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.