Earthquake Day 12

I return from two exhausting yet productive days of meetings to prepare a conference for this summer. My travels took me to Kyushu, where it was surprisingly cold and rainy. This winter has been the coldest on record for average temperatures, and number of days below freezing. And no, I won’t make any jokes about global warming.

I was glad to be rid of the pollen-infested air of Tokyo, and didn’t have to use sprays or eye drops. The sake (or as they call it here, “nihon-shu” or Japan liquor) was excellent with the dinner last night. We went on to another place over beer and shots and solved most of the world’s problems. Our group is devoted to bringing technology to language teaching here in Japan, and we are moving in a couple of directions, with teacher training and consulting, the conference, and I will edit a new book called TILT Recipes (Tech In Language Teaching). The Recipes is a continuation of a series of books I edited about 10 years ago.

So I start heading back and bought souvenirs (usually food from the area you visit). I got spicy fish roe, the local ramen flavor, and some green tea. In the lobby of the airport I watch news about a water treatment plant next to where I used to live before I was married. Seems like the levels of cesium are too high for use with infants. People were warned to use bottled water for formula. We will also be sure to use some of our bottled water for little Dexter, our cat.
I arrive home just in time to set up dinner, and Maki goes to visit her sister. It seems Maki’s sister lives between electric grid areas, so she does not have any blackouts. As I sit down the lights go out. The trusty Kindle with the silly headband lamp get me through the next three hours and the house slowly cools. And cool it does. Maki arrives back about 3 minutes after the lights, and I wonder how she does that. There are no blackouts in western Japan, where I just came from.
Julia calls as she is leaving from work, as usual. Maki mentions that it is raining. I can hear Julia’s eyes batting as she asks me to pick her up in the car because she is sans umbrella. That was a good call, because the rain turns to snow, and covers the windshield and roof of the car. We make jokes about radioactive snow. But we pause to think that it may not be so funny.
Still no milk, so we may switch to soy. Maki has baked soem bread. But as we sit down to recount the time I was away, I get the best story of the year. Yesterday, Maki is here with Julia and her sister. Maki goes to the bathroom. She gets trapped. The handle doesn’t work, so Yuki and Julia spend a half hour trying to get the door off the hinges. No go (well, Maki’s already went, but…). Julia calls 119 (our version of 911). The operator says, “Is it a fire or is it urgent?” Julia picks the latter. About 3 minutes later an ambulance arrives at the house, siren blaring. Followed by not one, but two, fire trucks. They spend the better part of an hour getting the door off. The firemen say this is pretty common. They don’t seem angry. The police then arrive, and Maki explains the situation, and they leave. She apologizes to the old next door neighbors for all the racket, and they give her a bag of cubed carrots (they got a new Popeil food processor). The new next door neighbors, she finds out, are used to that kind of racket. The father is retired from the head office of the national police agency (kind of like the FBI). She talks more with the neighbors than ever before. Nothing like a fire truck to bring together a neighborhood.

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.

Earthquake Day 7: Questions Answered

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.


Everybody OK here in Tokyo

It is just past midnight, about 10 hours after the earthquake. We just got our electricity back, so are able to make phone calls and send emails. It is still wobbling every once in a while.

This was the scariest earthquake of my 26 years here in Tokyo. I had just finished skyping with Anri. It started off like any other earthquake (we get about one a month), but then didn’t stop. It started building and the lamps in the front hall started swinging from the rafters. Whoops…another wobble…maybe things aren’t done yet. We have had at least a dozen smaller aftershocks.

But no real damage. We had a mirror and a couple of pictures fall off the walls, the computer walk toward the edge of the desk (and later back in the other direction), and lots of stuff knocked from tables onto the floor. The electricity went out, but I had daylight enough to get things in order.

Julia was in Nagoya visiting her grandmother. No problems there. Anri is safe in Loveland. Maki was in the basement of a 40-storey building downtown Tokyo. The quake swayed the whole building and made her seasick. Whoops…another wobble…. She took the bus to the nearest big station, and the aftershock make all the cars tilt and whirl. The trains were all stopped, and tens of thousands of people were waiting for a half dozen busses. Maki and her friend walked about 4 miles to the river border between Tokyo and Kawasaki.

I finally found her phone number on a telephone bill. I went to the local store to call on the pay phone. I rendezvoused with her in the car, and took her friend home. Huge traffic jam, took us 2 hours to go about 8 miles. We returned to a cold dark house, lit some candles and read books (well, kindle for me). Maki was tired but not sleepy, and nodded off about 10. The electricity came back on at 11:45.

What did I learn? I will go out and get a cell phone tomorrow. Update the backpack with the survival stuff in it. Check for cracks in the new old house.