I heard the news about the earthquake and tsunami after I gave a presentation on Japan's anti-war education in a Zainichi panel at the Critical Ethnic Studies Conference. My first thought was that it would be just another relatively big incident that's not too serious. I thought so because Japan is used to natural disasters; my own grandma's house was demolished by an earthquake in 1995, and she was rescued from underneath. It happens all the time. I was too busy celebrating the success of the panel with friends with some beers and fries.
It was when I came back to the hotel that I realized the extent of the calamity, watching the footage of water washing away houses, cars, buildings, trees, boats, people, everything. It was horrifying. But I still continued to be preoccupied with the conference and managed to not think about it until I came home.
I knew my family was safe, and I personally don't know anyone in the areas most devastated. My family was shopping for my sister's moving for college in a couple of weeks when I finally contacted my mom, who was happy about purchasing a MUJI rice cooker for half the price at a local brand-new outlet mall.
But as I kept watching a Japanese news prgram through Ustream, I found myself arrested by the reports, or lack thereof, and unable to stop watching or go to bed. Without anything else to preoccupy my mind, I began to feel anxious, stressed, and depressed. I began to vividly imagine the people being washed away and the thousands of bodies scattered all around the land and sea. I won't be able to see any disaster movie for, who knows, a few years?
I am worried about the nuclear plants meltdown. I am worried about the survivors. I am worried about non-Japanese, disabled, and Queer/Trans survivors. I am worried about the environmental destruction. In 1995, we completely lost my grandma's house in the overly crowded Korean ghetto; now that she passed too, in 2002, it's like I don't have any more historical evidence to substantiate my Korean heritage. Wounds might heal, but scars will forever stay.
This havoc will no doubt transform the Japanese society more or less, but in which direction? I see Japanese flags all over facebook, which makes me want to vomit. I hear people attributing people's "calmness," "resilience," "civility," and "strength" to Japanese ethnicity as if they are superior than others, particularly African Americans after the hurricane Katrina. I am angered and frustrated. In the aftermath of the 1923 earthquake, many Koreans were slaughtered as scapegoats as rumors spread that Koreans poisoned wells, along with Okinawans who were mistaken for Koreans. In 1995, aid was not distributed evenly to everyone, leaving non-Japanese survivors short of resources. For me, disasters always come with flashbacks of historical trauma of Japanese nationalism and xenophobia.
I'm not even physically there, but I'm emotionally being overwhelmed. So I write. I am scared of going back to Japan this summer to see, hear, touch, smell, taste, and sense those irreversible changes. My brain says I'm privileged to not be there, by my heart feels left out. It wants to be there to feel everything. It wants to be there to share its absolute despair and absolute hope with people. It's disheartening.
It's not that "I can't do anything." In fact, I don't want to do anything. After the earthquake in Haiti, I donated money; not this time. I don't feel like doing that. I don't know why. I'm not even there, and I'm being impacted so much, and I don't want to do anything. You can say I'm selfish, but I don't feel any guilty. At least not yet.
This whole thing might discourage Japan from having nuclear plants, but it might encourage more money into the police and the Self Defense Force for further militarization and state control in the name of emergency preparation. As U.S. soldiers from Okinawa arrive at the ground zero, their existence in Japan is inevitably being reevaluated--most likely favorably.
Amidst of everything, the ultra-right-wing current governor of the Tokyo Metropolis, who have used derogatory terms for Koreans and called homosexuals "defunct" in the past, stated that this calamity is a "punishment by heaven." He also indicated that lootings wouldn't happen in Japan unlike Black America. I am hoping that this will result in the complete end of his political life as an election for his position is coming up. I will see how (un)reasonable the residents in Tokyo turn out to be.
My struggle for psychological health will continue, against the rise of disaster nationalism. I need to learn how to take care of myself better than this. I'm losing sleep, and it's 7am right now, but I think I can finally go to bed. I wish that I won't wake up to any more bad news.