Earthquake Update Day 43

People are uneasy here. The aftershocks continue unabated, now more than 1,000 since the big one March 11. We had 3 in one night, strong enough to wake us up. The epicenters are moving south, near Chiba, which is about 30 miles to the east of us. Fortunately, no significant damage has been reported. Our house, about 35 years old, is holding up all right. The spring rains have also come, and the school year has started up in most places. Julia spends a lot of time watching TV and reading.

One thing I do note, is that people are talking about their situation on the day of the quake. The topic of conversation quickly moves there, much like the “where were you when Kennedy was shot” kind of conversation. People are now making the before/after distinction, and although there are no big changes here in Tokyo, there are a lot of small changes. The streets are no longer lit by neon signs as much, and many of the escalators in the public transportation are turned off, all to save electricity. Right now there is enough power to go around, but come summer, with the load air conditioning puts on, it means there may be new blackouts. Tokyo Electric is ramping up their production, taking old coal-burners out of mothballs, and (more seriously) postponing scheduled maintenance on some nuclear powered plants. There is a small movement to try to shut down all the vending machines, which would reduce usage to manageable levels. Here is a before and after of downtown Shibuya near where I work.

Classes Day 1

I started school today. For my third-year students I have an activity where we look at how much each class session costs them. We divide tuition (about ¥1.2 million, or US$14,000) by the number of classes in a year (usually around 400, each 90 minutes). They usually guess pretty closely to the ¥3,000 ($35) price for each session. But then we add room and board (another ¥1 million) and lost opportunity costs. We define those as if they could work their part-time jobs 40 hours a week, instead of studying. That adds another ¥2.4 million, more than tripling the per-class cost to a total of more than ¥11,000. That is about $130 per 90-minute session. For each student. Sure, I explain they also get the office staff, the library, our Boston Campus, and 3 other retreat centers, the Career Advisory staff, etc, etc,. But they get the idea.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last too long. At the end of the class, I gave the students the option of using their laptop computers in class with our new wireless system, or the other option of a paper-only class. I told them web-based activities would be more  interesting, and that they could learn much more, and more quickly. Most thought that carrying their laptop into school was too much of a burden. So we are using paper. (I have 3 classes where they don’t get the option, they HAVE to bring their laptops. At least they will get some muscle tone.)

Because of the electric situation, we will be finishing our semester 2 weeks early, just ast he really hot weather kicks in, and the air conditioner usage surges, causing rolling blackouts (but not in our area). I think it may have been that the university saw everyone else getting a late start, and wanted to get in on the inaction. The students cheered when they heard the news. So we have both administration and students working the system to get something for nothing, or, more accurately, less for the same.

I find it so hard not to just go along.

Earthquake Day 21

The buds are plumping here in Tokyo ready to burst forth in their frothy cascade of pink and white effervescence, evanescent impermanence, tantalizing with their bouquet. The days warming, the nights still a little chill, but one of 3 bedcovers are folded up.

OK, OK, too poetic. But you get the idea. Spring has sprung. Or is about to.

The winds are now favoring us, but as the counts of sieverts (a German scientist) and bequerels (a French scientist) make me wonder how the Europeans measured, the Americans built and used, then spread the nuclear tool to countries like Japan. A worldwide concern, but in our back yard. We have the radio on most of the day, but pay little attention any more. It is easier for me, with the announcements in Japanese.

I scoff at the Goldman Sachs employees, so well paid, ready to flee, having to be ordered to stay here in town. No loyalty, only raw Darwinian economics, self-interest at the core. Did you know Adam Smith wrote a companion volume to his economic masterpiece, The Wealth of Nations? In a prequel, designed to lay the groundwork for Wealth, he set the stage with The Theory of Moral Sentiments. They should be read as a pair. The Goldman people, indeed many economic schools after Keynes have ignored the moral element of economics.

But enough of abstracts. Three weeks after the earthquakes, organizations like the 3,000 strong JALT (Japan Association for Language Teaching) has been able to find about three fourths of its 250 members in the quake affected area. Many groups are mounting donation drives, aware that as the media attention subsides, so does the money. This is slated to be the most costly disaster on record, in economic terms. The loss of life is only now hitting home here.

The biggest news for those of us in education is the change in schedules. My daughter goes to 6th-ranked Hosei University, and will have her spring vacation extended until after Golden Week, the break we take the first week of May. Many other schools are doing the same. Not mine, though. We start tomorrow. Some part-time teachers without as much anchor here have left, so there is a scramble to fill empty slots at the absolute last minute. I expect to have my class load increased. I don’t mind, but will have to watch that this not become an excuse for adding permanent responsibilities. Already there is talk of using the disaster to increase consumption taxes from 5% to 10%.

Fear and uncertainty are making everyone jumpy. I don’t look forward to the first day back.

Earthquake Day 13

For now, some bits and babs.

Woke up this morning and almost got shook out of bed by another earthquake. Late afternoon, another small shake. Learning to live with this daily wobble is difficult. The shake this morning put the kitchen door out of whack, so it won’t close. Have to get the sander out and shave down the door. Maybe that is what got Maki stuck in the bathroom while I was gone.
Good news is that the radiation level in the water has dropped so babies can drink from the faucet (but only if they can reach it). We were supposed to have 3 hours blackout this afternoon, but that was cancelled (yeah!). But it is looking like these blackouts will continue for at least a year. Summer is going to be really sticky…will have to plan to be at school. The grid is being refined now for the blackout groups, with the number rising from 5 to 25 so they can manage to keep energy use up to capacity. So I guess we will be having, along with the daily weather forecast and radiation/pollen count, a blackout map.
The slightly derogatory term for a foreigner here in Japan is “gaijin”. A little more formal, and a little more neutral, “gaikokujin” (outside-country-person). New term in the foreign community is for residents that left the country and are now coming back: flyjin. Your language lesson for the day.
Had a good laugh when somebody told me my picture during the blackout made me look like Qaddafi. Green hat and scarf matched, and I am working on the putty face. Just wish I had somebody to dictate to (hmmm, students?…I’m getting some ideas here….).
Our graduation was rescheduled, and now cancelled. I feel sorry for the students. Lines for gasoline and other products have disappeared. Only milk is hard to find. And bottled water. I bought in haste 12 days ago, and we served sparkling water to the cat by mistake. He wouldn’t drink it. The rest of the bottle we mixed with crystal light to make a weird soda-pop.

Earthquake Update Day 9

Not much happened yesterday, so there was no Update Day 8.

This morning we awoke to reports that Reactors 5&6 were under control. They are still working on 2 & 3, trying to get electricity to the pumps or water to the reactors. Work is proceeding slowly but surely.
Weather has moderated, yesterday it got up to 70 degrees. Today should get to 65 degrees. It may rain, though. Because of the mild weather, electric usage is down and there have not been any power outages yesterday or today.
Radiation levels look safe for now, except for some milk and spinach harvested just after the leak. Most Chernobyl victims got their radiation through eating tainted foods. Good to see people monitoring the radiation.
Aftershocks continue, but at a much reduced frequency. See this map and wait for all 611 aftershocks (and counting) in the last week. Relief efforts are being organized, finally there is gasoline up in the north, and the roads are being repaired to allow access to the devastated areas. Even the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) is sending up trucks of supplies.
The biggest news here in Japan is the backlash against the over-dramatization of the situation by the western media, Fox news in particular, along with the HuffPost. People have been seeing reports of panic, fleeing and the like, and not seeing that here on the ground. The US Government advises evacuation for people living 50 miles from the nuclear reactors, and has gone on to set up flights out of the country, and trains from Sendai to Tokyo, for US citizens. They advise us to leave the country, the only foreign government that is suggesting this. My friend’s daughter returned from Minneapolis yesterday on a flight only 1/3 occupied. She stretched out across the 5 middle seats. Other friends are returning from a teaching conference in New Orleans, and report similar occupancies.
Meanwhile the cherry is about to blossom. Dad will remember that from 2 years ago. An utterly beautiful time of year here in Japan. I may get an early glimpse of that because I have a meeting for conference planning in Kyushu, the southernmost island tomorrow through Wednesday. Julia has work today, she takes information for insurance claims, and said yesterday was boring, not many accidents, as people were staying in. The train schedules are returning to normal, and there is bread and instant ramen back on the shelves, the only thing missing now is milk.