Wednesday, 30 March 2011

News flash

These days my phone is set to sound an alert when there is an important news update.
It's a bit of an overkill but I am a news junkie and I figure it's good to be precautionate.

Beeep beeep beeep.

A heart flutter... quick look.... breaking news....

Tokyo Disneyland is reopening on 6 April but on reduced hours.

Hmmm... perhaps I can disable the function.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Earthquake information

Outside earthquake countries, the idea of earthquake warnings probably seems alien.  In Japan it's an embedded part of the infrastructure.  On our mobile phones we have earthquake alerts that usually (not always) go off about 10 seconds before a high magnitude earthquake. It's not much time, but time to put down a boiling pot or get down from a ladder. Sometimes they go off and there is no perceptible quake - but better to be forewarned.  Since there have been so many earth tremors lately, from time to time TV shows are interrupted by the alerts.  On live shows (of which there are many) the announcer will read from autocues to prepare for a quake. No one jumps under tables... people just sit still and wait... and usually it's nothing to be very concerned about.

It's hard to overstate the importance of earthquake information & tsunami alerts though.   Every time there is a tremor above 3 on the Japanese scale news about it is broadcast on television. The size of the earthquake and the perceived danger determine the prominence that it is given.  Along the coast lines there are tsunami siren and without doubt the tsunami alerts that followed the earthquake on the 11th saved the lives of many thousands of people - I have not seen any attempt to quantify this though.  
From a couple of days ago. In the middle of a show broadcasting about
health matters, there is an alert notifying about an earthquake that has
occurred just off the Iwate coast line. There is nothing written about tsunami
on here, nor is there a flashing line by the coast - the visual that goes
with a tsunami alert.  Earthquake reports usually end with -
there is no danger of tsunami.  The 11 March earthquake had tsunami
warnings for most of the coastline.

The following are from a tremor tonight. It was a 6.4 magnitude earthquake off Fukushima.
On the  TV screen in the pictures below, you can see the writing across the top which informs which places experienced which level on the Japanese seismic scale and whether there is any danger of tsunami.    The character in the top left -  震度3- means it was three on the Japanese scale.   Three means  - 

3) / 2.5–3.4Felt by most people indoors. Some people are frightened.Dishes in a cupboard rattle occasionally.Electric wires swing slightly.
Wikipedia gives a good explanation of the Japanese seismic scale.
The writing on top of the TV screens notes that the earthquake was rated  3 
on the Japanese shaking scale in 
Natori City, Kakuda City, Iwanuma City,
Zao Town,  Shichigama Town, Ogahara Town.

Also 3 in parts of Akita and Yamagata.
Akita City, Daisen City, Kamiyama City,
Murayama city Tendo City, Nakayama City.

Also 3 in much of Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures.  Ibaraki prefecture- south,
Tochigi prefecture - north,  Tochigi south,
Chiba prefecture north east  

Shindo 3 in Higashi Matsushima, Matsushima, Rifu, Daigo,
Tomiya,  Ohira  (Miyagi)

A warning that it may change sea levels but there is no
danger from this earthquake.

To find out about the most recent earthquake with a map

Or the list of the previous 10 or so.

3 pieces of encouraging news

1. Bread is back as normal - I don't really eat it that much- but it's handy to have it on hand.  Last night they even had the weekly 30yen off a loaf sale and you could buy as many loaves as you'd like.

2. The Tohoku Shinkansen is scheduled to be back in service by the end of April.  JR East must be working extremely hard.

3. Cherry blossom season has begun in Tokyo.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Tokyo 28 March

Things in Tokyo seem much the same. As yet blackouts don't affect us - most of the central Tokyo 23 ku do not have blackouts - to do so would put the above ground rail lines out of action.  JR runs its own electric system to power the trains, but the level crossings rely on power from the general supply. The same goes for traffic lights.  There is talk though of the area for blackouts being extended which may include all but the very centre - Minato, Chiyoda, Chuo and perhaps Shinjuku local govt. areas.  It would seem fairer, though the city can't function if the public transport doesn't work.
Shinjuku Labi (Yamada Denki) televisions are
all off.
The summer is supposed to bring massive rolling blackouts - in the past I have written about the heat island and the dependence on aircon in the summer....  power usage surges in the summer as people who have become accustomed to aircon keep cranking it up (a bit like me in winter with the heater...).   For the mean time though night baseball, night golf driving ranges, night anything is being curbed if it involves light. .

Foreigners are leaving. Most I expect will return, but some won't.  The other day we were on the train and there was a group of what seemed like Chinese students making their way to Narita with oversized bags.  I haven't seen any statistics on the number of foreigners handing in their ID cards as they exit Japan (which would indicate an intention not to come back) but I am sure there are a lot.  I had lunch with a friend the other day who said 20 of her friends / acquaintances  have left - some with plans to return, some with none.  On the bright side it might cure the glut of English teachers....

Hiro is flat chat at work. He is involved with a program to ship feedgrain from Kyushu to livestock farmers in the affected areas through the port in Akita. In addition to people being without food, farmers have also been unable to get grain to pigs and cattle.  The situation with dairy farmers is grim, especially in Fukushima where cows are being milked and all the milk thrown away for fear of radiation.  In most supermarkets now all produce is being labelled by prefecture - there had been a tendency to do so before - but it's much greater now. Buying produce with Ibaraki and Fukushima labels (the areas near the nuclear plant) for most people is akin to self injecting with a syringe found on the beach.  I've been trying to make a point of buying them, because they wouldn't be being sold if they were irradiated - and what a miserable situation for the farmers -  but the whole prefecture is tainted in the public mind and products  are increasingly difficult to find.

I read today that there are an estimated 30,000 dead or missing.  The number could well increase, and the final number will never be known.  By any standard it's horrific.  That said there are a lot more survivors than casualties.  The earthquake struck at 2.46.  Had it been half an hour later, school children would have been on the way home and many many more of them would have died.  As it was, many were kept in school until the tsunami situation was clearer.  I heard second hand that there are likely to be an estimated 1,000 + orphans. It seems a very high number, but it's quite likely many families had 2 or 3 children at school.   The primary schools are designated as evacuation centres and tend to be set away from the sea.  It will be a huge challenge to find a way for the children to have a better future.  Fostering children out in areas away from the Sanriku would be adding tragedy to tragedy; it will need a much more creative solution.

Some photos mostly of today in Tokyo.
Kita senju station the other day at 2pm or so! Seriously minimum lights.

Kita Senju - every second light is off.
A hostel that mostly has medium term foreigners... it looks like some
are moving out ... a lot of foreigners have been leaving -
spooked by bad information. Also I expect there is a big decline in
work for hostesses (this hostel has quite a few hostesses staying there - it's a
perfectly legit profession, despite impressions to the contrary)
The other day a Chinese man in Nagasaki who was here illegally
 offered himself for deportation to immigration to escape...
The camera adjusts automatically - but it's much
darker than usual - the circular lights on the ceiling are all off.
I much prefer the subways on reduced light - much easier on the

Mostly office lights only in Marunouchi

Oazu building - street lighting is off in Marunouchi - there
is enough from the building even though the shops inside
are also on reduced light.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Gratuitous reporting

Having had a go at foreign media, the time has come for giving NHK a serve.
They have unpleasant tendency to gratuitous voyeurism of human misery that is rearing its very ugly head.

Each bulletin of last night's news ran the story of  a man from Tokyo going back home to the Sanriku.  Yesterday was the first day since the tsunami that the ferries were running to the small islands off Ichinoseki. The man was taking a ferry across to see his mother who still lives in his hometown on an island off the coast to tell her that ten of their immediate family members were dead or missing.  

NHK filmed him on the boat across and arriving at the island.   A voice over comes on  saying "somehow everyone on the island except his mother already knew that the family members were dead".  And then proceed to film him telling his mother....

It was ghastly.  As if losing most of her family isn't enough suffering...

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Glowing in the dark - a Tokyo update

 Sitting waiting at immigration in Shinagawa tends to be a tedious affair.  A disproportionate number of people in there is always sick - I assume people wait till they need to call in sick anyway & take the time to renew their visa, apply for a reentry permit etc.  Yesterday was no exception.  The tedium of avoiding the exhalations of people not covering their mouths as they coughed was broken with a news flash on the television that Tokyo water now contains radiation at a level unsafe for infants to drink.  It came as no great surprise as the US embassy had given an alert two days ago that they would supply iodine (to minimize the dangers of radiation) to all US nationals.  I assume that the US must have known that the combination of wind and rain would likely result in radiation... which means I can only assume Japan may have had a fair idea too... but in reality announcing it is going to happen probably encourages doomsday mentality....  There is plenty of evidence to suggest we are not getting the full story.  That said though,  I'm not overly concerned by it.  Though I might be if I were or had an infant.  The Japanese diet is high in iodine - so many seaweeds, and fish.  We had saba (mackerel) for breakfast this morning with kombu (kelp?) in the stock and cut through it as well.   I've told Hiro until he gives up smoking there is not a whole lot of point being concerned of the potential for cancer from radiation.... He agrees.
When I left here yesterday, I bought I bought an all day inner Tokyo JR pass  (Tokunai kippu) with the intention of seeing how the power restrictions are impacting on the Tokyo night scape.  It was cold and wet - still like January weather - so I didn't stay out to see true after dark - but you can get some sense.  I will see if I can dig up some old photos later for comparison.   I am not sure how much arm twisting is going on to achieve this, but there is a remarkable effort to reduce power consumption.  The city is still functioning, though endeavouring to use less power to do so.

Reduced operating hours at Shinagawa station.  I imagine all of these
would usually be open till at least 9pm.
Girls dressed up for graduation - life goes on as normal for
most people.

The sky was more yellow/green that this photo shows. The foreboding
cataclysmic-like sky would indicate a likely hail storm in Australia.

A poster advertising cherry blossoms in Kakunodate Akita.
Unless the JR line is restored they won't be getting many visitor

Shinjuku dori looking very dark  - this is a serious neon strip

Near the south east exit

NTT Docomo's building in Shinjuku  not lit up.

Notices next to the advertising boards saying they are
not being lit up to save power.

Train stoppages at Shinjuku station

Fuji-ya corner in Ginza - looking up to Mitsukoshi.
If you look carefully you can see Fuji-ya written.
It's usually one of the most recognizable corners in Japan.

All the Tohoku travel posters have disappeared from JR stations.
The shinkansen from Tokyo to Sendai is  out for weeks, at the least.
It's a catastrophe for the tourist industry for areas otherwise
unaffected by the tsunami and earthquake. The coming weeks should
be the busiest in the year for many areas.
From Tokyo City View, Roppongi Hills - the lights aren't all out! 

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A trip to immigration

Amongst all the uncertainty,  it's almost reassuring to have the idiosyncratic vagaries of the Japanese documentation and privacy systems as incongruous as ever.

I took a trip to Shinagawa to renew my visa today.
In the documentation....

  • a  application form to extend the visa
  • Hiro's family register which his mother gets from the Odate local govt. office.
  • a certificate of Hiro's place of residence (jyuminhyo)
  • a certificate of my residence (even though I am written onto Hiro's as being at the same address I need to produce my own foreigner's place of residence certificate )
  • a tax certificate of Hiro's  (they don't care about my income fortunately)
  • a certificate of guarantee for Hiro to fill out in case I do bad things and get deported - it is just about a blank cheque.

The double certificate for residence proof is a relic of when foreigners couldn't be written onto the Japanese jyuminhyo,   but.... the last two were a cause for consternation.

I can't pick up Hiro's tax certificate from the local govt. without Hiro's permission... privacy..... (I picked up a form to get him to designate me proxy to collect it.)


I can fill in the guarantor form  which is potentially a blank cheque - in English  -  & use a 100yen shop stamp as a signature and they accept it !!!.


Post tsunami - the situation in the Sanriku

News is starting to filter in through unofficial (non NHK) sources about the extent of the disaster on the Sanriku. NHK - the national broadcaster - is sanitizing the news.
They are putting a human face to it - last night's news showed  a junior high school graduation ceremony being held in an evacuation centre.  Graduation ceremonies in Japan involve each student's name being called and a diploma being presented. The news showed the ceremony with a father receiving the certificate in place of his son who is missing presumed dead.  NHK has also talked about food shortages and the lack of essentials - blankets, heating.  But it's countered with heartwarming stories of people eating cup ramen (instant noodles) as their first hot meal. It's easy to get sucked into that - because it gives a warm glow that things are OK.

The reality is apparently a lot more stark. In contrast to the Hanshin earthquake in Kobe, the local govt. infrastructure has been obliterated and the means with which to distribute goods no longer exists. Because the distribution system remained intact, the mantra was send money not goods and he Red Cross worked with local authorities to source and distribute goods.  In this case though - unless the goods are taken in, there are none. In this case  though, the relief effort has been constrained by lack of petrol - police cars, fire brigade until the last two days or so have not had petrol.  It's not even clear that  all pockets of survivors have been found.  From the earlier photos,  you  can get an idea of the topography & settlement patters in the Sanriku and without doubt there would have been people who would have survived for days but were not reached by rescuers. It's not even clear if there are settlements that haven't been reached.

I've been thanked for the Australian search & rescue volunteers, but I have also been asked why they went home - not as an accusation, just as a question - ... I didn't have an answer.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Painfully apt media critique

This is brilliant illustration of some of the media reporting that has been going on esp. Skynews.
A warning that there is some colourful language.

Monday, 21 March 2011

The supermarket today

Things are definitely returning to normal in the supermarkets.  This afternoon there was plenty of food in stock and for the first time in 9 days the usual range of bread.  Bread was limited at one per customer &  being a rainy day, where people tend to stay in, it wouldn't surprise me if they had an excess of stock at the end of the day.   The main gap was in natto (fermented beans that are a Japanese staple),  Most natto comes from Ibaraki which has sustained a lot of damage. The pictures below are clear evidence that stories of people starving in Tokyo are a more than a bit of a stretch.
The biscuit aisle - some gaps, but well stocked really

Milk in abundance - a limit on one per customer &
radiation in milk in Fukushima no doubt have contributed.

Plenty of fruit and veges -  a bit blurry - I was trying to be discrete

Tokyo after the quake

As the  media has reported, in the days after the quake food stores in Tokyo supermarkets dwindled.  Food supply uncertainty encourages people to buy more than they need.  It was disconcerting to walk into supermarkets where there was almost nothing left to buy.  The situation has stabilized now and food is being restocked - some items are still in short supply and are being rationed - bread in particular.   This morning Hiro went to the supermarket on his way back from the driving range & said the supermarket was usually busy and bread was rationed to a loaf per person. (Loaves here are usually between 4 and 8 slices).   Realistically though, people can't keep stocking up on things indefinitely, particularly perishables. I am  not particularly  concerned - we have a massive stockpile of pasta here - not because I had any fear of running out of it but because I always buy it in bulk  when I am in Shinjuku where it is usually 40%  cheaper than my local supermarket!
On the matter of prices, full credit to the supermarkets for not exploiting the situation.  There has been no lifting of prices - it's much more humane to be rationing purchases as they are doing than using the laws of supply and demand to reduce demand. 
Stories like the moronic Sydney Morning Herald reports of  people panicking and being gripped by fear are simply untrue.  The other night I was out in Ginza with my my sister and her family who were here visiting & Hiro called to say the Ministry of ...?  had announced that there may be unscheduled power cuts, that many companies had closed early and that Hamamatsucho JR station was limiting the number of people it allowed in because of safety concerns.  The thought of being stuck in Ginza with unable to get home by train with 3 primary school aged children on a bitterly cold night didn't appeal &  we headed straight for the subway. We were the only ones displaying haste as far as I could see.  Everyone has been so calm & civil.

Pasta and tabasco are not so popular

Spicy Pork instant noodles don't seem very popular

Fresh meat, cheese, processed meat, milk, all gone

Some earthquake damage in Ueno park

Earthquake damage in Ueno Park

Not looking very stable

Earthquake damage has put the shrine off limits near Ueno

A sign here says do not stop under the torii (gate) due to
instability from the earthquake

Remarkable patience at Keisei Ueno.  Orderly queues waiting
for it to re-open at 5pm.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Sanriku coast part 3

In many places settlement is on a very narrow piece of flat land with
mountains directly behind.

Checking nets takes a lot of co-operation
A lot of activity at a little fishing port on the coast side of the tsunami gates

Lots of little boats

I've already posted this pic - but these are tsunami gates for the village
above. With 10-12 metre waves they wouldn't hvae been nearly high enough.
I am not sure how much damage this village sustained - sadly, nor do I remember
the name of it.

Sanriku coast part 2

Miyako port
On much of the Sanriku forests meet the sea



Concrete used as a breakwater to protect the town

Kitayamazaki cliffs

The kokumin shukusha (government run ho(s)tel) on the Sanriku
It should have been at sufficient elevation to have escaped the tsunami.

Breakwater protecting a tiny settlement.

Beaches and port protected by breakwaters.  There is high
ground to escape to if there is enough time....