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1 Year Later March 6, 2012

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 “1 Year Later” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Nm

Almost 1 year has passed since the earth moved, literally.  I feel like a broken record as I mention the huge earthquake that occurred off the coast of Miyagi on March 11, 2011.  The tremor was felt almost all over Japan and the tsunami that followed cut a swath of destruction from Chiba to Aomori.  To give you an idea of how far that is, in 2007, I rode my motorcycle from Tokyo to a location near the northern point of Aomori.  It took me over 12 hours of riding on mostly highways at around 100km/h.  Of course I had breaks but the distance was roughly 700km or so.  It is almost unbelievable to imagine so much land was washed away due to the tsunami.  The following days after the earthquake was a tense one as people realized just how bad the earthquake had been and the realization of how many lives were lost and the time it would take to rebuild.

My own personal ordeal was somewhat well documented on this blog and I had made updates to travellers when asked about Japan.  It took roughly 6 months for Tokyo to return to complete normalcy.  For the first two or three months Tokyo was a very different city.  With infrastructure being damaged in an area just east of Tokyo, several roads, water mains, and electrical lines were cut.  It didn’t take long to fix everything and the speed at which things were repaired was amazing.  After the earthquake and over the summer, Japan had to institute energy saving measures which made the Tokyo a very dark place, relatively speaking.  Tokyo is usually a bright and vibrant city but from spring till summer, the city was very sombre.  It didn’t take long for people to return to their normal routines and people seemed to quickly forget about the people in Tohoku.  Similar to the events of 9-11 in America, after a week or so, the public starts to turn its attention to regular non-essential things.  In Japan, you can easily see news programs repeating information about the troubles and hardships the people in the eastern Tohoku region are experiencing.  It is a terrible situation for them that will last years if not decades.  In the past year most of the east coast has been cleaned up and only sorted debris remains in some places.  Recently the final evacuation centre closed and most of the people displaced due to their homes being washed away have been placed in various temporary homes.

In the past year I have also come to envy and silently commend a lot of people whom I have met in the past year or so.  A lot of the people whom I have met have made trips up to the Tohoku region.  I have seen one person make a trip almost every month.  It is amazing to see how many people from Tokyo made a trip up to Tohoku in the months following the earthquake.  I would see pictures on Facebook that would highlight their personal trips up to Tohoku and the challenges they had.  Some drove, some took trains, and many took buses.  The main clean-up took roughly 6 months, if the accounts from my friends are any indication.  There are still mountains of garbage in the destroyed towns that need to be removed and disposed of but they are at least sorted and awaiting incineration, burial, or recycling.  It is an unfortunate situation to see in the news recently that many cities and people all over Japan are against the disposal of the waste.  While most of it is safe with no radiation, NIMBYism has been rampant and it has been difficult for municipal officials in other regions to convince their residents that the waste is safe.  I have even heard of pleas from a few mayors from the tsunami ravaged areas pleading for people to understand and help out so that their cities can begin the process of rebuilding.  Without the ability to remove the waste, the area cannot rebuild.

With the spring approaching in Japan, it is hard to imagine how Tohoku can move on.  There are various documentaries and news stories starting to be shown on local TV to remind people of the problems that are still affecting the people on the coast however I fear that the general public is now turning their focus on nuclear energy and the problems in Fukushima.  I remember passing by an Occupy Kasumigaseki camp in Tokyo in early January.  Kasumigaseki is the neighbourhood where the Japanese national government is located.  It was a very small camp with less than 20 people, by my crude estimate.  Most of them wanted to remove nuclear energy from Japan.  There have been various demonstrations over the past year against nuclear power and they continue to be present.  There are a lot of open meetings for various government officials at all levels as well as for TEPCO.  Most of these meetings have been fairly boring but the news programs are sure to show the outbursts of residents at each of the meetings.  While I can’t understand everything that is being said, many are angry at the inability to go home, the thought of burning trash with a potential to have a trace of radioactive material on it, or the idea of restarting nuclear reactors in Japan.  It seems as if nuclear energy is dead in Japan and only time will tell if this is true, but for the people in Tohoku, it is a shame that the general public is no longer trying to help them rebuild. (Note:  This is just a perception that I have from watching various media.  I doubt people don’t want to help rebuild Tohoku, but their focus is more on the nuclear issues that the future of the devastated towns.)

Personally, I am also a victim of forgetting.  I have been busy with various work activities and I haven’t been able to sit back long enough to think about the people in Tohoku.  It is an unfathomable job to rebuild the entire area if they even want to.  I really hope things get back to normal for everyone.  I have the luxury to enjoy living in Tokyo where things are virtually back to normal.  Aside from a few reports in the news reminding people about the dangers of a potential future earthquake and meeting up with friends where we sometimes bring up the earthquake again, there are few points where I even think about the earthquake last year.  It is a shame that I haven’t helped Tohoku enough and I do regret not doing my part.  That is the problem of living a relatively busy life.  I hope I won’t be too busy to take a minute out of my supposedly busy life to reflect and pray (to whatever god/spirit is out there) for the people of Tohoku.  I hope you will also do the same this Sunday.

1 Year Later is part of a series of posts following the earthquake in Japan.  Please continue reading the following posts in this series:

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:

The Great 2011 (Higashi-Nihon) East Japan Earthquake March 13, 2011

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

For anyone who has been following me, I have written a lot about my adventures around Japan.  I have been through countless earthquakes, and several typhoons.  There are so many earthquakes in Japan that it doesn’t even phase me anymore.  At 2:50pm on March 11, 2011, I was leisurely working at my desk at school when I felt a small rumble.  It was akin to having the base turned up on a theatre system, but without the sound.  It isn’t an uncommon feeling as my school is located above a theatre.  Sometimes there are small rumblings that I figure to be the movie down below.  You can also liken it to the vibration of a mobile phone, but not directly touching you.  After 10-20 seconds, at least that’s how it felt, the rumbling shifted and got noticeably larger.  I knew it was an earthquake but as I was conditioned on how earthquakes feel, I didn’t think twice about it.  Another 10 seconds or so passed with the second level of rumbling when things suddenly started to accelerate.  The rumbling started turning into a jumping.  There are two types of earthquakes, the type that sways “left and right” and the others that bounce up and down.  This was a bouncing type.  I didn’t really notice what was happening.  I stood up quickly, and calmly, wondering what we should do.  Another teacher/friend also got up and he was just about to head under his desk.  I didn’t know if I should follow or not but within half a minute, my manager made the executive decision to clear the school.  There were about 3 students at that time and we all made our way down the stairwell and onto the street.

Heading into the street was one of the hardest things to do.  I was amazed that people in the theatre were asking the theatre staff if they should evacuate or not while in the stairwell.  It seemed unnatural to me.  I was also surprised to see so many people mulling about in a small lobby inside the building.  My only thought was, “let me out of the building and onto the street!” but it was hard to clear out.  When I did get out, after about a minute from my school on the 5th floor to the street, I could see hundreds of people on the street.  Traffic was moving by this time but the street was filled with people.  You could still walk around and get by as the odd car did, but it wasn’t easy.  I could see all of wires moving a bit and a mass of confusion as to what to do next.  Since I’m just a lowly teacher, I had no power as to what to do, but everyone wanted information.  The amazing part was to see what people grabbed as they left.  Some people grabbed their purses and others grabbed everything.  The old adage of leave everything and just get out is good in practice but doesn’t work in reality.  You really never know what you will do until it actually happens.

After what felt like 10-15 minutes outside, I wasn’t keeping track of time at all, we finally made our way back in.  The strange part was that the theatre told their patrons to head to a nearby park while my school told us to go back.  The building looked safe so I figured it was fine.  At about 3:30pm, we were starting to get settled in.  People were checking the internet and I was sending messages to my friends and family via e-mail and Facebook.  That’s when a second quake hit.  It was a major aftershock and it sent us piling out into the street again.  It wasn’t as long, nor as bad but it was bad enough to make the walls squeak.  It’s nearly impossible to explain the sound and feeling together but whenever you watch a horror movie and hear the squeaking of the house shaking as a ghost haunts the house, it’s similar to that.  Of course, we cleared out of the school and piled into the street again.  It was starting to feel repetitive.  On the street, there was one one way to break the tension and that was to make jokes.  There was no other way to make light of the situation.  We knew it was bad and we understood the severity, but it was either make jokes or have a mental breakdown.

Once we made our way back into the school, my school decided to stay open for a couple hours before closing at dinner time.  I then faced the hardship of how to get home.  For those who read my other blog, “A Sox Life”, you know that I now have a small Shiba Inu.  He was at home and I was at work, so needless to say, I was worried.  Thankfully my building manager checked on my place to shut off the water but he didn’t really check on anything else.  I rushed home with everyone else in Tokyo.  All of the train lines had stopped for obvious reasons.  It was dangerous and foolish to run trains without inspecting the tracks and tunnels.  Trains themselves had to be inspected to ensure they were safe for transport.  I never even bothered to check and see if the trains would run or not and decided to join the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people walking home.  From my school’s branch itself, some had to walk as far as 5 hours, or even more.  As another teacher said very recently, “I can’t imagine what people did when their regular commute is 2 hours by train”.  Thankfully, from my school to my home, it’s only about 10km, so I only had a 1 hour walk to get home.  It was tough to get home as everyone was on the street and walking as fast as they could.  Due to the sheer number of people, it was difficult to just get going at a good pace.  I took side streets whenever I could but overall, it was slow going.  The first biggest shock came when I passed a few old buildings and saw the cracked or broken glass.  The second big shock came when I was crossing over the Sumida River and saw the pathway where I run all the time was flooded by a small tsunami.  Tokyo is well protected, both naturally and by dykes so that most tsunami are nothing to worry about.  While dozens of people stopped to take a quick picture with their camera phones, I kept going thinking about my Sox.  I did think about the homeless people who do live along the river and I truly worry about them.  I hope they climbed to higher ground which was pretty close, or that an official went by to warn them.  I’m not sure but there is nothing I can do about it now.

When I got home, I was extremely relieved and nervous at the same time.  I had no idea what I would be returning to.  I thought twice about using the elevator and decided to walk up the steps.  All throughout the stair well there were broken tiles and grout.  In Japan, most stair wells in apartment buildings are outdoors and my apartment is no exception.  I got to my door to find a light on inside.  I was hoping my girlfriend would already be home, but my building manager just left the light on.  I don’t really remember what I did first, but I think I headed into my bedroom.  My hallway has nothing in it so there was nothing to look for.  I opened my bedroom door so I could throw my stuff down and take off my jacket.  I opened the door to be greeted by the first mess.  I Have two TVs and one had fallen and broken onto the floor.  A few drawers were also opened by the force.  I checked on the bathroom and found a mess in my sink.  The main reason I checked the bathroom was to make sure the laundry machine was somewhat okay.  My building manager said it was spraying water all over or broken so I just wanted to make sure it was safe.  I finally opened the door to kitchen/living room to greet a scared and happy dog.  He rushed to my legs and wouldn’t leave me at all.  I tried to turn on the kitchen light but nothing happened.  I thought maybe it was broken and turned on the other kitchen light.  I know it’s a little vague to describe, but there are two kitchen lights.  Once the light came on, I was neither shocked nor surprised.  I was more annoyed.  I have a large bookshelf that toppled over leaving books all over the kitchen.  I also saw broken dishes, glasses that had fallen from a cupboard above the sink, and some alcohol bottles on the counter.  It was a complete mess and I knew my night was just beginning.

After assessing the damage, I started to clear some of the stuff.  I moved some books away and started to put some of the big pieces of glass into a bag.  After a bit of time, I finally decided to change.  I got back to cleaning the kitchen and just a few small things around the apartment.  This was mostly so that I could access everything somewhat easily.  Clearing an area for my bathroom sink was important as it was full of toiletries and it was the only one I could think about using.  The main point was trying to clear the bookshelf so I could right it.  With glass all over the floor from a broken vodka bottle, it was very slow going.  I had to clear the area inch by inch.  When I finally had enough space to crawl under the bookshelf, I did just a little cleaning before taking my dog for a walk.  It was really short but necessary.  Unfortunately he had already peed all over a pillow, which will be in the garbage shortly.  After the short walk, I returned to cleaning.  I spend a total of 3 hours before my girlfriend had arrived home.  By then, all of the major things were cleaned up.  The only things left to do were to clean up the drawers and dishes that had fallen down.  We also had to put things back to where they should be, or where they will be in the future.  Some things may be moved for safety purposes.  I was at that point finally able to go and get dinner.  I had eaten lunch around 8 hours earlier and I was starving.

On my walk home from school, I passed a couple of convenience stores.  From reports from my co-workers, almost all of the convenience stores were cleared out by 4pm.  It wasn’t a big surprise but it was annoying when I needed to get dinner.  There wasn’t really any foods in my house to eat so I headed out to the nearby supermarket without any idea as to what I would find.  I found barely anything left.  There were a few “corn doughnuts”, some frozen food, and a few pickled vegetables.  I never checked the vegetable area as I just wanted a quick dinner which I could eat and get back to cleaning.  When I entered the supermarket, I almost immediately headed to the pre-made frozen food section as I could clearly see the prepared food section was nearly empty.  I was lucky to grab the very last bag of frozen pasta.  It wasn’t much but enough to settle my stomach for the night.  I returned home to eat and finish cleaning.  I spent another 2-3 hours cleaning and finished sometime after 1am.  Probably closer to 2am.  I would have continued for another hour or two but it was late and I hadn’t really contacted my friends and family since I started cleaning.  During the entire time, I was communicated with friends and family via Facebook and e-mails at work.  Once I got home, I only replied to messages a couple times.  Twitter and blogging are not a priority as friends and family are the true priority.  After, internet social networks are important.  I spend another hour and a half doing that, finally heading to bed at 3:30am.

The next morning, I had to wake up and head into work.  My school was opening late, but still opening.  I grabbed a quick breakfast and checked the news a little.  Replied to many messages and rushed out the door as the trains were not running smoothly.  The subways, by reports, were running smoothly, but I take the JR lines.  The area around my home was fine and nothing looked too bad other than some damaged facades.  No glass, which was good.  At the station, there was no information on when the next train would come.  I gambled on one and thankfully it was the first to come and leave.  I have an option of two trains which take roughly the same amount of time.  Unfortunately it took over 15 minutes for my train to come and when it did, it was packed.  I changed in Akihabara to find that the Yamanote line had stopped going to Tokyo.  The other direction was fine.  The only other option was a train on the opposing platform.  I joined the ranks in a morning rush hour like train and eventually made it to my work station.  I popped into a bakery I always go to for lunch and bought a few pieces of bread, sweet ones only as everything else was sold out, and headed to work.  At work, everything looked normal and most teachers made it in.  The first few lessons had very few students, but as the afternoon went on, there were a few more students.  Some people even decided to go to school to study as they had enough of being home alone, or they just needed something to do.  Most places were closed at that time, including most department stores.  The only places that were open were a few shops and many restaurants.  These are things a lot of people will need as it can be difficult to cook when your place is a mess.  Unfortunately, it was difficult for me to work all day.  Ever since the initial quake, there were aftershocks almost every hour, if not less.  In fact, I had to teach less than 3 hours after the big quake and felt about 5 different aftershocks.  The day after the quake, I had a different experience.  Most of my students had canceled but I was teaching almost every second lesson.  There were still tremors almost every hour or less and it was extremely distracting.  It is very hard emotionally to be barraged with aftershocks no matter how big or small.  It had been a trying day but in the end, it was over and I got to go home.

It is hard to pretend that things are normal.  Every TV station has been showing earthquake footage over and over again.  You can watch it for about an hour and get the same information.  Sometimes there is new information but most of it is all the same.  Most people around the world have seen the same information.  There is a lot of bad information and a lot of rumours being spread.  It’s hard to weed out what is true and what isn’t.  The only truth is that the world in Japan has changed again.  People try to grasp at something that is “normal” to keep some semblance of sanity.  Others pray and others cry.  Writing this post hasn’t been easy.  I try to recount everything that happened to me and what I observed around me.  I have been feeling several aftershocks as I write this and had no chance to really feel “safe”.  My own story definitely pales in comparison to those up north as well.  Unfortunately there is nothing I can directly do for them at the moment.  I hope and pray they are alright, but for now, life moves on.

Please Note:  I will not be posting regularly for the next couple weeks.  While I feel things should go back to normal, I don’t think they can for the moment.  I need a little break to regroup.  I hope you will understand and I will return.

Also note:  Due to the timely nature of this post, I had no time to properly edit it.  Pictures were mostly taken with my Xperia X10, so the quality isn’t always good.

The Great 2011 (Higahi-Nihon) East Japan Earthquake was the first in a series of posts following the earthquake in Japan.  Please continue reading the following posts in this series:


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