Letter from Fukushima: A Vietnamese-Japanese Police Officer’s Account

Letter from Fukushima: A Vietnamese-Japanese Police Officer’s Account

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Editor’s note: This letter, written by a Vietnamese immigrant working in Fukishima as a policeman to a friend in Vietnam, has been circulating on Facebook among the Vietnamese diaspora. It is an extraordinary testimony to the strength and dignity of the Japanese spirit, and an interesting slice of life near the epicenter of Japan’s current crisis, the Fukushima nuclear power plant. It was translated by NAM editor, Andrew Lam, author of East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres. His first book, Perfume Dreams, Reflections on the Vietnamese DIaspora won a 2006 Pen Award. 

 
 
Brother,

How are you and your family? These last few days, everything was in chaos. When I close my eyes, I see dead bodies. When I open my eyes, I also see dead bodies. Each one of us must work 20 hours a day, yet I wish there were 48 hours in the day, so that we could continue helping and rescuing folks.
 
We are without water and electricity, and food rations are near zero. We barely manage to move refugees before there are new orders to move them elsewhere.
 
I am currently in Fukushima, about 25 kilometers away from the nuclear power plant. I have so much to tell you that if I could write it all down, it would surely turn into a novel about human relationships and behaviors during times of crisis.
 
The other day I ran into a Vietnamese-American. His name is Toan. He is an engineer working at the Fukushima 1 nuclear plant, and he was wounded right at the beginning, when the earthquake struck. With the chaos that ensued, no one helped him communicate with his family. When I ran into him I contacted the US embassy, and I have to admit that I admire the Americans’ swift action: They sent a helicopter immediately to the hospital and took him to their military base.
 
But the foreign students from Vietnam are not so lucky. I still haven't received news of them. If there were exact names and addresses of where they work and so on, it would be easier to discover their fate. In Japan, the police do not keep accurate residential information the way they do in Vietnam, and privacy law here makes it even more difficult to find.

I met a Japanese woman who was working with seven Vietnamese women, all here as foreign students. Their work place is only 3 kilometers from the ocean and she said that they don’t really understand Japanese. When she fled, the students followed her, but when she checked back they were gone. Now she doesn't know if they managed to survive. She remembers one woman’s name: Nguyen thi Huyen (or Hien).
 
No representatives from the Vietnamese embassy have shown up, even though on the Vietnamese Internet news sites they claim to be very concerned about Vietnamese citizens in Japan - all of it a lie.
 
Even us policemen are going hungry and thirsty, so can you imagine what those Vietnamese foreign students are going through? The worst things here right now are the cold, the hunger and thirst, the lack of water and electricity.

People here remain calm - their sense of dignity and proper behavior are very good - so things aren’t as bad as they could be. But given another week, I can’t guarantee that things won't get to a point where we can no longer provide proper protection and order. They are humans after all, and when hunger and thirst override dignity, well, they will do whatever they have to do. The government is trying to provide air supply, bringing in food and medicine, but it’s like dropping a little salt into the ocean.
 
Brother, there are so many stories I want to tell you - so many, that I don’t know how to write them all. But there was a really moving incident. It involves a little Japanese boy who taught an adult like me a lesson on how to behave like a human being:
 
Last night, I was sent to a little grammar school to help a charity organization distribute food to the refugees. It was a long line that snaked this way and that and I saw a little boy around 9 years old. He was wearing a t-shirt and a pair of shorts.
 
It was getting very cold and the boy was at the very end of the line. I was worried that by the time his turn came there wouldn’t be any food left. So I spoke to him.

He said he was in the middle of PE at school when the earthquake happened. His father worked nearby and was driving to the school. The boy was on the third floor balcony when he saw the tsunami sweep his father’s car away. I asked him about his mother. He said his house is right by the beach and that his mother and little sister probably didn’t make it. He turned his head and wiped his tears when I asked about his relatives.
 
The boy was shivering so I took off my police jacket and put it on him. That’s when my bag of food ration fell out. I picked it up and gave it to him. “When it comes to your turn, they might run out of food. So here’s my portion. I already ate. Why don’t you eat it.”
 
The boy took my food and bowed. I thought he would eat it right away, but he didn't. He took the bag of food, went up to where the line ended and put it where all the food was waiting to be distributed. I was shocked. I asked him why he didn’t eat it and instead added it to the food pile …
 
He answered: “Because I see a lot more people hungrier than I am. If I put it there, then they will distribute the food equally.”
 
When I heard that I turned away so that people wouldn't see me cry. It was so moving -- a powerful lesson on sacrifice and giving. Who knew a 9-year-old in third grade could teach me a lesson on how to be a human being at a time of such great suffering? A society that can produce a 9- year-old who understands the concept of sacrifice for the greater good must be a great society, a great people.
 
It reminds me of a phrase that I once learned in school, a capitalist theory from the old man, Fuwa [Tetsuzo], chairman of the Japanese Communist Party: “If Marx comes back to life, he will have to add a phrase to his book, Capital, and that ‘Communist ideology is only successful in Japan.’”
 
Well, a few lines to send you and your family my warm wishes. The hours of my shift have begun again.
 
- Ha Minh Thanh
 

Comments

 
Anonymous

Posted Mar 19 2011

Why people are making the mountain out of the mole....The Japanese do that everyday, in their lives, at home, at school and in every aspect of l life you can imagine of. If this happen in Hanoi, then it will be news and shock...But in Japan, this is just way of life. Yes, it is culture and their values.

The Japanese do not teach the values, norms, and discipline by banner and slogans. They integrate the teachings into daily activities. It is simple....

Some countries thought they were smarter than the Japanese- they taught ethic, family values with much less expensive methods and approach. They teach with slogans and red banners hanging allover the country. For this kind of "street smart" approach, the Japanese is in no match and is nowhere near to be a competitor.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 19 2011

Why people are making the mountain out of the mole....The Japanese do that everyday, in their lives, at home, at school and in every aspect of l life you can imagine of. If this happen in Hanoi, then it will be news and shock...But in Japan, this is just a way of life. Yes, it is culture and their values.

The Japanese do not teach the values, norms, and discipline by banner and slogans. They integrate the teachings into daily activities. It is simple....

Some countries thought they were smarter than the Japanese- they taught ethic, family values with much less expensive methods and approach. They teach with slogans and red banners hanging allover the country and usually with the tactic of "DO WHAT I TOLD YOU, DO NOT DO WHAT YOU SEE". For this kind of "street smart" approach, the Japanese is in no match and is nowhere near to be a good and decent competitor.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 19 2011

Why people are making the mountain out of the mole....The Japanese do that everyday, in their lives, at home, at school and in every aspect of l life you can imagine of. If this happen in Hanoi, then it will be news and shock...But in Japan, this is just a way of life. Yes, it is culture and their values.

The Japanese do not teach the values, norms, and discipline by banner and slogans. They integrate the teachings into daily activities. It is simple....

Some countries thought they were smarter than the Japanese- they taught ethic, family values with much less expensive methods and approach. They teach with slogans and red banners hanging allover the country and usually with the tactic of "DO WHAT I TOLD YOU, DO NOT DO WHAT YOU SEE". For this kind of "street smart" approach, the Japanese is in no match and is nowhere near to be a good and decent competitor.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 19 2011

look like a fake story to me. anyone actually verify the accounts in the letter?

Anonymous

Posted Mar 19 2011

look like a fake story to me. anyone actually verify the accounts in the letter?

Anonymous

Posted Mar 20 2011

malaysian is such country with a lot of bullshit slogans of make belief. malaysian are liars and they are subhuman. They cannot match the japanese.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

Thank you for sharing this very humane letter...OUR HEARTS GO OUT TO ALL WHO ARE SUFFERING. None of can hold back the force of mother nature. This is going to be for the people of Japan avery long haul back housing ect.Who else has had an earthquake tsunami,nuclear disaster followed by snow,my heart bleeds for them.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

Please be kind, we should always share and learn good things to make the world better to live.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

Japanese are amazing people may God help them recover from this disaster and emerge as even stronger and successful nation.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

My name is Peter. I lived in Japan for 6 years.

I predict that this "letter" will be discovered to be a fraud. There are too many points that ring false, and I find portions of it as parts of other stories online.

Sorry folks, I call this one BS.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

Dear "Peter in Japan"

Please provide evidence that this is a false account.
If you watch nearly every news show in the US, England, Germany, and all other foreign news services, they all have shown the same thing - sacrifice of the individual for the common good.
Unless you believe there coverage has been a carefully constructed hoax, you can't provide a shred of evidence for your opinion.
You would also notice that there have been no accounts of looting, burglary or profiteering.
Please go troll somewhere else!

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

Hate to say it but this story (letter) doesn't ring true. I think its fake, although I do not doubt the intent. Twice I have spent time in Japan. The people there are amazing and my heart aches for their loses and the devistation.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

Do not criticized and BS too much, if you want to know the true please flight over to Japan to help and also to figure out.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

Do not criticized and BS too much, if you want to know the true please flight over to Japan to help and also to figure out.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

Do not criticized and BS too much, if you want to know the true please flight over to Japan to help and also to figure out.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

wow

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

asdf

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

beautiful story

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

Wow...broke my heart..wish things r getting better soon. Peace on earth! Kawasaki Ah.

kupkakekitty

Posted Mar 21 2011

true or not. people are suffering from hunger, cold, injuries...show some compassion and make a donation to a disaster relief.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

Very moving story. Everyone can learn from tnis.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

Very moving story. Everyone can learn from tnis.

kupkakekitty

Posted Mar 21 2011

whether this article is true or not. the fact is people are suffering from hunger, cold, injuries...show some compassion and make a donation to a disaster relief.

kupkakekitty

Posted Mar 21 2011

whether this article is true or not. the facit is people are suffering from hunger, cold, injuries...show some compassion and make a donation to a disaster relief.

kupkakekitty

Posted Mar 21 2011

whether this article is true or not. people are suffering from hunger, cold, injuries...show some compassion and make a donation to a disaster relief.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

My son is stationed in Japan. When he retires, he wants to live the rest of his life there. A respectful people, the Japanese. Not like the uncivilized, rude, disrespectful, selfish people we have here in the states.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

I find it funny that some people dont believe this story....Rather, i think the people who comment that it is a false story because at the end of the day...they lack the moral character and dignity within themselves. I would go farther to say that its these cynics that would probably lie cheat and steal their ways in light of a crisis. When I run into these people, I feel sorry for them that they were brought up this way and to view humanity in such a manner....Its a reflection of their weak egos which cannot process higher planes of truth and right. These same people would laugh at Jesus Christ for giving away bread or throw stones at him as he dragged his cross to be crucified...Unfortunately, I see them on a daily basis....Some even disguise themselves as being "good" people....

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

Real or not, the way this story portrays the disaster is accurate. Don't let the fact that Japan is a first world country fool you, lots of people are dead. Can you imagine your family being reduced to a bunch of dead corpses buried under rubble?

anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

My son is stationed in Japan. When he retires, he plans on living there.

The Japanese are respectful of others not like here in the U.S. Seems like a lot of people here are selfish, rude, discurteous, impatient and violent.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

I'm pretty sure this story is legit. What really convinced me was the part about the Vietnamese embassy failing to do its part. That's exactly how I would characterize the Vietnamese government, inept and slot.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 21 2011

No one question about the situation, condition or suffering of the victim of the multiple diasasters as well as the strongs ethics of the Japanese people. The point of the supposed author praise the supposed quick response of american to save a single American engineer as well as nonsense criticize vietnamese government made me think this is just a cheap propaganda of anticommunist Vietnamese in america. It is the resposible of the author/translator/publisher to verify the accuracy, not the reader. If I am witnessing such a diaster, I would try to help the victims, and thank god how lucky I am, not cheap attack on others.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 22 2011

this story makes me feel a human been. it is a lesson for us. very beautiful.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 22 2011

very buetifal stori, make me crey :'((((

i hope u r ok in japan xx

Anonymous

Posted Mar 22 2011

this comment are dissapoint me, they are having such bad grammer and spelling.

cannot people use the engilsh language correct today????

Anonymous

Posted Mar 22 2011

this comment are dissapoint me, they are having such bad grammer and spelling.

cannot people use the engilsh language correct today????

Anonymous

Posted Mar 23 2011

A truely humanity act that puts many people ashamed.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 23 2011

For those of you whose can read Vietnamese, this letter is not what the original author wrote, not sure Andrew Lam, the translator, translated from fake copy or he himself add his own opinion. If you google "tiến sĩ Hà Minh Thành", there a many results which you can read the original letter.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 24 2011

this is touch my heart.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 28 2011

There are parts of this story that are difficult to fathom and others that aptly depict the Japanese
as they are as people, a stoic culture, and a highly ordered society. Being Japanese American and being raised in a very traditional home environment and having spent much time in Japan for the past twenty years, I speak from an up close perspective.

From what I know, Immigrants can not work as Police Officers in Japan. This could be a big hole in the story.

On taking this story at face value, I like others who have spent time in Japan did read the story as being typical Japanese. I was in Kobe after their destructive earthquake and while they were telling foreigners to "stay out" as they were taking care of rebuilding the City, which they did in an incredible way and in an unheard of short period of time. Even though this was a Natural Disaster, Japan and the people of Kobe felt showing images of the damage, talking about the loss of life, or even discussing the economic demands of rebuilding life in Kobe would be something tantamount to an embarrassment...this is peculiar to the Japanese Culture and is not evident in any other Asian Culture. You have to spend some time in Japan to understand even the simplest of a cultured observance such as when cars come to an Intersection and stop, they turn off their headlights so as to not shine light on the other cars. I was reprimanded by my business associate for not doing this once.

If this story has been fabricated, no matter, as there are plenty of true stories via Japanese Coverage/television about the real face of the Japanese and how they are dealing with the Challenges of existing and getting from one day to another in the effected areas of Japan.

The Earthquake's Magnitude, the Devastation brought about by the Tsunami, and the multitude of issues brought about by the failures at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant are not just Japanese Stories. They are tragic lessons for all of us and ones from which we must learn and prepare our own families and communities for surviving a Catastrophic Event and managing in its aftermath.. .

Anonymous

Posted Mar 30 2011

Whether the story is true or false is not important, what's important is the message it's carrying. Isn't that we, human being are supposed to be doing just that.

Anonymous

Posted Mar 31 2011

Beautiful story about human nature. Unless children are brought up in a loving, giving environment, they will not learn to give and receive in a humble, human way. It is also loving the community that we live in and the community loving us in return. In British soceity today, everything is about 'me' not 'others'. Not peaceful demonstration but destructive vandalism which cost millions to put right.

Anonymous 28 Mar.

Anonymous

Posted Apr 1 2011

Has the original story been verified?

Anonymous

Posted Apr 3 2011

There are goog Nippons and there are bad Nippons.

The trouble is, the bad Nippons got to look after the TEPCO nuke plants and mess up what was already a catastrophe. A Japanese public servant ruefully said:

""This disaster is 60 percent man-made. They failed in their initial response. It's like Tepco dropped and lost a 100 yen coin while trying to pick up a 10 yen coin." - spiegel.de

[ http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,752704,00.html ]

Anonymous

Posted Apr 3 2011

There are good Nippons and there are bad Nippons.

The trouble is, the bad Nippons got to look after the TEPCO nuke plants and mess up what was already a catastrophe. A Japanese public servant ruefully said:

""This disaster is 60 percent man-made. They failed in their initial response. It's like Tepco dropped and lost a 100 yen coin while trying to pick up a 10 yen coin." - spiegel.de

[ http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,752704,00.html ]

Anonymous

Posted Apr 18 2011

why no shamed on you people you malign, because you no better than japanesis boy, you alien not from earth

Anonymous

Posted Apr 23 2011

A very heart-touching letter none-of-the-less.

Frankly, the dispute between this letter being real or fake is pathetic.

I can care less if its fake or not, this letter sends a message; from the woman who helped the 2 Vietnamese despite communication issues, to the acts of the unselfish 9 year old boy in japan.

Warm hearts to Japan

Anonymous

Posted Apr 23 2011

A very heart-touching letter none-of-the-less.

Frankly, the dispute between this letter being real or fake is pathetic.

I can care less if its fake or not, this letter sends a message; from the woman who helped the 2 Vietnamese despite communication issues, to the acts of the unselfish 9 year old boy in japan.

Warm hearts to Japan

Anonymous

Posted Apr 26 2011

It's only distributed equally if the people in line are equally hungry. The story sounded fine until the comment at the end. Makes one suspicious. I don't like seeing tragedies exploited.

Anonymous

Posted May 6 2011

Como centroamericanos, debemos aprender mucho de culturas tan elevadas, sin embargo, para ello requiere que todos y cada uno, pongamos nuestro mayor esfuerzo en participar y sentir del dolor ajeno. Animo, hermanos japoneses.

Anonymous

Posted May 7 2011

too good to be true

Anonymous

Posted May 9 2011

Speechless, I wish I can someday reach the level of this boy.................

Anonymous

Posted May 12 2011

this is too good to be true for non-japanese. but those who really know the japanese (unless you falsely claim you've been to japan), this is a very natural thing.

Anonymous

Posted May 13 2011

THE HUMAN MORAL COMPASS IS NOT EXTINCT YET --IT EXISTS SOMEWHWERE IN THE EAST......

Anonymous

Posted May 13 2011

Amazing

Anonymous

Posted May 20 2011

there is no end of learning...

Anonymous

Posted May 21 2011

really how well organized and sympathetic they are without meeting and living in Japan to one is imaginary.....may god bless them.....

Anonymous

Posted Jul 15 2011

I do not think that people in Japan live in such an awful condition...but it has no reason to be fake...a lot of people are suffering at the moment and I am sorry for this.I wonder if the government helped this pour boy...kisses from Greece

Anonymous

Posted Jul 28 2012

Who care the Japanese kill million Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese , Laos, Thai, Philippines, and hundred thousand of us troops in WWII this what they get it call karma let all hope for war world 3 so the USA drop another nuke on there ass.

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