Sunday, 29 May 2011

And now a typhoon...

oops I mustn't have downloaded the picture... it's gone... but it was a typhoon that actually was no longer a typhoon by the time it reached Tokyo.

It has been raining for days....In the tradition of weather for the headlines, weather for the main, and weather for the weather in the evening news,  Friday night's NHK news was interviewing people in the street about how the rain in making it difficult to dry clothes, has resulted in sports cancellations, and is making people feel sticky on the subway etc.  
Typhoons usually come in September-October. It's very unseasonable. Usually typhoons this far north cause little damage, this time is is more of a worry than usual as the nuclear plant in Fukushima appears likely to get  heavy rains - and perhaps reasonably strong winds - a situation TEPCO doesn't seem equipped to deal with.  The lack of transparency from TEPCO is wearing very very thin.  Furthermore, saturated soil is never a good combination with earthquakes......

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Buck passing

It is with some irritation that I  received the news from the university that they are cutting the term two weeks short to contribute to energy saving.

The economic rationalist in me says.... what about all those fees?
The scholar in me says....... but I enjoy my classes....
The cynic in me wonders....... why is it only the uni I study at and not the uni I teach at.

The realist in me is quite annoyed at what seems to be typical responsibility shifting.
There are no green curtains going up, there is nothing like Tokyo University's sustainable campus.  The toilets still have the toilet seat warmers going, in the cafeteria the other day the doors to the outside were open with the aircon on.
It is totally devoid of imagination, total buck passing, and so small picture.  Thousands of students sitting at home with thousands of aircons on rather than being at uni and sharing the same aircon... There has been no thought about efficacy, just short minded expedient decision making...  and isn't that what created the electricity problem in the first place?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Mukojima Hyakkaen

Yesterday we cycled to Mukojima Hyakkaen - a park in Higashi Mukojima near the Sumida River.  Though it features on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Parks and Garden's of Tokyo website, it's not really on the radar of most Tokyo-ites.  It's not on the japan guide website,  I've never seen it come up on the Lonely Planet's thorntree and neither my bilingual nor Hiro's Japanese atlas distinguished it from any of the thousands of pocket parks through the city.  It's a small, (1 hectare) but delightful park and  the only remaining flower garden in Tokyo from the Edo age.  It was begun as a private garden in  1804 and then passed to government ownership in 1938 - the leaflet didn't explain why or how, but usually when historic or beautiful places are passed to government hands it has less to do with benevolence and more to do with being behind in tax payments.

Aesthetically Mukojima is quite different from any  public garden I have seen in Tokyo. The free range nature is very different from the highly constructed, but ultra minimalist Zen gardens like Ryoanji in Kyoto.  And different again from the manicured Chinese style gardens like Koishikawa Korakuen.  It reminds me of Hiro's mother's garden or of the gardens in front of the public housing nearby that has just been torn down. By conventional standards it  is somewhat unkempt - 'weeds' don't seem to be pulled out, plants aren't standardized into neat rows, there is little in the way of bare soil or conspicuous cultivation.  It seems like a kind of a 'plants rights' garden - just grow happily, wherever.    And yet there is a  balance and beauty in the seeming lack of order that creates its own harmony.  Hmm... it's a difficult concept to express... This website has a reasonable stab at explaining this idea  somewhat, in the context of  wabi sabi -  a word that seems more popular in western interior design and architecture magazines than it is in Japan.

Mukojima Hyakkaen (Mukojima 100 flowers park)
Higashi Mukojima, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
near Keisei Hikifune, Tobu Oshiage stations.
A tea house

Jungle in the park

Classical Japanese garden features

A bit hazy, but Tokyo Sky Tree is nearby.
Free range plants.

A clover tunnel

A ... flower...

The wisteria on the trellis above had finished blooming -
but looks out on a very peaceful aspect.

some of the 100 flowers of the garden

Friday, 20 May 2011

Japan quiz - Kyoto quiz

This is the last Japan tourism quiz - Kyoto. In jpg format because blogger doesn't do a great range of formats.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Japan quiz - food

A Japanese food quiz - it will only upload as a picture file but should be able to be downloaded.

Posted by Picasa

Japan quiz - Tokyo quiz

I have a few quizes that I made up when my nieces and nephews came to Tokyo.  Just in case anyone is looking for quizes... I will post them.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Sony summer sunflowers

I was in Ginza the other day. The Sony building, true to form, has an inspiring seasonal display out the front.  In winter they sometimes have snowmen, in summer tropical fish, eco themes, many different kinds of displays. At the moment it's early summer sunflowers.   Such a cheerful sight.

A scientific gem from NHK

Reporter 1: "At reactor two today workers entered the reactor for the first time. But because of steam they could only stay inside for 14 minutes."

Reporter 2: "What is causing the steam?"

Reporter 1: "The steam was being caused by evaporation."

hmmm...  and the other causes of steam are....?

Saturday, 14 May 2011

An upside of power savings? Please do it again

With the rise of setsuden  - power savings - making roped off escalators a ubiquitous site,  there is hope for an unintended spin off.  In recent years carrying trolley bags has become very fashionable - among a certain demographic of young, fashionable females (at least younger and more fashionable than I am).  They are used kind of like a big handbag I guess - I often wonder what is in them... 
As the "please do it again" manners series suggests they can be a right pain - and they often are.
Here's hoping to unintended benefits of power reductions!

A very common sight

another tremendous invention

The other day we were at Maihama, the station next to Disneyland,  the toilets there contain tremendous technology.  At the entrance way is an electronic board to indicate which cubicles are vacant and whether they are Japanese style or western style.   Such efficiency...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

A thud into Tokyo mode, for a moment.

We were quite numb after riding through the coast. Rain started falling in Kamaishi, we stopped to put on our rain gear, and took the fastest route to the expressway.  At 4pm we still had 500 km to cover to home.  We stopped for some warming noodles at Tono  - on the road there we passed convoys of jietai (JSDF) headed for the coast.    
A sign on the wall outside the disabled toilet at a service centre on the Tohoku do soon helped bring me back to Tokyo mode....Usually I get irritated with people criticising bad English on signs here, because doing so lacks any appreciation  that  there was some thoughtfulness  behind writing it in the first place.  In this case though, I didn't understand the meaning at all till I looked at the Japanese...And I wondered... 'why did you even bother....'

Had it been run through a human rather than a machine with no sense of context, the English would read something like:  If this lamp is red, or if you hear the emergency buzzer,  please alert a member of staff.

And then I thought some more, and really in the scheme of things, it's not very important at all, because the chances of an English speaker being the only person outside the toilet at this service centre are far  less than the chances of a tsunami in Tokyo...

Two months

It is two months today since the earthquake.

Horrific stories are still coming to light.  According to NHK news tonight, it sounds like almost all the children in Ishonomaki's Okawa primary school, a designated evacuation zone, were swept away by the tsunami. The way they reported it sounds like of the children not picked up by their parents, four students and one teacher survived...  Utterly horrifying....  Sometimes I wonder whether it is better  to avoid the news and remain blissfully ignorant... but doing so runs the risk of being sociopathic....

What hasn't started to be discussed yet, at least as far as I am aware, is the massive number of places in Japan that are built in areas that have historically been affected by tsunami.... I am not sure about Tokyo Bay, but the area around Kamakura has been swept away before.  I have never seen a map of Japan that shows all areas that have been inundated by tsunami... production of one might create mass panic...

Apparently  74 of the 108 schoolchildren died and all but one of the 13 teachers...The location of the school is below.. it looks to at least a kilometre and a half from the sea, but is close to the river...


It's still a beautiful coast - we stopped for a break just south of Yamada

Otsuchi - the mayor of Otsuchi was among about 2,000 of the
17,000 people of Otsuchi who are dead or missing. 
An article from the Guardian about Otsuchi, the mayor and the devastation.

I don't have words to describe the destruction here. These are
temporarily constructed barriers at the side of the road.

A drug store


This picture in part answered one of my questions.  Along the  coastline, almost without exception the 'tsunami inundation zone' signs were pretty accurate indicators of the areas that were affected by tsunami. When I was up here in before, I was surprised by how far away from the coast the signs were. I was also surprised that the towns were mostly in these areas. I concluded the evacuation plans were very good.    This sign marks almost exactly the extent to which the tsunami reached.  On the other side of Otsuchi,  just north of this sign, however, the tsunami inundation zone sign was at a guess 500 before the end of the tsunami affected area.  The inaccuracy of that sign seemed to be an aberration.   That's no consolation for the people who there who may have assumed they were beyond the reach of tsunami.  See the next posting about Ishinomaki's Okawa primary school.

The space between the coast and the hills is so narrow in places.

Piles and piles and piles of rubbish.....

Jietai, what a tough job.  They have been doing a remarkable job.
They are underpaid, under appreciated, and at the moment absolutely
stretched beyond the extent of their capacity.  We saw them working in Kamaishi, this is at  a
michi no eki in Tono, inland  in Iwate. They have been doing an exceptional job.

Miyako to Yamada

Going south from Jodogama.  The pictures below are in Miyako and Yamada.

A ship still there, but a lot of debris cleaned, the roads have been
totally cleared.

Piles of rubbish, but very neatly cleaned.

A couple of  km down the road

The houses are all marked with paint to say they have been
checked - either by the Japanese Self Defence Force or the
US military.

Driving along, there was no way to know the fate of
occupants of any of the buildings.

road barriers bent

destruction... had the houses been built up the hill.....

the sea walls did not protect, though looking at the towns
it is possible that they may have reduced damage - I haven't
read anything about it yet.  It was one of my unanswered questions.

With the sea walls, some tsunami gates were broken, I am not
sure to what extent they served as a hindrance by trapping flood water
inside the villages.

Nothing left...

there has been a fantastic effort made with the roads.
The road has been rerouted ahead here.

A chilling aspect was the total lack of people in much of the area.
I had an idea people would be out cleaning up... there was no
excess of volunteers anywhere - there were no volunteers anywhere that we saw.
I don't mean all people were dead, they aren't, though many are,  many
also survived.  It would be an utterly heartbreaking sight for any survivor.