Thursday, 22 December 2011


Writing this may be tempting fate.... but the aftershocks have started to drop off noticeably.  Yesterday there was just one for the whole day. The 18th and 19th also had just one aftershoock.  It's been a while since I have felt one, but not feeling them doesn't mean they are not happening.  There have often been 10 or more aftershocks in a day and the only reason I know about them is from checking the Japan Meteorological agency website.

But now... they are actually happening much less.

Fingers crossed.

05:14 JST 22 Dec 201105:10 JST 22 Dec 2011Fukushima-ken OkiM4.63
11:11 JST 21 Dec 201111:06 JST 21 Dec 2011Iwate-ken OkiM4.63
18:15 JST 20 Dec 201118:10 JST 20 Dec 2011Ibaraki-ken HokubuM3.33
15:31 JST 20 Dec 201115:26 JST 20 Dec 2011Iwate-ken OkiM5.03
10:39 JST 20 Dec 201110:35 JST 20 Dec 2011Akita-ken Nairiku-nambuM2.63
02:31 JST 20 Dec 201102:24 JST 20 Dec 2011Ibaraki-ken HokubuM4.33
02:27 JST 20 Dec 201102:24 JST 20 Dec 2011Ibaraki-ken HokubuM4.33
23:43 JST 19 Dec 201123:40 JST 19 Dec 2011Ibaraki-ken HokubuM4.13
16:05 JST 19 Dec 201116:01 JST 19 Dec 2011Chiba-ken Toho-okiM4.63
05:39 JST 19 Dec 201105:36 JST 19 Dec 2011Ishikawa-ken Noto-chihoM4.13
18:06 JST 18 Dec 201118:02 JST 18 Dec 2011Chiba-ken Toho-okiM4.83
17:54 JST 17 Dec 201117:50 JST 17 Dec 2011Noto-hanto OkiM4.33
15:16 JST 16 Dec 201115:12 JST 16 Dec 2011Tochigi-ken NambuM4.33

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Yamanote line

Why spend 60 minutes travelling around it when you can spend less than 10 minutes passing through the stations virtually!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

A..... kita

This JR poster for Akita has been around for a couple of weeks.  A namahage in an onsen with sake (the sake puzzles me a little since I thought it was taboo to drink sake in an onsen - something only obnoxious Russian sailors did). A....kita - is a pun which means both Akita and I  have (finally) arrived.  It's  apt description of  how I feel upon arriving there after the long trip up.   "akita" can also have the meaning 'bored' which could make for a funny send up of the poster.
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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The manjis and bike confiscation day

Mercifully I have found a place to park that is sufficiently grey zone not to have to pay and not to have my bike confiscated. At 4,000Y ($50 or so) per bike, and about 10 stations in the local govt. area, the local govt. are onto a serious cash cow.  Bikes get confiscated perhaps every 3 weeks, or whenever the local govt is short on cash.

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A Christmas Gimmick

Tonight I had dinner with former colleagues.  We were seduced by the Christmas gimmick and ordered beer by the stocking.... Not so easy to drink out of  but a good night.

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Go to Tohoku!!!

JR has a new Tohoku campaign. I've been quite underwhelmed by it. The colours of Tohoku are beautiful and yet they came up with a retro 80s looking pink and blue and green and grey campaign.  And then after seeing the Hayabusa, I realised the colours are probably inspired by the new shinkansen.

Go to Tohoku!

there is a special Tohoku 3 day pass happening at the moment.
It's a pity I won't have holiday time to use it.

Iwate  and Akita
 Iwate's ramen is presumably Morioka rei-men -
cold spicy Korean style noodles,  the Akita
picture is Namahage from Oga peninsula
Aomori - Aomori = apples
Miyagi & Masamune Date - Miyagi's most famous historical figure
Yamagata - these also seem rather generic
Fukushima, notably on its own - no prefecture would like
to be boxed in with Fukushima.  Aizu castle. Aizu is actually
a long way from the nuclear plant. Fukushima is the second
biggest prefecture in Japan.  It's a great pity for Aizu area to be
associated with radiation.  I wonder if they are applying to
move the borders to be part of Niigata.


Misfortune took us back to Akita during the week, a bright spot was the return trip, a ride on the Hayabusa. The Hayabusa is the new shinkansen that goes to Aomori. It's sleek and fast (even though strong winds and blizzards had it running 5 minutes late) and has power points at each seat.   Very very cool.
The Hayabusa with a sign painted on it - let's connect Japan!

Very sleek!

Not the only te-chan on the station, sometimes the people taking photos
are more interesting than the subject of the photos.
than the 

For a moment I was excited....

For a moment, a split second , I was excited - black rye bread.... Japan has come so far... not quite pumpernickel but  black rye bread.... and I even have sour cream in the fridge....
Alas.... closer inspection... chocolate bread.... I should have known.
At least it wasn't like the olden days before I could read Japanese when I bough MSG thinking it was some superior kind of sea salt crystal.....

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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

One of life's puzzles

Why is it that when there is  a single lane escalator, the person who pushes you aside to get  on it ahead of you invariably gets on and stands still..... ?

Friday, 11 November 2011

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Starbucks..... you know better than this...

Let's merry.   While we're at it... why not let's frappucino as well.No wonder schools are full of signs for club activities like "Let's basketball" and "Let's English."

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Enviable bravery...

This is radically brave.
This man was in his 60s or 70s.
I wish I had this degree of bravery!

pronunciation - karma

The other day I came across this and had a bit of chuckle. I admire her spirit...she's probably never had an English lesson but as struggling almost monolingual tried to avoid smug feelings....  but nonetheless it is quite funny.

Yesterday one of the students came to class with a bottle of coke.  I don't mind if they eat their breakfast in the first few mins of class  - most of them eat at home but the ones living alone tend to   buy breakfast at a convenience store on the way to uni.  I draw the line at coke - it has to be something nutritious.  I said to the student in question.... "next week, if you need to eat, please come with onigiri instead.  (onigiri being a rice ball).  He looked at me with more than a bit of surprise...with  my Anglicised pronunciation.... he heard "Please come with geri instead"   geri = diahorrea.....

Friday, 28 October 2011

What good luck - or perhaps good karma...

I've been lamenting the increase in littering lately.  Behind the old pachinko parlor where I often park in a grey zone of legality it has been getting very very dirty.   So working on the assumption that I can't complain about the grottiness if I don't make active efforts to improve it, I took a pair of  gunte  - litterally army gloves but there actually coarse woven cotton gloves that are cheap enough to be disposable if need be -  to the station with a garbage bag this morning to clean up the area.  And if I do say so myself, it looked much better.

Fast forward to this evening.

Hiro & I caught the same train home.  Often he calls as he finishes work, if I am still in the uni library I can make the same train as he does quite easily.  Carriage 4.   When we arrived I showed him the improvement in the appearance of the area.  By chance the local govt. had been out tagging bikes for removal, which was actually quite reasonable since it seems like some have been dumped there, and bike infringement notices had been carelessly dropped, like  losing betting slips on race day.  I picked them up & left them in the garbage bag from the morning....

Fast forward 20 mins...

Wandering around the supermarket to find something to go with the morning's soba noodles....the checkout....AAAAARGHGHGHHHHH my wallet.  I had it as I came out of the subway.  Gone...  Only yesterday I had had a clear sensation that this would be the first time ever I would wear a wallet out before losing it....  Aaaarghhhhh.... back to the station... look... look... back to the rubbish bag.... back to the bike parking area - quite dark.... arrrghh.... Hiro not very impressed.... understandable since I lose things so often it might be considered a hobby rather than a habit..... to the subway ... nothing.... back to the bikes.... the rubbish bags....arrghh... the police box....aaarghhhh

Hiro calmly fills out the form.... $250 dollars (thank goodness I paid the phone bill yesterday... what a pity I didn't extend my commuter pass today as I'd planned)  1 credit card (hoping my Australian one isn't there...), 1 ATM card, (hoping my Australian one isn't there....) 1 train pass (phew I registered it) I foreigners card (thank goodness they are still being processed at the local office), 1 student card, (can't get into the library without it....) 1 staff card (is that a sackable offence?)   the plethora of supermarket and electronic store loyalty cards aren't important enough to go on the policeman's list (lucky experience has guided me to always use the points rather than save them....).  The policeman tells Hiro to write on the form he is filling in that it's proxy because I can't "do" Japanese...I ask Hiro to fill out because I can't write kanji neatly... I didn't check  to see what he wrote... 

Home via the places we've been.  Nothing at the bike stand area.  Toss the leaves with my shoe.. karma... please ....St Anthony..... arrghhhh.....  Payback for  being sanctimonious about littering?  arghhh.... Hiro marvels at the irony of dropping a wallet while being indignant about littering....

Walked the length and back. Asked a girl talking on a mobile phone if she'd seen it.  No....she'd just arrived...


One last kick of the leaves.....YATTTAAAAAAAA..... found it... still there,, in the shadowed part of the shadows, behind a witches hat (triange shaped road marker thing).... oh my goodness... what a relief.... 

Home two hours later than anticipated but I'll sleep well tonight, once the adrenalin stops...

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Pictorial records of tsunami clean up progress from Kyodo

This is a link to a website with amazing pictorial records of the tsunami from Kyodo.
There are three photos of each site. The first the immediate damage of the tsunami, the second taken in June and the third in September.  Rikuzen Takata, where I spent a week, is among the photos.  It's a great testament to the effort that has been made by locals, the self defence force, the US military, three levels of government, and tens if not hundreds of thousands of volunteers. 

Reconstruction has barely begun - plenty of places still don't have electricity -  but the progress has been phenomenal.  

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Akebi - a cooking challenge

Inside the box of goodies was akebi - I have no idea what it is in English. It's a Tohoku food apparently, Yamagata people are thought particularly savage, even from their fellow Tohoku-ites because they eat the bitter skin.  According to kyoto foodie it's considered a fruit - the fleshy inside part is like a rambutan or lychee in taste but has fleshy seeds like a pomegranate (only much softer and fleshier).   Also according to kyoto foodie the wild ones split open naturally whereas the cultivated ones need a bit of help from a knife.  I guess these were wild ones.

Hiro's suggestion was cooking like miso eggplant, which I did.  Very tasty. I cooked two  - peeled one and left the other as is.  I liked the skin on.  Definitely not the food of a savage!
Cooked Akebi

A feast from Akita

Akita's signature dish - Kiritanpo.
On Sunday out of the blue Hiro's mother sent a food parcel (since we can't buy food in Tokyo).  Some vegies and chestnuts from the vegie patch, some local apples, oldest uncle's new season rice and.... kiritampo.  Kiritampo is the signature dish of Akita prefecture & Hiro's mother cooks it to perfection.  It's a chicken hot pot with mushrooms - mostly maitake and shiitake but some shimeji as well - gobo, naganegi (leek?), and seri (a relative of cress I guess).    It came in five parts.  The stock, in a 2 litre pet bottle, the cooked mushrooms, gobo and chicken together in a plastic bag, the kiritampo rice sticks in their supermarket packet, and the negi and seri in different bags.   She would have simmered the chicken for hours... very tasty.  It took all of 5 minutes to compile and 5 minutes to heat up.   Delicious, and very hard to find in Tokyo.

Next time I will take the camera off macro and wipe the table properly....

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

A Japan picture quiz

I will post the answers in a few days.
Actually more truthfully it's a Honshu Island picture quiz - the warm up activity for class on Mon.

I have a couple of other quizes on here if you're into quizes.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Japan, History & Culture

Japan and science & technology

Japan and food

I can't say it's the most representative food, but it's from the collection I have.

Japan and nature

I've been putting together a few photo collages to go with an essay writing unit I am making.
This is the first, Japan and nature.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Radiation 4

A map of caesium levels from today's Japan times-
the headline of the article was "Okutama cesium
levels seen spiking" Okutama is in the far west of
tokyo.  It's a pity Gunma, Ibaragi, Saitama,
Chiba, Miyagi  & Tochigi as well as fukushima
get lost in  Tokyo's quest to preserve itself....
I had planned to write a radiation 4 because radiation 3 ends with the sense that I am not concerned.

That's not  actually true. I am concerned, my concern though is less about the food as it pertains to my health but more about 
1) the regions that are most affected - the risks Tokyoites face pale into significance against the situation in Fukushima and   
 2) vested interests corrupting and distorting information, and so few checks on whether people are endangering others in efforts to profiteer.   The incentives for selling goods suspected to be contaminated are high, the ability to police people doing so are very low.

I'd really like altruism to shine through, but it's not going to happen. Perhaps some on a small scale, but not systemically.  It's not the way the world works, despite my naive hopes to the contrary.

I have too many things I have to write for uni at the moment to be able to take the time to do justice to the thought bubble though....

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Have you seen this person? subway signs - the cat

The new subway poster.
Doing your makeup maybe bothersome to others.
The whole notion of doing makeup in public kind of defeats the whole purpose of makeup - artifice but never mind.  I am always impressed by the skill with which people attach false eye lashes on the train... talk about a steady hand.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Summer of 2011 - radiation (3)

There isn’t a lot of faith in the food chain security. Given the repeated history of foodsubstitution scandals, it’s not surprising.[i] While I was in Akita, Hiro’s parents’ neighbour was saying that contaminated rice would be mixed with non contaminated rice and sold as safe.   She had no evidence that it was actually happening, just based on previous experience of food safety cover ups it was a foregone conclusion. My guess is her sentiments are typical.  But she also didn’t feel empowered to take any kind of action against it. It’s not surprising since contaminated soil was being shipped in on railway trucks… Assuming this is true, and it seems to be, the stupidity of the powers that be in staggering…. Why settle for one area with contamination when you can spread it across the country….  In the supermarkets, though vegetables are mostly clearly identified by origin, meat is now simply labelled as “kokusan”   - domestic.  The decision isn’t coming from the government level.  People can’t have faith in food chain if information is obviously being withheld. People have the right to make their own decisions.   It seems like a great pity for farmers from southern prefectures whose meat is being lumped in with the rest of Japan.  The lack of information pushes many people to buy imported – despite the fact that US beef will almost certainly have been fed  Hormone Growth Promotants… but that’s not on people’s radar.

Concern about radiation is quite rational but there is a lot of inconsistency in people’s concern about perceived risks.  Peter Sandman has written extensively on the way that people perceive risk. His arguments hold true for Fukushima.[ii] On the one hand you get people fastidious about avoiding food from contaminated areas notably Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate, Tochigi,  Gunma, Ibaragi. Some people go as far as excluding Saitama and all of Tohoku.   But at the same time people are still buying pre-cooked food from the supermarket and eating out where there are usually no labels for identifying where food comes from.  People engage willingly in many kinds of risky habits – but as Peter Sandman would say – the fact that it’s voluntary makes a big difference.  People smoke, eat tuna that hasn’t been tested for heavy metal residue,  ride without bicycle helmets,  talk on mobile phones, (do both at the same time), rush to get on the doors closing on trains, go rock fishing without life jackets, opt out of polio and other vaccinations,  go skiing, allow themselves to become obese, don’t wash their hands after going to the toilet, drive cars, drink bicycle-ride ad infinitum.    Obviously none of this changes the danger of radiation, but the point is people don’t act with the same attitude to risk, even with radiation.

Hiro & I are actually taking a pretty relaxed attitude to radiation and we haven’t changed our consumption habits at all. (something that will get approving nods of agreement from some and incredulous shaking of heads from others)  Since I’ve lived in Japan I’ve had a preference for rice from Akita (Hiro's home prefecture which is one of the major rice producing areas), vegies from Tohoku – where possible (because Tohoku is by and large poor and needs the support),  Japanese pork, Australian or Japanese beef (almost always Australian because of the price, never US beef which has hormone growth promotants in it).  None of this has changed.  It’s something I can justify with no sense that I am playing Russian roulette.  The rationalisation is essentially twofold: I don’t see the risk as being particularly dangerous, and I want to support the local economies.

Summer of 2011 - radiation (2)

Anxiety surged when Tokyo water was listed as too contaminated for children to drink. Over the summer doubts regained momentum and anxiety levels intensified.  Contaminated beef reached the market. Food that had been declared “safe” was found in fact to be contaminated; the cattle had eaten contaminated feed.  The cattle had been tested for external radiation, but not internal radiation and the meat, sold in supermarkets and butchers made its way to the consumer. There has been an outcry, understandably,  that checking feedstuffs for radiation was not on the radar of agricultural co-ops, or the government.  Interestingly the criticism has focused almost exclusively on the safety of the food chain – a very legitimate concern – but if the feed stuffs in the area had been contaminated by atmospheric radiation to the point where it made radiation levels in feedstuff unacceptably high… what about the people living in the area? The amount of radiation a consumer will get from eating beef that has eaten contaminated feedstuffs, is presumably a tiny fraction of the level of exposure that local people have received. At the same time people in the region are victims of radiation, there is also suspicion of them being expressed – are the farmers victims or are “they” complicit in “our” irradiation?  Are the victims also the enemy?

Information often conflicts. Academic studies about the extent of damage are contradicted in other papers. It’s hard to know what or who to believe, which is part of the reason people are so sceptical.  It seems that people are talking about it less and have little stomach for argument, not because the situation has changed much, but ultimately because people  have to come to their own understandings and develop their own framework to slot in new information. The “authoritative” sources have got it wrong too many times – why would people believe them. Ultimately people have to reach their own understanding of the situation, abut who to believe and what constitutes acceptable risk. People seem to gravitate to others with a similar perspective and become defensive if their opinion is challenged. It’s understandable.

Personally I don’t ascribe to the view that the government is all lies.   There have been some noble efforts among major government failings. Former PM Kan’s unilateral decision to order Hamaoka nuclear plant to close was brave, defying the power nuclear lobby who also judged Fukushima to be safe.   Hamaoka, like Fukushima, is built on a fault line next to the ocean in a place overdue for a major earthquake.  I  can’t say I trust the government, but I also don’t really know what people mean when they accuse the government of major covering up and not telling the full story.  General accusations are harder to prove or disprove than specific examples.  In a way this point of view reminds me of being in China when people would not believe that the US could have made a mistake with the coordinates  when they bombed the Chinese embassy.  Science makes mistakes and is full of uncertainties.  Any attempt to arrive at a definitive safe level of radioactive elements is just guessing.

Comparisons are sometimes made with the government's cover up of  Minimata mecury poisoning in the 1950s and 60s. But times have changed...there are so many individuals and groups out with radiation measures, there is simply not the capacity to lie for any length of time about information that can be scrutinised by outsiders.   It’s ironic that positive tests for caesium in beef make people more suspicious of beef rather than more willing to accept that the food chain is being monitored effectively. But given the history of food scandals, assurances are being given to a sceptical audience.

Summer of 2011 - radiation (1)

The typhoon season has started and the summer recedes a little further with each down pour of rain. The 6pm chime that rings out around the neighbourhood to remind children to go home is now chiming in the darkness, and soon will begin ringing at 5pm for the winter.  Along with electricity and power savings, the summer   of 2011 has been characterized by fear and uncertainty.  With the approach of autumn the energy crisis is waning, JR will resume ordinary train schedules soon, the "setsuden" power saving measures are also winding down.  The matter of radiation however is a problem that is not going away.   

It's a difficult topic to write about, high stress and easily emotive and I have waxed and waned about writing about it for the past few months.  I don't  have an agenda on the matter,  though for transparency I should say Hiro is involved in subsidy payments to beef farmers in Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate and Tochigi prefectures who have been affected by radiation. It probably doesn't alter my perspective though it may heighten consciousness about / empathy for their situation.

After the quake,many people who didn't flee Tokyo and surrounds took smug comfort in not being "flyjin" (a pejorative for foreigners who escaped the threat of nuclear catastrophe).  Foreigners slunk back to Tokyo attempting to justify to the smug why they left in the first place. Both sets took comfort in being 200km from Fukushima - even if we rejected the Japanese govt's 30km exclusion zone, the US 80km was still somewhere up in Ibaragi - far from Tokyoites.  Assurances from the UK nuclear experts that there was no possible way that it could be worse than Chernobyl comforted the doubters.  People took comfort in the fact that food was being tested and the commonsensical rationale that radioactive discharges into the water would be dispersed, the way that the British dumping of radioactive waste water in the Irish Sea dispersed, though I don’t recall British dumping into the Irish Sea ever making it into the news. No wonder the British government was so eager to stand beside the Japanese govt. and TEPCO…

The cover of the New Yorker magazine that co-incided with the cherry blossom season.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Rikuzen Takata, a few misgivings

I'll confess I had some misgivings about the situation over the past week.   Some are oganizational, some are ethical and some are interpersonal.

In terms of organization and efficiency it is difficult for the volunteer centre to get a balance.  They want volunteers. Volunteers bring assistance, keep the Sanriku in the public mind, give local people encouragement and stimulate the economy.  At the same time they feel a heavy responsibility for the safety of the volunteers.  When people get injured it is "painful to our heart" as one volunteer survivor put it.  A couple of times we were told to finish at 2pm.  When the work day is supposed to go from 10-3, losing an hour is frustrating.   With an extra hour we probably could have got the electric pole out of the rice field near the school...  But efficiency doesn't appear to be the main priority.   Starting and ending times could be staggered to ensure that groups were not kept in a holding cell at the volunteer centre.  One day or arrival time was set later, but the finishing time remained the same.  It's a long way to come from Tokyo to be told that you can only work a few hours.  Even when we insisted we could keep working... it was "the rule".   Perhaps there is a feeling that it's better to have volunteers coming up for longer - which gives psychological support - rather than than rushing to get things physically returned to "normal".

At the level of the group there were organisational issues as well.  Being at / graduating from a prestigious university doesn't necessarily equip a person with the skills to oversee people doing physical tasks, or  knowing which equipment suits a task, or even how to do the work.  The vast majority of people in the group were from Tokyo.  The country-urban divide was stark.  Most people had no experience with shovels, picks,  and crowbars and didn't have any basic sense of how to use them effectively.  In general the foreigners - aside from my classmates there were foreigners from Burma and Uganda - did know how to use tools.  When everyone is picking their own little pile and not working as a team it's very much less efficient. If the tools are inappropriate the work load can be amplified markedly....and at times it was. A pick and a shovel are different tools....  The lack of experience with tools extended to lack of outdoor physical experience.  Complaints about it being too hot (at not a whole lot over 30) and insistence that the group takes ten minute breaks every half hour were exasperating. People are coddled in artificial heating and cooling all year. There was no risk of heat stroke.. it seemed so lame to be complaining  about minor discomfort when you're working with people who have lost so much....

Two of the days that we worked I felt ethically challenged.  When working for individuals, whether on not they were present, there was a sense that we were doing something to make someone's situation better.  The days we worked for the company I wondered whether we were the ultimate "scab" labour.  After our day of work in the factory, one of the managers drove up.  He was saying that the company was facing bankruptcy and that they had fired all their workers and a few had been rehired as low paid part time workers.  We were scab labour.  On one hand I was disgusted, on the other hand I tried to justify it with the rationale that if they can get back on their feet they can rehire their workers..... It  had to go through the volunteer centre so it should be ethical... but it's hard to believe it.  It's repugnant to think we were up there taking jobs.   I am unsure of the situation, but I hope they do recover and do rehire....

Interpersonal is trickier to explain.  Maybe because many of the group were young, maybe they are a more straightforward generation, maybe more selfish.... maybe I am just an over-sensitive  foreigner....   I found the empathy levels of the group I went with pretty low.  (not my wonderful class mates and not all of the rest).  The man whose field we weeded offered the group tomatoes from his vegie patch.  He did have lots of tomatoes.... but he didn't have much else - he was living in a lean to shack where his house used to be. Patrick, my American classmate and I shook our heads in disbelief as people plucked them in volume at will.  Taking some is fine, but taking lots......

When an old man says don't worry about moving the rocks because they are too heavy for us to move, what he means is not "please don't move them" rather "I don't want to cause you trouble by asking you to move them".  I assured him we (at least my burly classmates rather than me) could move them if he wanted, and he was really happy, particularly with the resetting of memorial stones.  My classmate did the same with the electricity poles, and finally after almost 7 months they are gone from his land. Had they taken him at face value, the poles would still be there. The man (though the week it always was a man) who asks for the grass to be cut almost certainly wants the weeds taken out from the roots. It was bemusing that the foreigners seemed better able to read the intentions than many of the Japanese... I guess because we had more "common sense" for manual labour and understood that grass chopped off at ground level will be back in a few days time.

At an interpersonal level at times I wondered about how some of the volunteers perceived local people.  My Japanese isn't good enough to be attuned to nuances well, but people pitied the couple whose vege patch we were fixing up. They were living in a lean to shack constructed where their house had been. They had no running water and no electricity - buckets out to catch rain.  It seemed hard for people to understand that they would choose to live in the path of the tsunami in such a state of privation - simple, old, stubborn people.  It seemed paternalistic and lacking respect for their decision making.  I imagine surviving a tsunami would be enough to make someone  have a clear idea of their priorities. Living there with a garden to tend to was preferable to living in temporary emergency accommodation.  Where they were, they were rebuilding their lives. They could see where the high ground was and would be able to escape.  Recognising people as survivors who can make decisions, rather than seeing them as victims to be pitied, seems like a basic first step in helping people get back on their feet...

In general (though there are definitely exceptions) Japanese culture is not very comfortable with conspicuous displays of emotion. "Ganbatte" - keep perserving / do your best. has become the signature expression of the past 7 months.  Ganbatte Nippon, Ganbatte Tohoku, Ganbatte Iwate, Ganbatte Ganbatte Ganbatte.  It ranks alongside "genki dashite"- keep your spirits up    in the useless cliche.  How can you possibly tell a person who has lost their home and family members to cheer up....    There were much more appropriate slogans "soba ni, moto ni, tachiagarimashoo"   - "standing with you, and beside you"  and "lets join our hearts and minds".  One of the group members told me the old man who grabbed my hands (in the gentle but imploring way that old Japanese ladies sometimes do) and asked me to come back  to the Sanriku was an ero-oji (a dirty old man). It's hard for me to understand why he (the group member) couldn't see his(the old man's) pain  or empathise with him....

The urban-rural divide also comes through with language.  It's a regional thing - among older people in particular there are strong regional dialects that at their extreme can be almost untintelligible. But that really is extreme.  If I can get the gist of what someone is saying with my substandard Japanese, a Japanese person should be able to manage.  It doesn't matter if you can't catch every word.  Complaining that you can't understand local people is just rude and shows little interest in wanting to understand. But as I said... I'm a grumpy foreigner.

Misgivings aside it was worth going.  We made a difference to the people we were in contact with, and that's the driving motivation for going.  A bonus is that my class mates Lilian, Patrick and Ruben are super: hard working, good fun, good hearted.  This is their webpage.  Even though the organization we went up with could be a bit better organised, and prepare people better, it's great that they facilitate people going up to help.  Help is needed and though things are not always done the way I would do them, part of being constructive there is letting local people make the decisions about how they want things done.

I'll be back there again, perhaps volunteering will be finished before I have the chance to go again, but it's a beautiful part of Japan and I'd like to go back there on holiday, help the econony and see the progress being made.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Rikuzen Takata - (11) Progress and reconstruction

Progress is being made.  JR East's Ofunato line was partially cleared while we were up there. I'm doubtful that the trainline will be reconstructed here,  buses may be more viable.  The concentration of population will move back from the coast. If they do decide to build a new rail line, the route will be determined as part of an overall plan to rebuild the city.

The Ofunato Line Wednesday 14/9 /2011

The Ofunato line at the same place looking the
opposite direction the following day.
The field in front of the railway line on the Wed - covered in broken

The same ground the following day.  I'm not sure how they did it
but I assume it is surface cleaning not digging deep to remove
debris.  I imagine it depends on the way the land is going to be
used in the future the extent of digging that is needed. 

Temporary shops in pre-fab buildings are appearing enabling local people to start to regain some semblance of normality. 

AU mobile phones and Kumon

Lawsons convenience store.

People in the area need mental, physical, and financial support.  Having people come up makes a big difference.  Buses of volunteers stopped at the michi no eki farmers markets provide willing shoppers that put money into the economy.  I hope there are jobs for locals in the reconstruction work.  Restoration of the fishing industry infrastructure is apparently a priority for reconstruction, though it would have to be worked into an overall reconstruction plan.  Apparently only 4 of the  31 centres badly affected have reconstruction plans worked out.   It will take time, but I am hopeful the city can revive.