(Picture copyright Yomiuri Shimbun/AFP/Getty Images)
In the last few weeks, I've become somewhat of a nuclear radiation "expert". This wasn't a role that I wanted, but I didn't have much choice after receiving numerous well-meaning advices and cautions from my relatives and friends upon learning that I'll be going on a personal trip to Japan with my girlfriend next month:
"Are you sure you want to go to Japan? There's a nuclear meltdown there, you know?"
"Haven't you heard? They found radiation in the food! It's not safe to eat or drink there! You'll get cancer and die!"
"Did you know that everyone's leaving Tokyo? The US and UK embassies just evacuated their people; they must know something that we don't!"
"Japan just suffered another aftershock OMG! You see?! You still want to go?!"
"Hey, breaking news! They just raised the scale of the Japan nuclear disaster to a Level 7 - just like Chernobyl! You sure you want to go?!"
"Hey, did you hear..."
And you thought Navi from Legend of Zelda was annoying - at least you could mute your game. Try getting asked every other day about the nuclear radiation in Fukushima. Of course I'm well aware of the radiation incident and aftershocks in Japan: I've been following the damn news since Day 1. I mean, it's kinda hard NOT to, especially when the media is gleefully playing up the radiation risk in Japan, and how it's "as bad as Chernobyl" and that I'll likely grow an extra arm or leg if I were to somehow consume anything of Japanese origin. I'm now loathing to tell other people now that I'm traveling to Japan, lest I get another earful of advice and news of how dangerous Japan is now from all the supposed radiation and nuclear fallout. It doesn't matter that you get more radiation from a chest x-ray, or flying to another country than staying within Fukushima evacuation zone.
At the same time, I've been reading up on nuclear energy, radiation and other sites that have more measured and balanced reports on the nuclear crisis in Japan; sites like the International Atomic Energy Agency and MIT NSE Nuclear Information Hub - organizations with qualified officials that can give an accurate picture of the nuclear situation and radiation levels in Japan (which has been pretty normal or non-existent) - in order to counter any exaggerated news fed to my relatives and friends. DannyChoo.com has been another great source to get an idea of the ground situation in Tokyo, posting up photos of normalcy and calmness (despite some initial panic buying) in the city after the quake. It's hardly the 'ghost town' that the Western media has been painting of Tokyo. Still, that didn't stop my parents a couple weeks ago from panicking and asking me to postpone my trip to Tokyo, despite being over 200km from Fukushima.
Mum: "Son, I think it's better you postpone or cancel your trip. Don't worry about rescheduling fees - I can pay for it"
Me: "It's fine, mum. Look, Tokyo is unaffected, and there's hardly any radiation there. By the time we go there, it'll be back to normal"
Dad: "I tell you, son, you better listen to what I say. The media just reported that there is now radiation in their food, and the water radiation level has gone up 10,000 times than normal! You get cancer then you know!"
Me: "But dad, there are other media sites that report the nuclear situation in Japan isn't as bad as it looks. And by the time we go there, they say the water radiation level will have decreased to safe levels."
Dad: "Well, they're rubbish! Don't believe the media!"
Normally I would have laughed at such an ironic statement, but my father was dead serious about wanting me to postpone my trip. So I told them that both me and my girlfriend will wait until early April before making a decision, to see if the situation stabilized. Eventually, news of the Fukushima nuclear incident died down as the uprising in Libya took center stage. With that, so too did my parents' demands that I postpone my travel plans. Maybe they also realized that the situation in Fukushima wasn't as bad as they thought it was. Even so, that hasn't stopped them from informing me of any recent aftershocks in Japan, not-so-subtle reminders that shout "Look! Japan is still not safe! Don't go!".
Last week, after much deliberation, my girlfriend and I decided to stick to our travel plans. Why? Well for one, the situation in Fukushima is stable and Tokyo remains unaffected, so there's no reason not to go. Sure, it kinda sucks that some of the major shops and stores in Shibuya and Shinjuku have switched off their display neon lighting at night to conserve power, so we won't be able to witness its nightly spectacle. But that isn't reason enough to cancel our trip. The railway services have resumed, and there is no shortage of food or water in Tokyo either. Later in the year, both me and my partner may likely be bogged down with gaming events and work, so it's best we go now lest we find our schedule too hectic to arrange for a trip. This will also be the first time that my girlfriend has gone to Japan; it's been a dream of hers to visit Tokyo, and this vacation has been in the plannings for a long time already. I am not keen on postponing the trip when we're so close to fulfilling her dream.
The most important reason why I'm still going to Japan is because deserting Japan now is the worst thing one can do. Japan's economy has taken a hit due to the triple whammy of an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor fallout, and its tourism has been badly affected. Visitor numbers to the country has dropped no thanks to the radiation hysteria hyped up by the media. If anything, I want to go to Japan and show my friends and relatives that it's safe to visit the country and its products and food are safe for consumption.
The Great East Japan Earthquake that hit the pacific coast of Japan on March 11 is an unqualified tragedy, with tens of thousands of people killed by the resulting tsunami that engulfed homes and destroyed numerous infrastructures. One month on, thousands of survivors are homeless and are staying at evacuation centers and temporary shelters, having lost everything in the tsunami. It is a massive humanitarian crisis, yet the news that have dominated the airwaves have focused on radiation leaking from the Fukushima nuclear reactors, which has caused zero fatalities (aside from a couple of workers who died as a result of the quake, not radiation).
While it's great that millions across the world have donated to the humanitarian relief efforts in Sendai, I believe it's equally important to show support for its people via my tourist dollars. Being overly cautious by not going to Japan or not having anything to do with its products only hurts the country's economy, and shows lack of faith in its institutions and people.
Lim Kuan Keat
As the Editor of GameAxis Unwired Malaysia, Lim Kuan Keat has the enviable job of playing and writing about the latest video game titles and trends in the market. He loves video games regardless of platform, and he hopes to see the hobby become more commonplace and accepted in Malaysia. He also digs movies, manga, anime, and occasionally a good book or two when he has the time, which he sadly lacks these days.