Post-quake life in Tokyo: 6 weeks after

One of the absurdities of the modern media cycle is that news stories seems to drop off the radar well before they reach a conclusion. While there are still occasional mentions of the situation here in Japan, for the most part the media has moved on to Libya, Osama Bin Laden, Governor Schwarzenegger and the scandals at the IMF.

Six weeks after the fact, the situation in Japan has most definitely not reached a neat and tidy conclusion. This past week saw the decommissioning of the Hamaoka nuclear plant, the release of pictures from Fukushima capturing the moment that the tsunami waves first hit and the anticipated resignation of TEPCO’s disgraced CEO.

Clean-up efforts are still underway up north, and it is going to be months if not years before all the debris is removed. The longer-lasting questions will be to what extent Japan can expect a future public health crisis, and whether or not agricultural capacity can resume to previous levels. Japan’s commercial production will also continue to suffer from disrupted supply chains and lack of consumer demand.

Here in Tokyo, the economic gears continue to churn and life goes on as best it can. In fact, to the casual visitor it can appear as if nothing catastrophic really ever happened at all. With that said, please indulge me for a few hundred words as I give a quick update on post-quake life here in Tokyo.In short, things are good, but they could be better.

The terrifying aftershocks that paralyzed Tokyoites for the month following the 9.0 temblor appear to have finally stopped. Not entirely mind you, but to the point where you can reasonably expect to sleep through the night without being woken up with a shake. Of course, Tokyo lies at the convergence of three plates, which means that the likelihood of another major seismic event is highly likely.

Yet people are much more prepared than they were before. Department stores across the city continue to sell earthquake kits comprised of essential items including hard hats, flashlights, spare batteries, first aid kits and freeze dried rations. Schools and businesses are also actively drilling people on how to escape from buildings and reach the nearest shelter.

Private and public infrastructure improvement is also underway across the city. My building is currently having all of its piping refitted to meet higher safety ratings. The gas company has also made the rounds to ensure that there was no damage to its storage tanks and transfer lines. Across the street from where I live, there are crews working around the clock to reinforce a weakened drainage canal.

It’s certainly debatable whether or not these minor improvements can increase the resistance of a city as massive and earthquake susceptible as Tokyo. But they certainly do go a long way in calming mass fears and reassuring residents.

The other major issue continues to be electricity shortages, especially since it will still be quite some time before the country’s power grid is fully restored. Summer is also around the corner, which means additional burdens on the grid imposed by air-conditioning. This threatening storm cloud does however have a silver lining – the Japanese are embracing green technology and eco-practices like never before.

DIY hardware stores including Tokyu Hands and Ikea are promoting compact fluorescent and LED bulbs. Television programs are also encouraging Tokyoites to fill their balconies with plants. Broad leaves and hanging vines help to block invasive sunlight and keep down internal temperatures. They also go a long way in beautifying a city best known for its rampant use of concrete and neon.

In recent years, Japan’s conservative armies of self-dubbed salarymen and office ladies have grown accustomed to more relaxed summer dress codes. This ‘Cool Biz’ campaign allows companies to opt for business casual, thereby going easy on the air-conditioning without discomforting its employees. This year, there is even talk about going one step further by allowing casual dress days that permit the wearing of shorts and sandals.

As I posted earlier on Gadling, food scares remain one of the most pressing issues facing Tokyoites. In their defense, the government has done a decent job of scanning produce, meats and seafood for radiation, along with certifying products from affected areas. This is all in conjunction with economic promotion efforts to get Tohoku farmers, ranchers and fishermen back to work as soon as possible.

Still, frightened consumers are instead choosing produce from western Japan and imported meats from Australia, Canada and the US. At my local fishmonger, which used to only stock seafood from around the Japanese archipelago, I can now find Argentine shrimp, Chinese crab, Norwegian whitefish, Canadian salmon and various tropical species from across Southeast Asia.

Rather predictably, tourist numbers remain low, and many hotels and other tourist-related businesses are struggling to keep their doors open.

While vacationing at a popular hot spring resort this past weekend, I discovered that I was in fact the only guest in a building equipped to lodge and feed several hundred! The staff had all packed up their personal belongings and returned to their hometowns, leaving behind a sole caretaker to answer phone calls and keep watch over the property. On the bright side, I’ve never before had such personalized and attentive service!

Japan has weathered through great challenges before, and few have little doubt that they’ll do so once more. And in the great scheme of life on this planet, six weeks is a rather short period of time. On that note, I will continue to update Gadling readers as to the status of post-quake life in Tokyo, and together let’s hope that my next blog will bring rosier news.

[Images courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons Project.]