsafe for infants under one year old.

Although we want to believe government officials who say that the water is safe for adults and older children, it is difficult to put faith in a system that assured us that there was no need to worry about the damaged reactors – just to have a mighty hydrogen explosion televised only one hour after the announcement.

The evacuation zone around the plant has continued to grow, while produce from the surrounding area has been banned from sale. But Japan has seen many instances of tainted foods being knowingly placed on consumer shelves by greedy and immoral companies, so we are unable to trust labels that claim the regional source of vegetables, meats and dairy products.

We must carry on and continue our activities as best as possible without allowing our thoughts to overwhelm us. But just as the Earth’s axis was tilted by the huge quake, we too remain a bit off-kilter after the awakened realization that we are not fully in control of our lives. Mother Nature is far stronger – and deadlier – than any of us wants to believe.

Dodge Cepeda was born in Colombia. His family moved to America in 1964. He is the founder of Matsunoyama Enterprises, a publishing house and translation company. He can be reached at matsunoyamaenterprises@gmail.com.

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