Sunday, 4 December 2011

Yakult Lady

Yakult are recruiting new Yakult ladies to sell their yoghurt drink door-to-door in my neighbourhood. Well, the flyer says 'Yakult Staff' but I've never seen a man doing the job. The hours are 9 to 2 and you can earn more than 80,000 Yen. The flyer lists the daily routine as follows:
From 8.30 - Drop children off at nursery (Yakult seems to have a nursery which is 8,000 Yen per child per month.) Put on Yakult uniform and check appearance. Prepare your Yakult box and moped (Yakult mopeds are bright blue with cool boxes on the back).
From 9am - Check attendance and receive confirmation of absences. Cooperate and communicate with co-workers.
From 9.15 - Call on your area's customers. Find out about their health. Communication is important so deliver your products with a smile and full of sincerity.
From 12.30 to 2pm - Do administration at the Yakult centre. Eat your respective lunches. Clean up. Do preparation for the following days. Total up sales.
From 3pm - Pick up your children and return home.
They also have vacancies for cosmetic staff.
It's an example of 'parto', part-time jobs for housewives. It's the kind of job many of my female students want to do. They want to work for two years after graduation then quit to marry (with a kind, tall, very rich man they usually say), have two children - a girl and a boy, and do parto while their kids are at nursery. When they say this, the male students go very quiet because they know they've really got their work cut out to attract any woman in this recession and then financially support her and the children. Men tend to call housewives' lives, 'Three meals a day and an afternoon nap'. I don't really think such a life is viable any more, especially in Tokyo. Sorry girls.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Dere Santa

Dere Santa,
I hav bene a gude girl this year. Pleas can i hav a "camouflage slanket" from the Tokyu Crismas catalog so that i can sit in the parc and rede my book without kids shouting, "Mummy, Mummy, ther's a foreigner!"
Also, can i hav a geiger counta.
And a hazmat suit.
Thank yu, santa.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

A Hands Christmas

Good call! Though personally, after the year I've had, I'm planning to get legless.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

"Protecting smiles with fire-safety mind"

The Autumn Fire Prevention Campaign has begun! In our town, fire volunteers will tour the town from 7-10pm every night for a week and there will be a parade with 14 fire engines and other fire prevention vehicles. So nobody even light a match during that time because there will be no staff or vehicles available. This year's campaign slogans are, as usual, in Japlish rendering them unintelligible to Japanese and foreigners alike.

The installation of fire alarms only became mandatory in April this year. A maintenance guy turned up to install them in my place while I was watching a documentary on the origins of Fleetwood Mac (the Peter Green years) and we got on like a house on fi ... sorry. He was an old hippy; when he wasn't doing maintenance, he and his son played in a band. Sometimes you meet the coolest people at the oddest times.
So winter is on its way. Japanese homes have poor insulation and no central heating, so keeping warm is a mish-mash of kotatsu (a table with a heater underneath to keep your legs warm), hot carpet (keeps your bum cheeks warm but little else) and giant padded jackets. A lot of homes use kerosene heaters and it is not uncommon to see students with their eyebrows singed off from having the dial turned up too high when they turned it on. Which is why the annual fire prevention campaign is so important. First world country, third world heating. Smile!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Let's Spell Check.

Christmas is here. Crimbo trees are up in the department stores and 'All I want for Xmas' is on a loop in the malls. (It's a popular song here because it was the theme of a trendy drama several years' ago.) Starbucks have brought out their high calorie festive coffee flavours and here is their gift flyer. Let's spell check.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

From where I am unable to sit ...

I have only two positions: the wall bracket and standing very straight with my neck stretched up like a meerkat on guard. Yesterday I realised that no matter how many stretches I did I was not going to get better by myself so I found a local English-speaking chiropractor online and went straight there. He confirmed that my back is "out" and that one leg is now shorter than the other. I will have a spine x-ray tomorrow and start treatment next Monday. I hope it works. I like chiropractic treatment. I had it on my lower back years ago and it worked very well. I then took up yoga to keep my back in good shape. However at the beginning of this year I decided to work on my headstands. My back has hurt intermittently since then. My new chiropractor, who also does yoga, says I shouldn't do headstands any more and I am not going to argue with him.

Typing at my desk is all kinds of screaming agony so I will instead leave you with two articles to peruse. They are from the "From Where I Sit" column of the Times Higher Educational magazine. The first one I wrote whilst sitting under my dining table the weekend after the quake. The second was an update published last week.

From where I sit - After the quake: we shall carry on

From where I sit - A life still far from normal

Monday, 24 October 2011

The "Don`t Want to be Troubled" Types

On this week`s post-Fukushima diet plan I ate my words. My back has been troubling me on and off since the quake. First it was my jaw then my upper spine. Lots of friends, colleagues and students have also been experiencing similar ailments. (See last post about hair loss.) Anyway this week my back seized up completely and I resorted to mind-altering medication and walking around doubled over like a wall bracket. At the same time, my computer began to freeze up. I had noticed that the Wifi hadn`t worked since the quake but unlike my monitor which toppled over several times and doesn`t have a scratch on it - thanks Benq - my netbook had simply bounced around on the table. Anyway, on Thursday it died. Since I need a computer for all my classes I had to buy a new one quickly. But which one? I grudgingly looked out "Happy Pasacon (personal computer) Select booklet for Women" (see July post) and started the heartful quiz (see above).

Start: Which do you like, cats or dogs?
Q1: When you love someone do you make every effort for them?
Q3: Do you take your own obento (packed lunch) to school or work every day?
Q4: Are you a little weak at karaoke?
Q5: Do you often buy clothes on impulse?
Q6: Do you go to the nail salon once a month?
Q8: Do you occasionally go to bed without taking off your makeup?

And so on. The results indicated that I was one of four types:

The Particular Type
The Firm Type
The Worrier Type
The Don`t Want to be Troubled Type

I was the Don`t Want to be Troubled by a quiz which has nothing to do with buying a computer Type so I skipped straight to the "Ask a Man" section. In this case the man was my father. He gave me some model numbers and I crawled to Yodobashi Camera and showed the piece of paper to another man who sold me a new netbook.

Back home I booted up and went straight to the "uses for your new computer" section of the booklet which told me how to:

Make postcards of cupcakes
Shop online for shoes
Chat on Skype with my besties

What lovely lives some Japanese women seem to lead ...

Back in the real world, we had our monthly faculty meeting last Friday and a seminar teacher from another faculty came and showed a film he had made of his students` recent project. They had noticed that no-one was buying vegetables from Fukushima so they had gone up there, met farmers, helped with crop planting (there was one photo of a student being shown how to drive a tractor) and then shipped the vegetables down and sold them at a stall in eastern Tokyo. While there was a very brief shot of one farmer holding a white box-like object which looked to me like a geiger counter, there did not seem to be any mention of the dangers involved in such a project. After the film ended, a couple of lecturers made an attempt to clap but in general there was silence. I turned to the Japanese lecturer next to me to confirm what I had just seen. "Some people just refuse to be troubled with the truth" said the lecturer. I wonder where the university stands legally if any of the students get cancer in the next 20 years?

But enough of this pessimism. This is not the Japanese way. We must ganbarou! (Do our best!) Me, I`ve got shoes to buy.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Tokyo Half-Life

(Photo: The Shinjuku skyline from my office. Again. You can see Fuji just to the right of centre, lurking behind a skyscraper.)

A week without vegetables. Fruit I can get no problem: kiwis and oranges from New Zealand, pineapples from the Philippines, papaya from Mexico and mangoes from Chile. But the vegetables on sale now are all from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Nagano and Yamagata. And I`m not touching those. That leaves me with tomatoes from Hokkaido. And I just don`t know what to do about Hokkaido.

When Fukushima ... imploded, melted (I`m still not sure what it actually did but apparently it didn`t explode like Chernobyl) ... the wind was blowing north to south which is why I got out of town straight away. Then the wind changed which was good news for Tokyo but bad news for Hokkaido and the north west coast of the USA and Canada. Just how much radiation landed in Hokkaido, I don`t know. From this Tuesday the wind is forecast to turn again, north to south, as winter approaches. I am keeping an eye on and checking the wind direction for Japan.

That first week after 3/11 I went to Nagoya where it rained on several days. It may also have rained in Tokyo. Now strontium 90 has been discovered on the roofs of several builidings in Yokohama. It is concentrated in areas where rain runs off into the drains. So it may be assumed (until the government decides to tell us more) that the strontium was carried down on the wind and fell over Tokyo and many other areas of Japan in the rain droplets. (Although I don`t think anyone would be surprised if a nearby Yokohama factory wasn`t pumping strontium into the atmosphere.)

The Setagaya hotspot is also interesting. It`s not as radioactive as the parks and neighbourhoods in eastern Tokyo over which the smoke from the nearby incerators wafts. These incinerators are receiving and burning the radioactive sludge from Fukushima. (One broke down last week.) Every prefecture has been asked to take an amount and dispose of it, to share the responsilibity. TEPCO`s responsibility. But the radioactive hotspot in the expatratriate-rich neighbourhood of Setagaya is apparently emanating from some bottles under an old house. They could have been there as a result of a doctor bringing his or her (who am I kidding, this is Japan) HIS experiments home, or even of someone bringing their belongings up from Hiroshima or Nagasaki after the bombs. And as I recall the doomsday cult, Aum Shinkrikyo, (which is still active) toyed with producing a nuclear bomb. And I read that looters stole abandoned items from around Chernobyl which were then sold on and sat in people`s homes giving off radiation. People in Fukushima have been allowed to return to their homes for a short time to collect their belongings. Is that wise? Anyway the current view is that the bottles contained old paint which was made with radium.

Today`s spiel sounds as if I am worried. But I`m not particularly concerned. It`s more of a dull resignation. I liked life before the quake. The food was healthy and delicious, the train companies ran a full schedule, and the loos had heated toilet seats. No more. It`s going to be a cold winter, in some parts more than others.

I wouldn`t even say that I am anti-nuclear. I liked all the neon lights, giant outdoor TV screens and the vending machines that lit up and played music when you walked by. I knew that all that power must come from somewhere. And Japan is a resource-poor nation. They either had to go nuclear or invade China again.

But now everyone around me seems to be suffering from some form of long-term stress. I know of two people in Tokyo whose hair has suddenly fallen out. They were worried they might have radiation sickness but I told them that the number of women in Christchurch, New Zealand whose hair has fallen out has increased by a third and they only had an earthquake. In the last week alone I have also learned that two foreign male lecturers have had heart attacks.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Cooking with Cesium ...

(Sign for the Setsuden: the campaign to save electricity because Fukushima and many other nuclear power stations are currently out of action. The Setsuden officially ended last week. Now we`re just walking around in the dark on a voluntary basis.)

It has been a long summer. At Narita I couldn`t remember my Tokyo address for the re-entry card. Then I couldn`t remember what floor my office is on (the uni have moved my office three times in two years). But I can name every character on Downton Abbey so it`s not Alzheimer's. Just priorities.

I thought the Fukushima situation would have been largely overcome by now but it has not. The plant is still not airtight and last week the papers reported a mystery build-up of hydrogen gas. Nevertheless many Japanese people seem adamant that all food and water is safe. There is even a Support Fukushima campaign encouraging shoppers to choose their products from that prefecture to save their rural industries. Some people are doing just that. With the idea of making a rataouille, I went to my local Co-op to buy peppers and zucchini. The zucchini were from Ibaraki, the peppers were from Fukushima. Instead I have been cycling to various supermarkets and buying anything from west of Osaka or abroad. Consequently I can`t know what I am going to make until I get everything home and see what is possible. Most of the time I`ll make a pasta sauce with canned tomatoes from Italy. The fresh ones are all from Hokkaido at the moment. If I find mushrooms or spinach I`ll make an omelette. But the eggs are all local so I won`t be eating those too often. I went for battery eggs instead of free range - I don`t want my chickens walking around eating anything off ground which may be contaminated. But I still can`t know what the battery chickens are being fed.

Speaking of Hokkaido, some people say it is safe and others say it is not. I have been buying small amounts of Hokkaido fat free milk for my tea but I am steering clear of its other dairy products. At the import stores I buy feta cheese from Greece and Dutch Edam. I`d kill for a yoghurt though.

My city, Mitaka, is conducting daily radiation tests at 104 local schools and playgrounds at 5cm and 1 meter from the ground. The results are posted on Twitter or can be emailed to you daily. The latest results for the school closest to my apartment are 0.07 micro-sieverts at 5cm, and 0.07 at 1 metre. Another neighbourhood shows 0.11 at 5cm, and 0.10 at 1 metre. This seems to be lower than average daily amounts around the world. But I also think it depends on what direction the wind is blowing. Radioactive waste is being transported from Fukushima and burned at Tokyo waste disposal centres. North and East Tokyo are radiation hotspots because of it. Anyway, it is not the wind-born radiation that most people are worried about now but cesium in the food.

The Japan Times had an interesting article recently, Hold the Cesium: `Ways to reduce radiation in your diet`. Kunikazu Noguchi, lecturer at Nihon University, has published a book on the subject so I have been following his tips as much as possible (assuming he is telling the truth and not a mouthpiece for the government from where, one assumes, he gets his funding ... and his job):

* Cesium can be easily dissolved in water so rinse all fruit and vegetable before cooking

* `Most` (most??) radiation can be removed from leafy vegetables if boiled

* 90 percent of wheat in Japan is imported from overseas so most wheat products are safe.

I continue to avoid seaweed, rice, meat, fish and green tea from Japan.

Of course, we cannot know what we are eating in cafes and restaurants. Where possible I eat Italian and choose pasta. And I take my G & T`s without a lemon slice.

Other than that, I am trying to put it out of my mind and get on with teaching.

Time for my Spam pasta ....

Monday, 22 August 2011

Thanks, Mark Foreman

Thanks to Mark Foreman for his correspondence and advice. See his blog entry at:

I got the cesium information from the Japanese government so I am not surprised it is, shall we say, unclear.

I have now evacuated from the area - 6,000 miles away - I am in England for my summer hols where, free from a restricted Japanese diet, I went mad and put on 2kg in two weeks. And I an loving the English peaches ...

(Mark, I'm sorry my blog wouldn't let you post me a comment directly. I'll look into it.)

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Women, know your limits!

I was browsing in Yodobashi Camera the other day when I found this handy little booklet for all us girly airheads who have no idea what a computer is for. It`s the "HAPPY Computer Select Book for Women" with the tagline "Even alone you can choose a computer safely".

First, you take a quiz to decide your personality type which will match with your perfect computer. Then ... you ask a man.

Thanks Yodobashi! A pink netbook for me, please!

That reminds me ...

Friday, 29 July 2011

Style Free ...

Friday, time for a beer. Here is Asahi`s new brew. It`s "Style Free". True. I drank it all and there wasn`t a drop of style in it. In fact it was rather raw. Tasted like Dad`s home brew before the full six weeks is up.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

It`s not easy being green ...

Nearly nearly nearly at the end of the semester. I am more excited about it than the students who have part-time jobs and job hunting to do. Because of the heat, I am very low on energy though. And I feel dizzy even when I`m sitting down. But the Kinokuniya Matcha (green tea) donut will see me through!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Let`s Strong Up!

After the brief coolness of last week`s typhoon it is too hot again. And we`ve had two quakes in the last week. And we can`t eat the beef or the fish or the spinach... And I`m back on the Volvic because I don`t trust the tap water. And because of the Setsuden (Saving Electricity Drive) we`re still walking around in semi-darkness with the aircon set no lower than 28. And it`s exam week. Dear God, I`m exhausted. Vitamin Lemon Strong Up, I need you ...!

Monday, 18 July 2011

What can I eat?

I DO NOT believe it. Yesterday at my local Co-op they had Fukushima peaches on sale. Who on earth would be stupid enough to buy peaches from Fukushima?

Shopping for food has become very difficult these days. I carry a Japanese prefecture map in my purse and check the origin of everything I buy. If it doesn`t say where it`s from, it stays on the shelf. My rules are no tap water, nothing from east of Osaka and buy foreign wherever possible. So in the summer heat I`m getting through a litre and a half of Volvic every day. Then there are bananas and pineapples from the Philippines, oranges and grapefruit from the USA, and mangoes and avocadoes from Mexico. Soya milk and tofu are labeled as being produced using mainly American and Canadian soya beans so they might be OK. That just leaves fish. I bought tinned sardines from Poland and mackerel from Ireland. Ireland - the country with the most radiactive sea in the world - safer bet than anything from Japanese waters. Because Fukushima fishing boats are still fishing in their local waters and then sailing down to Chiba and landing the catch there, thereby registering their fish as Chiba produce. So where did the tuna in my tin of low calorie tuna flakes (see pic) come from? The tin didn`t say but I took a chance.

I have to say that a great deal of my enjoyment of Japan has been spoiled (at least for the next 10-15 years, being the half-life of cesium) because one of the greatest things it had going for it was its delicious, fresh foods -especially sushi - and it`s low-fat soy and mushroom-based diet which produced people with the greatest longevity in the world.

For a while I drank Hokkaido milk and ate Hokkaido cheese but I was warned off it by Japanese and foreigners alike. The wind, which was blowing north to south when the first explosions occurred, is now blowing south to north which is generally good news for Tokyoites but bad news for Hokkaido cows. So no more dairy. I did check the government websites where they list their radiation testing results but despite the Hokkaido dairy industry being one of the major industries in Japan, they didn`t see fit to test it. I think that should read, "because of the Hokkaido dairy industry being one of the major industries in Japan they didn`t test it". If they haven`t tested it, it must be because they know they are going to get a bad result.

Obviously, I`ll not be buying any beef or green tea. I can take precautions at home but when eating out and buying takeout you just can`t know what you are eating. Take my favourite Starbucks Matcha Latte for instance. Where does the milk come from? Probably Hokkaido or Ibaraki (next to Fukushima). Where does the matcha green tea powder come from? Probably Shizuoka.

In March we had a once-in-a-millenium earthquake followed by the largest and widest recorded tsunami in history. And yet last Thursday evening when we had a fairly sizeable quake my first thought was, "I wonder how much new damage THAT did to Fukushima?"

Monday, 20 June 2011

My sister

At around midnight on Wednesday 18 May I had just turned my light out when my phone rang. It was my sister who lives in England. Over the past few years she has always seemed to have one bug or another and since February she has been struggling with pneumonia. She was often tired but would never take time off work to fully recover. Since January she had lost almost a stone and a half in weight but had put it down to healthier eating. The last time we skyped she was showing me how she could fit into her new size 10 skinny jeans. She continued to cough a lot and had to sit down frequently. She was calling me at midnight to tell me that she had just been to the doctor`s and been told she had lung cancer. She is 39 and and a non-smoker.

I didn`t sleep that night. The next day I went in to work with no clear idea of what to do. Thanks to CH who sat me down and talked through my options with me, I took three weeks of leave, went to Shinjuku and bought a ticket to England, went home and packed a bag, got on the train to Narita and spent the night at a hotel near the airport. Thanks to G for booking the hotel for me. The next morning I flew via Schipol to Norwich where my family lives.

Because of breathing difficulties, my sister had been admitted to hospital after her diagnosis. She had spent time in hospital in previous weeks because her so-called `pneumonia` was not going away. Then the doctors had put a needle in her right lung to drain fluid from between the two lung sacks and suctioned it into a `bucket` (see photographs above). Now she had the needle in again and in the first 24 hours had produced over a litre and a half of bloody fluid. She was being given morphine on demand.

Lung cancer is the most common of cancers and has the worst long-term prognosis of them all. It is on the increase globally especially amongst young women, even non-smokers.

More later...

Monday, 13 June 2011

Purun Purun with QOO

I`m back in Japan. I left three weeks` ago for a family emergency which I will tell you about once I am over jetlag. I arrived at Narita on Saturday the 11th of June, exactly three months since the Big One. Apparently there was an anti-nuclear demonstration in Tokyo that day. Lights are still dimmed, the trains from Narita seem still to be running a restricted service but there are no shortages in the shops and lovely aircon is on in my local supermarket.

Rainy season seems to have started. The weather is muggy, the air is green with tropical smells and daddy long-legs keep bouncing through the windows. With little appetite I`ve turned to jelly drinks such as Purun Purun above to fill my stomach with calcium, iron, vitamin D and probably a lot of sugar as well. And QOO (no idea).

This morning (actually 3pm, I am VERY jetlagged)I got up to read that Christchurch, New Zealand has been hit by more aftershocks. My uncle who lives there has lost power again. After the last Christchurch aftershock on 22nd February I read in a Japanese newspaper that because the Christchurch faultline runs north to south through Japan, Japan would probably experience a substantial quake before long. And so we did two weeks and three days later. So are we in for more? I have felt two very minor tremors since I`ve been back but I will now take 20 minutes to check my water and food stores and tidy up around the place just in case. I`d probably better put some clothes on too ... did I mention it`s VERY muggy?

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Shaking coming ....

(View from my office ... again. Can`t get enough of it ... the view not my office.)

Around this time last year I took my seminar students to the uni library to look for English books for their graduation theses. English books were pretty thin on the ground although, like most uni libraries I have visited in Japan, it has a plentiful stocks of German literature from around the late 1930`s. Before we went in, I told my students to set their phones to manner mode (silent mode) in order not to disturb others but about 10 minutes in, several students` phones begin to ring, not just mine but other students` phones in the study areas.

"I TOLD you to TURN your phones to MANNER MODE. You are being RUDE and THOUGHTLESS to other people. If you DON`T turn off your phones RIGHT NOW I am going to TAKE THEM AWAY from you and you will have to get the from me AFTER 5PM ...." Etc etc. I was on form that day.

The students let me finish then one guy said, "Erm, sensei, that`s the earthquake alarm. We are about to have an earthquake".

"Is that right?" I said, from underneath the table. "So, um, what do we have to do?"

Well, we didn`t do anything and luckily the quake struck up north. I have been teaching for over a decade in Japan and at no school or university have I ever been told what to do with my students when a quake happens. I have since told them that evacuation point is the Starbucks at Tokyo University.

What the students had on their phones was a quake warning app (which overrode the manner mode setting). Yure Kure - (shaking coming) is the most popular. You are supposed to get a minimum of about 3 seconds warning but sometimes a lot more before a quake strikes. Apparently they worked well before the big one in March, giving around 10 seconds warning. Much good it did people because 90% of those killed drowned in the tsunami afterwards.

Some colleagues asked me if I was going to get Yure Kure but I don`t see the need. I am surrounded by students who have it. Also when all those phones did go off in the library we didn`t do anything. We just waited.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The lights are going out ...

After Golden Week, I went in to uni on the Friday to find that the bulbs had been removed from one of the two sets of lights in my office, and a sticker placed above the light switch urging me to save electricity. Since they are those nasty neon strip lights I do not use them much except after 5pm when it goes dark. (Being near the equator it gets dark around 7 in the summer and 5 in the winter. When I tell students that in England it sometimes stays light until 10pm in the summer they think it is some kind of Harry Potter magic.) My office is L-shaped, the other part of the square being taken up by the men`s room from which eminates a constant dripping and sometimes a flushing noise. So I tend to work elsewhere whenever possible. Sometimes I am there in the evening however and with one set of lights now gone, I need a torch to find books on the shelves in the L. Luckily I always carry a small torch in my bag. That`s fine.

In my pigeon hole there was a notice featuring a graph of power usage last July. This summer it seems the university must limit power usage to 955kw per hour. However last year university usuage exceeded this from 10am to 5pm. On the other side of the sheet was a list of instructions detailing how to save that power. For example, some large auditoriums will be closed and the dining hall will only be air-conditioned at lunch-time. That`s fine too. In fact at this rate Japan might meet its Kyoto Accord promises.

And today it was announced that the Hamaoka nuclear power station is to be shut down. The Hamaoka power station is on the coast to the west of Tokyo in Shizuoka prefecture. It supplies the power for the chubu or central area of Japan. It was the plant that the woman in my yoga class was petitioning two weeks ago to get closed. But why now? The Hamaoka power station has always been on the coast and in a region that had been designated (before the recent big one) as the most likely region for the next big one. So much so that in that prefecture. elementary school kids have to wear hard hats to and from school and keep them hanging on their coat pegs. I know the Hamaoka plant well as I used to live and work in nearby Hamamatsu and the place was a running joke even then regarding safety. So why are Chubu Power agreeing to Kan`s request to close it now? Kan has no legal power to order it closed. That decision rests with the shareholders who are going to lose money. Is the danger of another quake so great right now that the station must be closed immediately? Or is it that Kan`s position as PM is so precarious that he must bow to popular opinion on this one? I think it might just be the Japanese cultural trait of panicking well after the event. Japan has over 50 nuclear reactors. How many are going to be closed down?

So I think we are in for a really tough summer. Coolbiz (see my post last year) has already started and I have been sweating buckets teaching in classes with temperatures in the upper 20`s. And it`s not even humid yet.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Weight Loss Japanese-style

No-one calls me a chubster and gets away with it, least of all my students. But look what I`m up against. These before and after photos are from flyers for local `aesthetic` salons. They seem to claim that you can lose weight with counselling and special massage techniques (as opposed to the usual Japanese methods of starvation or sticking your fingers down your throat).

The woman in the top photo is 60 years old and has lost 10kg in 3.5 months, down from a super hefty 58.8kg to a more acceptable 45.5kg.

In the bottom photo the before caption reads "Me when my husband looked at me with a cold glance". And the after photo, "Now my body is slim, my husband is very affectionate".

This is what passes for attractive in Japan these days, bow legs you could drive a truck through.

Me, I`ve spent the week walking, jogging and shopping, my personal weight loss methods. Today is the last day of Golden Week and it was been very quiet and peaceful, by which I mean no big quakes. Although we have had some vicious storms, one of which removed next door`s roof and deposited it in bits on ours.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Cracking up?

It was warm and sunny on Thursday. During a class in new B building I went to open some windows and found that the lintels had warped and the paint cracked post-quake. The stairs in C building are a bit suspect too. We are still saving power and only one lift in the building is working so I regularly run from my office on the 9th floor to the teachers` lounge on the 3rd and back up for tea top-ups. It`s the same in shops and on the subway. At Todaimae there are 66 steps from platform to the concourse and 53 up to ground level. I`m actually quite enjoying it. I`ll be a wraith by summer. But those cracks in the stairs (see above) - and they are on every floor - are a bit of a worry. And while I was photographing them we had 2 more quakes.

Also cracking up are my teeth. Or so I thought. I have had trouble with my teeth since the quake but have never been able to narrow it down to one tooth. Then I thought that I might have a crack and an abscess in a tooth I had a root canal in last year. So I went to the dentist this morning and he took an x-ray. No problem. He suggests (and I suspect he is right) that I am holding tension in my jaw and he says I should massage my jaw and temples for at least 3 minutes before I go the bed. (Note to Brits on the NHS: cost of my visit including x-ray = about 6 pounds.)

One of my students wrote about her experience of the big quake. She was working in a dental surgery and when the quake struck the patients tried to get up and run out and had to be restrained.

Monday, 25 April 2011

They must be tired...

Thank Buddha that`s over. The local elections were yesterday. Looking at the official board for sticking up the permitted election posters, I see there were 4 female candidates. And 32 male. One male has his wife lovingly attached to his arm. Haven`t seen that before. Another male is holding a baby. That`s definitely a new one. More and more candidates are smiling. It`s not traditionally Japanese to smile in photos .... or in daily life. Most candidates prefer to present a serious face demonstrating that they will work for the electorate diligently. But smiling is becoming more popular. The only problem with that is that most of the candidates are older males and after 40 have seriously bad teeth. Or seriously false teeth. And I have to go by teeth because their election policies are not written on the posters. I assume they have some ....

This week I have been coming home around 9 or 10 in the evening and at least 10 male candidates have been congregating at the station entrance bowing and shouting "Otsukaresama desu" - You must be tired - at the passengers. There were no female candidates there. I`m not sure they`d get a positive response in the evenings when they should be home cooking their husband`s dinner and helping their kids with their homework. However, one early morning last week I was walking past the day care centre when the parents were dropping their kids off and a female candidate, Tanaka, was bowing and saying good morning to them as they went in. And then ... she bowed to me and said good morning to me. And I`m - obviously - not even a registered voter. (I pay full taxes here but I`m not allowed to vote.) No other candidate has acknowledged my presence at all and no-one has attempted to give me an election leaflet. I thought she seemed very canny indeed, catching the mothers since it is other women who are more likely to vote for her.

The rest of the week their election vans have been crawling up and down the streets, broadcasting the candidate`s greetings over a tannoy. Often the candidate is not even in the van so there are usually two young women wearing white gloves waving regally out of the windows.

So that`s all over now and I hope Tanaka - whose teeth looked real - got a seat. The buddhist monk with his begging bowl can have his patch outside the station back now. But the "Go Home Yanks" lot who want all American airbases removed from Japanese soil have been absent since the quake, when GI`s were sent up north to help with the rescue efforts and a large warship was parked off the Fukushima coast with a disaster team on board.

PM Naoto Kan`s party did very badly ... did I need to mention that?

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Do not be deceived by demagoguery

(View from the chalkface Wednesday evening, whilst waiting for the graduate class to arrive.)

On Thursday evening I was reading in bed when there was a shake. It went on for about 2 minutes and was a little stronger than usual. I carried on reading. After about 10 minutes it began again. And then stopped. Another 10 or so minutes, another shake. This went on for about an hour and after the 5th shake I gave up reading, turned the light off and pulled the covers over my head. A uni office staff member said she and her daughter were so scared they crouched on the floor in their apartment. It was a strange evening. Definitely something is on the move in the Kanto area. So on Friday, instead of hitting the bookshops after work, I just came home. After the big one, a student said she walked from our university to Shinjuku in two hours. I estimate that from Shinjuku to my home is another 3 hours walk. So I think I will stay local whenever possible over the next few weeks. Just until we`ve got this 8 out of the way. Or we`re all fed up waiting for it.

I`m still translating the emergency booklet. From 10 minutes to 3 days after a quake we "must not be deceived by demagoguery". (デマに惑わされない。Dema ni madowasarenai.) I assume they`re referring to press releases from TEPCO.

I have been talking with staff and students about the small changes we have all made in our lives since March 11. No-one is making long trips. Plane and train tickets for the Golden Week holiday which starts this Friday are well down. Why go somewhere if you are not sure you can get back?

I have eaten the contents of my freezer. In a quake or a blackout, the word is that your fridge and freezer will stay cold for up to 5 hours. But after that the food is spoiled. So I have been replacing frozen vegetables with canned. And frozen meat with Spam!

I have taken only one bath since the quake. Every time I feel like a bath we have a shake and I change my mind.

My computer monitor is still taped to my desk and when I go out I put my netbook on the sofa with a cushion on top.

I stopped jogging for a while but, as is usual at the start of a new semester, a female student has already come up to me, prodded my stomach and called me a chubster so I`ve started again. (I gained one kilo ...)

There are lots of other small things but some Japanese people are loathe to admit that they have made any changes to their lives, even when it is obvious that they have. (And that includes criticism of the flyjin, the foreigners who left after Fukushima ... blew up or whatever it did ... I was at Tokyo station that Tuesday and it was PACKED with Japanese leaving too.) They don`t want to be seen to be going against the permitted Japanese norms. The Japanese people, as a nation, are brilliant in disasters. They simply carry on as if nothing has happened. They work round the clock to achieve the only permitted solution, a complete return to exactly how everything was before. But this rigid stoicism is what makes them unbearable in normal circumstances, refusing to consider new ideas or see any leeway. Which is why, although they have survived the geological disaster up to now, it may well be the political and economic repercussions which are the real catastrophe.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Coming soon ... the next one?

(View from my office window this evening: the sun going down over Ikebukuro)

Back to the chalkface. Lessons have begun and undergrads are now around full-time. Textbooks, paper and pens, not so much. There still seems to be a fair amount of chaos post-quake and this first week I am just introducing the courses and distributing course outlines.

The two things I forget every semsester: whiteboard markers, and just how hard teaching is on your feet. I like to wear suits and heels for the first week and this evening, after my third class of the day, I had to take off my shoes and walk back to my office in my popsox.

I was talking with an adult graduate school student this evening. She had waited 7 hours for a bus after the quake and when she arrived home she found deep cracks in the walls. "So did you get them repaired?" I asked. "No" she said, "I`m waiting until after the next one. The official word from the meteorological office is that the Kanto area (which includes Tokyo) is due for a big shake sooner rather than later. In fact, I get the distinct impression that people just want this big shake to come and then they can relax and get on with life.

I found an emergency manual in Japanese in my uni pigeonhole this morning, and emergency posters have appeared in classrooms. The students don`t bother to read them and I can`t understand them completely. (Although there is one particular instruction that I often see in Japan which I thoroughly enjoy. 無理はしない、Muri wa shinai. Literal translation: Do not do impossible things.) They really should have been up BEFORE the quake. Part-time English-language teachers have not received anything. I checked.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

That Day ...

Other than posting the video of the quake I haven`t written that much about the day itself. Now that the new semester is starting I have been catching up and sharing stories with people I have not seen since before that day. (There are also many `foreigners` whom I have not been able to contact by phone and I am assuming that they have not yet returned to Japan. And may not return ever.) What we all seem to remember is not the quake itself but what happened after, mainly the aftershocks and their effects.

I had been working on something - can`t remember what - all morning on my computer and after lunch I had put the dishes in the sink and sat down on my sofa to read a journal article about narrative structures which I`m usually quite interested in, but this article was so staggeringly dull even for an academic piece that I dozed off. When the quake started it was the usual shake that we get once or twice a month so I wasn`t in the least worried. However on the Wednesday some friends of my sister had arrived in Japan on holiday right around the time of a 5 in the Narita area. As one of them is a geologist he said he was interested in quakes, and when I met them on the Thursday I said he might be lucky enough to feel a shake or two while they were here. (Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!) So on the Friday when the tremor started I got up and hunted around for my camera which also records video and I turned it on. By this time the quake had been going on for about a minute and I thought I might miss it altogether but when I pressed the record button it was still going. Then it kept going ... and then it got bigger. It was only when my tape recorder fell on my foot that it occured to me that this was bigger than we were generally used to but it was only when I actually couldn`t stand up any more that I decided to get under my table. When I crawled back out, the video recorded the time at 2.49 so the whole thing lasted 3 minutes. At this point I realised that the quake was more serious than usual but since the building was still standing and none of the windows were broken I didn`t feel too worried. The ground was still undulating as I put some outdoor clothes on (the day was sunny and bright but it was still below 10 degrees C outside) and then went out. As I was changing my clothes, the quake siren sounded.

Outside a woman had fallen off her bicycle. She was standing but, like me, she was shaken so we stood together and said things like, "Kowakatta ne!" (That was scary,wasn`t it?) and "Sugoi shock, da ne!" (That was a real shock!). We stood there and looked around at other people who had evacuated their homes. The hairdressers from the salon next door were squatting on the pavement - this is what many people do during quakes, they kneel or squat and look up for falling objects - and the ground and telephone poles and wires was swaying non-stop. Groups of people were standing around all along the road. After about 5 minutes, they began to disperse and the hairdressers went back inside. The woman said she was going to go home and I went back inside and up to my 3rd floor apartment. I looked around at all the things that had fallen on the floor and thought that I ought to phone my parents in England sooner rather than later to let them know I was OK. (As an oral historian who interviews foreigners in Japan I have several recordings of Kobe quake stories. One woman who was there said that the phones worked for the first half an hour or so but then went off.) I phoned home and said, "Hi, it`s me and I`m fine. There`s been a big quake but I`m fine". They said they would get on Skype so I hung up. At this point I didn`t know if we would still have internet but we did. (Sure enough the phones and mobile lines soon went off so the internet became an important resource for people over the following days and has remained so since.)

The aftershocks were constant, the apartment building shook every few minutes and whenever I put something back on a shelf it was shaken right off again. Dad put on the BBC in England and after some time he said "Tsunami!" so I turned on the TV in my apartment. The BBC and NHK were showing exactly the same scenes so I recall seeing the film of the house burning whilst it was being swept inland by the tsunami wave but as everything was in Japanese at that point I had no idea where it was nor how widespread it was. Also over the next few hours I had to go outside or get under my table every few minutes so I didn`t watch the TV much. And I still haven`t seen most of the tsunami footage, nor do I want to. (I only found out a couple of weeks ago that there was a tsunami in Chiba, just east of Tokyo.) The rest of the day I was on Skype or under the table or outside with the hairdressers. I kept the TV on with the sound down and at some point NHK started broadcasting their tsunami warning in English, Portuguese, Chinese and Korean as well. But I got most of my news from the BBC. I don`t recall hearing anything about the Fukushima nuclear power plant other than that it had been damaged. Radiation was not mentioned at that point, at least in English.

In the early evening, I stopped Skyping and decided to tidy up. The earth was still moving constantly. Around 9pm I decided to take a quick shower and it was at this point that I realised I had not eaten or drunk anything since the quake because the quake had tripped the emergency cutoff and the building had no gas. I hadn`t even made a cup of tea. I went outside to look at all the windows in the building but no-one was home. (All trains and subways had stopped. People in the centre of Tokyo either had to sleep in their offices or walk home. None of my neighbours made it home that night.) So I went back upstairs, hunted out my gas safety manual and sat for half an hour looking at a very complicated diagram of the gas `junction box` or whatever it is with a button on it. There was a picture of a hand removing the cap from the button and then a finger pressing the button. Then a cartoon figure in glasses pointed to a bubble which said "3 minutes". I got my torch and went outside with the manual and opened the junction box. I took the cap off the button and then hesitated whilst I wondered if I was about to incinerate the neighbourhood. This was probably the scariest moment of the day. I pressed the button. Nothing happened. I came back in and waited for three minutes. Then I turned on a gas ring. It worked! I took a very quick shower, made a cup of tea and a sandwich and went back to sit in front of the TV. Every few minutes we had aftershocks and the TV screen would make a beeping noise and then the details of the quake would begin to scroll across the screen. The tsunami warning was still in full force as I recall. In the end it was all too much and I switched the TV off. When it`s on and constantly giving out warnings or showing tsunami damage you just stand in front of it for hours and hours which is what I had done.

When Japanese people are expecting a big shake they sometimes say they will sleep in their clothes. I didn`t sleep in my clothes but I did put my futon under my table and slept there for two nights. I didn`t find out until I saw the animation above for the first time yesterday that there were 575 aftershocks, on average 1 every 20 minutes in the week after the big one and over a hundred that first night, but I can believe it. I don`t think I got more than a few minutes` sleep that whole weekend after the quake because every time I dozed off the table would start shaking and books would fall off the shelf again. In fact my starkest memory of the whole incident was lying in my bed watching all my furniture and the wall and books and the curtains lurching back and forth all night in the semi darkness.

I don`t recall if there was much traffic outside that first evening. The noise of the quakes drowned everything else out. But from Saturday morning it was very very quiet. Saturdays and Sundays are usually pretty busy with people driving out to parks and shopping centres. That weekend, nothing. Gradually I heard my neighbours returning home and the crashes and bangs as they started to pick up their apartments.

That Saturday and Sunday I was very tired. I don`t clearly recall what I did except speak to my parents on Skype again and try to contact my sister`s friends which I was finally able to do. (I was able to get hold of them on their British mobile phone with global roaming when I was not able to contact any friends on the Japanese mobile system. Why?) The quakes kept on coming all day and all night.

Gradually that weekend I became aware that there were problems at Fukushima but it was not until the Tuesday when I received an email from an expat who told me they were leaving Japan that I switched the TV on and watched the press conference in which someone ... Kan or Edano ... I think it was Naoto Kan ... announced that they had lost control of the plant and that radiation was escaping and was heading who knew where. (In fact by that Tuesday morning it had already reached Tokyo.) They told people in the immediate area to evacuate and people within 30km to stay indoors. That is when people really started to panic. I packed some bags and headed down to Nagoya just ahead of the mass evacuation of foreigners and Japanese on the Wednesday morning. By that time, I had not had a full night`s sleep since the quake and I was completely punch drunk. It is only recently that I have begun to find out what was actually going on during those first few days. I did not know that there were so many aftershocks but of course I felt them. In fact I have felt two small tremors whilst writing this but people have come to be very blase about them now. A 5? Not getting out of bed for that. A 4? Not really even feeling those any more.

I have to say though that like many many people I have "quake sickness" which is thinking we are having a quake when are not. It`s something to do with the inner ear and general quake tension. A lot of people including myself seem to be more tense when we don`t have them than when we do.

Time for lunch. Every time we have a shake I get really really hungry, especially for meat or raw tuna. On the plus side I have started sweating again. Many people, including myself, got very dry hands and skin after the big one. We seemed to stop sweating altogether. Now the sun is out and the weather is warm and all seems to be well again. Enjoy the animation.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Quake Sound

I think the scariest thing about quakes is not the sight but the sound. And this is VERY scary.

The quake ate my homework ...

Knew it. Lovely sunny morning. Prior to getting started on my uni lecturer stuff, at 11.19am I was relaxing on my sofa with my morning tea and In Style magazine (thanks so much for that, M in Buckingham) when I felt the vibrations coming up through the sofa. I grabbed my camera and recorded the Mag 5.9, although in my neighbourhood it was only a Mag 3. They`re getting closer though. What you don`t see is my cup of tea go flying all over my papers including my uni lecturer stuff. My papers are now drying outside ...

Back in 1995, when I was an assistant high school teacher in central Japan, I was woken early by a fairly sizeable quake. No damage, just a Mag 2-3 level shake. I went to school and at the morning teachers` meeting the quake was mentioned. Then I taught the first class at 9am. Walking back to the teacher`s room later I was passed in the corridor by the science teacher. She was crying into the sleeve of her white lab coat and when I asked her if she was OK, she said, "This is the worst ever earthquake in my lifetime". Blimey, I thought, she`s a bit sensitive. It was only a 3 tops. When I got back to the teachers` room the TV was on. As it was usually only allowed on for the national high school baseball finals, I knew something was up. I joined the other teachers round the set and saw lots of buildings on fire. Back then there was very little in English and no internet or mobile phones, so I had to rely on the Japanese English-language teachers to tell me anything I needed to know. But there were no English-speaking teachers around. I was able, in my beginner`s Japanese, to ask where the fires were and a P.E. teacher just said, Kobe. (P.E. teachers tend to speak simply and clearly and slowly so I often went to them or to the cleaning lady - the other teachers tended to tie themeslves in knots trying to simplify their Japanese enough for me to understand and they tended to speed up the more embarrassed they became.) Well, well, I said, this morning we had a quake here and now there are fires in Kobe. It`s all go today, isn`t it ... or something equally as dumb. It had to be explained to me later by my supervisor that a quake did not have the same seismic intensity ALL OVER, that it was at its strongest at the epicentre - in this case Kobe - and weaker several hundred miles away where we were. The quake and the fires were connected. Duh. Now, nearly 20 years and a PhD later, whenever we have a quake I always go immediately to the Japan Meteorological Agency website to find the epicentre ( So when you hear that Japan has been hit with a 6 or a 7 or (the one we have been told to expect within the next three months) an 8, don`t assume that`s everywhere. Or was that just me? Duh.

Back to my tea-stained magazine ...

Friday, 15 April 2011

Ex-student Y`s earthquake story

As they say in the old cowboy movies, "It`s quiet .... TOO quiet". There have been no shakes since Wednesday. Nothing at all. I`d quite got used to the aftershocks. Most days when I went to my office there might be a book fallen off a shelf or a pile of papers that had slid to the floor. Then when I got home, there would be a bottle of shampoo toppled into the bath or my full-length mirror on wheels would have migrated half a metre across the room. It was like being haunted by a rather apathetic poltergeist. Is it all over, I wonder? And by all over I mean are we back to the old routine of a minor tremor every couple of weeks or a slightly larger one once a month? Tokyo is always moving.

As promised, here is ex-student Y`s earthquake story. He works for a travel company in one of the high rises in Shinjuku.

When it happend, i was in my office of 6th floor. (it is consist of 16 floors)
At the biginning of the earthquake, i thought it will be end soon, but it was not. it was harder and
harder, people started screaming and everything was dropped down on the floor. Then one of my
colleague shouted "we need to go out!!". Then we tried to go out from the office, but it was not easy
to do it because of the shocks. I managed to go down the stairs and fortunately, i went out with no
problem. My colleagues were also safe. After a hour, it was going to settle down, so we went back to
the work. We thought that we survived from the horrible happening, but this was just a biginning of
the worst situation.

First of all, we couldn't go back
Next, there was no food.
Last, we are face to the bad economic situation.

As for the result of the first and second one, we cooperated eachother, share a little food and slept on
the floor with cardboard. We made it!

The biggest problem is last one. There is still some after shocks in these days, so people dont go out,
buy, and pay. I cant expect that when we can go back to the normal day, but im sure that this happening
will make us be stronger and have a good future.

Love his upbeat ending .... so Japanese. Ex-student Y and his colleagues spent the night in Shinjuku. Then they woke up and did a full day`s work.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Gossip, rumours and a little information ...

First day of the new semester. Or rather first evening, as it was a graduate school class. I arrived in time to watch the disaster safety demonstration carried out by several gnarled members of the Tokyo Fire Department. They demonstrated how to use the fire extinguishers. Then one of the admin managers took over and explained many important points, few of which I could understand. I said to a nearby admin person that I couldn`t understand what he was talking about but she said neither could she. "He has his own language" she said. I asked if there would be any information available in English for the native English-language teachers and the dwindling number of overseas students but she said no.

Later when I went to the foreign studies faculty teachers` room, some of the foreign teachers had heard a rumour that during an emergency all the large metal fire doors in B building would automatically close and we would be trapped if we didn`t know the `special way` to open them again. But no-one knew the `special way`. People were worried. Some teachers made the point that we had responsibility for our students during class time but that the foreign faculty members had no idea what to do. Our campus is in the middle of Tokyo and has no open space. We looked out of the windows and spied a car park across the road. "The building next to it is old and will probably come down but the car park could be usable" I said. We decided we would evacuate our students to the car park. On my way to B building for my evening class I stopped by admin to ask about the `special way`. They had no idea what I was talking about. We went to the building manager. He said that the special way was just to give the doors a really good push with both hands. So much for that. But it highlights the problem of being a foreigner in this country during a disaster. Our access to information is limited, so we go by gossip and rumour ... and the foreign media. That is why so many foreigners left so suddenly. We just didn`t know what was going on. Having said that, neither did the Japanese but they have family and jobs here. We had a discussion in graduate class last night about how far you trust the Japanese government and no-one, Japanese or foreigner, would trust them as far as they could throw them. (The Chinese students, like me, get their information from the BBC. )

On a related piece of gossip, a teacher told me that she had heard from a radiation expert at Tokyo University, that the reason TEPCO are coming across as utterly clueless in press conferences is that many of the people who work at Fukushima are part-timers, who are in fact local farmers supplementing their incomes. And they have no idea what they are actually doing. They are just following orders from the higher-ups ... what`s the betting the higher-ups are in Tokyo? Can that story really be true? Who knows? I also heard yesterday that the `rumour` that the emperor was moved to Kyoto last month was a lie. Yeah, right. Show me a picture of the emperor in Tokyo last month and I`ll believe it. I notice the Imperials are being wheeled out on every occasion now, visiting shelters and evacuation centres in the Tokyo area. Even Princess Masako has been allowed out.

On the subway after class, I met a staff member from admin. We discussed the possiblity of getting some emergency information in English for foreign staff and students (though many of the overseas students have cancelled their visit). Apparently the local government office may have something. She told me that in an emergency every admin staff member has a role; one to check buildings and offices, one to stay with the injured, one to phone the emergency services and one .... to accompany students to the evacuation point ..... on the Tokyo University campus! At last, some actual information. I also asked whether that admin manager really was odd. "Oh yes," she said, "Sometimes he even goes home before the women". Weirdo.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Rattle, Stop, Rattle Rattle, Stop ... Aftershocks

What are aftershocks like? Take a look at the video below. We get these every 2-3 hours. They aren`t strong, they don`t do any damage and we just carry on whatever we are doing and hope that the shaking doesn`t get any bigger. Sometimes they go from side to side, less often up and down, and occasionally they swirl in a circle. The swirly ones make you feel as if you are having a dizzy spell. As you can see my bookcase shakes but doesn`t move, whereas I have to move my sofa and my desk back into place once a week. Aftershocks generally don`t last long either. I`ve been trying to capture one for a while but was only able to video the one below yesterday because my camera was on the desk in front of me at the moment it started up. Also yesterday was a busy day for aftershocks, 30 according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. And two of those were 6.3. This morning, we`ve had two already and it`s only 8.30am.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

7.1, 6.3 .6.3 ....

A busy day on the tectonic plates. After last evening`s shake and a couple of hours of aftershocks, overnight there was almost nothing and then we started the morning with a 6.3. It was a bigger shake than last night, not because the magnitude was higher (because it wasn`t, it was lower than last night`s 7.1) but because it was pretty much a direct hit, right under Tokyo. Chiba to be exact which is the eastern part. Narita airport closed immediately, I heard. I was getting ready to go to yoga class and was slightly concerned that the quakes could continue all day but, to be honest, I really wanted to do something relaxing so I headed out at 9am. Several of the city`s rail lines had been temporarily knocked out by the quake but I got a train OK - albeit one that stopped before Chiba - and enjoyed a nice, relaxing class. I`m still very stiff though. It`s one thing to be out of condition, but I feel like a heavy stone, due to being slightly tense all the time. We must be alright though. If Ishihara is correct and this is divine retribution then we`re in the clear. Our class has a photo of the Dalai Lama in the changing room. Could do without the giant crack in the wall though, a reminder of the big one last month.

That reminds me that right after the quake last month one of our class members tried to volunteer for the relief effort at Saitama Super Arena but was turned away. Many, many people turned up to help out but at that point they really needed people with skills, in particular forensic dentists to help identify bodies. Today one class member had a petition which she asked people to sign. It was a petition demanding the closure of Hamaoka nuclear power station which is on the coast in central Japan. "So what then will we do for energy?" asked the other western class member. "We must change our lives" she answered. I can`t see Japan being able to survive without nuclear power. Japan is resource-poor (which is why they invaded the rest of Asia in the Second World War). The only viable alternative would be to buy gas from Russia, and since Japan and Russia are still technically at war, that would be a big loss of face for Japan. I didn`t sign, even though Fukushima is now a Level 7 disaster.

After class I met a student in a coffee shop to write her a reference. In all the time I`ve worked in Japan this has been the worst year for graduate jobs and many students even had their job offers rescinded after the big quake last month. So hopefully this student will be successful in her application to get an internship abroad. I was on my way back home when there was another 6+, this time back up Fukushima way. I didn`t feel it though as I was walking at street level. I recall a colleague telling me that her parents went out very early morning for their walk and when they returned, she was crouching in the destroyed apartment of their 11th story home. They, being at ground level, had noticed nothing. That was in Osaka and it was the Great Kobe Earthquake. We had a 5 a few days ago but I was on a train and no-one noticed anything. Yet when I am at home, I notice all the tremors because I am always sitting at my computer. I get a few seconds` warning because my computer monitor starts to sway.

Marketing opportunity: I have noticed that in any office footage of quakes, people make a grab for their computer monitors. Can`t someone come up with a way to clamp them to the desk? I had mine taped down but it`s inconvenient because I can`t move it around. How about weighing them down with bags of rice? I will try it.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Not Going Out?!

MONDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: All OK here so far. Today`s 7.1 was about a 4 in the Tokyo area. The apartment has not stopped moving in the hour since the quake. Damage up north again, I hear.

The media is saying that Japanese people are expressing jishiku or extreme self-restraint and not going out, not doing cherry blossoming viewing, not spending money enjoying themselves - or using up precious electricity - whilst others are suffering up north. The media was obviously not in Shinjuku last night. It was heaving. After battling the crowds - Japanese people are the SLOWEST walkers in the world - I met up with Y and K, two ex-seminar students, now Japanese salarymen. We went to a restaurant (which was packed with people also not expressing jishiku at all) and began the usual way these days, by swapping our earthquakes stories. Y and K said they would write their stories down for this blog. Another ex-seminar student, N, is now a policeman and is up in Sendai helping with the relief programme.

I was reading an article about a sake brewer up in Fukushima whose vats survived the quake but who is in danger of going out of business now because of jishiku. He urged people to get out and get buying again. So we did our bit for the economic recovery of the north, some more than others, right K?

K said that there is talk going round that Fukushima women will not make good brides because of the radiation. Doesn`t apply to the men, I see. The same thing happened after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Survivers could not find spouses because of the risk of birth defects. Even today some families use private detectives to research a prospective spouse`s family history in case there is a Hiroshima or Nagasaki connection. And yet that bloke who experienced both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions married, had healthy kids and lived into his 90s.

Also now - according to the media - some Fukushima evacuees are being turned away from doctor`s surgeries. Some doctors are refusing to treat them, presumably in case their ailments are caused by radiation. And these are supposedly educated people. Certificates proving that you have been tested and found free of radiation are becoming very valuable now.

In other news, Shintaro Ishihara has actually been voted in again for a fourth term as governor of Tokyo. This is the guy who said that the tsunami was tembatsu or divine punishment, apparently for Japan`s egoism. (I think he may have been slightly misquoted in this. Maybe.) Although my personal favourite Ishihara quote is, "old women who live after they have lost their reproductive function are useless and are committing a sin". Who voted for this loon? Nobody I know will admit to doing so. But nobody I know has admitted to actually voting. People under 40 are generally disinterested in politics. I guess it is a generational thing. He has been re-elected by the older generation who support him when he says things like this (about Nanking), "People say that the Japanese made a holocaust but that is not true. It is a story made up by the Chinese. It has tarnished the image of Japan, but it is a lie".

Lots of teeny tremors this morning. Think I`ll go out to look for bottled water.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Radioactivity, it`s in the air for you and me.

The only upside to breakfasting on becquerels is that people are listening to Kraftwerk again, in particular the song above. Though they`ll need to update it before they tour here again. They`ll get a big cheer for sure. Other than those in the 30km radius, people in Japan are not that bothered about radiation any more. Judging from the internet, more people seem to be worried about it in the USA and Europe. And I had sushi yesterday. 48 hours ago my lunch could have been swimming up and down outside Fukushima power plant with its mouth open but I doubt it. In all likelihood it was caught and put in cold storage long before the quake.

Ah, Kraftwerk. I adore them! Their music is great for riding the Tokyo subway to. For my students who don`t know their cultural history, the German group Kraftwerk pretty much invented electronic synthesizer rock music, or Krautrock as it was known then. They met as students in the 60`s but became famous in the late 70`s and early 80`s. So they pre-date Japan`s Yellow Magic Orchestra. They sing in German and English. Try `Das Model` below. If you like that go for `The Robot` and `Autobahn`.

They remind me of when I came to Tokyo in 1997 on a monbusho scholarship. In our student dorm there were scholars from many different countries: a Dutch geographer, an Australian lawyer, an Italian architect, a German photographer, one British potter and one British singer, and me, a British historian. There was also a German musician who specialised in experimental synthesizer music, a la Kraftwerk. He had all his furniture moved out of his dorm room to make space for his keyboards, and he was so busy he would walk up and down the corridors throwing his hands in the air and saying, "I have to compose ALL!" Nevertheless he was the only one to sit with me to watch Princess Diana`s funeral. He was very sympathetic but kept looking at me and asking, "So this is emotional now, yah? And now you will cry?" Happy days!

Magnitude 7.4 - 23.32pm

And another one .... Definitely the biggest since the big one. There has been an increase in aftershocks over the last few days and then yesterday there was almost nothing and I was wondering if it was all over or if we were poised for something big, and we were. I had just switched my light off and the windows were rattling because a strong wind is blowing warm summer air (and pollen) in, and then my whole apartment was shaking and I quickly switched the light on and wondered if I could make it down my ladder to catch hold of my computer monitor but I didn`t think I`d risk it. It didn`t seem to last more than a minute or two and then I went straight to sleep. And then I was woken several times in the night by aftershocks. Tired now. However I didn`t realise it was such a big quake until I woke up this morning and read the papers. It wasn`t that big in Tokyo, 4 tops.

I think, like a lot of people, I am just tired and fed up of the whole situation. Not scared so much. I don`t like being in my 9th floor office and I do think twice before I make plans to go out - I keep a map book in my bag in case I have to walk home. I got really annoyed with my university for being disorganised this semester with no clear term dates and suggestions to move times of classes. But it`s not the university`s fault. It`s not anyone`s fault. There`s no-one to blame and say, fix it now. All I can do is shake my fist at the ground and say, damn you tectonic plates! (So it`s the fault`s fault.) A lot of people are feeling the same. A couple of teachers and several students have admitted to recurring nightmares. Not me ... because I can`t get any ruddy sleep!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Pray for Japan

Back at work pretty much full-time from now on, if not actually in my office then out and about in Tokyo trying to catch up on research and carry out all the interviews I had planned to do before the quake.

Yesterday we had guidance for 3rd-year students and part-time teachers. The current record for walking home after the quake now stands at 9 hours, in heels. Many teachers had photos of damaged homes on their phones. Up on the 8th floor I thought they were moving offices but one of the lecturers told me that all the bookshelves came down during the quake so the workmen were bolting the shelves to the walls. Apparently it was the same story in the library. This is DEFINITELY the right time to ask the uni to buy me an e-book reader, out of my research budget of course.

Some universities have applied for a special dispensation from the Department of Education in order to run a 10-week term only. Our uni`s neighbourhood is due to be hit with blackouts soon so I guess we will just have to see how far we can get. We have been advised to do continuous assessment of students in case we don`t make it to final exam week.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Cracks, Squeaks and Wobbles

Our university held its shortened opening ceremony yesterday. But the semester won`t start for another two weeks because of the quake. Several other universities are starting late but working Saturdays. Rikkyo and Waseda are not starting until after Golden Week at the beginning of May ... and Rikkyo is teaching through the summer vacation. The horror! There is already concern over what will happen once the summer blackout schedule kicks in. Students will have to be let out early. And are we going to have to teach without aircon?! The Japanese Department of Education says that the spring semester this year must be 13 weeks long minimum (it`s usually 15 weeks). It could all be chaos but that is the situation here right now. No-one knows what will happen so we just carry on.

It`s quite nice to be back at work, to catch up with people and hear their quake stories. One teacher walked for 7 hours to get home. Another had no water for two days. Many people lost TV`s, glass items and crockery. It was the heavy and the tall things that seemed to fall. Small, light things just bounced up and down. Maybe the heavy things built up momentum with all the shaking to and fro.

I also had a laugh watching ex-student Y in the uni brass band rocking out with tambourine and bongo drums to medleys from Disney. Three weeks ago we had a series of national disasters. Now we are singing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. I hope we don`t have a quake now, I thought, in this giant auditorium with all the curtains and heavy lighting. But we didn`t. We had one later during the graduate guidance meeting on the 8th floor. Most people ignored it.

Back on campus, I have been moved to an office on the 9th floor. Office 99. Bodes well, doesn`t it. The guy who came to do the heavy lifting asked how I felt about the two floor-to-ceiling bookshelves next to my desk. He wobbled them to demonstrate the danger. I had him remove them. Later I walked around campus and found quite a few cracks - see photos above. Back at my apartment, the ladder (to the sleeping platform) squeaks, the laminate floor creaks and the fridge wobbles.

Friday, 1 April 2011

3 weeks ago today

(Photo: Local maps give locations of emergency shelters, mass evacuation sites and places to get emergency water. I live near all three!)
I can`t believe it was three weeks ago today. So much has happened and Tokyoites have very quickly got used to a new way of living. For example, in exactly 5 minutes I must go downstairs to my local supermarket and get in the queue for water. I will shop in semi-darkness but not only have I grown accustomed to this, I actually prefer it. Later I will go in to work for a meeting but I must leave a little earlier because there are fewer trains (though it is still a VASTLY superior system to any of the rail networks in Britain). And I`ll take my own bottle of water. And I`ll make sure I come home before the blackout.

Going outside in Japan use to be like walking around in a giant video game. Now it has become much quieter and rather peaceful. The vending machines don`t glow at night. Those backlit advertising posters have been switched off. Most shops shut early. My supermarket closes at 8 now instead of 11. I was walking past a pachinko parlour a couple of days ago and it was so quiet that I went in to see how many punters were playing. There were only two or three (and they were obviously professionals). Then I realised that the sounds of the pachinko parlour that you can hear from outside are not actually people playing, it`s all sound effects, piped pachinko music. Which has now been turned off along with all the neon lights. It has made pachinko seem a rather dull game. (Which reminds me that there used to be a channel on Yuusen Housou – subscription cable radio – that was the sound of a pachinko parlour so if you were somewhere you weren`t supposed to be, you could put it on in the background and phone home saying, “I`m just at the pachinko” when in fact you were in a hostess club or a soapland. I can`t really see how being in a pachinko parlour gambling would be that much better but anyway ...)

It`s also surprising how quickly we seem to have forgotten all the hints, tips and resolutions that seemed so important right after the quake. I can barely remember any. I should have written them down.


Always wear decent clothes, even if I am staying home and have no plans to go out. This particularly applies to brown velour tracky bottoms (and matching velour zip-up jacket, now forever immortalised in my quake video and the reason I didn`t evacuate the building until 2 minutes after everyone else).

*That little resolution lasted a week – I am wearing them right now. I would put them in a clothing bag to send to the people up north but I don`t want to add to their suffering.

Always have easy-to-eat high energy snacks such as biscuits and chocolate in my grab bag. In an emergency you don`t have the time nor inclination to cook. You just spend long periods standing around the TV or the radio or outside or under the table.

*Bought `em, ate `em.

Always have a quick getaway grab bag. Most Japanese have a grab bag in their porches. These contain everything they need for a few days in an evacuation shelter. I have an evacuation wheelie trolley, containing toilet roll, moist towelettes and all my recording equipment. Now minus snacks. It weighs about 10 kg.

Always have a week`s supply of bottled water. Speaking of which, it`s 9.58am – gotta dash ...

10.07am Got water and Kansai strawberries. I left my apartment at 9.58 and was instantly overtaken by several middle-aged women running in the direction of the supermarket queue. Once inside we all went straight to the water shelf. Nothing. Not a drop. Some people took bottled tea instead. I headed off to look for oatmeal (which I haven`t seen since the quake). Just as I turned down the next aisle there was a tap on my shoulder (which would be very handy in the circumstances) and one of the running women said to me, “Pet bottle?” and guided me back to where there were several boxes of 2 litre bottles on an aisle end under a sign which said one bottle per person. So they`re making us search for it now. I thanked the woman and then I was going to thank her again at the checkouts which is Japanese custom but when I got there I realised that I couldn`t recognise her. Every woman in the queue was wearing a black hat and a face mask. They can`t all have colds. It IS hayfever season but I suspect it is anti-radiation protection. I came home and looked out my black cap, but it says “Forensics” on the front and I don`t think that is an appropriate message right now.