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Japan earthquake continues to shake up Vancouverites

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“Most people are still eating local food, but my wife and I only consumed food items sourced from far away. I joked that instead of a 100-mile diet, we had a 10,000-mile diet. This was definitely not environmentally friendly, but we just did not trust local products. We even used bottled water from Canada and France for drinking and cooking.”


Matsumoto, however, said such options were not available to people in her hometown, who were aware of the radiation risks but had little choice. 


“If you're in the rural areas, you often just have that one store, and it sells local products,"  Matsumoto said. "Most people I knew just stopped worrying about radiation, because once you start, there's no end to it.”


Ikenaga echoed the same sentiments, even though he was speaking of the food situation in Vancouver, rather than Japan. 


“My family eats Japanese food three meals a day," Ikenaga said. "I heard that Japanese food stores in Vancouver had to have a lot of their shipments stopped after the earthquake because of the nuclear situation. But we're not about to change our whole diet just because of that earthquake." 

The impossible escape to Canada

After the earthquake, some Japanese Canadians in Vancouver asked their relatives in northern Japan if they wanted to join them to escape the nuclear radiation. But more often than not, quake victims found it difficult to leave their homes. 

"I had asked my niece in Fukushima if she wanted to come live in Canada," said Ikenaga. "But for many, there's just no reality in this idea of fleeing the country. Their whole life is in Japan: job, family, friends, school -- and as for my niece, she can't speak English, so it wasn't a practical option."

Matsumoto knew of a family in Squamish who called upon a relative to live with them, away from her quake-ravaged home.


"For her, it wasn't so tough. She was older and single, so it was better for her to live with relatives in Canada. But for others, even moving to a new home is a big deal. How can you move, while everyone else is suffering? In some cases, people had to convince entire groups of neighbours to make one big move out to a temporary residence, together, so that they could keep solidarity." 


"There is a sense of regional patriotism and group responsibility which prevents people from abandoning the others and being the first to run for safety," said Greenberg. Even though many foreigners fled the country, he stayed with his wife in Japan until his planned date of return to Canada, almost a full year after the disaster. 


Moving forward
While international media has been critical of the Japanese authorities' handling nuclear fallout after the earthquake and tsunami, Ikenaga hesitated about voicing his own criticisms. 

"I think it's better that we focus on what we can do, right here," he said.


“Anyone can criticize the Japanese government, but the fact is that we do benefit hugely from Japan's reputation as an economic power and stable country," he said.


Ikenaga is volunteering his shiatsu services for a fundraiser on Sunday for an organization helping Japanese orphans who lost their parents and family to the tsunami. 

"Like many people, I believe TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) and its whole system has to change," Ikenaga said firmly."It's currently a system that makes it mandatory for the company to make a certain level of profit. That has to change, but change on that level can take years."


Matsumoto, at the time of this writing, is busy preparing for a concert at the same fundraising event. She remembers the powerful outpouring of support at the time of her last benefit concert for Japan, and is hopeful that the event tomorrow will raise a lot of funds for the quake-affected regions.


“Canadians here are always ready to help," she said. "I think they tend to realize how lucky they are in the scope of things.”

“After my visit to Japan, I really began to appreciate the small things that I used to take for granted living in Vancouver. Like being able to sleep without freezing. Like walking five or 10 minutes and having access to any kind of food you want to eat."

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