When the earthquake hit on Friday afternoon, I was sitting at the desk in my apartment, researching and setting up interview meetings for a Tokyo visit by one of my company’s clients in Saudi Arabia. Being in the midst of a work-related instant messenger conversation with a colleague in Korea, I casually mentioned the shaking—and then I realized that this was a real earthquake rather than one of the minor tremors routinely felt all over the country.
After an agonizing several minutes, I scrambled to get in touch with my grandmother, who resides alone in Sendai, one of the cities hit hardest by the quake and tsunami. Mobile carrier networks were completely jammed, and it was a long half hour before I was able to confirm that she and her home were unharmed. I glued myself to the computer for the next few days, receiving updates on tsunami damage and the nuclear reactors in Fukushima through Japanese news channel streams, Twitter, and Web sites in both Japanese and English. As the gravity of the situation became apparent, many of my expatriate colleagues and friends left town out of caution. When my firm offered to subsidize temporary relocation and remote work, I made the difficult decision to head to my parents’ home in Northern California for several weeks until the turmoil subsides.
Although dashing the 200 miles north from Tokyo to Sendai in order to evacuate my grandmother crossed my mind, I soon learned that the shinkansen (bullet train) was out of service indefinitely. Freeways were also restricted to emergency vehicles, cutting off practical means of transport from Tokyo. As electricity and water were quickly restored to the urban area where she lives, and neighbors and friends dropped by daily to offer hot food and support, I chose to leave her in her comfort zone rather than chance a risky trek up north.
The disaster has derailed all sectors of an already sputtering Japanese economy, and the performing arts are no exception. Perhaps the starkest example in the music community is the Musa Kawasaki Symphony Hall, a seven-year-old, 2,000-seat venue situated 20 minutes outside of Tokyo that is used by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra; large sections of the ceiling literally came apart and landed on the stage and seating area, putting the hall out of commission indefinitely. Countless other concerts and festivals have been cancelled entirely, leaving musicians out of meaningful work for months. Meanwhile, performers in areas relatively unharmed by the quake have been scrambling to organize charity events to benefit rescue and response efforts.
One hopes that as Japan picks itself up and begins the slow process of recovery and reconciliation, the nation will find the opportunity for candid dialogue on its own future. Personally, I hold faith that the traditional values of resilience and mutual support will hold the people together during this time of adversity and help in conceiving a new Japan, one that’s capable of staying competitive globally for years to come.