The Great East Japan Disaster

This page exhibits my series of posts on the Great East Japan Disaster (Higashi Nihon Daishinsai).  I pasted together as one electronic document.  All of the links to the articles and pictures appear as on the day that I wrote the piece.  

I decided not to include the comments under each of the posts for a couple of reasons. First, I was concerned about privacy.  I wasn’t sure how those commentators would feel about me posting their names in full on my website.  Second, there was a length issue.  Many of the comments that I received could stand as full posts on their own.

Day 1:

That’s the name of the 8.9 (revised to 9.0 on 12 March) magnitude quake that erupted around 180 km east of Sendai, Japan.  Of course I didn’t know how big the earthquake was when my house began to sway at 14:46.

I decided to write stuff on what I felt yesterday (11 March JST), and what I continue to feel over the next few days.   I am sure that everyone reacts to earthquakes differently when they happen.  I normally stand quite still, and wonder aloud if this is the big one. This one big enough for me to turn off the gas, put on my shoes and run out of the house.  I was lucky enough to have enough time and  be abled to walk out of the house into my yard, which is quite open.  The quake was strong, but not strong enough to knock me off my feet.

When I got outside, I watched the trees and concrete telephone poles sway and the car bounce up and down like it was on a trampoline.

It was strange watching how my neighbours reacted.  Some ran outside.  Others stayed in.  One of my neighbours was yelling at his mother to calm down.  A lot of people took their dogs out for walks minutes after the earthquake.  (It was probably more to calm down their nerves than their dogs’.)  I got in the car and went to find my mother, who has been in town  for the past couple of weeks.  She was in the local four-story shopping centre when the earthquake hit.   She doesn’t speak Japanese, and has never experienced a largish earthquake, so I was worried that she was panicking.  Once I got to the supermarket,  I parked in the open air parking lot across the street, and ran off to find here.  Not being able to find her in about 10 minutes of searching, I got back in the car and drove home.  She was waiting for me outside.  She was remarkably calm until the first aftershock hit. We jumped back into the car.  I am not sure if that was the best thing to do, but I really didn’t want to be outside if an overhead power line fell on the ground.

When that was finished we went back into the house.  I checked to see if anything was broken, and then I turned on the TV to watch the damage being done to Sendai by the tsunami — while trying to answer my mother’s steady stream of questions. Watching the rushing lake of ocean water rush through the city, made me think of how Marc Auge has written about how moments like these are instantly recognizable as historical events.   Watching the first tsunami rush over the city and the farm lands was strange.  I wanted to watch, but didn’t have the time because I had to try to get in contact with my family in Japan and in Canada.  Doing this by Twitter and iChat was initially easy, but the the local cellular networks were totally overwhelmed by the number of people calling and texting.  I didn’t receive any emails from my wife for a couple of hours after she got home.  Moreover, it seems like earlier warning system that sends messages to cell phone users that an earthquake is coming went on the fritz.  My wife received 5 emails of a large earthquake coming between 21:00 and 5:00 JST.  I received none.

In the Sagami area, the earthquake highlighted the how our lives totally transformed by automobiles and trains and the systems that make them work.  Traveling on the train five days a week has changed my valuations of distance, and how I measure it.  When I lived in Canada and the U.S., I could tell you the distance between towns in my area.  Now I have no idea how far it is between towns, let along between train stops. This is because I measure the space between stations by minutes, not by kilometers.  I know that it takes about 15 minutes to get to Machida and about 55 minutes to get to Shinjuku from Hon-Atsugi Station.

The earthquake has totally disrupted the complex networks of conductors, engineers, electric power, trains, train tracks, and train schedules that make train travel.  The earthquake shut down the system, and people who worked far away from home either walked home or slept in the office.  A friend of mine walked 8 hours to get home.    The earthquake showed what happens when multiple systems breakdown.  We are totally dependent on them working.

Day 2:

I spent much of my day in front of the TV today taking in the ways in which the 8.9 earthquake and the 10+ meter tsunami have torn apart communities on the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan.  (I just finished feeling, and then watching a report of a 6 magnitude quake that happened the same area as the 8.9 quake.  It was probably only about a 3 here.)

Most of the news here has alternated from tsunami warnings to reports on the areas hardest hit by the tsunami, repeating images taken by news cameras yesterday as the tsunami roared over Tohoku (Northeastern).  As these images loop over again-and-again, there are reports of numbers of people being rescued and estimated numbers dead.  As of now (22:51 JST) around 3,000 people have been rescued from quake/tsunami affected areas; 10,000 people of a town of 17,000 are unaccounted for; and they have just begun to flood no. 1 nuclear Fukushima reactor with sea water.  (I am going to write about reactor problem in another post.)

In the area that I live, there is talk that Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is going to start rolling blackouts.  As of this evening, around 5.57 million homes have lost power, while around 1 million households in over 18 prefectures have had their water cut off.   (Here is a recent map in Japanese showing the number power outages in each prefecture in the Kantô area.) The areas hardest hit are along the coast, or rural areas.  My wife’s relatives in the city of Fujinomiya, Shizuoka said that they haven’t had power since the earthquake hit yesterday afternoon.  One of the reasons why the range of this breakdown in public utilities is so wide is that there were 6.7 magnitude quake in  Nagano and Niigata prefectures at around 4:00.  The other reason is the shutdown of many of the nuclear reactors along the Pacific coast of the country.

Shelves in the neighbourhood supermarket

While some train lines are opening, other transportation lines remain closed.  Nine expressways in the country were closed; most of the domestic flights in the country were cancelled; there are no buses, cars, trains, or planes going north, and much of the transportation network has been literally ripped apart by the tsunami.

In Atsugi, the flow of commodities has slowed.  Supermarkets that were filled with goods are now empty.  (I had a hell of a time finding tofu and meat products.  The only meat that was on the shelves was pork, which is cut locally.)  Gas stations, unsure as of when they are going to get petrol, are cutting purchases of gas to 20 liters of gas per car.  And forget about going to Costco in Tamasakai any time soon.  The roof of that building collapsed yesterday.

Day 3:

Courtesy of Creative Commons

I am so not looking forward to tomorrow, as the government and TEPCO has scheduled rolling blackouts.  (Here is the schedule in Japanese)   My city, which is a part  Group 1, is going to experience power outages between 6:20-10:00 and 16:50-20:30.  Essential services like hospitals, which have their own generators, should be the least effected.   Some traffic signals shut down; building managers are being asked to shut down their elevators; schools have their own generators; most landlines should go dead; and the convenience store won’t be running 24 hours-a-day.

Other than the time that I have spent scanning articles for a class that I am ostensibly teaching from the beginning of April, I have been looking for ways of getting my mum back to Canada.  International flights in and out of Narita International Airport look like they are running as normal as can be expected, but rail service throughout eastern and north-eastern Japan will not be functioning as per usual because of the power outages.

As Japan Rail East (JR Higashi Nihon) depends on 44% of its electricity from “public” utility companies, it is going to cut back its service for an indefinite period of time.  It looks like the Tokyo subway system and private rail lines, which are totally dependent on the public utility grid, are going to have to shut their services down.  I am praying that the bus to the airport is going to be available because I don’t think that I can use the Odakyu line.

I can’t imagine how people are going to react to this.  I just finished (around 23:00) watching the news conference that made these announcements, and the reporters in attendance did not handle the announcement gracefully.  There are a lot of people that are going to wake up tomorrow in the Tokyo, thinking that they  can live their daily lives normally.  Many people are not going to like waking up to a black TV set.

And then there was light.

I woke up at 7:15 to find that the power was on.  It seems that the government along with TEPCO has decided not to implement the morning blackout to Group One, which includes Atsugi.  According to Asahi Newspaper, the government announced late last night that 20% of the rolling blackout list was incorrect.  This keeps my stuff in the fridge for melting and rotting, but it looks like the Odakyu line is shut down, so I am going to have to try the bus.

Note: I started this blog to keep people in the loop.  It is a record of my observations of my life and the daily stream of information — and miss information — out there.  It should not be used as reliable source of news information.  If you are looking for that, please find yourself a reliable Japan-based news source that has reporters who have can speak and read Japanese.  Most of the news outlets based overseas are producing visual and sound stream that could be call a disasterplex.

Day 4:

When I woke up this morning (14 March), my wife told me that train service in and out of Atsugi wasn’t running.  Normally, I would have taken this in stride, but today (14 March)was the day that I had to take my mother to the airport.  So we had two options available to us.   We could take the bus to the airport, or take the car.   We decided to take the car, despite the waste of fuel, because we didn’t want to take a chance.

We left about four hours earlier than we needed to, expecting the traffic to be grizzly.  It turned out to be light.  In fact, I have never seen the freeways to Narita International Airport to be that empty.  It normally takes me 2.5 hours to get to the airport, or to get home from the airport.  Today (14 March) we got there in under 2 hours, and my mum was about 5 hours early for check in.

Expecting a black out, we rushed home to prepare supper.  We arrived at home about an hour before the lights were scheduled to turn off. The blackout didn’t come, and we had some time to watch the news.

Nothing is certain.  The steady stream of news is constant, and I am mentally tired from processing all that I am watching.  There is no end to it.  There is a part of me that wants to stop watching the news, stop thinking about what might happen.   I was thinking about renting a DVD, or going to the movie. (I doubt that the theatres are open.)  Last night, I had to go to bed early (20:00).   My mum’s flight was off the ground, I could relax.

There are certain things that I am tiring of watching.  I am tired of watching the disasterplex of the repeating images and sound of the tsunami.  (I am so glad that I have made a choice not to watch or read foreign news sources.)  I am tired of watching the government briefings of the reactor crisis.  I want to see more people.  I am tired of watching the landscapes that the tsunami and fires produced.  I need to see more people, but there are so few pictures of people, so few stories of rescues.  It’s just the same landscape shown on TV again and again.  I’m tired, but not nearly as tired as the people who are suffering up north.  I almost broke down as I watched news on the few people who were finding loved ones, or just people that they knew from work.

While there is a big part of me that wants to stop writing, there is a bigger part of me that wants — perhaps needs — to take in as much as I can and write some of it down.

Day 5:

I began writing this post with the gentle sway of an aftershock, which ended up being a magnitude 6 earthquake near my mother-in-law’s hometown of Fujinomiya, Shizuoka.  This one was near enough, and strong enough, to knock some stuff off my desk.  I think that it is less a reflection of the earthquake than the condition of my desk.  Note to self: Tidy up your desk.

Today I took a break from the news stream to write a conference paper that has been hanging over my head for about two weeks.  My mother’s visit and the earthquake have provided more than enough distraction — excuses — for me not to get it done.  I managed to make a bit of headway on the paper, but wasn’t able to get much steam because of irregular hours of many of coffee shops in town, which were closed because of the rolling blackouts and the fear of running out of supplies.

Most of the station area was very quiet because of the closure of the train station and the largest department store in town.   The pedestrian traffic of the town flowed into SATY, the second largest department store in the city.   The store was packed.  People were lining up to buy bread at the bakery, toilet paper at the supermarket, and heaters in the housing department.

People are panicking.  The constant flow of information and the changing schedules is creating a lot of anxiety, and people are approaching shopping like their lives depended on getting enough supplies to survive a nuclear winter.  (It reminds me of firsthand accounts that I have read about hoarding.)  There continues to be long lineups at gas stations and supermarkets as people attempt to stock up on everything from daily necessities to comfort foods.  I gave up on buying a couple of bags of cereal when I saw the lines.  No cereal is worth waiting in line for 30 minutes.  I would do it for a good bowl of ramen, but not for cereal.

So instead of wandering around, I decided to do something constructive.  I gave blood.  It only took about 10 minutes of my time, and I got a free energy drink, a container of soap, and writing pad out of it.  I also took some time when I came back home during the blackout, which lasted from 15:30 to 18:45 to call a friend who is living alone in Tokyo.  I need to do more of this kind of thing.  The conversation, I think, did us both a lot of good.

Day 6:

Other than the time between 12:20 and 16:00, which was when the blackout was going on, I was watching the news about the reactor crisis. There are enough failures in making the crisis manageable that I am beginning to become increasingly distracted and concerned by the news. (I really need to finish my conference paper.)

I am writing this not to alarm my family and friends back “home,” but to reassure them that I am aware of the network of nonhuman and human action that has been able to structure the nuclear reaction to produce electrical power has loosened up considerably.  We are about 250 km away from the reactor site, the radiation levels are definitely not life threatening here, and government seems to be throwing everything it has at the reactor.  Nevertheless, I will be watching the news carefully.  I am fully aware that human power has its limits.

Edano Yukio, the Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Government, has been urging public to stop the hoarding of fuel, food, and other supplies.  As much as people like the guy, it’s not working.  The government has had trouble managing people’s anxiety and the “network society” (nettuwâku shakai), where a number of flows of information are coming without any direction and from all directions.  Information about the reactors circulates from non-Japanese news sources, foreign embassy websites, company websites, message boards, Twitter, Facebook, and word of mouth.  It never stops, and you would have to be cold and totally removed not to let it bother you.

At the same time, I realize that there is something twisted about the ways in which domestic and foreign news is focusing on the anxieties of Tokyoites.   200 km from an unstable nuclear reactor is indeed unsettling, but why does reactor crisis have to be looked through the prism of Tokyo?  Why can’t it be occasionally looked and felt through the eyes and bodies of people living in cities closer to the reactors?   It seems to me that the stakes for people living in cities like Iwaki, Fukushima, Mito, Ibaraki, and even Sendai, Miyagi are much greater.

I guess that reporting on panic makes for better news, but what about reporting more on the places that have lost so much and have so little.  In the places where close to 45,000 people have been evacuated they have little or close to nothing.

No medicine.  No heat.  No nursing.  No light.  No diapers. No water.  Nothing.

I don’t think that there is anything wrong in preparing for the worst, but I refuse to lose site that things are much worser in many parts of Tôhoku.  And I worry that many of them won’t have the option of moving if things get worser still.

Day 7:

Anticipating a blackout between 9:20 and 13:00, I woke up at 6:00 to watch the news and get an early start on writing my conference paper.  The blackout never happened, but the shops downtown scheduled their day around them.  This meant that most of the stores were closed, despite having power.  With few options for caffeine, I had to spend most of my morning  in the local library – which kind of smells.  At least it was warm.

At Hon-Astugi Station

Most of the train lines in the Kantô area were running near full capacity.  The Odakyu line was running at around 70% capacity, and most of the train lines in the centre of Tokyo were running normally.   I am taking the changes in the train schedule in stride, but the irregular store schedules are difficult to deal with as the scheduling is either fixed or floating, which is usually market by a specific time or a general comment about being open when there is power.

People move up and down the main streets waiting to buy food.  When the shops open there is an almost bargain sale frenzy to make it to the shelves with the hot commodities. I managed to get my brown lentils and cereal because I went in through the side door, but rush to get bread was amazing.

Yes.  Bread.

Right now, bread seems to be the hot commodity, and it – along with instant ramen – is sold out quickly each day.

I got my bread.  Some people weren’t so lucky.

The supermarkets, to make this fair, have limited the purchase of certain foodstuffs.  People are only allowed to by one loaf of bread or one carton of milk per family. (Bread is the hot commodity.) But people are crafty.  You’ll see people buying in pairs, so that they can buy two loaves of bread.  I was sent to the supermarket yesterday to buy some milk.  I got that, too, but there is a lot of that in supermarkets in Atsugi.

Day 8:

Today I spent most of the day thinking about a video that I saw.  This morning my friend posted a video on his Facebook page that illustrated in cartoon simplicity the current Fukushima Reactor crisis.  It made me smile.  It got me thinking.

Kazuhiko Hachiya, a concept artists who described the “Japanese political system like kindergarten,” has produced a short animated video on Genpatsu-kun (Nuclear Reactor Boy), whose stomach has become upset due to the big earthquake.  Nuclear Reactor Boy’s Upset Stomach (Onaka ga Itakunatta Genpatsukun) shows how doctors are working to keep a flatuating Genpatsu-kun‘s bowels in check by giving him plenty medicine (boric acid and sea water).   Despite the stench, the narrator explains, Genpatsu-kun’s farts, like his Three Mile Island cousin’s wind, aren’t that dangerous.  The real danger is if his poop catches on fire, and he makes a mess of things like his confused, communist cousin, Chernobyl.

But don’t worry.  As long as the selfless nuclear doctors give keep giving it their all, Genpatsu-kun will “definitely get better.” It was the conclusion that bothered me the most because it seems to suggest that nuclear power will be around long after Genpatsu-kun stops passing radioactive wind.

I watched the video on Youtube a couple of times after I got home.  It’s possible that it stuck with me because things in Atsugi appear to be getting better.  The trains were running .  There were no power outages.  The streets were busy.  And most of the stores were scheduled to be open from around 10:00 to 22:00.

And then this video appears.

Can we live with nuclear power?  Is he male and good-natured?  Is this the Testuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) of our age? He is the nuclear-dependent a loveable boy-robot with a gentle-heart.  Genpatsu-kun is not mean-spirited.  He just has bowel control problems.  Astro Boy was fitted with  an atomic generator, a computer brain, rocket jets, lasers coming from his fingers, and super hearing.  Genpatsu-kun just has the power of flatulence.

Day 9:

Today turned out to be kind of dull.  (Or at least a day that will make dull reading.)  It was the first day that I went downtown since the earthquake.  Along with my mind and body racing all over the place since last Friday (11 March), the irregular train schedule has made going to the library difficult.  Up until a few days ago (16 March), most of the trains on the Odakyu line have been traveling between Shinjuku and Sagamiôno.  Today there were no problems. The trains were running at around 70% up and down the main lines at about 20 minute intervals.

The train station is drabber than usual.  There were fewer ads in the trains and no lighting, which seemed to subdue the mood on the train more than usual.  In an effort to conserve power, Odakyu shut off the escalators, most of the ticket machines, and the lights on the platforms.

Having no running escalators in many of the train stations was good exercise for me, but seemed to be a problem for others.    I had to help one older woman who was having trouble climbing one set of stairs at Kasumigaseki Station.

I went to the National Diet Library (NDL) and the Tokyo Metropolitan Library (TML), which were both open with limited opening hours.   The NDL was very quiet, with much of its collection offline because of the earthquake. The Asahi Shinbun reported today (19 March) that during the earthquake over 1,200,000 volumes of its holdings fell off of the shelves.  The already limited copy services were not available, too.  If I knew either of these things, I would have skipped going to the NDL and gone straight to the Tokyo Metropolitan Library.

I love the TML.   It has almost everything I need.  I can surf the shelves.  And it has unlimited copying.  (They have been cool with me copying entire books!) Today, it was very busy with a full staff,  humming copy machines, and with all their sources available.  The place was lit up like a Christmas tree, and I got all the stuff that I needed in under 5 minutes.

Day 10:

I felt much more relaxed today (20 March), spending most of the day editing my paper on short-tailed albatross and thinking about how I am going to present it in about 10 days.  It was the first day since 12 March that I was able to concentrate on something other than the constant Twitter and news feeds about the Fukushima reactor “crisis.”

Only a week ago, I was being saturated with toxic paranoia and speculation from tweets and sensationalized news reports that reported that the reactor crisis was worsening with each news update.  There were times of the day when I was receiving more than 40 tweets per hour on the Fukushima “nuclear disaster”, juxtaposed between Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.  The vortex of speculation and sensationalism was getting so much for me that I began to “hide” people on the my Facebook page, “unfollow” people from Twitter, and stop reading or watching any non-Japanese news sources.  But this didn’t mean that I wasn’t receiving any news of the disaster from the outside.

The scaremongering about the risk of radiation poisoning not only affected people staying here, it has distracted and increased the anxiety levels of people I know abroad.  Along with family and friends back “home” in Canada, I have received emails and phone calls from people in the UK, the PRC, and the US.   I took my time replying back to many of these messages, concerned that what I write or say could cause more alarm.

Until a couple of days ago (18 March), I didn’t even want to talk to people that are living in the Tokyo area, afraid that they would think that I was staying in Japan out of recklessness.  Now I think that this was a real mistake.  One of my close friends in Japan has returned to the US, and I only heard about his intention to return when he was at the airport.  How many anxious phone calls was he getting from family and friends?  Who was he listening to?  Did working in a news paper office cause undue stress?  What was he reading or watching?

Did he have anyone to talk with?

The last question bothers me the most because I could have done something about that.  Talking with him might not have made him feel better, but it definitely would have helped me.

Day 11:

It never stops.

While the pace of updates on the Fukushima reactor “crisis” has slowed, I am still drawn in by the bad reporting.  I can’t get over it.  From the day after the earthquake and tsunami, the news has been constant with most of the updates on the ongoing efforts to control the destabilized reactors in Fukushima.   There is no end to it. But there is an end to my patience.  I am out of it now.

Outside of outright sensationalism, much of what was being reported outside of a few reliable news sources strikes me as being almost meaningless.

There are plenty of reports of the desperate measures that the government and TEPCO (Tokyo Denryoku) reporters were taking to bring the reactors under control, but very little substantive analysis of what the these actions were doing.  Reports come in on smoke coming up from the troubled three and four reactors.  I read stories on rising levels of radioactivity reporting on the how much above “normal” radiation was being found in the soil and atmosphere of prefectures in the Kantô region without specifics on how these levels are going to affect human health.  27 times the normal radioactivity doesn’t mean anything with out it.   And then there are stories on the fears of radioactive particulates from Fukushima hitting northern California coastline and the rising price and selling out of potassium iodide.

Much of the full length articles that I have been reading are dressed up news updates supplied by Reuters, Associated Press, and Kyodo news services.  Some of it is filled up with earlier reports.  Some of it is just plain sensationalism.

I have begun to think that many of the reporters broadcasting and writing about this crisis don’t know what they are talking about.

I am quite serious.

Knowing enough to report about problems with nuclear reactors or health related issues requires particular kind of skill set.  Most of the Japanese-based reporters that I have followed and respected over the years have developed an expertise in reporting on political, economic, and social policy, and their stories are usually well researched and well edited pieces of writing.  Little of the writing that I have read this “crisis” from these same reported has been well researched.  Most of it seems like it written to fit the 24-hour news cycle.  Some of it looks like it is being researched and written in a couple of hours.

While reporting from a position of individual and institutional authority on what is happening at the Fukushima reactors, it seems to me that most of these reporters do not have the ability to report on what is happening – or what may happen – at the reactors.   They just don not have the training or practice.  One of the reasons why I have held off on writing on the reactor issue is because I just don’t know enough about nuclear physics, the specifics of that particular reactor, its history of failures, TEPCO, climatology, and medicine.

The writers of many of the stories that I have been reading don’t seem to care.   What is unknown can be filled with speculation — usually labeled “early analysis” — or marked as government dishonesty.  Others are filled up with culturalist babble.  The worst case of this was published in the LA Times a couple of days ago in an article that suggests that the resiliency of people living in north are maintaining their “calm” and order is because “Japan appears to be living up to its reputation and stoicism – a quality they ["those that know the culture well"] refer to as gaman.”  How can the person that writes the for the medical section of the paper get away with writing such nonsense?

Day 12:

It’s been great, but I am going to free myself from the need to write something everyday.  Along with becoming tired of crying as I write, I need to focus on work.  I’ll  transfer my thoughts to my micro-blog: my Twitter feed.

I want to save my energy for the writing of conference papers and dissertation chapters.  I also want to direct my attention northward towards the people who really need it.  So this doesn’t mean that I am finish writing about the disaster (shinsai). I will just turn down the heat a little.

These posts were meant to be intensely personal reflections on my feelings and observations since 11 March.  I did not mean for them to be exercises in academism.  But I am worried that my writing is turning into a polemic.  I am also worried that I am distancing myself too much from what is happening around me. I don’t want this to turn into an academic project quite yet.  (I cry too much to move on to do that.)

There was a part of me that wanted to bleed my research into what I was writing, but I decided against it partly because I think that there is nothing wrong with writing with emotion, or with things that uncover and immodestly expose my gender, class, nationality, biases, feelings, and hangups.  I wanted to keep things personal not only for the people who I was writing to back home but also for myself.

Yesterday, I was swearing at my computer monitor when I saw a that couple of  “Late-Breaking News Panels” on the shinsai were planned for conference that I am attending in April. ( I’ll be skipping those in fear of making a scene.)

The crying and the yelling at my computer screen told me that I need to stop writing about what is happening around me 24/7.  It is time to hold back a little, and put some of this energy into the writing of my dissertation.

Days 13-14:

I’m back.

I wanted a long break from blogging about the disaster (shinsai), but I realized that after an increase in the number of panicked — and not so panicked — emails from abroad that it was better to write than not to write.   Not doing so would probably mean that I would be spending more time replying to emails or talking with people on Skype.  (I enjoyed my 11 hour sleep last night.  I want more.)  I’ll shoot for writing something every other day.

Don’t feel bad if you sent me an email.  The level of anxiousness has picked up here, too.  Yesterday (24 March), the central government announced that it had been inundated with phone calls from people concerned about “yellow radioactivity” falling from the sky.  The government spokespeople assured these people that it was just pollen. And today (25 March) the mayor of Shibuya Ward put in request to the city of Iida, Nagano for water for infants living in Shibuya Ward.  The government obliged by trucking in around 4 tons of water!

A couple of days ago (23 March), the government of Metropolitan Tokyo announced that unsafe levels of radioactive iodine (iodine-131)  for infants (110 becquerel per kg.) was found in the metropolis’ water supply.  On 23 March, it was measured at 298 becquerel per kg., which was just below the 300 limit for adults.  Unsafe readings for infants were also found in the water supplies for Chiba, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Saitama, and Tochigi.

Courtesy of Google Earth

Part of why Tokyo’s water was contaminated with iodine-131 may have been because of rainfall and the location of the purification plants.    Metropolitan Tokyo (Tokyoto) is dependent on southern Tohoku for much of its water supply, which is then routed through a complex network of pipes and purification plants throughout the Tokyo Metropolitan area.  (The purification plant where the traces were found is located in northeastern Tokyo.  Click on the map.)  Apparently, the system reaches down far southwest.  This is probably why the water of the city of Machida, a commuter city that is only about 15 km away from Atsugi, had been issued the warning.  Because Atsugi is in a different prefecture,  the water comes from a different area of Japan, so the levels of radiation would have been marginal — but probably there.  As of 25 March, 17:41,  no warning was issued for Atsugi, or anywhere else in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Since the afternoon of 23 March, the level of iodine-131, which has a half-life of 8 days, has been steadily dropping.  It is interesting to watch the levels of radioactivity drop. While the first reading reported on  the afternoon of 23 March was over 200,  it dropped to 170 the next morning (24 March).  And by the afternoon of the same day, it was around 60, which is a level safe enough for infants to drink.

Along with being happy to see the radioactivity level in Tokyo’s water drop, I am amazed at how fast the information gets out and how fast the reporting is.  What is also interesting is that little of this information gets passed through print media or through their websites.  Or if it does, it sometimes seems old news and not very detailed.  I want details.

I am finding that the most up-to-date and most detailed information is coming through broadcasts media.  The NHK  announced that it broadcast over 250 hours of shinsai(disaster) related programming between 11 – 22 March. It’s amazing how much information I get each day through reports on the radio and TV.  I can’t keep up.

The shinsai has helped to changed the tenor of news programming.  Even the morning gossip programs have become more serious.  There has been little news about AKB48, unless it is related to the money that they have donated to the disaster relief effort.  There is almost no news on Girls’ Generation, Arashi, or on new TV dramas.  (This has really messed up my nieces’ TV schedule.)

Since 11 March, the networks have shifted their attention to educating people on the earthquake and nuclear crisis, illustrating the changes of radioactivity, the structure of the reactors, and human health issues through live press conferences, graphs, film,and  specialist commentary from universities and think tanks.

There has been a call through the H-Japan listserv for help with thinking about the how to best archive the massive amounts of material on the shinsai that are being produced electronically and print.  I hope the scholars involved are not limiting this to stuff that appears textually.  The news about what is happening the areas most affected by the shinsai is not being hashed out in the print media as much as it has been in Japanese-language broadcast news sources.

I can’t help but think about the headaches that people are going to have making sense of how fast things seemed to change.  Without benefiting from the enormous transwar bureaucracy that helped to catalogue and censor news reports during the war and occupation period, future researchers are going to have their work cut out for them.

They are going to need to translate and catalogue a lot of material on their own.  How are they going to figure out what keywords to look for?  What is worth looking at?  What is not?  They’ll probably have to understand abbreviated forms of Japanese, and be savvy at assessing archives of streams of Twitter feeds and inventive hashtags.  (How long do these feeds last?  Who archives them?  How are they archived?  How will people make sense of terms like #Edano_Nero (“Get some sleep Edano Yukio!”)?)

Researchers are going to have to figure out how to work their way through hours-and-hours-and-hours of video produced by private and public broadcasters in Japan, which might not be catalogued in ways that researchers are not accustomed.  Will there be problems of getting access to these videos?  Will people look at national news sources?  How many of the regional affiliates and stations were able to broadcast news?  Will the national news reports, and the tendency of many researchers to base themselves in Tokyo, cause the shinsai to be looked through the prism of Tokyo?

I would be interested in hearing from “digital humanists” on how they could deal with such masses of material.  And all of this makes me wonder how much I am missing for my own project by not looking at video.

Day 30:

A month has past since the earthquake.  As much as I would like to believe that things are getting back to normal, things in Atsugi continue to be moving at a slower klick.  This was really apparent tonight.  We went out for dinner, and things near Hon-Atsugi Station were very slow.  The stores are were all open, but everything was muted.  Fewer people were staggering out of the bars.  There were few hustlers and most of the neon signs were off.  The restaurants that we went to were emptier than normal.

People still seem to be holding back.   There is a tension between those that are pushing for the normalization of people’s lives and those who are pushing for the restraint of the normal groove of what happens at this time of year.

The beginning of April is usually the time year when children start new schools, graduates start new jobs, and people drink lots of booze under the cherry trees — which are in or near full bloom.

Photo by C. Tyner

Cherry blossom viewing parties (hanimi) have taken a hit.  The city Okayama has cancelled its annual cherry blossom carnival (sakura kânibaru), which normally attracts around 100,000 people. The place where I had my wedding reception, Happôen, has reported that people are canceling weddings because now seems to be an inappropriate time to celebrate and spend lavish amounts of money.  (This is a place that depends on people spending lavish amounts of money on things like weddings.)

Before I left for Hawai’i, some of the parks in the town were putting up signs urging people to show “self-restraint” out of respect for the people suffering up north.  The governor of Tokyo, Ishihara Shintaro, has mentioned that now is not the time to hold a boozeydoo in the park.  The news has increasingly reported there is now a nationwide “self-restraint mood” (jijuku mûdo) that is keeping people away from parks and bars.

The argument is that drinking saké in excess and forgetting the year before it has even started will keep people from thinking about those who are suffering up north.  But the problem is that nobody seems to be spending any money, which is making economists and business people little nervous.  According to the Asahi Shinbun, one of the former chief power-brokers of the Liberal Democratic Party, Yosano Kaoru, has suggested that if people carry this too far that the economy could suffer, and that there is a need to call for people to show “self-restriant on their self-restraint” (jijuku mûdo no jijuku mûdo).

I never thought that I would agree with  Yosano Karo, but, yes, I do feel that people are pushing things too far.  When I have brought up having a drink with some of my Japanese and non-Japanese friends, they have hesitated.  And then there are others that are desperate to get together for a drink.  I am certainly one of those others.  Anyone up for a drink and chat?

I understand that there is a need to hold back a bit.  (You don’t want to be blitzed during a +7 magnitude aftershock.)  But I don’t think that enjoying yourself once in a while is going to stop you from acting in ways that will benefit those up north.  In fact, thinking about the living isn’t going to help anyone.  You have to act and spend money or time to help people in need help.  “Self-restraint” isn’t going to feed or heal anyone.  So I will continue to give money to the Red Cross, take the diapers that my friend gave me to the city hall, and — following the example of my friend Peter — buy some booze bottled in Tohoku.

Days 31-33:

Image courtesy of Google Earth and the USGS

Along with obsessively checking QuakeWatch™on my phone,  I’ve been looking at maps like the one on the right to help myself come to terms with the frequency of aftershocks — which I have been feeling since 11 March. They really haven’t let up much.

During the first week of aftershocks (11 – 18 March), I thought that I would become accustomed to the shaking; become used to the feeling that I have just began my first day of shore leave.  But what I have felt for the past couple of weeks is a kind of seismic shell-shock.  I am anxious.  Any sense of shaking or loud noises puts me on edge.  I first noticed my jumpiness in Hawai’i, when the constant shaking of the second floor of the Hawaiian Convention Center had me looking for the the closest emergency exit.

Yesterday (11 April), my friend and I were talking — as we rolled with another aftershock — about how unsettling the constant aftershocks are and how we feel our experiences of earthquakes are amplified by built environments.

While I would prefer to feel zero earthquakes, there are places that I feel more comfortable with experiences the shake and sway than others.   I was lucky enough to be in a neighbourhood with single story buildings when the 11 March earthquake hit.  And today (12 April) when I felt the gentle sway of what was measured as a M 6 earthquake in southern Fukushima,  I joked on Twitter — perhaps inappropriately — that the people in the coffee shop where I was working brushed off the shaking like it was nothing.

Part of what I think allowed for the conversations of people  to continue during the earthquake is that we were sitting in a single story building  in a small urban environment. Last night, I had a very different experience.  I was unlucky enough to be in downtown Shinjuku on the second floor of a crowded restaurant during a M 6.6 quake.

Shinjuku (Photo by C. Tyner)

The building that I was in amplified the experience in more ways than I expected. Like the 11 March quake, the quake last night went on for some time and shook horizontally.  But this time around, I was unlucky to be in the company of hundreds people, who were quite vocal and visibly anxious about what they were experiencing.  I also had enough time to look out of the window to watch the surrounding buildings and the street weeks sway from side to side.  The thing that I couldn’t get over was that it was difficult to determine when the earthquake actually stopped.  The building I was in continued sway well after the earth probably stopped shaking.

I am not sure that I would have had the same anxiety levels if I was in the sticks, and I am really glad that I wasn’t in a residential area of Takadanobaba.

Days 34-39:

I received a tweet from one of my employers a couple of days ago (16 March) that reminded me of the problems that some universities are having in bring things back to normal.  The tweet had a link to a “travel alert” from U.S. State Department, which announced its removal of its travel advisory for all areas outside of the 50 km evacuation zone.  The  31 March travel advisory included Tokyo, Yokohama, Akita, Aomori, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Miyagi, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama, Shizuoka, Tochigi, Yamagata, and Yamanashi (Click here for the new “travel alert.)

The tweet just read, “Finally!”

Now, there is nothing final about what is happening near the No. 1 reactors in Fukushima, which is one of the reasons that I have shied away from writing about the plant.  (I am not very good at writing about things of such complexity, and I am weary that people will mistake my writing on the shinsai as something like “expertise”.  Please don’t read it that way.)  According to TEPCO (Tokyo Denryoku), the reactors will not be “stabilized” for another 6-9 months.  But the author of the tweet wasn’t writing about the end of the crisis.  I read it as a sign of relief.  The end of the travel advisory to Tokyo might allow things to get back to normal for an institution that is totally dependent on year-abroad students from the U.S..

Working at a university in the Tokyo area is not particularly fun now, and it is particularly bad if your university has (had?) large numbers of international students.  According to the Ministry of Justice, 76,195 people with exchange student (ryûgaku) visas left Japan between 5 March and 8 April.  (During the same time period, 54,900 people entered the country with ryûgaku visas.) (Here is a link to the stats (Japanese).)

How many of these visa holders were just leaving because the time on their visa had run out?  How many left because of the fear of nuclear crisis?  How many will be coming back? How many people are talking to graduate students that have returned from doing field work in Japan?  How is leaving going to affect their careers?  Are they going to silence their leaving in their writing or CVs?  Are people talking about it?

The U.S. State Department’s advisory, the rolling blackouts, liquefaction of land, and continuing aftershocks created conditions in which the “school” that I work at had to cancel its spring semester.    This was decided within the first week of the crisis.  (When will historians put an end date on what is going on now?  When should I end these posts?  Is anyone archiving what I am writing now.  I have noticed that people are losing interest in my posts on the earthquake — for good reason.  Do I have to continue writing these posts for another 6-9 months?)

Places of Liquefaction (Courtesy of Asahi Shinbun)

The higher-ups at the office didn’t really have much of a choice.  Not only would the ongoing aftershocks and rolling blackouts — which have been cancelled for the time being — would have made teaching difficult, one of the universities in which we teach classes has closed for the spring semester because of damage caused by liquefaction.  This university is located in an place near Tokyo that is made up mostly of reclaimed land.   (I wrote a post, “From Muddy Marshes to Mickey Mouse,” on the remarkable ways in which the tidal flats of Urayasu were terraformed from the 1960s to early 1980s.  The post isn’t that remarkable, but the series of pictures showing this transformation are.)

Some universities have decided to suspend their year abroad programs because of their exchange-partner universities have pulled out their students. While I know that the students from overseas will eventually come back, I am worried about how long it will take.  I am also concerned about how this earthquake might have affected some graduate students’ studies.  How many students put their field work on pause to go home?  How many will come back?

Others have had to close down because many of their students are from Tohoku.  One of my friends-colleagues told me that his university has been taking in close to 700 students and faculty members from the satellite campus in the Sanriku region.   The campus was located on high ground, but many of the student and faculty housing was located near the shore.

Final Post:

This is it.  This is the final post of this series, but not necessarily the end posts related to how the disaster (shinsai) has affected my life.  Unlike the series of posts — which runs about 25 single-spaced pages — this piece of writing will be short

I would like to thank those people who that have continued to read and comment on these posts since 11 March. The thousands of hits per week that this blog received in the first few weeks of the “disaster” kept me writing even when I didn’t really feel like it.  (I found  the number of hits both gratifying and terrifying.)

The blog is not receiving as many hits now as it was then.  That the number of hits has reduced significantly suggests to me that it is time to move on to writing about things that are more in my comfort zone.  I miss writing about my research on the Ogasawara Islands or my half-baked ideas on landscape.  I will leave the writing about the shinsai to other people.  It’s time to focus on dissertation.

In a couple of weeks, I am going to edit my posts and place them on a page where they can stand on their own.  I will date the post, and try to cut and paste the comments that people have written under each post.  I think that many of the comments are beautiful pieces of writing by themselves, and have helped to keep my emotional keel level.

Before I end this post, I have quick question:  How are these posts on the Higashi Nihon Daishinsai, as well as others, going to be archived ?

While I have seen people strike out things that they change in their writing, I will be honest: I am not big on striking out anything.  If I am unsatisfied with my writing, I try to improve it.  I fix typos.  I add data. I shorten sentences.  I delete duplicate words. I try to improve the flow of the writing.  Is this wrong?

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