People have been writing back to our family, mostly with support, but also with some questions. I hope this will help.
How far are you from the nuclear plants?
We live west and south of Tokyo. Kawasaki is like Oak Brook to Chicago, or Englewood to Denver. Kawasaki is wedged in between Tokyo and Yokohama, splitting the two with the narrow point at Tokyo Bay, where all the factories are, and the wider part up the river, mostly residential where we live. The nuclear plants are in Fukushima, north and east, just south of Sendai, about 300 km (180 miles) from Tokyo. So we are about 200 miles away from the coast of Fukushima (good map).
Is the Japanese government trustworthy?
When it comes to nuclear accidents, the track record is not very good. Facts were stretched, and important information not disclosed. But that was when Japan had a one-party system (Liberal Democrats..who are very conservative). A second party (Social Democrats…who are not too popular because they have gone back on some promises to support families with kids) is now in power, and has taken a new view toward information. The Assistant Prime Minister Edano has been unfailing in keeping the country up to date so far. I think the Japanese public understand that this is an unprecedented situation, but they do have trust in the government.
Are people leaving Japan in droves?
Although the airports are full, this is normal for this time of year. The school year just finished, and spring vacation means a great exodus anyway. Those fleeing the zones of destruction tend to visit relatives or friends in other parts of Japan. Foreigners are leaving in greater than usual numbers. The UK and Australia are advising movement away from the areas of destruction, but only within Japan. The US is the only one sponsoring flights out of the country for government workers and citizens (to Taiwan, on an Army transport plane, and you have to pay them back at commercial rates). Flights out are from Narita, Tokyo’s international airport (3 hours by train toward the destruction for us), or Nagoya (2 hours away).

When you have electricity, can you point your fans to blow the radiation north and west to cover North Korea?
Good idea.

Do your ATMs take coins?
They certainly do. I went into the bank proper and talked to a real person, a nice young lady (half of our graduates used to become bank clerks), and they took care of my coins. The one bank had their computers down (maybe we should call Jeff Brazel at TierTwo), but all the other banking, finance, stock markets, retail stores and services are trying to get back to normal, with the only thing holding them back are the 3-hour blackouts. So they make announcements “Ladies and Gentlemen, please proceed to the exit, we will be closing in 10 minutes because of blackout.” People are cooperative here. Note that there are 2 main electric grids in Japan. Western Japan (Osaka and west) run on 110v and 60 cycles like the US. Eastern Japan (Tokyo and north) run on 110v and 50 cycles. (US made clocks run slow here in Tokyo.) So the blackouts are mostly in the Tokyo area.

Do you think you might leave if it gets worse?
All three of us are on break between school years. We’ve talked about hopping down to Guam, but just want to wait and see for now. We feel that the probability of any radiation of significant strength making it all the way to Tokyo is close to zero. Up north, that is another story. My friends living just west of Fukushima city moved away for now, just in case. There is one family I know who I can’t get a hold of. Our university has a small retreat facility about 50 miles away from the nuclear facility. They were thinking about selling it last year…too late now.

Was there mismanagement at the nuclear facilities?
The facilities were built up over the years, with the first one being installed by GE, and others by other companies like Toshiba. Tokyo Electric has followed all the government regulations. The 50 guys staying on are seen as heroes right now, and are a result of the Prime Minister putting pressure on Tokyo Electric. The plants may have been constructed too close together. There is a saying here in Japan, “Fix the problem before you fix the blame.” We are still in the first stage on that one.

Is it deserted there?
Even though all the businesses are up and running in Tokyo, the blackouts and uncertainty have caused a great reduction of normal living activity. I liken it to New Year’s here. You wake up on the morning of Jan. 1, eat a very nice (but cold) breakfast and drink some rice wine, and then hang out for 3 days, sitting under the short heated table with a blanket and watch really boring foot races, and contemplate the past year and the year ahead. You eat a lot of tangerines (in season and delicious), and more of the cold food (so the women don’t have to cook). You might venture out to the local hot bath place in the afternoon, but stay at home otherwise. It is kind of like that here. The constant Earthquake coverage on TV is now yielding back to the silly contest shows and melodramatic series. Trains are back up and running at about half the frequency of normal. People will be going out soon.

Are you getting on each other’s nerves?

Maki had us tape up all the windows, then after a shower opens the bathroom to get the steam out. There was a booming sound the other day with the wind, so I had to go buy a fricking ladder and climb up on the roof to see if there might be something loose. I have discovered I don’t really like heights any more. I fall off, try to find an ambulance? Ha. Julia continues to drop her coat on the floor, mistaking it for a hangar. Julia and Maki insist on getting Dexter the cat a harness and leash, and torturing him to try it out in case he needs to go out if there is an earthquake. Me: He’s not a dog. There won’t be enough time to get that on if there is an earthquake. He’s not a toy. Sheesh. Julia: Yeah, but at least we should have some fun preparing for a nuclear explosion.

And complaints from everybody at home. Not out in public, mind you, but at home. Just have to remember we have it really good compared to the people up north. We feel lucky.

How can we help?

There are a lot of organizations out there that are lending support to Japan right now. There are also a lot of fake places accepting money. Stick to the ones you know. Doctors without Borders has been mentioned. While most of the local information is in Japanese, there is ourteacher’s organization that is organizing support on many levels.

Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel?

We are all hoping for a resolution to the nuclear problem soon, and it looks like the reactors are cooling, finally. But the overall effects will be felt for weeks, months and even years. But they are not insurmountable.

Well, better get this off. It is getting dark, and the power will be cut 6-9 tonight. Reading by flashlight under the covers in order. Makes me feel like a kid again. Tomorrow will be in the 70’s. Maybe time try out the new Weber.