Thursday, 14 April 2011

Gossip, rumours and a little information ...

First day of the new semester. Or rather first evening, as it was a graduate school class. I arrived in time to watch the disaster safety demonstration carried out by several gnarled members of the Tokyo Fire Department. They demonstrated how to use the fire extinguishers. Then one of the admin managers took over and explained many important points, few of which I could understand. I said to a nearby admin person that I couldn`t understand what he was talking about but she said neither could she. "He has his own language" she said. I asked if there would be any information available in English for the native English-language teachers and the dwindling number of overseas students but she said no.

Later when I went to the foreign studies faculty teachers` room, some of the foreign teachers had heard a rumour that during an emergency all the large metal fire doors in B building would automatically close and we would be trapped if we didn`t know the `special way` to open them again. But no-one knew the `special way`. People were worried. Some teachers made the point that we had responsibility for our students during class time but that the foreign faculty members had no idea what to do. Our campus is in the middle of Tokyo and has no open space. We looked out of the windows and spied a car park across the road. "The building next to it is old and will probably come down but the car park could be usable" I said. We decided we would evacuate our students to the car park. On my way to B building for my evening class I stopped by admin to ask about the `special way`. They had no idea what I was talking about. We went to the building manager. He said that the special way was just to give the doors a really good push with both hands. So much for that. But it highlights the problem of being a foreigner in this country during a disaster. Our access to information is limited, so we go by gossip and rumour ... and the foreign media. That is why so many foreigners left so suddenly. We just didn`t know what was going on. Having said that, neither did the Japanese but they have family and jobs here. We had a discussion in graduate class last night about how far you trust the Japanese government and no-one, Japanese or foreigner, would trust them as far as they could throw them. (The Chinese students, like me, get their information from the BBC. )

On a related piece of gossip, a teacher told me that she had heard from a radiation expert at Tokyo University, that the reason TEPCO are coming across as utterly clueless in press conferences is that many of the people who work at Fukushima are part-timers, who are in fact local farmers supplementing their incomes. And they have no idea what they are actually doing. They are just following orders from the higher-ups ... what`s the betting the higher-ups are in Tokyo? Can that story really be true? Who knows? I also heard yesterday that the `rumour` that the emperor was moved to Kyoto last month was a lie. Yeah, right. Show me a picture of the emperor in Tokyo last month and I`ll believe it. I notice the Imperials are being wheeled out on every occasion now, visiting shelters and evacuation centres in the Tokyo area. Even Princess Masako has been allowed out.

On the subway after class, I met a staff member from admin. We discussed the possiblity of getting some emergency information in English for foreign staff and students (though many of the overseas students have cancelled their visit). Apparently the local government office may have something. She told me that in an emergency every admin staff member has a role; one to check buildings and offices, one to stay with the injured, one to phone the emergency services and one .... to accompany students to the evacuation point ..... on the Tokyo University campus! At last, some actual information. I also asked whether that admin manager really was odd. "Oh yes," she said, "Sometimes he even goes home before the women". Weirdo.

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