Visit from Japan

Jeff vonKaenel

Natural disasters are frightening, but when you have loved ones involved, they become even scarier. That was the experience my wife and I had when the March 11 earthquake hit Japan. Deborah’s brother Michael, his wife and their two girls live in Chiba, a prefecture near Tokyo. Seeing the horrific photos coming out of Japan, and knowing that their home was near the coast, the phone calls began to make sure they were OK.

They were, thank God. Although Michael was distressed by the devastation wrought by the tsunami, he was calm. After explaining that his family was safe and there was no damage in his neighborhood, he was more interested in talking about his upcoming book on go. Michael is a world-class, professional go player, and Deborah is helping him design his book cover. We stopped worrying about his family for a while. But then the word came out about the nuclear plants damaged by the earthquake.

Nuclear-plant explosions and radioactivity are worrisome. From our house in Sacramento, we spent hours looking at the latest updates on Japan’s nuclear plants. And plans were immediately drawn up to get Michael’s teenage daughters out of Japan. Flights were hard to arrange, and expensive. But in a few days Emi, 18, and Yumi, 14, were on their way to the United States.

The charming young women, whose English is quite good, had a 10-day American holiday at Aunt Judith’s organic farm in the Capay Valley. But all too soon, it was time to go home. The school year in Japan starts next week, and they were both anxious to begin classes. Seeing that the nuclear situation had not resolved itself, we wished that the girls could stay longer. But they had to get on a plane and go back to their life in Japan, with or without increased radioactivity.

The desire to keep children safe is so natural. The potential danger of radioactivity and earthquakes seems to naturally encourage a protective response. But, I had to wonder: If we have such protective instincts for these immediate dangers, why aren’t we more concerned about the even greater dangers that loom ahead?

In all likelihood, American coal plants will hurt more kids than Japanese nuclear plants this year, but we cannot get a carbon tax passed in Congress. Our automobile addiction is significantly increasing our kids’ asthma rate, but we don’t approve money for public transportation. Plastic—both bags and packaging—are destroying our oceans and will survive almost as long as nuclear waste, but we haven’t approved a tax on plastic bags. It seems incredible to me that we could destroy our kids’ future with our inability to take action.

We love our kids. Our instincts demand that we do everything possible for them. When we put them on the airplane to the future, let’s make sure they have a safe landing.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.