Reporter Recalls Covering Japanese Quake, Tsunami
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
NPR's John Burnett recently completed a three-week assignment in Japan, and he took some time to share with us the strongest impressions he'll take home with him.
JOHN BURNETT: I mean, think of a wave that hit in this one northern community up there, 124 feet tall was the height of the tsunami that the University of Tokyo researchers measured. That's taller than a 10-story building. The damage that this has done, I've never seen anything like it before, Michele.
NORRIS: Beyond the devastation of land, property, towns wiped out, what about the people you met? How are those who survived this holding up?
BURNETT: But people are holding up remarkably well. The Japanese really embody this concept of gaman, of endurance.
NORRIS: Is it something that they reach for almost by default, but in this moment, do they have to, sort of, try very hard to hold on to that? Is it something that they're clinging to, to help them survive?
BURNETT: I wouldn't say so. I mean, I think it comes organically. It's who they are. And they also understand tsunamis and they understand earthquakes in a profound way. Grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers have told them about the disaster that was wrought by these earlier great waves, so, you know, here we go again.
NORRIS: How much do people talk about the concerns over radiation exposure?
BURNETT: The relationship between the Japanese people and TEPCO, Tokyo Electric Power Company, which owns the nuclear plants, has really worn thin. And I think some Japanese are not trusting what they're hearing from the government and from TEPCO anymore in terms of radiation exposure.
NORRIS: John, I've got to let you go, but I have one last question for you. One of the reasons we wanted to talk to you is often when reporters leave a big story, there are certain things that stay in their notebook, things that they didn't quite get to. Is there a story that you wanted to report that you just didn't have time to get to?
BURNETT: There was. There was the story of a mayor in a city called Rikuzentakata who lost his wife in the tsunami, and he had to decide whether he was going to be the chief executive of his city and oversee its evacuation and continue to be the mayor, or was he going to run home and warn his wife and try to save her. And he stayed at city hall. And his house was on the seaside and his wife drowned. And he's living with that enormous weight of the choice that he made when the tsunami hit. And I'd heard about his story, and I wished I could have talked to him.
NORRIS: John, thank you very much. Thank you for your work. And thanks for making time for this.
BURNETT: It's my pleasure, Michele.
NORRIS: That was NPR's John Burnett.
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