Adventures in (Post) Gradland

Thoughts on life after the PhD

Japan: The “Stay or Go” Debate

As a child and a teenager, whenever I saw news reporting a catastrophe in a distant country–war, hurricanes, earthquakes, mass unrest–my immediate response was, “Why don’t those people just get out?!! Pack up and leave and never look back! That’s what I’d do!”

Leaving home, of course, is not so easily done. It wasn’t until now, when a catastrophe hit so close to my “second home” of Japan, that I really began to realize that. Psychologically and logistically, it’s difficult to just pack your bags and leave for an indefinite period of time. You may have work obligations and limited money. You may feel conflicted about leaving friends behind, even if your safety is compromised. You may simply fear the unknown and cling to the familiarity of your home, even when the situation becomes desperate.

The situation in Tokyo is, of course, not desperate at all–it’s just a bit out of whack. But plenty of people have still decided to leave, if only temporarily. Sadly, a bit of tension seems to have developed between the “stayers” and the “goers” here in Tokyo. Long-term residents are mostly choosing to stay, though many (myself included) are taking impromptu vacations outside the city. Some have moved planned vacations forward. Some have chosen to leave the country at least temporarily for a variety of reasons. Though most people have been respectful and supportive of others’ decisions, some of the “stayers” have hinted that the “goers” are abandoning their community, getting out when the going gets tough. Some of the “goers” have spread unnecessary panic by announcing their departures with “get out now, it’s not safe!”-type messages.

Everyone has the right to stay or leave for whatever reason, Japanese or non-Japanese, long-term or short-term resident. I’ve chosen to stay, but I would never presume to tell other people what to do–I just do my best to spread facts rather than fear and encourage people not to leave in a panic. I would urge those who do leave, though, not to insinuate that those who choose to stay behind are in grave danger, even with posts that jokingly say things like “everyone get out before it’s too late!” In a world dominated by social media, casually voiced feelings of panic can spread like wildfire.

At the same time, I understand that fear and panic can be sources of bonding. People who talk about being scared in public forums aren’t trying to spread panic–they’re just getting some catharsis by sharing their feelings with others. While I’ve been frustrated more than a few times over the past few days with the level of misinformation that’s spreading (iodine pills? really?), I’m also trying to be patient with people’s need to vent and express their concerns.

So let’s all try to get along, shall we? The “goers” can continue to benefit their community by being a source of emotional support for their friends in Japan and by giving money and time to the relief efforts. The “stayers” can continue to provide on-the-ground information and counter the misinformation being spread. It may be a while before things feel normal again, but we can all support each other, inside Japan or out.

A particularly eloquent “Why I’m Not Leaving” statement here, from the Washington Post.

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2 comments on “Japan: The “Stay or Go” Debate

  1. K
    March 18, 2011

    Interesting post. As someone who bought plane tickets to China about 2 months before the quake, I don’t feel terribly guilty for leaving. The frustrating thing about being in Tokyo is that you really can’t do much to help anyone, except limit your power usage, donate money, and keep out of trouble so that no one has to waste their time rescuing you. It seems like most of those things are just as well accomplished by being away–and it seems silly to say that simply enduring the situation is somehow inherently morally better.

    Today, I received multiple emails from my university telling me that they want all of their students to evacuate and that they would arrange it through our travel insurance–and I know that a great number of programs in Japan have been suspended indefinitely. Whether or not that’s an over-reaction, it’s worrying. I have to decide whether or not to re-enter the country next week, and at this point, it’s a bit difficult to willingly put myself back into the fray. It just seems illogical/foolish, now that I’m already out. But I do really want to come back, so we’ll have to see how it goes.

  2. gradland
    March 18, 2011

    I agree that it’s silly to say that it’s better just to stay for the sake of staying–I’ve been really frustrated by some people who seem to be bullying and criticizing those who’ve left (even those who had ALREADY PLANNED TO LEAVE for vacations or business). I think it’s also important to understand that a lot of people are under TREMENDOUS pressure from family, friends, embassies, and what have you to get out, even if there is no real threat to their safety.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about your university’s evacuation order–I think a lot of schools, companies, and embassies are in “cover your ass” mode, and they’re also relying on very unreliable information (not the embassies so much as the schools and the companies). That said, if it gives you peace of mind to stay away, then maybe that’s the best choice. I’m staying in Kyoto for just a few days and then heading back.

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This entry was posted on March 17, 2011 by in Japan and tagged , , .
Anne McKnight

writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)

A Modern Girl / モダンガール

tales of travel, research, and life

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