Among the reasonably large Japanese population in Chennai, often dubbed Detroit of India, there is considerable anxiety.
They are glued to TV sets and the Net, as news from Japan continues to pour in, in a grim stream of horrific pictures and numbers.
Acting consul general for Japan in Chennai Takayuki Kitagawa spoke of his office receiving hundreds of goodwill mails and calls.
“On behalf of the government of Japan, I would like to thank the people. I also convey our gratitude to the Indian government for its gesture of sending blankets,” he said.
However, it is not the stoic Japanese but families of the considerable number of Indians working in Japan who have been making distress calls to the consulate, Kitagawa said, though Sumida Ward of Tokyo, where Indians are mostly concentrated, is comparatively unaffected.
These families are being given the hotline number of the Indian embassy in Tokyo. “We are stunned by the scale of the disaster that has wiped out whole towns in seconds,” Kitagawa said.
The chief problem was that nobody was able to get through to Japan on phone on the first two days after the disaster struck. There were no replies to emails, either.
“One woman has family in Iwate, one of the worse-hit areas, and she was very worried till finally she found out yesterday [on Monday] that they were safe,” Kitagawa said.
Junichi Nomoto, a 39-year-old teacher from Niigata, the prefecture next to Fukushima, the site of the latest nuclear blast, said, “I have two best friends in Fukushima. They are okay, but we are all very worried.”
He is returning to Japan in a week, and his students are collecting donations for him to carry back. It is chaos there, said Nomoto: “There is no gas, electricity, gasoline, or telephone connections.”
The Japanese population in Chennai is close to 500, with more than 200 Japanese companies. Nissan, Japan’s largest Chennai investment, also has the largest Japanese workforce of close to 200, with Panasonic, Toshiba, Hitachi, and Komatsu among others.
Relocation firm Global Adjustments handles close to 30 Japanese clients. Its head said the community was in shock. “One client has relations in Sendai. She said the damage to her hometown was too much to imagine.”
The community, happily involved as it is in Bollywood dance, cookery, Tamil language and other classes, is trying to come to grips with the devastation back home.
Said Sanae Nakamura, “I lived in Sendai for 12 years; I have friends there. They are okay, but nobody back home is able to talk about it.”
An obviously moved Nakamura spoke of how entire homes have been destroyed, but that she knew only few details. “Whether they are alive or not is the only issue; my friends cannot speak of anything else, they are asking ‘what is the use’,” she said.
The 58-year-old Akira Hatayama is from Omori prefecture, close to the epicentre. “We are very worried; we check the Internet all day for news. We cannot phone home.”
The Japanese community in Chennai is trying its best to stay calm and in touch with home. As Kitagawa said, “We watch TV; we cannot get quick news from anywhere else.”