Japan is a country at high risk of major earthquakes. This is a fact of life that you have to accept when living there. The Tokyo region has been bracing for decades for the “Big One” (such as recurrences of the Kanto and Tokai earthquakes). After the Tohoku earthquake, which happened on a different (and maybe unexpected) fault line, these are not off the table. But if this teaches us anything, it is that we are still very poor at predicting such events. While it is useful to be prepared, it is pointless to live in fear.
The experience of the quake has of course some very practical consequences for me. It has changed how I stack stuff in a cupboard. It has changed how close to an edge I’ll be putting things. And it has changed how much I’ll be filling up the aquarium.
Already before the quake, I had (as advised by the government) kept an emergency food and water supply. The quake has confirmed that this is a good idea. While Tokyo did not really have big problems, many regions nearby (which were not actually destroyed by the quake) have experienced disruptions in their water supply and supply chains.
Another matter is Fukushima Daiichi. While the nation is holding its breath, the power plant is limping with tiny steps back towards safety. This process is taking longer than we would have hoped, but nonetheless, we must get on with our lives. Assuming no further radiation is released (the decrease of radiation around the plant, which is consistent with the natural decay of radioactive substances seems to point to this direction), we still have to deal with what has been released already. Higher readings further away from the plant are the natural consequence of the radioactive particles being spread around by the wind and being washed into the waterways by the rain. Further away from the plant, the contamination consists mostly of Iodine 131. This isotope has a half-life of 8 days. This is good news: it means that if nothing else happens, a week from now, the problem will be only half as big. And at this point, the contamination found in Kanto is not harmful to adults, and it will diminish sharply with time.
Of course, we would like to minimize any potentially harmful influences, however small they may be. But who can avoid everything? Also living in a city with bad air quality is harmful for the health. But do people all move away from such a place? Don’t people keep smoking and eating high-fat and high-sugar diets despite the proven harmfulness of these behaviors? We cannot avoid any and all risks in life, and the risk incurred from remaining in the Kanto region seems quite small compared even to the risks of many lifestyle choices.
This said, I think I’ll forgo eating leafy green vegetables for a while…