Growing up in a small Italian-catholic area, I didn’t know any other Japanese people.
Many of you who know me, and the rest that probably deduced why I have a funny name, know that I’m half Japanese. I hated my name because nobody could ever pronounce it right and the cleverest derogatory nickname bullies could come up with was ‘cock-i’. I mean seriously? That’s it? I was more bothered by the fact that they couldn’t come up with anything better than I was at the ridicule itself. In college that all changed and I embraced my heritage with collegiate vigor. I was suddenly proud of my formerly unknown identity as I met other Japanese people and started cooking Japanese dishes since I was far from home. But since my last visit to Japan and moving out here to NYC, I’ve settled back down into the normalcy of being an American guy with a funny name.
On March 11th when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, I was in Boston and about to attend the first day of PAX. I remember waking up, seeing the flood of tweets, and casually joking that this was the biggest thing to hit Japan since 2004, when I had last visited. Stupid, I know. I spent a good part of the first panel we attended texting my mother and trying to get in touch with friends on Facebook. Everybody I know is safe, but it seems irrelevant compared to the rising death toll of the region.
I’ve been following the situation at the Fukushima Power Plant more carefully than everything else. Part of it is the false mental conclusion that the quake and tsunami are done and over with (far from it) but the danger at Fukushima is still there. When I’d read about the various successes and setbacks in containing the disaster, I would choke up over the team of technicians and scientists who are struggling to contain the runaway reactors. Dubbed the Fukushima 50 (There are now over 580 workers there, but the name stuck) for the essential personnel that did not evacuate, they are the only thing stopping a disaster of Chernobyl proportions. Reaching out to them, Prime Minister Naota Kan said, “You are the only ones who can resolve the crisis. Retreat is unthinkable.”
But the Fukushima 50 already knew that. Even if they succeed, the radiation could very well kill them, or cause long term health problems. It’s already being reported as a suicide mission, yet they charge forward to do what needs to be done. Because it is the right thing to do.
Let me take a moment aside to discuss the elephant in the room here: Nuclear Power. I know, big bad scary right? For all the newly dredged fears and misinformed scare mongering, nuclear power is still the safest energy source we have. Per terrawatt-hour it has had less deaths associated with it than any other form of energy. Mind boggling, I know. But you have to look at the big picture. Think of the dangers of working in coal mines or from air pollution produced. Coal power is by-far the worst energy source out there as far as related deaths go.
You would need 25 meltdowns a year to match it. That’s statistics, baby.
Anyway, seeing the news reports about the hard work and sacrifice being put into the relief effort, about how much the Japanese people are banding together in stoic bravery to face the rebuilding ahead, has started the fire up all over again. My heart goes out to the Japanese people. I wish I had half their gumption (See what I did there?).
I remember my experience living with a host family and working in rural Nagano prefecture. I remember how literal the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” was in a society where the greater good was held over the needs and feelings of the individual, and everybody worked together to help each other. Now I see that attitude all over again as store owners lower prices, hand out free food from vending machines, and looting is nearly unheard of. When all this is said and done, the bodies are counted, and the survivors go back to their lives, it will be because of the hard work of those people who reached out a helping hand. People.
So today’s image is for the Fukushima 50, and by extension the rest of the Japanese people who are putting their lives on the line for the greater good. With those brave few in mind, I slapped together the image above. I admit, the style and execution are nothing original, but I think the eye-catching precedent is appropriate.
Which is what I did. I appropriated it.