For one Bermudian in Japan, ‘Tokyo is not the same’
Life in Japan is “far from normal” for Alfa Ming as he tries to hide his anxiety and get on with things the best he can.
The former Bermuda College student admits he is “absolutely scared for his own safety” as the aftershocks keep him awake at night and the fear of radiation just won't go away.
But Mr Ming, 36, has returned to work after the devastating earthquake and tsunami defiantly saying: “You still have to live your life.”
He said: “Tokyo is not the same right now. It's far from normal. The lights are low everywhere, we are all pitching in to keep the demand on the electrical grid to a minimum. Trains run light and schedules are off.”
Mr Ming describes the mood of people as tense, describing everyone as being “quietly panicked and very anxious.”
He said people were panic buying with bread, milk and instant noodles flying off the supermarket shelves.
Mr Ming said: “I have seen regular people going out of their way to be courteous and friendly when before they wouldn't have had the time of day.
“It is not a mean place but it is a big city that is crowded and busy. Now it is a bit slower.”
Mr Ming said his biggest concern was trying to find out the latest information about radioactivity. He said it was “very disturbing” that the air, rain and water have been affected.
He said: “Packing an Evac-kit and watching hydrogen explode nuclear rooftops and footage of towns swept off the face of the planet while riding out hundreds of aftershocks, it is surely life altering. Beyond words.”
The Royal Gazette reported last week that Mr Ming's parents Fred and Jocelyn, who live in Bermuda, had asked their son to return home.
Mr Ming said he would continue to tell the Japanese how beautiful Bermuda was, but he has no plans to leave Japan.
He said: “Every time I come back to Tokyo, even in an irradiated state, it feels solid, it feels right.”
Mr Ming was born and educated in Canada but lived in Bermuda for several years as a teenager and briefly attended Bermuda College.
He moved to Tokyo in the summer of 2008, just four months after visiting for the first time on vacation.
He said he was expecting “cartoons, robots and sushi, some nice electronics” but he fell in love with the variety of Japan.
He now teaches English at Kanagawa University and cultural centres in East Tokyo, and also has his own branding design company.
Mr Ming recalls the moment he will never forget on March 11 when “the walls started moving” while he was in a crowded café with a student.
At first he said it just felt like “every other earthquake” and he ignored it as “they happen all the time.”
But Mr Ming said: “It was weird, just 15 or 20 seconds later it was even stronger and louder than it started.
“That's when everyone started picking up and heading for the door. We all had this wide-eyed look, staring at each other like, ‘Are you guys gonna stay and pay for that cake and coffee or are you just gonna run like madness possessed?'”
Mr Ming said he was “up and out the door” with his student three times in 30 minutes as the powerful aftershocks struck. The pair kept returning to their table but Mr Ming said he was “so shaken up and tense” he paid for his bill with his hands shaking.
He said: “We got the hell out of there. Heading to an open area we found streets were full of people in the middle of the afternoon, it looked serious.”
The trains had stopped so Mr Ming and his student walked about 6km before they caught a glimpse of a TV in a café showing live footage of the tide going out before the tsunami hit.
He said: “Watching that water disappear, my stomach turned hard. You knew at that point, people were going to die if they were not very far away from those coasts.
“All of the news was in Japanese at this point and no one really knew exactly what was happening so it was really very disorienting.”
When Mr Ming realised the extent of the disaster, he said he “felt panic, sadness and a very human kind of loss.”
Four days after the earthquake and tsunami, Mr Ming headed to Osaka on the west coast with friends for a week.
He said he was sleep deprived and wanted to try to flee the more than 200 aftershocks a day.
“Sleeping or having a normal life with tremors shaking your house randomly was just not possible,” he said.
Even today Mr Ming still finds it difficult to watch the TV footage of what happened as it makes him realize what a lucky escape he had.
He also has friends in the worst hit areas and is still trying to find out if some of them are alive.
Mr Ming said: “As for the extent of the disaster. We still are waiting on the final word on it.
“For all the bad news and potentially worse news, things are okay.”