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Western Japan far away but not unaffected

Residents on west coast of Japan gather news from TV and ponder how to help.

Others from the Kobe area were also distressed to hear about an earthquake similar to what they experienced 16 years ago. Naoko Okada, a 23-year-old Kobe native, was in elementary school when the Great Hanshin quake crippled her city. “I understand how it feels,” she said. “When I watch the news of this disaster, it reminds me of first grade.”

Like many Japanese people living in regions that were not affected by last week’s earthquake and tsunami, she said she wants to help, but doesn’t know what she can do.

Naoki Togawa, an Osaka resident, also experienced the destruction and subsequent re-building of Kobe first-hand. He said the first 72 hours after the quake are the most critical. “Now is the time to find survivors and save people,” he said.

He said people who live in Kobe and nearby cities should help with the recovery and organize a volunteer effort. “The people in our area know the procedure because of the Great Hanshin earthquake.”

Frustration and depression hits Japan

Nozomi Ikeno, a teacher in Osaka, said she felt guilty to lead her normal life when so many are suffering in northeastern Japan. “We are thinking of anything we can do for them, but we cannot find much to do at the moment, so we feel frustrated,” she said.

She has also decided to save electricity when she found out about major power outages in the affected areas. “My friend in Akita prefecture [in northern Japan] had a blackout all night the day of the earthquake,” Ikeno said.

With phone lines down throughout the affected region, many are using email, Facebook and Twitter to send updates. On Monday, Facebook circulated an official message to Facebook users in Japan about scheduled blackouts in Tokyo and nearby regions. The message described three-hour-long blackouts in several prefectures and irregular train service in Tokyo.

Residents here want to try to help affected areas by using less electricity, although it's not certain whether these measures will help. “I’m saving electricity by not using it at all. I’m not turning on anything,” said 18-year-old Miyu Nomura inside a shopping center near Kanazawa. Nomura said she will begin college next month in nearby Niigata prefecture, an area that was badly damaged by the earthquake. Her mother and grandmother stood next to her, and explained how they were worried about sending their daughter to an area that is still experiencing serious aftershocks.

People in other parts of Japan are depressed, shocked and saddened by the news, especially since they are unable to travel to the epicenter and help with the rescue. “Watching the television made me very sad, and I heard the damage was getting worse and worse,” Ikeno said.

Many are also scared what will happen next. Fear of more earthquakes and radiation around nuclear power plants has worried people all over the country.

“This is a major catastrophe in Japan," said Naoki Togawa of Osaka. "The entire country is in jeopardy.”

Monica Narang contributed reporting from Osaka.