Leslie Hoy (back centre) and his family live in Tokyo. He describes life in the country during the disaster and its aftermath.

Life in Japan post-disaster

While Tokyo and the Fort might be far apart, a recent connection brought them together.

Leslie Hoy lives in Tokyo, Japan, but spent many summers in the Fort growing up. His father was born in Fort St. James in 1927, and was the son of the late David Hoy, for whom the elementary school is named.

Leslie Hoy’s immediate family was living in Williams Lake when he was a young boy, but he began spending his summers in the Fort after his mother was killed when he was seven years old. His father worked for the forest service and was usually very busy in the summers due to forest fires.

So Leslie would spend the fire season in Fort St. James with his aunt and uncle, Di and Bob Hoy.

From eight years old until 15, Leslie lived and worked summers in the Fort, and he recalls how he worked with David Hoy for his logging operations, even returning a few summers after he went to university.

“I always remember the camping trips through the lakes,” recalled Hoy, describing one particular memory in which, while he was laying on a beach watching the stars, a giant moose was standing right beside him.

“It was kind of an interesting experience, I don’t think I’ll ever forget that, especially when you live in Tokyo,” he says.

His connection to Japan began when Hoy was pursuing higher education and studied in Japan for his master’s degree and PhD.  He first went to the country in 1984, and then returned in 1992, and has been in Tokyo ever since. He now works for the UK-based bank Barclay’s doing Japanese equities.

His family was in the city when the recent disastrous earthquake and nuclear power plant explosions occurred.

In a conversation with The Courier, Hoy describes what  life has been like since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant explosions.

 

Where were you when the quake hit?

 

I was in Hong Kong on business while it hit. My wife and two children were at home hiding under the kitchen table because it was by far the biggest earthquake that (my wife has) ever experienced.    There have been close to 1,000 aftershocks. I don’t think (my wife) slept for a week. Every time the house shook you wanted to get up and run out or get ready to leave if necessary. That was quite a thing.

 

What happened immediately after the earthquake struck? Were people in Tokyo worried or did things carry on as usual at first?

 

 

I know the first night, people at work were basically stuck in the office. The ones that were able to walk home, could walk home.

 

The company did also, fortunately, have some supplies. Some people slept in the office, some people were able to get hotel rooms, and basically wait until the next morning when things cleared up.

 

Some people walked seven or eight hours to get home and the streets were just full of people because none of the cars were moving.

The week afterwards…. a lot of companies asked people to stay home, because the trains weren’t running at full schedule. So, the week after, the city of Tokyo, it wasn’t a ghost town, but definitely it was much less crowded than it ever has been.

 

Did you feel like you were getting lots of information updating you on the nuclear power plant situation?

Ya, the first couple days I think were sporadic, and then we saw a lot more coming out in terms of what was happening. I think the problem with the information flow is that…. the electric power company and the government themselves did not know exactly what happened because they were not able to get into the reactor and check it out.

I think in terms of radiation levels in Tokyo, I think there’s been a pretty open monitoring process. The NHK…. the national broadcasting corporation, they actually have very regular updates with regards to this.

The problem with the nuclear industry in Japan has always been that people have been lied to so much in the past, there’s been lots of cover-ups. And so there’s been a lingering skepticism amongst the population with regards to nuclear power information disclosure. That’s something which is still a huge concern.

Are you considering returning to Canada at all?

I would say that about 80 per cent of the other non-Japanese that I know either left Tokyo or got their families out -to other parts of Japan or even out of the country and I think there was just the fear factor and the uncertainty.

Interestingly, this week a lot of people have started coming back as well. It does look like things are normalizing, although people are still concerned about the nuclear issue.

Basically, my older sister Brenda…. I did phone her and she is asking the local elementary schools around where she is (Nanaimo) if there’s a chance that we could put our two boys into school if need be. Just that if we need to get out you know we want to have somewhere where they can continue school.

There was concern that they were going to close the school, but they did reopen (it). Part of our decision to stay was also based on the decision of the school because basically they get their information from all of the embassies here in Japan, including the American embassy and the Canadian embassy and the British embassy.

How long were you planning on being in Japan -ie. has the disaster affected your plans at all?

I think we could be here indefinitely. I don’t think it’s effected our plans to stay in Japan necessarily although it does raise questions about long-term, whether or not Japan is going to be able to get through this. Particularly a lot of industrial production has been really damaged by the electricity outages. That may encourage more companies to go overseas. It may encourage more global companies to source from more non-Japanese suppliers, etc. I’m not sure if that will have a long term impact on the economy or not. But it has certainly raised a lot of questions there.

And I still love Canada and I still think I would like my kids to live there for some years. At some point, yes.

Career-wise for me it’s very difficult for me to sort of pick up the bags and go but who knows, the opportunity may arise for me to go back to Canada at some point in the future.

 

What kind of issues have you and your family experienced since the disaster? Have there been shortages or many changes to daily life?

The only issue was there was a little bit of hoarding of things like gasoline, but now basically all of the gasoline stations are back to  normal.

There was hoarding of water after the radiation scare, and that continues, where most stores are putting on restrictions for water.

For ourselves, we had about two weeks supply. Everyone is encouraged to keep a stock of emergency supplies. For whatever reasons we’ve always had sort of a stock that every year we replenish.

We didn’t have any problems in terms of water and I think there’s been, in terms of daily life, because of the power outages, a lot of public facilities that are not vital have shut down. For example the local pool has been shut down until the end of March.

My children’s tennis classes…. there’s a threat that they won’t be able to continue in the night because the lights are not on.

Other than that, there hasn’t been too many changes. Things have slowed down a little bit, but it hasn’t been too radical, it hasn’t been necessarily painful.

Because Tokyo is such an immensely convenient city, I think on a relative basis, people feel inconvenienced, but I think if you’ve lived in other places around the world, I think it’s still a very convenient place to live and very safe.

There wasn’t any big looting or any riots in the city. Everyone was very calm.

The actual environment itself has not really changed as a result of this.

I was very impressed at the civility of everybody and how people have worked together.

Everyone was asked to save electricity and they did. Even though there has been talk of daily rolling blackouts, there’s only been a couple days when the electric power company has been forced to turn off power in parts of the city, and that’s basically because everybody has done their part to reduce electricity.

I think it’s quite impressive how sane and how civilized people have remained amongst this.

Right now, there’s just two big concerns that people still have. One of course is that they get that nuclear power plant under control because it is still in a critical place where they don’t have a long term solution in terms of keeping the fuel rods cool and they still have a huge amount of nuclear radiation in the water and in the soil that needs to be cleaned up and that is something that could be a very long term process.

In terms of electricity, I think we’ll find ways to get around the electricity problem, but it does change things. Japan has had a relatively cheap source of power because of the nuclear power here, now this is probably going to change things.

Because there’s very little natural resources, they’ll have to find other means to get the electricity supply, which is vital for industry and vital for daily life.

 

Has the disaster changed your perspective at all?

I think it just sort of reinforces the fact that it’s always good to have close family and friends and a network that you can be with in times of duress.

Japan was facing a lot of issues before the earthquake, particularly with the fiscal situation and I do think this is going to reinforce this difficulty because they’re going to need money for the reconstruction. So, from a personal perspective…. I just think that if nothing else, I’m just happy that my family is all safe and sound.

And I realize that even without the comforts that we’ve become accustomed to, you can get around it. As long as everyone’s safe and healthy it’s easy to get around some of the discomforts that you’re facing.

What message do you want to send to friends and family still living in Canada and The Fort?

I think that our family has been very very close in terms of the family network, and holding things together, and focus on family has been a strong part of our entire extended family both in the Fort and people that live outside the Fort.

 

I just hope that everyone is well and let them know that we’re doing fine and thinking of you and we will be back to watch the stars with the moose again at some point and look forward to it.