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Upon Returning Home

Pamela Runestad, a PhD candidate in medical anthropology at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, is back in the US from Japan and continues her account about post-earthquake Japan.

This is the first time I’ve been so acutely aware that I’ve left a collective consciousness behind. I’m usually more focused on the re-integration part. But this time, I feel like I’m supposed to be part of what is happening in Japan and suddenly, I’m not. Reading emails and blogs by Japanese friends, and checking the NHK website for Japanese news feels different now that I am not in Japan––much in the way that reading about news in the U.S. feels distant when I’m not here. I feel the physical disconnect. It’s a reminder that being embedded in a media matrix is not the same as being embedded in a social matrix.

To read her previous accounts from Japan, go to the Triangle Center for Japanese Studies and check out Part One, Part Two and Part Three of her “Inside Looking Out” series.

Living in the Earthquake Aftermath in Koriyama, Japan

AAA member, Yoko Ikeda lives in Koriyama-city in Fukushima prefecture with her family. She is a recent graduate from the Graduate Center, City University of New York with a Ph.D. in anthropology. Here she gives an account of her experience living in Japan in the earthquake aftermath. Thank you, Yoko!

Koriyama is in the middle part of Fukushima prefecture, not near the ocean at all.  My city was not affected by the devastating tsunami. Some buildings were damaged when the March 11 earthquake hit, but houses around my house had only minor structural damage, if any. Most people reported that much of the damage occurred from things falling inside the house and made quite a mess – the same was true for mine.  Although parts of this city are without water and electricity, my area got them back within the same day of the earthquake.  I believe nobody was killed or seriously injured in my city, although it is possible that such news has not been widely reported because of the massive disasters going on in many other places.  

We are still getting many aftershocks. It is unbelievable how often we are having earthquakes each day. Even though we are used to earthquakes in general, what we’ve been experiencing now is unprecedented.  

Many evacuees from the nuclear power plant area are here. There is no evacuation order or restriction to be outside in Koriyama right now and many stores are open.  Because of the massive scale of the problem Japan now faces, there is some scarcity of gasoline and heating oil here, too. It seems that we are getting enough food supplies in stores that are open, but people often have to get in line to get in some grocery stores right now and the lines at the checkout are pretty long – 30 minutes to an hour at the store my mother went to. 

Photo courtesy Emotinal Black

Many businesses are open and people are going to work, but the limited gasoline supply makes commutes stressful. Transportation services are limited due to the damage to roads and railways. Long-distance busses just began running again or are about to resume on a limited basis. I don’t think there is train service in my city at this time.  And given the shortage of gasoline, people do not feel comfortable going too far, unless they absolutely have to. I’ve heard many people complain that they feel stuck at their location due to the gasoline shortage.

I think that the biggest concern for people in Koriyama is what is happening with the broken nuclear power plant.  Some people are worried about the nuclear power plant situations and have left the city; but for now, the overwhelming majority is here, living as normally as possible. Some people are taking radiation precautions by trying to minimize their time outside, and if they have to go out they wear a mask and hat. I hardly have been outside myself, but I don’t really have to since I am currently job hunting. Continue reading

Inside Looking Out, Part Three

Pamela Runestad, a PhD candidate in medical anthropology at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, continues her account from Japan. Here is an excerpt:

…[O]ne of my interviewees in Osaka told me on Friday: “Ms. Pamela, I really want to talk to you. But please understand that I’m not quite myself today. I’m from Sendai…”

Despite his initial note of caution, however, this man talked with me for four hours and then we talked over dinner for another two. Sometimes acting “normal” helps get you back to feeling normal.

To read the full “Inside Looking Out, Part Three,”  go to the Triangle Center for Japanese Studies. Also be sure to check out Part One and Part Two.

Inside Looking Out, Part Two

Pamela Runestad, a PhD candidate in medical anthropology at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, continues her account from Japan. Here is an excerpt:

I really wish I knew how dangerous the situation really is. On one hand, the Japanese government doesn’t want people to panic and the local media keeps repeating that current radiation levels (where?!) are not hazardous to health. On the other, the non-Japanese media seem to feed on the idea of impending doom. Most recently, the Japanese government via a bulletin on NHK World English actually asked foreign governments to calm down, to “accurately convey information provided by Japanese authorities concerning the plant.” In this squabble, each party has a vested interests; digging out helpful information is tedious and disheartening.

Should I stay or should I go?

To read the full “Inside Looking Out, Part Two” or the first part, go to the Triangle Center for Japanese Studies.

Inside Looking Out: A Perspective on the Japanese Earthquake

Looking for a first-person account from an anthropologist in Japan? Guest blogger Pamela Runestad, a PhD candidate in medical anthropology at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, shares her experiences during and after Friday’s earthquake in a piece called “Inside Looking Out: A Perspective on the Japanese Earthquake.” Here is an excerpt:

At 2:40 pm on Friday, I got on the highway bus to make a trip I’ve made several times this year in the course of my research in Japan: Shinjuku Station in Tokyo to Nagano City. It takes about 3 hours and 40 minutes and, much like Japanese trains, the bus runs on time to the minute more often than not. Friday was different.

We’d been on the bus long enough for me to take off my coat and shoes and settle into my seat with a book. I made it to page 4 when the bus, stopped at a traffic light, started to bounce. Yes, bounce – like a bounce house kids play in. I looked out the window and saw the traffic lights and electric poles moving wildly, violently. Earthquake, I thought; BIG EARTHQUAKE. People began running out of buildings covering their heads, then clinging to each other on the sidewalk. I hastily pulled my shoes back on, tying the laces with fingers made clumsy with adrenaline. (Yes, I was getting ready to be urban survival woman.) I noticed that the bus was completely silent. Really? No screaming?

The bouncing stopped.

In a flat voice, the driver made use of the microphone to say, “It appears we experienced an earthquake.” Well, YEAH! He kept driving.

Stunned, I turned my eyes from my silent, terse fellow passengers and fixed my eyes on the scenes we passed outside. As I looked at the people on the other side of the glass, I realized: Shinjuku had stopped.

To read the full piece, go to the Triangle Center for Japanese Studies.

Special Message from AAA President Dominguez for Japan

A special message from AAA President Dominguez for colleagues and friends in Japan:

Dear friends and colleagues in the WCAA,

I am truly distressed, as you no doubt also are, by the devastation in Japan and the continued terrible nuclear disaster potential there. I want to send condolences and the warmest regards of concern and collegiality to the Japanese association, all of its members, their families, students, and friends.

In sympathy and friendship (and on behalf of many thousands of your colleagues),

Virginia R. Dominguez
President, American Anthropological Association

There have been inquiries as to people who are interested in providing their technical assistance to Japan, the USAID website has a variety of agencies currently seeking support for assistance in Japan.


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