Flyjin: my decision to stay in Japan
A new word, flyjin, seems to have entered the Japanese vocabulary. A disparaging pun, it plays on the word gaijin which literally means ‘outsider’ and in everyday Japanese describes foreign people. Flyjins are those foreigners who have fled Japan during the last week and who some Japanese people now view as merely fair-weather friends.
Last Wednesday my wife and I checked all our windows were closed and that any drafts were sealed. But even then we were afraid, unsure whether radiation could penetrate the glass or even our apartment walls. On Friday we felt a little safer and decided to venture outside, but did so wearing masks and with scarves wrapped right up to our chins, as we’d read that radiation enters mostly through the neck. When we came back we showered immediately and washed all our clothes in case we’d carried any radiation back in with us.
Apart from radiation leaking from nuclear plants, there can be very few problems that make people feel so vulnerable and at risk. It’s an invisible, mysterious threat. It can cause cancer and problems with childbirth. It’s unnatural, and comes from an industry with a history of secrecy and lies.
Glued to our laptop screens, we, like everyone else, had seen smoke wafting from the Fukushima plant and workers racing to prevent meltdown. Many people we know fled Tokyo, and we’ve watched reports of long queues at the airports as foreign workers try to board especially chartered emergency planes. Friends back in England have told us to ‘come home now’. But, for the moment at least, I’m staying.
In order to even slightly understand our predicament, my wife and I have had to learn a lot over the last ten days. Things like nuclear fuel rods, storage ponds, and reactors hadn’t ever entered our minds before, and quickly we needed to know what things like caesium are and what millisieverts measure in order to understand our situation. It seems, though, that the people who already understood nuclear energy have agreed that there is currently no nuclear threat to human health in Tokyo, or in most of Japan. These experts say that even in a worst case meltdown scenario – with winds heading from Fukushima directly towards the capital – all people would need to do to avoid harm is close their windows and seal drafts, because Tokyo is so far from the plant.
Deciding to stay has, however, been extremely hard. My wife left Tokyo in order to see her worried friends and family back home. I know that mine will be somewhat concerned that I’m staying, particularly when they read headlines about Japan raising the nuclear alert level or water which contains an increased (but completely safe) level of radiation. Hopefully, beyond the headlines the facts about radiation levels in Tokyo will reassure them.
The decision to stay was made easier by the fact that in the last couple of days the aftershocks, which had been constantly shaking Tokyo, have become far less frequent and strong. Given the fact that crime is so low and life is so well-ordered, without a real nuclear threat, Tokyo remains one of the world’s safest cities.
After a few days of reduced hours due to power cuts and suspension of some train services, the college where I’m employed has now started back to work as normal. The traditionally stoic appearance of people in Tokyo gives the impression that day-to-day life hasn’t changed at all. There seems no chance of an en masse evacuation of the kind I, my wife and so many other foreigners feared. However, despite the lack of a nuclear threat, a huge exodus of foreign workers continues from the capital and the level of international hysteria has caused many Japanese people to complain. Countries like Germany and Switzerland have moved their operations out to Osaka and Kobe, as have many large multinationals. Much of the criticism of the so-called flyjin has come from Japanese workers at companies in Tokyo. They’ve been trying to keep a stiff upper-lip (or in Japanese, shiran kao shiteiru, ‘making know-nothing faces’), but their jobs have become impossible because their foreign colleagues, customers, and clients have left Tokyo.
These flyjin are one example of international over-reaction which seems unreasonable to many Japanese people. In China, Korea, and Singapore all imports from Japan have been scanned for radioactivity, while people as far away as America have been shown on TV here hunting for potassium iodine pills, in order to combat the effects of radiation. I myself have huge sympathy for the foreign people who left Japan; I nearly became a flyjin too.Tagged in: earthquake, japan, natural disaster, radiation, tsunami
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