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    Posted March 17, 2011 by
    Tokyo, Japan
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Recovery in Japan: After the earthquake

    jagabee58 and 14 other iReporters contributed to Open Story: Earthquake strikes Japan
    More from jagabee58

    Two Sides of the Divide - To Stay or Leave Tokyo


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     jagabee58 is originally from Vancouver, Canada, but has lived in Japan for five years. He says, 'If I didn't have a child, I would probably consider leaving a lot more, but being married, it's hard to abandon ship and leave in-laws ... We're all family now. I know my parents are worried sick about me being here, though at the same time the idea of us packing up and "abandoning" her family doesn't feel good.'
    - dsashin, CNN iReport producer

    You've played billiards haven't you, at least once in your life? Or if not, you've seen it at the local bar or game center. The game is fairly straight forward. You take a cue ball, explosively drive the ball forward, breaking the other balls, sending them flying off in all different directions. Some of the balls find holes, some of them stay on the table.


    That's in effect, what has happened to many foreigners in Tokyo and Japan recently. As soon as news broke out of the earthquakes and nuclear reactor troubles, many people left. Some walked, others ran, while still others were put on the planes, the trains and the buses by family and relatives by force.


    They went west to the Kansai area or further to put some distance between themselves and what was happening. They returned home. Or they took any flight they could just to get out, planning to hop from point to point to somewhere, anywhere but here.


    In the foreign community, two sides are divided, those who stayed, and those who left. At first, each side called the other foolhardy. "Don't wet your pants, it's no big deal." "You're a fool not to leave. Of course they'll tell you it's safe!"


    Having a shower this morning, I contemplated what this whole crazy debate was about and it really boils down to one question, "Do you have a reason to stay?" If you hang around the expat circles long enough, you will inevitably come across the same story, beer after beer. "I came here planning to only stay a year or two, but counting this year, it'll be my 6th, 7th, 10th...20th"


    And there you have it. Many of us had never really planned on staying put so long but Japan gets to be a very comfortable place to live. It grows on you, until you snap one day and curse the whole society just because you woke up on the wrong side of the bed and couldn't figure out what the tiny sign on the vending machine was saying, while you were banging your fist on it trying to get a much needed morning dose of reality, coffee.


    But the earthquake has done just that. It woke many people up. They "smelled the coffee" so to speak and woke up, asking themselves, "What AM I doing here?!" For some they realize, they really don't have to be here, so they left.


    People with the least reason to be here and the least stake to be here left first. Those were of course the tourists. The next group were the people who never planned on staying so long and this was the all too sudden bucket of ice cold water on the head to make them realize they didn't need to be here. It was a strong, swift kick in the butt to get them back on their journey.


    So who stayed and why? The only reason you would stay would be because either you're married and have in-laws and relatives now or you have some other reason. Perhaps the money here is really better than the money anywhere else.


    It's difficult though. I receive emails and phone calls from my parents and relatives to get out and to take a break. It's a lot of stress, anxiety and guilt. Though it's understandable, they are just worried about our safety and driven mad by the news frenzy abroad.


    One coworker of mine even told me his family was even more forceful. They bought him a ticket, gave him the details and told him to show up at the counter and get on the plane. Now that's one strong family!


    For the Japanese in Tokyo, in spite of everything that is going on, they have really three main reasons to stay:


    a) They have nowhere to go.

    b) They have complete trust that their government is not lying to them, or hoping it to be proven true.

    c) This is their home. As we see from the revolutions in the middle east, through thick or thin, people are tied to the place of their birth whatever the fallout. It's a love and respect for their own country.


    But for the foreign community, it isn't our homeland. Some have nothing more at stake or to gain from staying, only everything to lose. So they left. It's really an insurance policy. If people have the means and the ends, and no real stake in the place, the decision can be very obvious.


    Of course nothing may ever develop but that's what insurance is isn't it. As they say, "an ounce of precaution is better than a pound of cure." For me, my wife is Japanese and I just had a wonderful baby boy on March 12th, 2011. I have family here and we're afraid he's too young to fly. We worry about the radiation since he's so young, even though scientists have claimed the situation to be safe.


    So for now, we're in the same boat as many here in Tokyo. We are trying to keep our calm while glued to the nightly news, feeling a knot in our guts with each aftershock, and hoping dearly that the government and scientists are right.


    But in the meantime, we'll try to go about our daily routine and do what we can to prepare for the possibility of having to follow suit and leave for a while.

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