Am I Stupid for Having Stayed In Japan After the 2011 Japan Earthquake?

“Donald get out now!” “If I were you I’d be getting the hell outta dodge!” “Have you left yet?” “Be smart.” “Leave Japan now!” So many people have told me to get out of Japan while I still have a chance, but I haven’t left yet, why? There have been over 50 aftershocks recorded (a big one happened here in Tsukuba this morning), parts of Japan have been wiped out, the air has higher than normal radiation levels, vegetables and tap water have been contaminated. Why are you still in Japan? Well, I’ll tell you why. If I just up and leave based on uninformed frenzy then I’m going to be broke (having to pay for a ticket back to the U.S.), jobless (because I’ll miss my job training), back in America, living with my parents, job hunting and depressed. Is it dangerous here in Japan? Yes. But it depends on where you live. The prefecture I live in isn’t the safest…they found contaminated spinach and tap water in the northern part of this prefecture! However, I’ve been taking all the necessary precautions to keep myself safe: drinking & using bottled water, staying away from milk, water, and whatever foods might even have a chance of being contaminated. The radiation levels (oh…there’s another aftershock) have been declining and I truly believe that things will stabilize. I worry about the situation around me because I’m human, but I have to fight through my worries and fears because I really like my life here…I’m willing to do what it takes to stay here (albeit safely).


What do you think? Am I stupid for staying? I want you to be brutally honest.

As a matter of fact, let’s test out a shiny new thingamajig here at the Japan. We’re going to do the very first poll, here at the Japan Guy. So here it is. Please remember, I want your honest opinions. I kind of new to this, but unlike I thought in the video, you can’t enter your comments on the poll itself (only yes or no). However, please feel free to explain your answers in more detail in the comments section below.


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  • Ryan McGuinness

    You are an intelligent guy, I believe you evaluated the situation the best you could and picked the best option for yourself. I would prefer to be stable with money and have a job than be broke and stuck in a country you obviously don’t want to live in.

    • Donald Ash

      Thanks Ryan. It’s always good to hear from you. I tried to make a careful analysis. I hope it doesn’t come back to bite me later. I really don’t mind living in the U.S., it’s a cool place, too. But I’m definitely not ready to come back yet.

  • Shelly

    It is not an intelligent decision to stay. Any level of radiation is not safe. In Cherenobyl the levels were 30 times lower and a large percent of the population got cancer among many other fatal diseases . How can you put a price on your health. I realize Cancer takes years to develop but however your reasons for staying are all material and can change. You make those variables change Once you get cancer or your future child is born with birth defects is having a better job in Japan going to matter. Really educate yourself on the damging radiation levels you are exposing yourself to and than make a an intelligent decision. My uncle is a physicist. He told me areas that were exposed going to be contaminated for at least 70 yrs and the effect on the population will be devastating to their health. The is a probablity not a possibility If you dont mind living on can goods and never eating fresh fruits or vegetables enjoy and probably having very serious health effects stay. Yes I think you are either very naive or insane You remind me of the corporate bastards that dont care about global warming as long as they rob the public and make billions. I am not calling you a bastard I am just making a comparison The problem is if the planet is destroyed they are going to become ill and die. Does it matter that they have made 100 billion more.
    Its your life so good luck either way

  • Ryan McGuinness

    You obviously know nothing about Donald, every post he has made here he has proven to me that he looks things up, researches the topic heavily and think logically about it. He also takes a large number of variables and facts into consideration before making a decision. As a science student myself, I think I know enough and you know what I don’t care.

    If it’s something that brings him so much happiness then all credit to him, for not taking the easy route and instead grinding it out so he can remain at the place that has made him happy and I’m sure he won’t disagree; has given him a second chance at life. Not to sound childish, I probably would take you a little more seriously if you could paragraph instead of writing a huge chunk of crap.

  • devin

    I’m thinking about teaching in Japan as well but I really do have serious fears.

    Have you noticed any trends among your fellow peers? How many are staying as opposed to fleeing? I hope you remain safe no matter what.

    As for your poll I didn’t vote because there was no “I’m not sure” box. ;)

    • Donald Ash

      Among my former co-working peers (I just changed jobs) half of them left. So I hope my staying hasn’t messed up my future, but I think it’ll be okay, honestly. Thanks for posting Devin.

  • Donald Ash

    Hey Ryan and Shelly I know it’s a hot topic, but I definitely see both points of view. Ryan thank you for being supportive of my position to stay in Japan, because to me it’s not so much about the money as it is being happy with where I am…to me you can’t put a price on that.

    Shelly thank you so much for your difference of opinion. I know your father’s a physicist, and I know how strongly you feel about this. If I was living in Fukushima, I wouldn’t have an argument, but my town is over 160km away.

    This is how I look at it. The Fukushima plant situation was recently graded on the the level as the Three Mile Island incident (on the Nuclear Event Scale) which happened in Pennsylvania. When that happened everybody didn’t leave Pennsylvania, and people seem to be doing okay, there. Even with Chernobyl, all of Russia didn’t evacuate, there was a range.

    Ryan and Shelly, great posts (try not to hate each other, though, okay? :) )

  • Toby Jugge

    So long as you aren’t living in the the 30Km circle you are OK. If you lived in some places State Side you’d be getting enough radiation to cook your goose anyway (check out the Radon levels in some basements.) Consider this: there are expected to be at lease 28000 dead and up to 400000 without a home and who have lost everything. Dude you ain’t go no problem!

    • Donald Ash

      That’s what I’m thinking, Toby. I hope everything’s okay, but now with the situation being upgraded to a level 7 nuclear disaster, like Chernobyl, I’m not so certain. We’ll see how everything plays out.

  • devin

    I’m not going to argue whether to leave or stay but arming yourself with knowledge is always a good thing. First, Chernobyl did affect areas outside the evacuation zone including Germany. Thom Hartmann, a popular talk show host recalls how he was one of the pesky Americans while living in Germany that would bring a Geiger counter to the food supermarket and often while waving it over vegetables the machine would go blurt out “rat-rat-rat” much to the dismay of the fellow shoppers.

    In this article:|main5|dl1|sec1_lnk3|53478

    it states that “Radioactive cesium can build up in the body and high levels are thought to be a risk for various cancers. It is still found in wild boar in Germany 25 years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, making the pigs off-limits for eating in many cases.”

    And this refreshingly civil debate about nuclear energy between Anti-Coal Advocate George Monbiot and Anti-Nuclear Activist Dr. Helen Caldicott is really informative. What she says about “internal emitters” is really important.

    I hope your training at your new job is going well!

    • Donald Ash

      Super informative, info. I really enjoyed the civil debate from the last link that you posted. Training was okay, but the job is awesome. Thanks for posting, Devin.

      • devin

        Oh my you replied to this and I didn’t even notice! (Until now!) Argh… Yeah that was a super civil debate…I’m so used to the American standard of people overtalking each other.

  • Gavin

    Ryan, I completly agree with your chice to stay. It was reported that those fench nationals who evacuated from Japan were exposd to more radiation when they returned to Charles de Gaulle than at Narita. Radiation is the great unknown to most of us, and igorance breeds fear. Can we fully trust what we are being told in the domestic media by TEPCO and the government, probably not. But the differs very little from many other health threats that havent entered the public consciousness.Being overly melodramatic about possible long term effects of something very few of us know anything about when those in Tohoku are facing real and present dangers, seems to me to be self indulgent in the extreme. Bravo for staying and not joing the flocks of flyjin. Enjoy your time in this amazing country and good luck with the studies.

    • Donald Ash

      Thanks Gavin. Sometimes I do question whether my choice was right, but I know it was right for me. I just hope I’m far enough away from everything not to have to face serious consequences later in life.

  • Da Mao

    I suggest you move out ASAP.

    There is an old chinese saying – save the mountains, and you will not worry about running out of the woods.

    We all hope those heros will put the situation back to normal very soon. You could always come back to Japan, find another job, and stay there happily ever since.

    Meanwhile please help those suffered by making donation to the relief fund (but not by eating the potentially contaminated veggies).

    • Donald Ash

      Thank you so much for your concern Da Mao. I don’t know if I’m leaving just yet, but I will definitely try to keep myself as safe as I possibly can. I’ll be wary of the contaminated veggies, too :)

  • Jayne

    Hi Donald,

    I only just discovered this website tonight but would like to say thank you. I have also stayed in Japan, in Tokyo, and I was beginning to think it was only me that seems to be continually bouncing around between have I made the right choice or am I being a complete and utter idiot to still be here. Although my concerns are the same as yours – returning to the UK with no job, having to move back home to my parents, going through the depressing task of looking for work all over again I am also not in Japan for the money alone, I have built a life here and feel like I’m beginning to make headway in making a secure future for myself. BUT then you get the real kick in the ass – am I jeopardizing my health? Has the shine gone off being here because I’m now subconsciously waiting for another shock, avoiding elevators, sitting on the train trying to look nonchalant but really shitting it in case I cant get off. I seem to fluctuate depending on which group of people I talk to – the ‘don’t give a damn, the Big One’s come ignorers’ or the ‘ we’re all going to die from radiation sickness, are you REALLY going to eat that salad’ panickers. Only about 1/3 of the teachers at my school have left, the rest of us are sticking it out. My sole comfort in all of this is that I have put together one hell of an earthquake bag that’s sitting full of pride and self righteousness by the front door. Although as delightedly pointed out by my 80 year old neighbor, if it happens on a train, in an elevator, in the shower it’ll still be looking proud by the front door when I’m long gone. I did reply, however, that he would say that considering he’s old enough to sleep through the next quake while the entirety of Tokyo is long gone. So all there is left to say is here’s hoping the aftershocks finally get sick of terrifying us all and prove that we did in fact make the right choice! Take care.

    • Donald Ash

      Maybe we’re both crazy, Jayne ;)

      But it’s good to know that someone struggled with many of the same issues that I did. I really think I made the right choice in staying, but I guess only time will tell. I love what you wrote about the train. I have to ride the train nearly everyday, and I must say I always feel nervous inside (despite how I look on the outside). I really feel bad because I don’t have an earthquake bag :( . I need to get on that. Thanks for the reminder, Jayne. Thanks even more for your comment. I’m sure everything will be okay.

  • S. Y.

    I respect your decision, but I at least hope you’re taking your lugols, coq10, and vitamin e. If you don’t know what any of those things are, (and I’m honestly not trying to disrespect you here) then you’re stupid and need to leave ASAP, because you lack basic knowledge of radiation education. I actually work in a laboratory that tests radiation, among other things, and I can’t believe how few people are radiophobes. This stuff is serious, and it really doesn’t matter if you live 30km away or 3,000, the stuff is in the water. Every time it rains in Japan, HI, CA, who knows where else, you are at risk. It’s cool and dandy to say “oh I don’t eat spinach”, but what about 10 years from now when a chunk of the population comes down with something radiation related? The government will probably cover it up, like so many other governments have, but the magnifying glass is on Japan. I just hope you know what you’re doing.

    • Donald Ash

      I definitely respect you speaking your mind. I have heard of the coq10 and vitamin. Lugol’s solution is another name for iodine, right? Even if hadn’t heard of them, it wouldn’t make me stupid…it would just mean I haven’t heard of them. In response to lacking basic knowledge of radiation, in the grand scheme of things…I don’t think the experts fully understand radiation and it’s full effects (that’s why there’s such a big issue right now). I do know that radiation is bad, and if you’re you’re exposed to too much you’re a goner. That’s really all I need to know. I’ll do what’s necessary to be safe.

      As far as the iodine pills go, I have heard it’s not a good idea to take them unless recommended by a doctor, unless you have had higher than normal exposure. Taking those things just because will hurt more than it’ll help. If I lived in Fukushima or in a radiation danger zone, yeah I’d be first one on the list for them. I live in a city of researchers a pretty good ways away from Fukushima. Some of my former students are researchers who have had to assist in with radiation research.

      I really think I’m okay. I know I’ve mentioned it before. But everyone in Pennsylvania didn’t end up with cancer after Three-Mile Island, nor did everyone in the cities outside of Chernobyl, and it’s been over ten years.

      Thanks for posting s.y..

  • Jayne

    In answer to S.Y’s comment on May 1st, I’m not sure you can use ‘I don’t want to disrespect you’ and ‘stupid’ in the same sentence but as to the other points, yes I have thought very carefully about my decision to stay. I respect S.Y.’s knowledge concerning radiation yet disagree with his forceful advice on taking lugols. As a healthy person there is not yet the need for me to be taking iodine supplements which could potentially do more harm to my Thyroid than good over an extended period of time. I work as a teacher in a school for ex-pat children so the majority of my class parents are embassy staff, investment bankers, doctors and, yes, there are two nuclear physicists. Each of these parents has interestingly decided to stay and having dined with them, they are eating and drinking the same things as I am. As S.Y said ‘if it rains in Japan…and who knows where else, we are at risk’ which leaves the conclusion where do you move to? Neither do I want to be considered a foreigner that lives in a country, takes it for all its worth then leaves it and the people who showed so many kindnesses, to deal with so much devastation on its own. Who knows if we made the right choice, but at least I’ll be able to sleep more soundly knowing I thought very carefully about the one I did make.

  • Candi

    Hi all…just read the posts and wanted to add my story..

    After 6 months preparation, I arrived in Nagoya on March 4th to begin my year teaching and living in Japan. I am considered to be an old teacher at 38 years of age ( LOL) and I felt extremely blessed to have passed the requirements and testing to be employed in Japan. It was a big deal to pack up and move to Japan and I was fully committed and excited. I wasn’t going to Japan for the money but for the experience and to immerse myself in the culture. It wasn’t my first time living overseas but felt like perhaps a last opportunity.
    I knew that Japan had tremors and small earthquakes and mentally I was prepared for this although it made me feel uncomfortable. The day of the earthquake was a terrifying experience on so many levels coupled with the nuclear instability and then the constant aftershocks (although small) also made me relive the event. I initially decided to go home, then I decided to stay and back and forth it went…until the following Wednesday when another earthquake happened in Shizuoka and rocked Nagoya again. I had concerned friends and relatives begging me to leave, I had the Australian government asking me to reconsider my need to be there, travel warnings updated to do not travel. Everyone was telling me that we were safe in Nagoya as we were far away but I couldn’t help thinking about Kobe which is far south so in my mind nowhere was ‘safe’.I was living in a hostel at the time and it was full of Japanese and foreigners who had migrated from the north. I still remember a little Japanese girl screaming ‘earthquake earthquake’ as the second one hit. My heart was with Japan but my head was concerned with my personal safety. I can’t say that I made the final decision to leave based on fact as I am not sure what the effects of radiation will be or if I would perish in an earthquake but I only knew that I felt uneasy and was suffering badly from a type of post traumatic stress disorder and I felt like the earth was constantly shaking. I decided that my dream of living and working in Japan had to come second to my mental health.
    Sorry for the long post but I guess my point is that I respect each individual’s decision as it is a hard one to make either way. I am at home now and I think about if I made the right decision every day so I understand how hard it is.I cry about the situation for myself, Japan and the earth and the destructive power of Mother Nature.
    From my perspective, I am not a ‘flygin’ but instead a person who did their best in a foreign land that was rocked by tragedy.
    My real disservice to Japan would have been by my staying and being constantly scared and not being able to give my all to my employer and my students.
    Best wishes to you all.

    • Donald Ash

      Please don’t apologize for writing a long post. I’m glad you felt open to sharing your thoughts. I’ve heard the term “flyjin” used pretty often to describe foreigners who left in fear. But I don’t consider you a flyjin at all. Getting here on March 4th, a week before the earthquakes, to start your Japan journey can’t be easy. So I think weighing your options was smart. Had I been here for only a week before experiencing something like that, it might’ve been a different story. In the end, as long as the decision is right for you…it’s right!

  • Ken

    I live in Tokyo.

    If one diligently follows the reports, I think it’s now obvious that if you live in the Tokyo area, no matter how careful you are, you will likely eventually end up eating or drinking something tainted by the nuclear plant. So I don’t there is a need to leave Japan, but if you want to live a healthy, stress free life including eating fruits, vegetables and fish without worrying, then living in that region is not an option. Kyushu, geographically far, no veggies from n.e.Japan, fish from the Sea of Japan not from the pacific, looks like a good place to enjoy life in Japan without second guessing every meal as if you’re taking your life in your hands. So yes, I think staying in that region is I’ll advised and you shouldn’t be lulled to sleep b how normal everyone is trying to act.

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