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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:

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2011 Year in Review December 27, 2011

Posted by Dru in East Asia, Japan, Kansai, Kanto.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2011 Year in Review” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-L6

It has been quite a year for me here in Tokyo.  The year started off pretty boring but got terrifying very quickly.  Things settled down of course and now things are pretty much back to normal.  I managed to make many new friends and got out of Japan twice.  Unfortunately I didn’t return home for a year but the adventures I did have will last me a lifetime.  2011 has been the year “everything changed” as the catch phrase goes.  I wouldn’t say everything has changed, but a lot has and will continue to change for years to come.  There is always change in life and I feel that this past year was not that different than past years, in terms of the total amount of change.

The year was pretty standard for me.  The start was filled mostly with work.  I was working hard as I had a personal project that I would be working on starting in late spring 2011.  I decided that working almost to my death was necessary to build up my savings.  I went out from time to time but spent most of my time just ploughing away at work.  By March, things were going smoothly until the 11th when the earth shook.  I can look back at the post I made immediately after the 11th when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred and I can tell that I was scared deep within my mind.  It wasn’t something I wanted to admit to myself at the time but it was probably true.  Even now I try to think that I wasn’t scared, but it was a point where I nearly had a nervous breakdown.  For nearly a month after the 11th, I heard nothing but people being concerned with my safety as well as people telling me things about radiation.  While the concern was always nice, the information on the radiation was not.  There comes a time when you choose your home and very little information will make you change it.  It was difficult and frightening to read a lot of the information but necessary as I had my own confirmation bias that things would be okay.

Once the drama of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster had subsided, things started to return to normal. Life never did return to normal, like before, but things were a lot better.  I started to plan my trips better and my personal project was delayed by just a month.  The summer months were filled with work and a little travel.  I visited Taipei for the first time in my life, as well as Singapore.  I was able to see various areas of Tokyo that I never would have visited before as well.  The summer was hot and humid as always but thankfully not too bad.  There was a lot of energy saving measures everywhere as Japan didn’t have the energy capacity at the time but now that it is winter, the energy supply is looking adequate for Tokyo’s demands.  It was a very difficult adjustment for most people but being me, it was nothing more than a quick change in my personal lifestyle to cope with the higher indoor temperatures and lack of light.

The biggest change for me, other than the earthquake, was my dog Sox.  I had gotten him in December 2010 and it was my first full year with him.  It took a bit of time for him to get used to living in my apartment and the earthquake followed by a trip to Kobe wasn’t helpful either.  He is such a cute and fun dog and now life has settled very well.  He is used to my place and he feels very much at home.  He even sleeps in my bed now, although I’m not always happy he does so.  My previous lifestyle of travelling at least once a season has ended though so it will be difficult for me to keep writing posts in the future.  Hopefully I’ll find more things to talk about in the future but it looks likely that I will have to write more about life in Tokyo rather than the various places I would love to visit.  I will write about them when I do go there but unfortunately it might not be as often as before.

In terms of statistics, this blog has grown a lot.  Aside from June, I have averaged over 1,000 hits a month with the busiest month being March (1,455).  This is probably due to the earthquake and people reading a bit about it, but October (1,432) was also a big month.  In terms of busiest days, November 3rd saw the most hits ever with 123.  My blog has opened a few interesting doors as a few news personalities in the US did contact me for interviews about the disaster in March, or to ask if I knew anyone up there, but I was not qualified to talk about it nor did I know anyone up there.  Tokyo was far from a disaster zone and I didn’t know anyone up there.  In even better news, I had two pictures published.  One was for my dog.  I had a picture of my dog published in a dog calendar for 2012.  It was a very small picture and one of nearly 365 pictures.  He occupied a small slot in June for just one day, but it is better than nothing.  Having my picture published in Mollie Makes was even bigger for me.  It is a new crafts magazine in the UK and I was extremely flattered that they wanted to use my picture, although it was just a small one and one of many used on the page.  Still, I’m happy to see things getting better after a few years of this blog.

This coming year should be exciting.  Last year at this time I mentioned that I was finally putting a little money into this blog and my site.  Things have changed a lot but all of it has been behind the scenes.  I have been working with a partner on a huge project that has taken a lot of my free time and a bit of my work life too.  I hope to have something to announce by spring.  I mentioned that I would have a new website last year, but unfortunately that hasn’t happened yet.  It is still in the works but as things go, they crawl to a finish at times.  Hopefully it will be complete very soon and the big project is released on time.  It is a big challenge to do things by a deadline but that is what must be done.  The year is ending but that doesn’t mean things will end.  Things evolve and so have I.  I can only hope it all works out.

Dru

2011 Sakura May 3, 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 to read “2011 Sakura” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-FY

 

It is officially the end of the sakura season for 2011.  The sakura season began in early April and lasted for just under 1 week for the full bloom.  This year has been a very mixed year in Tokyoand Japandue to the Great East Japan Earthquake.  The sakura season in Tokyoand Japanare no exception either.  While things had started to return to normal at the start of April, things were not completely back to normal.  The state of Tokyo itself was still in a mild state of shock and the history of the cherry blossoms had reminded people of the traditional stories that had been passed down from generation to generation and taught in various textbooks and media.

Aside from the actual beauty of the cherry blossoms, there is a lot of symbolism and many stories.  I have heard a lot of these and only found a little information in English that was easy to research and find information on.  Mortality is the main symbol of the cherry blossoms.  They have been a symbol of our mortality and how life can be very short yet beautiful.  The cherry blossoms start to bud and within a week of budding they are blooming.  Shortly after that, the spring winds blow the petals away leaving nothing but the nearly bare branches exposed for a short time before the leaves replace them.  It’s a very short process that takes only a few weeks.  If you are lucky, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom for almost two weeks, but for most of the time it is around one week.  This year the symbolism of mortality has been especially poignant this year due to the Great East Japan Earthquake (Tohoku Earthquake).  With over 10,000 people found dead at the start of Tokyo’s cherry blossom season, many people were still unable to get past the sadness that the country has endured for what was less than a month.  The region was also dealing with the ongoing nuclear crisis and wondering what would arise from such problems in the future.  Needless to say the atmosphere in Tokyo was far from celebratory.

I mentioned two years ago that there was a fairy tale that highlighted the fact that many dead bodies were buried under the cherry trees and that their souls were linked to the trees themselves.  Since then, I have heard a few more stories that included the “fact” that the ashes of the dead were scattered around the base of the cherry trees as well.  The symbolism of this act was that the people who died would be reincarnated as petals within the tree itself.  This is also more so for those who had committed suicide or sacrificed themselves for their country such as those who died or committed suicide for Japan in war.  I still cannot find any information regarding this in any online source however this has been relayed to me by various students.  This is of course changing from person to person but the basics are all the same.  This also creates a tale for children that the trees themselves are haunted.  This is to keep the children away from the trees, especially at night.  Some stories include the fact that if you go to see the cherry trees alone at night, you will die.  I would theorize, as with many other tales, that this was to prevent children from going to see the cherry blossoms alone at night when it could be dangerous.  It is also another reason for many cities to illuminate the blossoms at night in order to “protect” people from being “killed” or “taken away”.

This year in Tokyo was very different indeed.  While I didn’t personally go to any parks to witness the cherry blossom parties, I did have a chance to walk around; see pictures from friends; and hear first hand accounts from my students and friends.  The hanami season (cherry blossom viewing/cherry blossom party) was definitely different.  There were less people and less noise.  Most of the famous parks were quieter than normal.  Most companies had cancelled their parties and most parties were of friends and families only.  The Governor of Tokyo, Mr. Ishihara, called on everyone to refrain from having hanami parties and to respect the dead in the difficult times.  There were many opinions about this action and I will refrain from voicing mine as much as possible.  This basically caused a lot of companies to cancel their plans, if they had any, and most of the parks that lit up the trees at night were dark.  Several parks had signs that requested people to avoid having parties under the cherry blossoms and the few parties that I did see were very quiet affairs.  Rather than the raucous parties where people drink excessively, I would imagine that people just enjoyed a few drinks and enjoyed the chatting more.  Of course I wasn’t there so I can’t truly comment on the outcome.  It could well be that there were some groups that were pretty loud but I can’t say for sure.

Unfortunately, the parks were not as busy as a regular year.  This could also be a blessing for some however it was still busy.  Unlike most years where you would be hard pressed to find a good spot to enjoy the cherry blossoms, this year you could find spaces without looking too hard.  The party mood was definitely more sombre than normal however it will be an anomaly.  I’m sure that by next year the parties will return and the drunken mess will be back.  Tokyo will be its regular happy and raucous self.

Cherry Blossom Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry_blossom

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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