Shibuya in the Dark

Slowly life is turning back to normal, and yet, not really. There is still no yogurt, almost no milk or water and electricity saving everywhere.

Don’t know yet if it will work, but I intend to upload a small video of the famous Shibuya Hachiko Crossing below this entry showing Shibuya in the dark. This video will leave an impression especially with those of you who know what Shibuya looked like before the quake struck. The video was taken at around 19:00 last Tuesday the 29th of March. Hm, I tried to upload it several times, no success, the system says IO error… whatever that is. Sorry. I’ll try again another day.

Fukushima will take a while… that is clear to everyone now, we’ll have to live with this thing, it won’t just go away.

The Japanese have an elephantine memory for such things as who’s helping them and who’s not. Currently the Japanese media are reporting warmly about the US navy that is massively supporting the Japanese self defense forces to search for bodies in the devastated tsunami areas and they are also helping with ships and personnel at Fukushima Dai-ichi. The other nation that gets warm reports is France. The media here stressed many times that Sarkozy san is the first foreign leader to visit Japan after the disaster and that he has brought a delegation of nuclear experts. The people here don’t care that he has his own political agenda and why should they. He’s coming, he’s helping, that’s what people will remember. So, the Japanese-French ties will be thicker, as well as the Japanese-US ties. The Japanese-German ties? Aehem…

Anyway, sorry for the lame James Bond thing, but it fits somehow. People here are shaken, but not stirred, and they’ll rebuilt their country as so many times before. Life must and will go on.

Train Hell

Back to work and back in the train hell, this time for real. My homeline is bursting even when nothing’s wrong. Now they ride only with a frequency of 80% compared to before the disaster and the trains are so packed you get almost squeezed to death. It’s torture… big sigh. From tomorrow onwards I’ll use the “flex time” of the company and will arrive at the office only at 10:00, let’s see if that helps.

Thanks to the reduced lights and electricity savings everywhere, we are apparently avoiding power outages though. I’m not sitting cold in the dark! Yeah!

And here a little article that those of you who can speak German should read.

Unzen

Picture time. As mentioned I have been in Kyushu for a few days right across the bay from Mt. Unzen. See below. Pretty, isn’t it? Trouble is that mountain is an active volcano and erupted last time in 1991, sending lava flowing through a village and killing 43 people. In 1792 the whole island exploded and triggered a huge tsunami that killed 15,000 people. It ain’t safe anywhere on these beautiful islands! And yet, or maybe because of it civilization has flourished in this region and it will continue to, since humans are one tough little species.

Another sad story though that got to me: Just one day before the tsunami a couple moved into their new house somewhere in Iwate prefecture to live there with the parents of the husband. Husband and wife went to work and were safe, but his parents died in the tsunami and the new house was destroyed. They lived in it for one day… what a horrible timing.
Stories like that will haunt the Japanese people and everyone else who cares for quite a while to come.

Don’t know what to think of the horror scenario figures we are getting from radiation in water in the turbine buildings of Fukushima Dai-ichi.

Will go to work tomorrow again and hope no aftershocks will rock us in floor 13…

Went some more shopping today, can survive now at least for two weeks without having to go outside. Today toilet paper was out of stock, but I got water and even gas cassettes for the camping cooker I bought. Now I got to figure out how to work this thing.

Oppostite Mt. Unzen

Oppostite Mt. Unzen

Mt. Unzen

Mt. Unzen

Neon

Ah, I’m back home! Feels good after 12 days on the road unplanned. Tokyo and surroundings are quite normal and yet not. One thing that really strikes me is the reduction of lights. Everywhere commercial billboards are switched off, only half the lights in the supermarket are switched on. Very weird feeling to go shopping in a half-dark supermarket.
The situation on the shelves is better than I had expected. Fresh produce is readily available and the tofu shelf that was empty on the 13th of March is three quarters full again. There are a few cup ramen, though not many. What is nearly empty is the milk and milk-produce corner. Several shelf meters that usually burst with a wide variety of milks and yogurts are nearly deserted with three, four lonely packs of milk and 5 cups of yogurt left. The egg shelf is half empty too. Bread has come back though and bottled teas are also available again. What is missing though is bottled water. No 2 liter bottles and only a few 500ml bottles and you’re allowed only two per person. But hey, I hadn’t expected to be able to buy bottled water at all, so I’m happy.
So, all in all it looks better than I had thought.
They apparently don’t do power outages on weekends, but it’s quite likely that I’ll experience my first blackout on Monday. At the moment I still have water, gas and power and am happy for it! One learns to appreciate the “matter of course” items of daily life in a disaster!
Nothing lay on the floor when I came home – meaning the aftershocks weren’t that bad in Tokyo after all.
What I don’t like of course are the news of contaminated seawater next to Fukushima Dai-ichi…
One report I saw last night on Japanese TV brought me to tears. A mom and dad were searching for their 6-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter. Both were in the same school. The school got hit by the big wave and half of the children of that school remain unaccounted for. They say the maximum height of the tsunami was 23 meters in certain places (Fukushima Dai-ichi got hit by a 14 meter wave) Another guy was looking together with his sister in law for his mother, his wife and his son… he was at work and safe, they were at home when it happened…
It’s impossible to find words for that…

back to Tokyo tomorrow

well, well, well… so I’ll be going back to Tokyo tomorrow. Even in Toyota City bottled water was almost sold out today and a sign hung in the shelves – only one 2 liter bottle per person please. There were only 10 bottles or so left anyway. Further I heard there is no milk in Tokyo either. Ah, batteries were sold out in Toyota City as well…
Will report about the supply situation in Tokyo tomorrow I guess.
Went to an Okinawa restaurant with colleagues tonight… Oishii = tastes good.

Flyjin

Hm… no dinner with colleagues tonight after all. All too busy, production and delivery stops etc.
Another article made the round today in the company, a Japanese one. The article coined a new word, I wonder who the original creator of that word is – “flyjin”. “Gaikokujin” or “gaijin” is the Japanese word for foreigner. Now someone combined the English word “to fly” with the “jin” of “gaijin” (which is the Chinese character for person, while “gai” means outside) to “flyjin”. Since to fly means not only flying in the sky but fleeing as well, this is quite an ingenious invention. The flying (fleeing) gaijin… I think the flyjin will become a new slang word! The article itself was along the same lines as the German one called “verbrannte Erde” whose link I posted yesterday.

As for going back to Tokyo the coming weekend: My desire to return has sunk again in the light of tap water containing more iodine than it should even in Tokyo and lots of vegetables and milk from the Fukushima region declared unfit to eat. Aftershocks also still continue… sigh…
There are still people in the 20km evacuation zone around Fukushima Daiichi by the way… today they showed on TV how soldiers tried to ask an elderly couple a few kilometers from the plant to allow them to bring them into a shelter, they refused. They brought another couple out though who had waited for rescue, well, that’s good news.
Nevertheless, the no-peace-yet days continue…

Articles

For those of you who can read German, there is an interesting article that made its rounds through the rest of the Germans that remained in our company today:
http://www.tagesspiegel.de/weltspiegel/verbrannte-erde/3968522.html
It pretty well describes the situation in our company as well. I got a phone call from Germany today from someone who “fled” and now feels guilty. I talked to a Japanese colleague who openly said he is not happy with what some colleagues have left the country in such haste. The rift between the non-Japanese and the Japanese in our company has deepened I’m afraid. I’m thrilled as to what is going to happen in the future.
Several other links made the round through the community today: links about measurements of radiation. There are plenty, really. Amazing who all has Geiger counters! This one is the official site of the Japanese government, but there are countless others from universities etc.:
http://www.mext.go.jp/english/radioactivity_level/detail/1303986.htm

At the moment I am sitting in the laundry room of the cool hotel I’m staying in. It’s pretty cheap and yet it has a coin laundry room with Internet access even! Amazing. If you ever need to stay in Toyota City I recommend Hotel Aunties! (laugh).
I feel a bit like during my half year on the road in the winter of 2004 and 2005 when I traveled the US, AUS and NZ. I even still have the same suitcase called the “pink brick” because it’s pink and heavy, but one sturdy thing. So I’m on the road again with my pink brick sitting in laundry rooms waiting for my washing to dry… weird.
It looks more and more like it though that I’ll return to Tokyo the coming weekend. Although… aftershocks continue, we had one of 5.7 today and two of 6.2 or something like that. Jeez, in the past people freaked when there was a quake above M 6, now nobody gives a damn. Luckily I’m feeling none of that in Toyota City, but I am regularly checking one of Japan’s earthquake sites. It’s all in Japanese, but you don’t need to be able to read it.
The times and the magnitudes speak for themselves…
http://typhoon.yahoo.co.jp/weather/jp/earthquake/
Hope the aftershock frequency will go down till Saturday…

Work at the reactor is proceeding, with setbacks though, there indeed has been smoke again etc., but people here now start to believe that things will come under control. I hope they’ll be right.
Won’t be able to post much the next two days. Tomorrow I’m going out to dinner with a bunch of Japanese colleagues and on Thursday I’ll meet a friend who’s happening to live in Nagoya (Toyota City is next to Nagoya) after work.
Till soon! And thanks for all your emails and comments and concern!

Back to work

So, I worked again today from our Toyota city office. It was pretty quiet (apart from the countless emails) since today was/is a national holiday in Japan but our company is working anyway.
Half in fun I got “warned” by one of the few remaining non-Japanese colleagues that some people have found my comment to a BBC article about the dangers of radiation. Here is the article:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/world-asia-pacific-12785274
I commented on it because I thought and still think it was/is a great article. I didn’t quite expect my comment to be accepted for publication and I most certainly didn’t expect it to be the first comment in the row. Now that colleague said, be sure not to mention which company you work for, the company doesn’t like that. I just checked whether I mentioned my company’s name anywhere here in the blog, but it doesn’t seem like it. Those of you who know whom I’m working for, please don’t mention the name either. Ridiculous, but this is the information age we live in.
Anyway, the atmosphere in the company is not good. Apparently 90% of all non-Japanese have temporarily left, some are rumored to be coming back as early as the middle of this week though. Two Japanese colleagues greeted me with “oh, you haven’t gone back to Germany”. Myself and one more guy from Spain were the only non-Japanese in the office today. I phoned a few non-returnee colleagues that are at the moment spread across all our offices in Japan. Nobody is happy about what is going on. One good piece of news though. I didn’t know until today that there are (at least) two cities called Tomioka in Japan. One is in the 20km evacuation zone around the plant, the other is in another prefecture, though that one is also in the northern Japan region. Our plant is in the Tomioka which is NOT next to the power plant! Ah… relief. One worry less.
Being at work I didn’t have the chance to get up to date about the power plant situation yet, I only noticed one thing. Japanese TV says things are proceeding. German news say workers had to be called off the plant because of smoke. British news say nothing to that end either. I am getting the feeling as if the Germans are most hysterical about nuclear power in the whole world and I wonder why.
What Japanese TV shows the most now is solidarity. People collecting money everywhere, guys who are cleaning up the mess in the tsunami devastated regions who say we’ll rebuild everything. Ganbatte Nippon! Never give up, never surrender.

Toyota City

Ah, once more hail to the LAN cable… I finally posted the missing personal earthquake account – part three. You’ll find it where it belongs, if you scroll down to the 14th of March.

It took me 8 hours door to door but now I have arrived in Toyota city without any problems and oh wonder, I can connect my laptop to the Internet, hail to the LAN cable.
Tomorrow it’s back to work and I guess my inbox has imploded, exploded… choose which. I am thrilled as to what situation I’ll find the company in. We have a factory in Tomioka, which is in the 20km evacuation zone around the Fukushima plant… I hope to find out tomorrow what happened to our people there and where they are now. The journey from Nagasaki prefecture to Aichi prefecture was completely normal, well, why shouldn’t it be, and yet, it feels awkward to see the announcement band in each Shinkansen car saying: Tokaido shinkansen operation normal (from Kyushu till Tokyo) But of course the Tohoku Shinkansen does not run anymore. It reminded me painfully of the Kobe earthquake in 1995. I had my foreign exchange student year when that happened and went through Kobe from Kyushu to Tokyo six weeks after the quake. The train stopped somewhere and we were loaded into buses and driven through the destroyed city, past the highway that had collapsed and past collapsed houses to the next running train station. That’s when I learned to have respect for earthquakes. It will take such a long time to rebuild Northern Japan. Some communities wiped off the map will probably have to be re-erected elsewhere. One thing is for sure, it’ll take a hell of an effort to rebuild the country. The solidarity is amazing though, at Toyota City station a group of high school kids, maybe 15 or 16 years old were collecting money for Tohoku and shouting their guts out on a Sunday afternoon.
Well then, let’s get to work.

Sushi

Only a short entry today. Since tonight was/is my last night in Nagasaki prefecture for the moment, the parents of the friend I am staying with have taken us to sushi dinner… Ah… So nice. I can hardly move from being filled up with finest sushi. Tomorrow it’ll take me eight hours to get from Nagasaki prefecture to Toyota city. With four times changing trains. Nothing has exploded yet. I hope it stays that way. There was a great article in the BBC about the nuclear threat. Those of you who are on facebook and my friends there can find the link on my wall. I don’t know how long the article will be up.
They managed to get power to the plant. Hope that’ll help. And yes, the people who are suffering at the moment the most are the survivors sitting in ice cold shelters in the tsunami region…

Decisions

Well, it looks like that for the famous job and financial reasons I will be moving from the Nagasaki save haven to the a little less save haven of Toyota city. That’s 500 km from the Fukushima plant, instead of 1200. A little too close for my taste but at least it’s 500 km… And the wind more or less never blows from Fukushima to Nagoya (the next big city close to Toyota city). For the moment I am scheduled to stay there until the 26th. If the apocalypse happens in the meantime, I’ll consider other options. I got upset yesterday with the tone of the German media. Even from the little I have seen and read of it I agree that there is hysteria going on. Which seems kind of ridiculous to me, we are the guys close to the reactor, not the Germans. Strange stuff going on. It may sound strange, but I was kind of relieved today that the headline spot was taken by Lybia instead of us…
It’s one week now since the big one struck, already one week. And what a crazy week it was. The whole story has caused big upheaval in our company, many people showed their “true” characters and all this will have a “nachspiel” as we say in German, a play after the play. New friendships have been knit others severed.
I’ll have one more quiet day tomorrow, on Sunday I’ll move 700 km to Toyota city.
Japan tries to be as normal as possible. They are having more and more regular programs on TV, but of course still the reporting about the quake and the power plant dominate. The weirdest thing is that showing some variety program, they have an information ticker running under the regular program showing how many people died where or how many people are at which shelter facility or whether the trains in Tokyo are running or not or which regions have power outages at the moment. Bizarre.
See you later.

Peace and Quiet?

I stayed at my friend’s place today and took a little walk down to the ocean… Which is less than a kilometer from here. I always used to love the sea, but looking at the waters today gave me a strange feeling. There were plastic greenhouses on my way to the waterfront, exactly like those that were swept away by the tsunami. In the middle of all the nuclear craze one tends to forget that thousands of people lost their lives and hundred thousands their homes.
I must admit I am getting a little bit freaked out by all the well meant advise. Let’s be frank, NOBODY knows what is going to happen the next few days and how dangerous it will be, not even the people who are working at the plant.
I cannot really discuss my work situation here, since bosses like to read such stuff and fire people for it. Let me say this, the situation is not so good. I used the rest of my holidays this week, next week it’ll be unpaid leave if I don’t work. Many of my colleagues are still in Tokyo. No fun. Within the last few hours two big aftershocks of 5.8 magnitude rocked the Kanto region, “felt” magnitude was 4, which shakes you very nicely and sets your nerves on edge, though usually at 4 nothing falls down.
On Sunday I have to decide what to do and where to go. I’m afraid my wish for clarity until then won’t be fulfilled.
It’s snowing in northern Japan and even here in Kyushu it’s zero degrees tonight and that in mid March. On Saturday it’s supposed to get warmer…
Let’s hope it will.

LAN cables…

Ah, maybe I found out how to update the blog using the iPad.
I posted the last entry just five hours ago and again I have an adventure behind me, this is what I mean with events coming thick….

The internet cafe I was in was the lousiest place I’ve ever been to. A young, very unfriendly girl at the reception, not allowing me to use my company computer, giving me the crappiest seat. The whole cafe thick with cigarette smoke. Then I called my boss and she comes along and says I have to go outside to phone. I bought six hours in advance but after three hours I was fed up from the smoke and the whole place and asked whether I could change to the three hour course. No. I more or less threw the money for six hours into her face and left the rotten place. Next I went to kinkos, two hotels, nobody allows me to use their bloody LAN cables. You’re only allowed to use the computers in their places. Finally as a last try I went to the Best Western hotel a little far from the station. And finally some friendly people. I explained my “problem” to them and after much debating among staff members they allowed me into an office of the hotel and I could connect my work computer for half an hour or so, while one of the staff people was watching me… (laugh). But at least they were friendly and helpful and above all, they let me use their LAN cable for free. So, I recommend Best Western!
Crazy, crazy…
To be continued…