March 11 Earthquake - Why Am I Still in Japan?

To all of you who wrote to urge me to come back to France, here is my point of view. I really appreciate your concern and kindness. I will try to explain to you the situation as it can be seen from here but there are some circumstances that cannot be grasped from outside Japan. I, myself do not understand all of them, even from within. I have chosen to settle in Japan over a year ago. Little by little, I made my place, my life, friendships and even more. I currently share my life with a Japanese person. As Olivier Gaurin was explaining in his own note, if you decide to settle somewhere, whether you want it or not, this place and its people will deeply affect you in more ways than you can imagine.

A few days ago, Megumi and I decided to move down South in order to follow the French embassy's recommendations for safety. It was a really difficult choice for us. Personally, I do not have to work until the 4th of April and I am therefore not contractually obligated to remain in Tokyo. Megumi however had to let down her colleagues to follow me. In the mind of a Japanese person, this is already a very significant and difficult decision. Most of her relatives, friends and colleagues remained in Tokyo and are dutifully performing their task, as part of the Japanese workforce which makes the country still stand up today. If she had not been with me, there is not the shadow of a doubt that she would have stayed in Tokyo, and very probably even moved up North to help.

On my side, I have to bear the responsibility of making her do this. I also feel I have responsibilities of my own. I have chosen to live in Japan, and this required many efforts and sacrifices. I am not ready to let this go so easily. We are not talking about a 3 weeks holidays turning short here, but a constant effort to live and remain in Japan. This effort is renewed every time a visa runs out, or a jobs contract comes to its term. More importantly, I can see around me the courage, determination and selflessness of the people. People in Tokyo (including significant numbers of "Gaijin", foreigners) still go to work every day in spite of the fear, the bad news, the commuting nightmare and the power cuts.From what I read in the French press, our compatriots have been very negative and judgmental about Japan. On my side, I wonder what would have happen in the same situation in France. Civil war and massive exodus do come to my mind... The people of Japan (both Japanese and Gaijin) stick together, they see the big picture, and they do their best to keep their country together, even if it means putting themselves in considerable danger. I am short of words to describe how impressed and moved I am to see this. This is a real privilege to be able to witness this. I trust completely Japanese politics and scientists, with a special though to the 50 heroes who are seriously undermining their own survival to keep us safe.

Shibuya station Hachiko exit


Now, having moved to Osaka, I must admit that the feeling of guilt is great. I failed to find the courage to stay in Tokyo. Of course, I try to rationalize this choice. After all, the school I teach at is closed and next June, my contract will terminate. If I don't find another one within three month, my visa will be revoked and I will be sent back to France. Staying in Japan now will not grant me any bonus points when time comes to renew my visa. I have no assets hers, no possessions to leave behind, no family ties. In fact, the pressure comes from the other side. But then, the foreigners who stayed in Tokyo will probably be look down upon, put in the same bag with all other foreigners, whether they fled or not, when things return to normal. Those who stayed in Tokyo are unlikely to see great reward from the Japanese people for their courage.

I also feel great guilt at the idea of my parents and relatives not sleeping at night, watching their TV and the criminally distorted version of the facts served by the French media. They wonder every day why I am not home, why I keep myself in this hellish situation. To my parent's credit, they show unquestioning trust, and they do their best to support me. They also have to answer all the calls and email that I chose to ignore. I stopped reading all emails from outside Japan, except those by my parents. However how much you care and worry, please understand that sending us distorted news and conspiracy theories does not help, on the contrary. We are trying to stay calm and act rationally so please try to do the same.We have been living in a small hotel room for the past few days, our life paced at the rhythm of news reports and radiation readings. I have been fighting so far with the temptation to fly away from Japan. We will not leave Japan until we really cannot take any more pressure. So far, we are holding on, working things out day by day as we wake up and watch the reports of the past night's events.


View from Roppongi Hills

Now I have seen on several people's profile some pretty harsh and judgmental comments about other people's choices. I don't think that judging others is very productive at this time but then, it might be the way they found to comfort themselves and accept their own choices. I believe that we are all only victims here and everyone is making their own decisions based on numerous parameters. The general trend seems to be that people who have been here the longest stayed in Tokyo the longest.

This is courageous and deserves praises. It is also quite reasonable as their moral, financial and material investment is a lot more significant than others'. But this does not mean that the ones who left Japan are cowards. Some have nothing and were planning to head back home in a few months anyway, who can blame them for returning a bit earlier given the current situation? A friend mentioned that in this situation, it was costing him and his wife less money to go back to France than staying for weeks at the hotel. They are a French couple who are trying their best to live in Japan. They are active member of the society; pay their taxes and who can blame them for returning to France when it is the safest and financially most reasonable option. This is without even considering the relief for their families.


View from Park Hyatt

One could also argue that those staying in Tokyo with kids are potentially endangering their kids who might pay the price of their parent's choice. But as Olivier Gaurin was explaining about his son, the child made his own choice to stay with his friends, out of peer pressure mostly. This cannot be judged by outsiders and should remain as the family's business.

The truth is that there is no good choice at this stage; all choices seem equally bad for a number of different reasons. We all battle with our own demons and we must make our own choices. Time will tell which choice was the right one. In the meantime, I wish all the best to those in the North, to those who stayed in Tokyo, to those who went South, and to those who are with their families in France or elsewhere. I wish that we all can be together on the tatami once more when this nightmare is over. On our side, Megumi and I will stay in Japan for as long as we can until it appears to us unreasonable to stay any longer.

Just trust us, we are all trying to take the best decisions we can.

To go further:
Guillaume Erard
Author: Guillaume Erard
A resident of Japan for nearly a decade, Guillaume Erard trains at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, where he received the 5th Dan from Aikido Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba. He also holds a 3rd Dan in Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu, the secretive art that Morihei Ueshiba learned from Sokaku Takeda. Erard is the Information Director of the International Aikido Federation and the Deputy Secretary of International Affairs of the Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu Shikoku Headquarters. He is also passionate about science and education and holds a PhD in Molecular Biology.
More from this author:

© 2017 Guillaume Erard. All Rights Reserved.