OK, so this is my food blog, but this is so important that I am posting this on here as well as my personal blog.
This is a difficult post to write, and please be aware that these are just my perceptions from living in Japan and from what I see on the news here and internationally. Although aware through my own research and living here, I am not a scientist or an expert on the current situation, but I don't think the true picture is completely apparent outside of Japan.
It's been over two weeks, and in some ways I think the timing of this post is right. For me, I'm starting to grasp more of the enormity and reality of it all and could only now write this. Perhaps for many people outside of Japan the initial horror has passed, and it's just another news item.
I think that in the last week, the focus on international media (and even domestic media to a lesser extent) relating to Japan has shifted from the devastation in northern Japan, to nuclear power plant and radiation worries internationally. Of course the nuclear power plant situation in Japan is a very serious concern, and has added to the number of evacuees and problems of food supply, not mention the large number of workers and their families. However outside of the 20km zone, airborne levels are low. For example in Tokyo, about 240km from the Fukushima power plant, after a very brief alarming spike they are currently at 0.11uSV/hour - higher than normal in Tokyo http://www.mext.go.jp/component/english/__icsFiles/afieldfile/2011/03/28/1304324_2819.pdf but still well under the international average of 0.27uSv/hour (based on an average background radiation of 2.4mSv/year). Outside of Japan, increases are minute (for example about one millionth of what you would get in normal daily background radiation). This fortunately isn't another Chernobyl.
The devastation in northern Japan hasn't gone away, even if the focus on the news has. Pictures in the news show the remarkable transformation of a major road with a great chasm after the earthquake - six days on you'd never know. Businesses are starting to relocate and get back on their feet. This enables some supplies to get through to the affected region. These stories are great. But the reality is that whilst things are looking better, they are still not good. Food, water, basic supplies and medicine are starting to get through now, but the diet is poor because non-perishable foods have to be used. As at March 22nd 320,000 evacuees are staying at about 2,100 shelters. The risk of contagious disease such as flu is high. http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2011/03/80009.html. The landscape is still flattened.
There is a still a lack of basic supplies, electricity and heat in many areas. It is still very cold. This means that people, especially the sick and elderly are still dying having survived an earthquake and tsunami. This is correctly described as Japan's worst disaster since World War 2. This page shows a translated interview with some local people. http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/japan/110322/japan-rebuilding-tsunami-earthquake-ofunato-iwate
It seems that many people feel that because Japan is a rich technologically advanced country, people don't believe that they need donations so much. Yet the United States is also a rich technologically advanced country and they received substantially more donations in the first week after Hurricane Katrina. http://money.cnn.com/2011/03/18/pf/japan_earthquake_aid/index.htm.
Often people donate in the first week whilst the emerging images are so strong.
Japan always donates generously to disaster relief funds, again for example Hurricane Katrina http://www.america.gov/st/washfile-english/2005/September/20050915165123ajesrom9.768313e-02.html and now Japan needs help to rebuild itself.
The northern area of Japan, especially the coastal areas, is not the richest region. If a situation like this were to happen in the UK, then international help would be needed. Japan is no different. I think that people see videos and pictures on television and see people behaving in a quiet ordered manner without asking for help, and assume that help isn't needed. There has been little looting in Japan, people tend to be more honest. The culture in Japan is often to endure quietly and to try to resolve your own problems, not to ask for help. The 'stiff upper lip' reputation of the British is more apparent in the 'gaman' of Japan. Just because people don't ask for help, doesn't mean that we shouldn't give it. Money is always needed for rebuilding no matter how developed a nation is. Rebuilding homes, services, companies and lives.
Donations are the best way to help, so that the relief agencies can spend it on what is needed most. The Red Cross in your own country will have a donation fund for the Japan Earthquake/Tsunami and is a good way to help. This is the key aid agency organising support in Japan. They will ensure that the money is used efficiently and, in the event that it can't be used efficiently in Japan, they will use the money for other countries that need it even more.
In Britain http://www.redcross.org.uk (online, or by phone or post), or you can use Google Checkout to pay via the Google Crisis Response site http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html
In Japan there are many more options which will get aid to the right place. Almost every convenience store and supermarket has a box, many legitimate charities including Second Harvest http://www.2hj.org/, but again you can donate on the Red Cross website http://www.jrc.or.jp/english/index.html
You can also donate by buying the Songs for Japan on iTunes for GBP7.99, $10 or 1500yen - all proceeds go to the Japanese Red Cross.