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Kobe April 26, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kansai, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Kobe” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-kobe


Kobe is a quaint suburban city that is akin to the relationship of Yokohama to Tokyo.  It is a major city in the Kansai region and less than an hour away from Osaka.  It is steeped in history but appears to suffer a little in the sense that they are always trying to step out of Osaka’s shadow.  Realistically, Kobe is a city that could never rival Osaka.  It is no different than asking a suburban city to be more popular than the nearby big brother.  Kyoto and Nara have a similar relationship.  Everyone talks about Kyoto and how great it is, yet many people overlook Nara.  They are both very similar and yet they are also very different at the same time.  Kobe and Osaka are similar in this respect.  Osaka has grown into a very modern large city that appears to be leaving all of its history in the past.  Kobe however seems to be embracing their past and expanding with the future.

There is no better way to experience the past of Kobe than to explore the Kitano area.  This is a small area that houses various old consulates.  It is situated on at the bottom of a hill near Shin-Kobe station.  Walking around the small streets in this area can make you feel as if you stepped back in time a little to when the Europeans were settling in the area and doing a lot of trade.  Today, the small streets can be a little dangerous as affluent Japanese drivers zoom past you in their Mercedes Benz cars.  The old European style homes can be visited for a fee in some cases, but the exteriors are very quaint.  It has a very relaxing nature that makes you wish there was a nice coffee shop with a terrace so you can enjoy some afternoon tea in the sun.  Kobe also feels a bit like a wedding capital of Japan.  I cannot confirm this but the number of wedding chapels I saw in Kobe was astonishing.  The Kitano area is no exception.  There are several wedding chapels and halls in the area that will help you hold a traditional western wedding.  The Kitano area is also a great starting point to do some hiking in the mountains that border Kobe.  The views from the mountains are considered to be some of the best in Japan as evidenced by Mt. Rokko.  Away from the Kitano area is a ropeway that brings you up to the top of Mt. Rokko which is reported to be one of the top 3 night views of Japan; the other two being in Nagasaki and Hakodate.  Unfortunately on my trip I didn’t get a chance to visit the mountain peak.

Central Kobe can be described as an area around Sannomiya Station.  While Kobe Station is not located in this area, Sannomiya is the heart of Kobe.  All around Sannomiya you will find various department stores.  Almost all train lines in and around Kobe run through Sannomiya.  All of the major department stores are represented in this area as well as a large and long shopping arcade that runs from Sannomiya out to the western suburbs.  It is also the centre of all drinking to be done in Kobe.  It can be difficult to get around with so many people in the area but it is a wonderfully busy place.  At the main intersection, you can see all kinds of people.  I would liken it to Shibuya Crossing or the east side of Shinjuku.  You can see various musicians playing their music and trying break into the industry.  You can also see various people looking for donations to various charities.  Flower road is also a famous street that passes through Sannomiya.  Flower road is a road that stretches from Shin-Kobe Station all the way to the harbour.  It is a nice wide road that is lined with various flower boxes and statues.  The statues can be a bit surprising for a country such as Japan since most of the statues depict naked women.  Most people ignore them but for me it was a surprise.  They aren’t in any sexual positions but for such a conservative country, I was nonetheless surprised.  Towards the end of Sannomiya is Kobe’s Chinatown.  Officially called Nankinmachi (after Nanjing), it is your typical Chinatown.  I actually enjoyed this one the most out of the 3 main Chinatown areas in Japan.  Yokohama is the largest but it is also too busy and doesn’t feel real.  Nagasaki is too small and it doesn’t feel as welcoming as Kobe.  Nankinmachi is very open and very friendly.  You will see many buskers selling various foods as well as many restaurants lining the area.  You can’t go around the area without filling your stomach and the smells will keep you there.

The port area is the last place I visited in Kobe.  It is a wide area that has a lot of reminders of the past Great Hanshin Earthquake.  On one end you have Mosaic and Harbourland.  Mosaic is a modern shopping complex that is similar to the shopping complexes in Odaiba.  It is an open air area with many small shops alongside some brand name shops.  It is a place for couples to go and enjoy a date.  It is teaming with young couples but on weekdays when everyone is working or at school, it can feel a bit like a ghost town.  Harbourland is adjacent to Mosaic.  It is a small urban amusement park where you can ride various amusement rides such as small roller coasters and Ferris Wheels.  Across from this area is Meriken Park.  This is a large open park that houses the Kobe Maritime Museum, the Kawasaki Good Times World, and the Kobe Port Tower.  The museum and Good Times World are in the same building and showcase the history of the Port of Kobe as well as showcasing the technology of Kawasaki.  Kobe Port Tower is an icon of Kobe.  It is a tall red tower that looks similar to a baton.  It is usually lit up at night but on my visit to Kobe they turned off the exterior lighting in order to conserve energy.  The park itself is also used for Christmas light displays each year.  While the museum and tower are interesting, the earthquake memorial is more fascinating.  At the memorial you can read about the effects of the Great Hanshin Earthquake as well as see a small section of the port that was destroyed and left as is after the quake.  It was a little ironic that I would visit this section as I was taking a spontaneous vacation to escape the aftershocks from the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake.  If being on solid land is starting to get boring you can also take a boat cruise that leaves from a section between Meriken Park and Mosaic.  The ships embark on cruises that take you around Kobe harbour, the Akashi Bridge, or even to Kobe Airport where you can watch the planes land.  One of the ships has been designed to look like a gaudy pirate ship that came straight out of a Chinese “Disneyland”.  It looked cheap and a bit fake looking.  It looked like a lot of fun for kids but for most adults it was probably something we wouldn’t care much for.

If you head east of Meriken Park you will walk along a highway where you’ll be able to see a bit more of the earthquake history.  Minatonomori Park is located in an evacuation centre that is literally nestled between elevated highways.  It is a large open park that is popular for doing sports.  There is a skate park for inline skaters as well as skateboarders.  You can find a small hockey rink, no ice of course, as well as tennis courts and a small soccer pitch.  There is a large field for you to just relax as well.  Inside the park is a small monument where an old clock is preserved.  It marks the moment that the earthquake struck.  It is somewhat sombre but the activities in the park keep the atmosphere light.  Across the way is another park that has yet another monument to the great earthquake.  This monument is more hopeful as there is an eternal flame that was lit with flames gathered from all neighbourhoods that were affected by the earthquake.  It is a very interesting concept and something that should be repeated in the future.  For those who have even more time, heading south of this region on the Port Liner will take you to Port Island.  On Port Island, you can enjoy various cultural activities.  There are several different museums to visit however the cost to access the area may make people think twice.  I didn’t get a chance to visit Port Island but I’d like to try on a future trip to Kobe.

Overall, Kobe is a wonderful city to visit.  There isn’t a lot to do but if you take your time and just relax, you will have a lot of fun.  It isn’t a city where you can rush and enjoy everything.  While it can be visited in a day to get a general feel of the area, I do recommend a couple days to just enjoy everything.  For an average tourist, however, I doubt it would be very interesting.  For residents of Japan it’s a wonderful place to get away from the big city and yet keep all of the conveniences of a big city.

Kobe Information

Official Tourism Website:  http://www.feel-kobe.jp/_en/
Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2159.html
Wikitravel:  http://wikitravel.org/en/Kobe


Renting Apartments in Japan April 19, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Renting Apartments in Japan” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-zC

Renting an apartment in Japan can be simple, but for a foreigner, it is generally very difficult. The first thing one must do is look for a good location. It is no different than in any other city; location is the most important part of looking for an apartment. From there, things get a little different. Unlike my hometown, Vancouver, the need to use newspapers and online listings are low. Most people in Japan use real estate agents. There are hundreds of different companies in Tokyo alone, and many of them have affiliates all over Tokyo. The most famous international brand would have to be Century 21, but they are by no means the biggest agency in Japan. When you do find an area that you like, you have to physically go there and look for a real estate company that will help you find an apartment. You can simply just walk out of the station, head somewhat towards the direction you want to live, and find one of the nearest real estate agents there. This is by far the easiest way to find a place. You don’t have to physically go to the location you want to live, but it makes things easier. If you want to live in Shinjuku, but you go to a real estate agent in Ginza, the agent will be limited in the number of available apartments that they know of. In this case, being a local works to their advantage.

There is one major problem for a foreigner when renting an apartment. Almost every renter needs to find a guarantor. This is a person who will provide “insurance” to the apartment owner if you do not pay your rent. For those who don’t make a lot of money, they tend to use their parents, or a sibling. They actually co-sign on the rental agreement and promise to pay any rent due if the renter takes off. For a foreigner, knowing someone who will be a guarantor can be very difficult. If you work for a company and they send you to Japan, it is likely that they will act as the guarantor, and it’s also likely that they will have their own apartments so that you don’t have to worry about apartment hunting at all. However, for the majority of people, this is not the case. When you don’t have a guarantor, you have to get a “commercial guarantor”. There are various companies out there that will look at your credit history, or not, and force you to pay either a lump sum up front or monthly instalments. Think of this as an insurance scheme. You have to pay for the service which ends up returning nothing aside for safety for the apartment owner. The major problem with this is that the fees can be expensive and you receive nothing back in the end, even if you don’t use the service.

Another major difference between renting apartments in Japan is the amount of fees that you will have to pay before you can even enter the apartment as a renter. Recently, things have changed, but typically, you have to pay up to 6 months of rent to the apartment owner and real estate agent. A real estate agent will typically take 1 months rent as an agent’s fee. This can be lower, and it can be negotiated, but don’t expect much bargaining if they don’t want to do business with you. The other 4 months depends on the apartment owner. 1-2 months of rent are typically used as a deposit. 1-2 months are used as key money. Think of this as a combination of changing the locks and saying “thank you” to the apartment owner. There is also a deposit given to the real estate agent when you apply for an apartment, but that’s not always necessary. Many companies will ask you to sign an application form and then once your money is with the company, you are formally introduced to the apartment owner.  You usually pay this only needed when you truly want an apartment, and the money is either refunded or paid into the agent fees. Recently, the key money has been no higher than 1 month, and in some cases reduced to nothing. Deposits will depend on the owner. As a foreigner, they may ask for 2 months rather than 1 month for a Japanese national. This is due to the fear that foreigners will damage the property more than a Japanese national. If you take care of the apartment, you can usually get most of the deposit back, but you will still have to pay for the cleaning service when you leave the apartment.

When signing a contract, you are entitled to stay for at least 2 years. This is typical for all apartments. While you can break the contract, it’s usually stipulated that you must give a month’s notice, and pay a month’s rent to break the contract. This makes it difficult to leave an apartment. After the 2 years have been completed, you will then be asked to pay a 1 month “contract renewal” fee to keep your apartment. Many people who stay for extended periods tend to be shocked when they hear about this as they are not expecting it. It’s typical in Japan, and all Japanese people pay this. When compared to the cost of moving, 1 month is actually cheap. There is no real reason for this fee aside from the fact that the apartment owner can charge it.

When leaving an apartment, it’s best to leave it in an immaculate condition. You should do your best to clean everything and repair any damage. You don’t have to clean it completely, but you do have to do your best to remove any scratches from the floor, stains from the wall, and hopefully there are no holes in the wall. If you have a tatami room, you are more than likely paying for new tatami. Any damage must be repaired at your expense. Usually, when the contract has come to an end, the owner, or agent, will meet you at the apartment and inspect everything. As long as it all looks good, you will pay a standard cleaning fee and that’s it. If the apartment is extra dirty, they may ask you to pay a little more for intensive cleaning, or for any repairs, but as long as you did a good job, you shouldn’t have to worry.  In the worst case scenario, you will be asked to pay even more to repair any damage.  Rooms must be immaculate when rented out to potential new renters.  It’s not common for rooms to be shown before they are cleaned, but recently it has started happening as the owners want the fastest turn around as possible.

If you are worried about getting an apartment through an agent, there are long term furnished apartment rentals available in Tokyo and Japan. They tend to require a minimum 2 week stay.  They are furnished and capable of housing one person comfortably. If you are staying for a month, 2 people can live there, but I wouldn’t suggest it for over a month or two if two people are sharing. These apartments also tend to be very small, but they have everything you need to live. Utilities are paid for, TV is free, and you have a bed and small table. While you do have to take out the garbage, you don’t have to worry too much about the cleaning, and damage isn’t a big problem either, unless you put a big hole in the wall. These tend to be foreigner friendly and easy to get, but as it’s a furnished apartment, you tend to pay more per month. If you want something cheap, you can always go to the typical guest house or share house, but if you need a place of your own, renting is the only way to go.

When looking for a long term apartment in Japan, you don’t have to go to an agent to find an apartment but it is best. You can always look on the internet and find apartments that way. They usually have phone numbers you can call to set up an appointment to visit the apartment and see if you like it. I would avoid this as the agents tend to not care that much about you. The best way to find an apartment is to ask an agent to find one for you, but they can become annoying after a couple days. They will call every day trying to find an apartment for you, and they tend to raise the price of rent. If you say 80,000 for a one bedroom, they will look for something around 90,000-100,000 yen a month. It’s annoying, but as long as you are forceful, you will be safe.

Renting Apartments Information:

Note:  Any and all websites are NOT endorsed by me.  They are just a few sites that I thought are nice and easy to begin a search.

Chintai (This is a Japanese online source for Apartments.  This site is available only in Japanese):  http://www.chintai.net/tokyo/search/

Tokyo Apartments (This looks like a decent place to start looking in English):  http://www.tokyoapartments.jp/


Tokyo – Kinshicho April 12, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo – Kinshicho” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Co

Kinshicho is the last major centre in Tokyo before you are in the suburbs, or heading towards Chiba.  It is located just a few minutes outside of Akihabara and one station away from Ryogoku.  The area itself is not very interesting for most travellers, but for those of you who use the Narita Express to enter or leave Tokyo, you will pass through Kinshicho.  When leaving Tokyo, just after you exit the tunnel, you will be in Kinshicho.  The area has a storied past and a growing future.  As any other part of Tokyo, Kinshicho is constantly changing and evolving.  What it will be like in 10 years is anyone’s guess, but the chances are that it will get much better.

The first thing to do in Kinshicho is to decide whether you want to go north or south.  Depending on what you want to see or do, each side will have its own purpose.  The south is considered the seedier side of Kinshicho.  In the south, you have two infamous things to do.  The first, less seedy, is the JRA (Japan Racing Association) building.  It is the easiest location to access in the east for horse race betting.  It’s not uncommon to see hundreds of men around the JRA building on a Friday evening, or even on Saturday and Sunday.  Horse race betting is still huge in Japan but not too many people talk about it.  It’s very common to see older men hanging out in front of the building just looking at the current horse races and deciding who to bet on.  I have never been inside the actual building but the betting process itself is pretty simple.  All you really have to do is go up to a computer terminal, select the horse you want to win and so on and that’s that.  Insert your money and you are done.  I’m not sure if there are English instructions as I’m not interested in the horse races but if you do walk around the outside, you can watch some of the races from a TV screen located in one of the lounges.  Note that you will find JRA buildings all over Tokyo and Japan but these are rarely where the races are held.  They are just betting offices with TVs set up for people to satisfy their gambling habits.  Racing happens near Shinagawa and out west from Tokyo.

The other seedy part to Kinshicho has to be the hostess clubs in the south.  Behind the JRA building will be several dozen clubs and bars.  Most of these are the cheaper cousins of their expensive Ginza and Kabukicho counterparts.  It’s still somewhat seedy during the day and the fact that there are several tall buildings obscuring the actual area makes it interesting.  Once you walk behind the JRA building at night, you’ll suddenly come upon several buildings with various lights flashing and men trying to push you into their clubs so that you can spend several tens of thousands of yen.  Nearby you can also find several love hotels that are more functional than fun.  Walking around in the area late at night may not be safe for everyone and it definitely isn’t as safe as Kabukicho.  There is a reason many people call Kinshicho the Kabukicho of the east and I would tend to agree for just this area alone.  The bad thing is that people tend to associate Kinshicho with these clubs and only these clubs these days.  When I talked about the storied past of Kinshicho, I was talking about these clubs in the south, but I was also referencing the fact that Kinshicho, botn north and south, was once a central area for the Yakuza, Japanese organized crime.  These days they are limited more to the southern areas.

While the south may sound like a bad area to visit, due to its reputation, the shops tend to be a lot cheaper.  You have a greater tendancy to find good cheap restaurants to eat in, cheap goods, and shopping tends to be more Japanese in flavour.  There is a small department store, small for Tokyo standards, and a small Yodobashi Camera.  Kinshicho has the usual set of small ramen and donburi shops as well as one of several Wallmart shops in Tokyo.  While they go under the name Seiyu, or as most people in Kinshicho say, Livin.  The company known as Seiyu is actually a wholely owned subsidiary of Wallmart.  It can be great as they offer the most competitive prices for their items and they also sell Wallmart goods.  It’s great to find really cheap food products when shopping there, but that isn’t always the case.  When shopping it is always true that if you visit one shop, they specialize in one type of food while another specializes in others.  It never hurts to shop around but it does take a lot more time to get things done.

The north side of Kinshicho has undergone a dramatic change over the last 5-10 years, or so I’ve been told.  In the past it was a Yakuza neighbourhood.  There would be several yakuza living in the area and the area was fairly “dangerous” to live in.  While I think it could be dangerous, as long as you keep to yourself in any such area, you should be okay.  In Japan, I don’t believe the organized crime is actually going to start shooting people randomly or have a gang war, but those were possibilities.  Today, things are very different.  The entire area has undergone some revitalization and a type of gentrification.  Many of the local businesses have put up signs saying that the Yakuza are no longer welcome in their shops and to leave the area.  Many of them seem to have relocated more towards the south and east and many of them have “left” their organizations.  In fact, as of the writing of this post, the police are cracking down on organized crime for various reasons which allow many areas to be revitalized.  The north area of Kinshicho is one of them.  One of the first major turning points in the north’s revitalization has to be the Olinas mall.  It is a larger western style shopping mall with lots of underground parking and various shops inside.  There is a theatre as well as a small food court as well.  The layout is a bit confusing to get around but it’s a nice place to do a bit of shopping, but for those looking for a Japanese style of life, this is not the place to go.  It is your typical western shopping mall teeming with teenagers.

One of the focal points of Kinshicho has to be Kinshi Park.  It’s a medium sized park for Tokyo that is currently undergoing renovations.  Renovations should be completed by the end of 2011, but this is just my own personal guess.  In the north east corner is the Sumida City Gymnasium.  It is a public community centre of sorts where you can do all kinds of sports.  You can play basketball, badminton, table tennis, go swimming, participate in aerobics, or even use a weight room.  The gym was completed in March 2010 and still looks very new.  The facilities are very cheap but you do need to share with the others who use it.  Next to the gym on the west side is a set of tennis courts.  If you have never practiced playing tennis in Tokyo, you will be in for a bit of a surprise.  They utilize a type of artificial turf and rubber pebbles to simulate grass.  Unlike typical artificial turf, this type seems to have a little flexibility and might be easier on your joints, but I haven’t personally tried it so I can’t comment too much on it.  It is still very popular and getting a chance to use it is still difficult.  In the south east corner of the park they are erecting a dual baseball field.  Basically it will be two baseball diamonds back to back that is designed for practice rather than real competition.  For real competition, I believe they will utilize just none of the diamonds at a time.  It’s an interesting design and it will be finished in early 2011.  As for the rest of the park, most of it is just open space with a bit of greenery.  I’m not sure how much will stay the same but the large open area is popular for young students to play in and for people to just relax on a nice spring afternoon.  If you need a little spiritual help, there is a small shrine located on the south west corner that provides a very unique look at Japan.

Aside from the park and Olinas, the other main anchor of the north has to be the Arcakit building and the Termina complex that surrounds the station.  The Arcakit main building has several floors of shopping including a large Daiso.  There are lots of things to see and do inside and it can be treated as its own shopping mall.  Be aware that there will be lots of families there as there is a famous baby shop where you can buy bulk items and almost anything you can imagine a child would want.  If you fancy a nice meal, I’d recommend the top floor of the building as the north facing shops have wonderful views of Tokyo Sky Tree which is nearly completed.  If the station area is not of much interest to you, you can always head just a little north into the small side streets.  This area has various little shops and restaurants of varying quality.  Some restaurants are very delicious and others are not so.  It can be hit or miss but it’s something that you have to try on your own. If you are interested in enjoying a little music, especially classical music, the Sumida Triphony Hall located in the Tobu Hotel is a very popular place.  Almost every weekend has a major concert and the halls are available for rent, at a price of course.  If that doesn’t interest you that much, they do have a shuttle bus that runs nearly daily and it can take you to Disneyland.

I think that Kinshicho itself will be undergoing a small change in the near future due to its proximity to Tokyo Sky Tree.  In order to cash in on the new attraction in the area, Kinshicho will have to do something.  While it’s difficult to cash in on it as Kinshicho is a little far from the tower itself, they will need to change a little in order to create a destination spot for domestic travellers.  I’m sure it could happen if the right people do the right things.  Removing some of the old and dirty shops is a start.  The small delicious shops will have to stay to retain the character of Kinshicho and some of the buildings will need a small renovation to make it more inviting to the casual shopper.  Like most areas, they need to find a niche that will attract people.  The north will continue to change with time as families and tourists start to take over.  Shop owners will be forced to change and the community will want to do something about it.  The south may not change much, if at all due to the character of the people and the lack of viewing locations of Tokyo Sky Tree.  Tokyo Sky Tree will be the major catalyst for the entire region, but it will still depend on the people and businesses in the area.


The New Normal (After the 2011 Great Higashi-Nihon Earthquake) April 5, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “The New Normal (After the 2011 Great Higashi-Nihon Earthquake)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Et


It has been over 3 weeks since the Great Higashi-Nihon Earthquake occurred.  There have been scenes of shaking and dozens if not hundreds of videos of the tsunami that ensued.  This was quickly followed a couple days later with serious problems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.  Things had gone from terrible to unbelievable.  I had “survived the big one” and now there was this big question mark about becoming the Incredible Hulk.  For the first few days, II would joke about this day after day to break the tension at work.  We even discussed what superhero we’d like to become if Tokyo received a huge dose of radiation.  Of course this was a nervous joke to break the tension but we have all survived so far.  The problems at the plant are not gone and they remain at the top of people’s concern in Tokyo and the general area.  People have almost completely forgotten about the fallout of the natural disaster that started this calamity.  With a few weeks passing, things are starting to return to normal, or what can be considered normal in today’s world.

The best way to explain the feeling in Tokyo is to remind people about what they were doing after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America.  It was a shocking, mind numbing event that stunned the world for an entire week.  The shock from a natural disaster tends to last less the farther you are from the affected areas as they are less affected.  For anyone who has a friend in Japan, or who had a friend in Japan, they will feel the effects of this earthquake a little longer, but for those who actually lived through it, it is only starting to subside.  For people who have family living in Japan, this ordeal may not have ended yet.  Tokyo has changed and it will not be the same for a long time.  Just like after the 9/11 attacks people don’t forget.  People have experienced a great trauma both physically and mentally.  After the earthquake you could only watch coverage of the search for survivors on the news.  The news was completely dominated for a few days with nothing but earthquake information.  The first business day after the quake saw several television stations begin to broadcast their usual programming.  Several live shows were still interrupted due to the seriousness of the situation, but most have returned after a one week absence.  If I recall correctly, America did something similar.

Life in Tokyo itself seems like nothing has changed, at least in terms of what people do.  Work has returned for those who can and people are starting to worry less and less about the aftershocks and the nuclear plant to the north.  People are still very annoyed and complain everyday about the aftershocks.  It is a new reality in Tokyo that people will feel at least one tremor each day but it is subsiding.  For those living north of Tokyo, they will tend to feel more but at least this has subsided from the constant aftershocks that occurred for the first few days after the initial quake.  Overall people are now more nervous about aftershocks than they were before the big quake.  For those living in Japan, earthquakes are a fact of life and you routinely experience them every couple months or so.  After the big earthquake, I find that people are more nervous about aftershocks than before the big quake.  The other normalcy is the lack of power, or the need for people to tell others to conserve power.  It is a reality that Tokyo and the northern areas of Honshu will be suffering a power shortage for a long time.  It takes months if not years to create new capacity after the nuclear reactors in the area had shut down.  Losing roughly 30% of a region’s power output is devastating.  While talks of surviving the spring are okay, talks about the hot troubled summer have already started.  People are worrying about what will happen when the temperatures soar to over 35C with the humidity.  It will not be easy for Tokyo to cope but we will somehow as rolling blackouts and the necessity to save energy is important.  It appears that shops will now close early and lighting around the city will be dark for the indefinite future.

The worst part of the new normalcy is the nuclear power plant in Fukushima.  We are constantly getting reports from Mr. Edano and the Prime Minister’s Office.  They update Japan once or twice a day, at the moment, and they try to calm the general public.  It is causing a lot of concern in Japan overall, but mostly in Tokyo.  People are hoarding food all the time and supermarkets cannot keep up with the demand.  It is difficult to satisfy people when millions rush out to buy litres of bottled water as the water is unsafe to drink, for infants.  It’s important to note that the water isn’t dangerous for adults, yet adults are being selfish enough to buy as much as possible regardless of whether they have children or not.  It’s a shame to be honest but understandable when people fear for their health, let alone their lives.  The other normalcy is living with radiation.  It took me 5 days to relax and understand that the amount of radiation in the air is minimal and won’t have any serious effects on my health.  Even then, I still get people telling me to worry as it is a cumulative effect.  With reports saying it can take weeks or months for the plant to become stable and the radiation to stop being emitted, in small doses mind you, it does make me wonder if I will have any longer term problems with the constant barrage of millisieverts of radiation.  I’m sure it’s safe as there are several international agencies that say so, as well as many governments saying 80km is the danger zone.  I can only hope they are right and don’t make any mistakes.  The sentiment around Tokyo appears to be the same.  People are very worried inside, although it can be difficult to see it on their faces.  The fears of the nuclear radiation is constantly on the minds of most people however they either hide it behind their Japanese culture to persevere; hide their thoughts behind a mountain of work; or they are completely ignorant of the situation in Fukushima.

It’s hard to explain how stressed I was and how much is still lying below the surface.  I wish the Fukushima plant problems would be resolved so that I can focus all of my attention on the needs of those who lost their homes and loved ones on the Pacific coast of Tohoku.  It’s terrible and I’m sad for their loss.  I fear for the day I have to talk to a student and they tell me they lost part of their family in the tsunami or the earthquake itself.  There is a high chance it will happen but I hope it doesn’t.  It’s hard not to find someone who doesn’t know someone or knows someone who knows someone that is living in that region.  I have a friend who used to live in one of those regions, whether it was on the coast or in the mountains, I’m not sure but it was in that region nonetheless.  Many people are trying to help others in the region but without any idea as to what to do it can be difficult.  For now most of Japan is trying to raise money to help the people who have no homes left.  Please donate if you can.

Donation Information:

Japan Red Cross:  http://www.jrc.or.jp/english/relief/l4/Vcms4_00002070.html

Please donate to your local Red Cross or Red Crescent if you don’t live in Japan as they will ensure the funds reach Japan.

Note:  Pictures without captions are from before the earthquake.

The New Normal (After the 2011 Great Higashi-Nihon Earthquake) is part of a series of posts following the earthquake in Japan.  Please continue reading the following posts in this series:

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