The Importance of Motivation

Mayuki standing in front of her Hina dolls display, wearing the kimono tunic that came with them.First, the picture doesn’t have much to do with the content of this blog, but Mayuki looks very cute in it, so I’ll put it on this blog as well. If you look carefully at the middle shelf, between the two dolls on the left, you can see all four shells from the display; Yuriko managed to put the broken one back together, so all our earthquake damage has been repaired. The dolls have all been put away now, ready for next year.

What I actually want to write about is really normal and everyday. I want to compare Friday morning with yesterday morning. On Friday, Mayuki had to get ready to go out to day care, but she wasn’t at all keen to go. In the end, I had to put her socks on her, and actually pick her up and hand her over to Yuriko to be carried out of the flat. According to Yuriko, she cheered up on the way to day care, but getting her out required full effort from both of us.

On the other hand, yesterday they had to leave just a little bit later, to get to Mayuki’s music classes. The first thing she said when she got up was “Today is music class, right?”, so she was obviously keen to go. When I said “You have to go soon, can you get ready?” she was playing with a toy restaurant set, making up meals on the tray, but she said “Yes, I’ll just tidy this up first”. And then, she did. She put all the pieces back in the box, put the box away, and then, when I reminded her that she needed socks, got some out of the closet and put them on, before going to the hall and getting her shoes on. Initially, she didn’t want to wear her coat, but when she got outside I heard her say “It is a bit cold out here, isn’t it”, so I think she may have put her coat on before she got to the bicycle.

I suppose that it’s not at all surprising that, at three, it’s rather easier to get her out of the house for something she really wants to go to.

Delays? Sometimes

Tokyo really is almost normal now. There are still power cuts, and the trains are still running at about 70–80% capacity, but when I went in a convenience store to find Pringles for Mayuki last night, it had lots of bread, as well as still having some other empty shelves, so distribution seems to be working again.

In another sign of that, I ordered some Thomas the Tank Engine books for Mayuki (and the complete Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because it’s a modern televisual classic and worked out to about 35p an episode) from Amazon UK on the 16th. They arrived here on the 19th. I can’t help suspecting that that’s faster than they deliver within the UK. Anyway, it was very convenient, because it meant that they were here for my break while Yuriko and Mayuki went to Nagoya for the weekend, so I was able to relax while watching Buffy. It really is quite well-written, even in the first series, and I’m told it gets better. It might well take me seven years to watch it all, though.

I did another internet lesson with my student in Fukushima prefecture today, and she offered to send me batteries. Apparently, batteries are not in short supply there. I turned her down, of course; we do have enough, and the idea of people in the disaster area sending emergency supplies to those outside is just silly. But she could make the offer, because the postal service is working again, and parcel deliveries are apparently due to start today or tomorrow. As I mentioned before, she’s inland, so no tsunami damage, but some areas of Tohoku are starting to recover from the disaster.

Returning to Normal?

In a sign of the steady return of normality to this part of Japan, NHK was showing programs that weren’t news about the earthquake this morning. Tepco think they will avoid power cuts today, as well. Yesterday, Yuriko managed to buy some more milk for Mayuki, and I have three hours of lessons today. That’s a bit light for a Saturday, but none of the cancellations are due to the earthquake: there’s a sprained ankle, a painful back, a looming deadline, and a trip to the UK to do some research. Next week looks like it might be normal, so, since I’ve succeeded in finding a bit more freelancing work, I might be rather busy… I’ll cope.

According to Yuriko, the news has just shown someone from the WHO reassuring paranoid foreigners that there is no need to evacuate Tokyo, and that if you aren’t planning to visit the devastated area, you can still come on your holiday. As for the countries that are monitoring Japanese imports for radiation, he pointed out that the area around the nuclear power station was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami last week; there’s no way it’s shipping goods overseas.

So, as the paranoia level in the global press falls, and Tokyo gets back to normal, Yuriko and Mayuki are off for their planned weekend in Nagoya. We are now working on the assumption that they’ll be back on Tuesday, as originally planned. I’ll take the chance to have a break, also as originally planned, so I’m not planning to update this blog tomorrow unless something actually happens. There comes a point when “Everything is normal here” really does become boring.


I’ve not been able to concentrate as well on work as I would like for the last few days. People may be able to guess at the reasons. The situation in Tohoku is still grim, but according to news reports on NHK this morning the roads are now clear to most of the affected area, and the railways are running into Morioka (in Iwate) both from the north and the west, so supplies are starting to get to the people who need them. The government has now requisitioned 500 petrol tankers, and is shipping the necessary fuel to the north. I guess that means we can anticipate temporary shortages everywhere else in Japan.

The Fukushima reactor is still not in a safe condition, obviously, but it’s still a long way from here. Judging from the comments on the Guardian stories on the issue, there are a lot of people in the west who have forgotten the earthquake and tsunami. “Why didn’t they X on day 0?” Because on day 0 there was a tidal wave that killed around 15,000 people and washed several towns away; the nuclear power station wasn’t the highest priority then. It’s just possible that it is now, but until there are steady supplies of fuel, food, and water to all the evacuation sites, it won’t be clear that it is.

Anyway, Kawasaki is still calm. I went shopping for my lunch again, and the local supermarket had bottled water in significant amounts, and quite a bit of rice in stock. Still no milk, and only one variety of instant noodles, but I got my lunch from the deli section. They were also out of flour, which is annoying, as we’re about to run out of plain flour, which we need to make bread. I may have to ask Yuriko to bring some back from Nagoya.

At the moment, the plan is for Yuriko to come back as planned, as she wants to keep working, and Mayuki’s day care centre is planning to restart normal meal service from next week, less milk, which suggests that they think things are getting back to normal. The Tokaido Shinkansen, which she’ll use to get to Nagoya, is running more-or-less normally, apart from going a bit slow for the first part of the journey, to save energy.

Talking of that, the planned blackouts are happening, but we have yet to be affected. I have a theory that the aged mother of one of the Tepco directors lives in Century Town… Actually, they have only been targeting part of each of the listed areas at a time, so I suspect that we will get a power cut tonight. Fortunately, Yuriko’s parents sent us batteries and candles from Nagoya, so we’ll be able to cope.

I did get some work done this morning, sending a proposal off to a company that’s offered me potential work since my teaching is so disrupted. I’m hoping to get some editing done this afternoon; I’ve set things up so that I can do it on Yuriko’s laptop if there is a power cut.

I see that Japan is dropping off the top of the news agenda, replaced by plans to bomb Libya. That’s fair; while the problems here won’t be solved for quite a while, they should, I hope, stop being newsworthy soon.

Consular Advice

The UK Embassy has just changed its consular advice, to say that British nationals in Tokyo and to the north of Tokyo should consider leaving the area.

Well, we’re in Kawasaki, which is (just) south of Tokyo, so we’re fine.

Actually, I’m sure that they really mean that British nationals in the Kanto region or Tohoku should consider leaving the area, which would include us. So, I’ve considered it, and I’m not going. This is, after all, my home, and quite apart from that I need to be here if I’m going to do any work at all. So, for the time being, I’m not planning to move. The power cuts have not affected us so far, even though the television announced this morning that we were having a power cut at that very moment. Clearly, the nuclear power station is a bit worrying, but it doesn’t look likely to become a serious problem for Kawasaki. It’s clearly a really big problem on the site, and for the immediate vicinity, but that’s no reason to leave Tokyo.

There are shortages of certain things, but distribution is happening, so they will probably be back to normal soon. I’m buying each day’s lunch on that day, if I can, so that we still have things in stock, and today the local supermarket had takeaway lunches, lots of fruit and vegetables, and rice back in stock. Milk, bread, and noodles were sold out, however. The situation was about as far from panic buying as is possible; it wasn’t even particularly busy.

So, since Yuriko and Mayuki were planning to go to Nagoya on Saturday in any case, and we have train tickets booked, I do plan for them to go. Mayuki is about to run out of milk, so best to send her somewhere she can get it. I’m also looking at having them stay there for a bit longer than planned, but that will depend on how things are looking by the weekend. I’m not planning to leave until and unless the government tells me to evacuate.


The situation in Kawasaki is still much the same as yesterday, but the stress is starting to get to people, including me.

There was a fairly strong earthquake last night. Apparently it was completely independent of Friday’s, and not an aftershock, but that doesn’t help people to calm down. There are no food shortages yet, but there are limited shortages of petrol, and so distribution is not quite working at full stretch. We don’t know when things will be back to normal, because no-one does. The rolling blackouts don’t always happen as scheduled, which may be good for infrastructure and safety, but is probably worse for stress than if they did cut the electricity off every time they said they would. The continuing problems at the Fukushima nuclear plant certainly don’t help, either, even if the chance of Kawasaki being directly affected is extremely remote. It looks like most day-care centres are sending the children home early or closing altogether, and Yuriko was told that the day care could only provide rice and miso soup and lunch time, so she should supply the rest of lunch. On a personal level, my teaching has been greatly disrupted. Although all my students seem to be keen to restart lessons as soon as possible, it’s not clear when that will be. Next week? The week after that?

Add to that the fact that when you look at the news from Tohoku, it’s devastating. In addition to the death and destruction (the toll may pass 10,000 dead), there are about 500,000 people in evacuation shelters, where they really are short of food, water, and warmth. It has started snowing in the area today, increasing the problems. Nevertheless, they all seem to be calmly doing everything they can, including my student in Fukushima Prefecture, who is having a lesson today. I think this means she wins “My Most Dedicated Student”. It really makes you feel quite pathetic for getting stressed over such minor things. And that, of course, is stressful.

As a result, quite a few of Yuriko’s friends with young children are talking about going to friends or relatives in western Japan for a few days. It’s not panicked flight from the city, but rather seems to be a desire to get away from the stress. We might do the same. Yuriko and Mayuki were planning to go to Nagoya this weekend anyway — I bought the shinkansen tickets weeks ago, so they have reserved seats. They will still go as planned, unless something happens to disrupt that, but we are looking at the situation before deciding whether they’ll come back as planned. It might be better for them to stay down there for a bit.

What we really want to avoid is people in the area around Tokyo becoming a problem that needs attention, because all the resources really need to be focused on Tohoku. Talking of which, I need to go the post office and donate to the Red Cross while there are no blackouts scheduled for this area.

New Blind

We had a new blind fitted in the bedroom today. It looks very nice.

I mention this because international media reports seem to be suggesting that Tokyo is caught up in mass panic, teetering on the verge of social breakdown and ever greater catastrophe.

This is very, very far from being the case.

I was teaching in Ochanomizu again today, and it took a bit longer to get there than usual, because only local trains were running, and only about half the normal number. “A bit longer” however, is “half an hour longer”, so an extra third. That’s well within the normal range for disruption caused by a breakdown or an accident. Some reports appear to be suggesting that Tokyo is suffering food shortages. That’s also not the case. I ate lunch at the food court in Mizonokuchi, which was operating normally. You know, people paying for sandwiches and noodles and deep-fried octopus, rather than having rice balls handed out by rescue workers. It is true that there are long queues for petrol. On the way home I saw one petrol station that had sold out, another that was selling, and another where a tanker was refilling it. I’d just like to draw attention to that last one. Our local supermarket was selling fried chicken, sushi, and fresh meat and fish as normal, although they were out of rice, and batteries and torches have vanished. But then, when the power company is promising to cut off your power for three hours every day (and do they? No. Can’t keep promises, these people) you quite naturally buy batteries for your torches.

But panic sweeping the city, as Reuters reported? Absolutely not.

Japan is also rather less obsessed with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant than the rest of the world. Obviously, it is a serious concern, but everyone has been evacuated from the 20km radius (the reactors are on the coast, which partially caused the problem, but also halves the area that needs to be evacuated), and radiation levels everywhere except inside the plant are still safe. It could still develop into a nasty accident, but not into a world-threatening disaster. I think there are two reasons for this obsession. First, it’s nuclear. Let’s all be scared of “nuclear”. A lot of people are saying that this shows that nuclear power isn’t safe, but it’s still possible that the result of this will be “You can hit a forty-year-old power plant with a magnitude 9 earthquake and a 6m tsunami in quick succession, and get nothing more than a highly localised radiation leak”, which sounds pretty safe to me. We won’t know whether it’s safe until it’s over. The thirty-year-old plant 10km along the coast seems to have shut down safely with no leakage, incidentally. Second, it’s the only bit of the disaster that looks like it might get worse, and everyone loves to speculate about how bad it could get. (The prominence given to the collapse of the Japanese stock market rather supports this interpretation.)

Even people who are being supportive of Japan and tweeting their support for the fifty workers risking their lives at the nuclear plant tend to forget the hundreds and thousands of workers risking their lives to rescue people from collapsed houses in towns devastated by tsunamis. There are fires burning, gas tanks exploding, constant aftershocks that could collapse the structures, and the ever-present risk of another tsunami, if there’s a large aftershock in the wrong place. The rescuers are doing a fantastic job, but not just at the nuclear power plant.

It’s often said that if you read news coverage of a subject you know something about, you lose all faith in the media’s accuracy. That’s certainly the case here. Of course, most of them don’t speak Japanese, can’t get out of Tokyo, and need to file a dramatic report. Even if there was a well-organised flow of reliable information, it would be hard for them to use it, and, given the genuine chaos in parts of northeastern Japan, there most certainly isn’t.

So, ignore the picture the international media is painting. Tokyo is fine. I don’t need emergency shipments of supplies. (Yuriko’s parents are sending some more batteries and extra flour, which will cover us perfectly well.) The further north you go, however, the bigger the problems get, so if you want to do something practical, I recommend donating to your local Red Cross, because they will channel funding to the Japanese Red Cross, which is already working on the ground.

The American Red Cross

The British Red Cross

Rolling Blackouts

The Kanto area (around Tokyo) is going to be subject to rolling blackouts until at least the end of April, and possibly beyond that, into summer and winter. At least tomorrow, we are likely to be without power from 13:50 to 19:00 local time; I don’t know whether the same time block will be maintained, or whether they will move it around the day.

This will affect my ability to communicate with the rest of the world, and to work, but it shouldn’t cause any more serious issues. It won’t affect my blog, as the server is in the USA…

Road to Recovery

Tokyo is getting back to normal, with electricity generally restored and trains running again. Supermarkets and convenience stores are still short of fresh goods, suggesting that distribution has not got back to normal yet, and TEPCO, the electricity company, is warning of the possibility of rolling blackouts, as many of its power stations are in Tohoku, and won’t be back online for a week or so in the best case. Things might be a bit inconvenient here for a couple of weeks, but that’s about the worst of it for us.

Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate prefectures have, however, been devastated. Most of the emphasis in the news has been on the coastal towns that were all but obliterated by the tsunami, but we also know that very strong earthquakes struck areas further inland. The likely death toll is being revised upwards as contact is re-established with various areas, and now it does look likely to pass 10,000.

The level of calm is remarkable. I saw no evidence of panic while I was walking home with millions of others on Friday, and there have been no reports of looting at all. Everyone seems to be doing what they can to get through and rebuild. I’m just waiting to have a chance to help. Right now, that means waiting for the Japanese Red Cross to start accepting donations.


We’re all fine.

Well, Silver feels the need to make that explicit when writing about crashing her trike, so I’d better say it when reporting on the effects of the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan.

As fate would have it, today I was teaching on the other side of Tokyo. It would have to be today, wouldn’t it… The lesson was just finishing, at about a quarter to three, when the seat in the cafe started to shake. That’s, obviously, normal in Japan, but it didn’t stop, and kept getting stronger. Fairly soon, I started looking around to see whether there was a safer looking location that I could get to quickly. There wasn’t; I was near a wall, well away from windows, with nothing hanging from the ceiling over my head. The tremors still didn’t stop, and were getting even stronger, and my next thought was “I really hope the epicentre isn’t off Tohoku again”. Then my student suggested we get our heads under the table, just as I was coming to the same conclusion. The quake didn’t quite get strong enough to make that necessary, but it was certainly strong enough to prevent you feeling at all stupid for doing it.

Oh, and there’s another aftershock. Lots and lots of those…

Bizarrely, I was not at all afraid. This may indicate a psychological problem, because being in the middle of the largest earthquake in Japanese history probably should be a bit scary, but there you have it. Of course, I wasn’t actually anywhere near the middle, fortunately, and the coffee shop was on a basement level, which minimised the shaking, so it was probably a fairly light experience, all told.

Once the shaking finished, which took a very long time, I tried to send Yuriko a text message to say that I was fine. I couldn’t connect. I wasn’t surprised. I kept trying, while I and my student waited for the situation to calm down a bit, so that we could decide what to do next, and finally one of them announced that it had been sent. There was then a disaster announcement, saying that the earthquake had been centred in the same place as the previous two, and that its peak strength had been 7 on the Japanese scale.

7 is disaster.

That was not a good moment, but there isn’t much I can do about Tohoku yet, so I started looking into whether I could get back to Kawasaki and pick Mayuki up from daycare. I went to the underground station, but, unsurprisingly, there were no trains running. As I was coming out again, there was an aftershock, strong enough to make it a bit difficult to walk, and certainly strong enough to make me find another safe place to stand and wait.

When that finished, I checked the stations again (still no trains), and then found a convenience store to get some water and something to eat. Then I asked for directions to Otemachi station, and started walking.

My plan was to walk along the Hanzomon line, so that if the trains started running again I could hop on one of them. The other side of that plan was that, if the trains didn’t get going again, I reckoned I would be home before ten pm. Having been walking the Oyama Kaido recently, I was confident that I could walk that distance, and also that it would take about that long, and that was very important; a lot of people are stuck at work, and I don’t even have an office to sleep in. It turned out to be a good plan, because the trains didn’t restart until about 11pm, and I was, in fact, home by about 9:30. It did mean that, in the end, I spent a bit over six hours walking across Tokyo, and so got a pretty good impression of the damage.

Massive crowds of people in the bus station outside Shibuya railway station

Tokyo: Not a scene of devastation

Basically, there wasn’t much. The big exception was Kudan Kaikan, which had a lot of ambulances and fire engines when I passed, and where I hear the roof collapsed, with at least one fatality. Otherwise, I saw nothing worse than some tiles fallen from a roof, and goods fallen from shelves. The streets were full of people walking home, because all the trains were out, but everyone was calm and even cheerful, even though it got very cold. The convenience stores were all busy, with long lines of people buying supplies, and by the time I got to Kawasaki they were largely sold out. The roads were full of cars. All the expressways were closed, so everyone was on the ordinary main roads, and the traffic was travelling at substantially less than walking pace for most of the time. Yuriko came to the same conclusion as me, and walked home from work to pick up Mayuki.

Of course, I didn’t actually hear from Yuriko until after 4pm, because getting any sort of communication was very difficult, and it was a relief to get confirmation that she was OK. I didn’t get confirmation that Mayuki was OK until 7pm, when another mail from Yuriko made it through to my phone. I wasn’t worried that Mayuki might be seriously injured — I’d seen a lot of not-damaged Tokyo by that point — but I was worried that she might be getting stressed at day care, if Yuriko hadn’t been able to get there. I didn’t hear anything else from her until I got home.

A couple of books lying on the floor in front of bookcases

This was the extent of the damage.

That raises something for people worried about friends and family in Japan. If they are around Tokyo, don’t worry if you’ve heard nothing. There is very little damage around here, but phones, and, in some areas, internet, are not working well at all. They might not be able to tell you that they’re fine, but they almost certainly are.

When I got home, I found that there was very little damage. The shelves in the washing area outside the bathroom had fallen over, a few books had fallen off the shelves in my office, and one part of the Hina dolls display had fallen onto one of the painted shells, shattering it. That’s a shame, but looking at Tohoku, utterly trivial. Mayuki even seemed to have been quite excited by the earthquake. Certainly, she was soon demanding that we turn off boring earthquake news, and put Thomas the Tank Engine on instead.

That was more or less as I’d expected, so on the way home I kept worrying about Tohoku. One of my students is up there at the moment, and I’ve been able to make contact with her and confirm that she’s OK, so that’s a relief. However, it’s looking really bad.