We have all been reading and listening to the news reports coming from Japan in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.

Thankfully, all the members of Edelman Japan and their families, some of whom are located in the disaster areas, are safe and well.

However, we also recognize the scale of the devastation in the country and the need for aid moving forward. In response to the outpouring of support and offers to help that we have received from Edelman employees around the world, we set up a matching Edelman Foundation/employee contribution fund through the Red Cross for victims in Japan. We have committed to matching up to $50,000 of employee donations to the relief fund.

The president of Edelman Japan, Ross Rowbury, has been sending regular updates to our staff regarding the situation on the ground and the operations of our Tokyo office. I have been inspired every day by our staff in Japan who continue to work diligently – whether coming into the office or working from home – to meet client engagements and other commitments across our global network. They are demonstrating top-notch efforts to ensure that we maintain our operations even during this challenging time. Their dedication is admirable and appreciated. Our thoughts and support remain with them during these challenging times. I encourage everyone to do what they can to support those in need.

From Ross Rowbury, President, Edelman Japan:

When I was asked to write a few words about the present situation in Tokyo, I was initially reluctant to take on this task as the hardships we are experiencing in Tokyo are nothing compared to the unfathomable hardships being faced by the 500,000 or so people in the worst affected areas. Even in Tokyo, it is difficult for us to imagine the difficulties those people must be suffering. It seems almost like an affront to the spirit of those people trying to survive every day to talk about the hardships of life in Tokyo. The hearts and prayers of every single person in Tokyo are with those who have been worst affected by this disaster. However, if a few words from someone on the ground helps people to better understand what is going on here, then I believe it is something that I should do.

When the earthquake hit, the majority of our staff were on the seventh floor of our office building in central Tokyo. While this was probably the largest earthquake many of us had ever experienced, I was surprised by the lack of panic and the level of control shown by our people as they hid under desks and held on to each other. Once the shaking was over our biggest shock was that the phone system failed to work. People had no way of contacting families and loved ones by phone or text for at least four hours. Once we were finally able to make contact and establish that all our people and their families were safe, staff began to make the journey to their homes. The sight of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Tokyoites walking through the night to their homes with absolutely no panic was, I think, reassuring to all of us. Some of our staff had walks of up to six hours to get to their homes.

There appears to be very little physical damage in Tokyo itself. However, six days after the initial quake the reality of the disaster is beginning to set in.

We are still facing a couple of large aftershocks a day. As a result of the damage to a number of coal fired and nuclear power stations by the earthquake and resultant tsunami, Japan’s electric power production capability has been reduced by a massive 25% or 10 million kilowatt hours. The government has instigated planned rolling electric blackouts in the Tokyo suburbs and surrounding areas. In some areas, blackouts are up to three or four hours a day. Having an aftershock in the night when you only have candles to rely on can be a very worrying experience – particularly if you need to care for small children or the elderly.

These fears have been compounded by concerns over the status of the nuclear power stations in the disaster area. The most disturbing aspect of this for us on the ground has been the irresponsible circulation of false information over the Web and chain mails and the sensationalization of the issue by some of the media. Particularly on Wednesday, the degree of concern and stress caused to the citizens of Tokyo by misinformation reached a peak.

Aftershocks, electricity blackouts and concerns over radiation have led to many people trying to stock up on essentials. Due to damaged infrastructure or lack of electric power, the supply of such essentials is being negatively impacted. Gasoline and heating oil is virtually impossible to buy. Supermarkets and convenience stores are for the most part devoid of daily essentials such as first aid kits, toilet paper and tissue paper. Shelves usually stocked with bread, rice, noodles and water are empty. As many stores are only turning on essential power to co-operate with the government’s call to conserve power, there is an eerie sense that you are not really in Tokyo when you enter one of these barren, dark stores.

Despite these hardships, the Japanese in Tokyo are remarkably calm. Even with food and gasoline shortages, there have been no reports of looting or fighting. At a gas station near home which is rationing but still pumping, drivers sit quietly in the queue awaiting their turn. When the station closes in the evening they get out of their cars, leaving them in the queue, and go home only to return calmly the next day to wait again.

Except for those living in blackout areas where commuting to work is extremely difficult, the majority of our staff have been battling the odds and coming into work to bravely try and maintain our service to clients in the face of these difficulties. However, the longer than usual commutes, aftershocks, lack of sleep and high stress levels over the situation with the nuclear power plants have understandably been taking their toll. We have now given staff the option of working from home if they so desire. Many other companies have taken this same action over the course of this week. Some of our staff have preferred to come into the office and continue working as usual rather than spend time at home watching all the news on the television.

These are certainly unprecedented times of hardship for all affected by this dreadful tragedy. Thank you to all those people from around the world who have reached out with prayers and words of concern and support and financial assistance. I can assure you that your actions are appreciated and are helping us all to get through the day.

However, despite all the hardship, we are seeing the rebirth of a community spirit that seemed to get lost over the past decade. People are taking the time to greet each other in their neighborhoods and office buildings – people whom they previously might not even have noticed. It is usually just a simple “How are you doing?” This question is never answered with complaints or words of hardship – but instead, “Thank you, we are doing okay.” Upon parting there is always the exchange of a smile and the words “ganbarimashou” (Let’s beat this together).

Richard Edelman