The night seems long, the earthquakes and aftershocks continue. Outside in the dark a pheasant shrieks, and I rise in my bed, alert and waiting. A low rumble begins, the windows begin to rattle. I jump out of bed, ready to get the children outside if the need arises. The shuddering peaks and subsides in visceral waves and the night returns to silence. I return to my bed for the, I don't know how many times, and close my eyes in pursuit of sleep. I rise with the sun this morning, there is much to do.
The primary school will resume today, so I get Rohan and Canaan up, get them breakfast cereal and cook a large pot of rice. The last few days have been spent cleaning up. First on the agenda is patching the roof before it rains. I spent all of yesterday patching the roof, first removing the broken sections, then re-laying them with recycled clay in place of the original adobe. We tied tar paper over one section as a stop gap measure (literally!) and I managed to get one and a third maybe of the remaining patched before dark. We have been leasing this house for the last 11 years, the land lord lives south of Tokyo and is unaffected by the quake. We managed to contact her on Sunday. She was not insured. "You should have bought the place," she says blithely, "then you could have insured it yourself. Do you want to buy it now?" Sometimes, even I despair. There will be no help from there. What needs to be done, I will do myself, for my family's sake. We cleaned up the bathroom as much as we could, but it will need to be completely rebuilt. We put boards on the floor so the kids won't cut their feet on the broken tiles, and squat them in the bottom of the bath, avoiding the shattered walls, bathe them with buckets of warm water from the wood stove and get them out and dry before the cold wind through the broken walls can chill them. Around us the community rallies, helping each other as best they can, striving to return to normalcy. So today I walk the children to school at 7:15. I wave them a cheerful farewell at the school gate, turn my back and walk away, my heart in my throat, tears in my eyes. They need to return to school, I tell myself, they need to be with their friends. They need me to be strong. I breathe deeply as I cross the rail line, walk past houses with tarpaulins on the roof, greet neighbours walking their dogs.
When I arrive home, Mika and Sora are on the front porch. A family of pheasants is in the front yard, the male dancing a mating ritual, spreading his tail feathers, strutting his stuff. We watch for a while, the lustrous blue of the male, the tawny brown of the hen, the green of the bamboo. Life goes on. We go inside and leave them in peace.
I decide to check the email before I start on the roof, while I have a cup of coffee. Mika turns on the TV. The stock market report is on, Japanese stocks have fallen. I wonder that the world is still full of people whose prime concern is profit margins. It is 8:30. My friend from Nagano emailed me last night. He studied nuclear physics at Oxford. "Evacuate!" he says, "If the third reactor explodes there'll be massive fallout. Come to Nagano and stay with us. If you hurry, you can get here while the roads are still clear!" I turn to the television news, the third reactor explodes before my eyes. I meet Mika's terrified face. The explosion happened 2 hours ago! The news has just come up! The Nuclear Power Plant is 110 km from us, there is still time. I run outside and get in the car, rush to the school and park in the playground. The children are gathering in the gym. Rohans teacher is there. I explain the situation, Canaans teacher joins us, I tell them that I am taking my boys and staying indoors for the moment, but that we may evacuate. They call the boys, who then rush to gather their things. While I wait for them, I see the principal and explain to him also. The boys are ready, I drive them home.
The TV says "Within 20 km of the nuclear site, stay indoors, seal all windows, do not use air conditioners or exhaust fans....." The weather man says " A strong wind is blowing to the south, south west...it will rain this afternoon....it will snow tomorrow..." I look at our broken windows, the damaged roof, the gaping holes in the bathroom and studio....what if the fallout reaches here? How can I protect my family? It is not our house, home though it may be, and the land lord doesn't care.... Mika's brother has phoned, "Come home to Gunma, it's safe from the fallout here!" he says. We check the maps. Mika's family live in Minakami, my friends are in Komoro. Which is better? Minakami is 200km from the power plant, Komoro is 255km, both are on the other side of the mountains, but family.....they have food and spring water, plenty of space, and it is familiar ground. We choose home. We phone our neighbours who have children with ours at school, tell them we are evacuating, ask if they will come...but their family is all here, they choose to stay. I pray that they are right. I hope that we are wrong. At 11:00 the prime minister and minister for internal affairs give a press conference. They are evacuating everyone with 20km of the reactors, everyone between 20 and 30km should stay indoors. Packing bare essentials into the car we grab some lunch, make rice balls for the journey and leave. I drive away from Mashiko, from Ichikai, with fear and sorrow. I cannot save them, I can only save my family. I hope it not too late. On the way through Utsunomiya we see factories devastated by the earthquake, home centres and shopping centres, facades collapsed and debris still scattered in the car park. The road has cracks and fissures that shock the car as we drive over them, unaware until we feel the jolt. There are people on house rooves trying to effect repairs. Debris still lines many streets. We stop at a bank and withdraw some cash. The left hand lane is traffic jammed for 2km, but the right hand lane is clear. I realise that it is a queue for a petrol station. There is no petrol. Luckily I filled the tank the day before the earthquake!
We take the highway towards Nikko, the traffic is sparse, and gaps and fissures in the road have been freshly patch with asphalt. The children scream with excitement as we see a wild boar foraging on the side of the road. Life goes on. We leave the highway at Kiyotaki, stopping at a convenience store for some supplies and, well, convenience. "How was the earthquake here?" we ask.
"About 5, things fell off some shelves, but we were OK." they say.
"Mashiko was 6.6. Take care." We bid them farewell.
The Road to Gunma takes us through Ashio. The Mountains are steep on each side, barren for the most part. There were copper mines here for centuries, and the mountains have been raped. In recent years there has been a national effort to reforest these mountains. Last spring I came here with Sora and her class mates to plant 124 trees. Slowly the forest is returning.
We stop at a small unmanned railway station for a bladder break, and in the car park the first daffodils are blooming. I pick one for Mika. We drive on.
It is moving towards dusk as we drive through Mizunuma, and the traffic light are all off due to the rolling blackouts. The plums trees in the school playground are in full bloom. Life goes on.
We turn onto route 62, patches of snow at the sides of the road. The misty rain blurs the windscreen. Barren trees stand like dark sentinels on the snowy ground. There are no cars, except for us. We have driven through many tunnels through the mountains, half fearful for earthquakes, half grateful for shelter from possible fallout. The clouded drizzling night is black now, save for the pools of light from our headlights.
As the road twists out of a ravine we see the lights of Numata below us. We are through the mountains, we are in Gunma, we are safe. Relief rises in my chest. Not far now, not far now. We turn onto route 17, one more turn and we'll be there. Almost there. It is 7:00pm as we pull into the drive way. Mikas mum is waiting for us with hot soup and noodles. There is a shower waiting for us, a warm bed, a safe roof, secure shutters to keep out the invisible fallout. The wind from Fukushima does not blow here. I do not know what will happen tomorrow, we seem to have survived today. I do not know if this was the right course of action, or if I am a fool. The next few days will tell. I only know that I must protect my family. Earthquakes, tidal waves, these are acts of nature. We can see them, we can build our homes on higher ground, build them sturdier, we can learn. But I cannot protect against an invisible poison that floats on the breeze from four burning nuclear reactors. Man has done this, for power, for profit. I cannot protect my loved ones from a deadly nothing that irresponsible humans have unleashed, bottled in concrete vessels on the beach in an earthquake zone. I cannot defend against this lethal nothing, and it is the nothing that I fear.