Hair Brush

Mayuki’s hair brush was finally delivered a couple of weeks ago. This isn’t a brush for Mayuki’s hair. It’s a brush made from Mayuki’s hair.

A red lacquer writing brush box, with a wild boar design and writing in gold

The box for the brush

These brushes are a Japanese custom. Apparently, many years ago, the best writing brushes were made from the first hair cut from babies. This was because the hair was of the right fineness, and, because it had never been cut before, all the ends had a natural taper, rather than being cut off sharply. At some point, certainly long before our time, this stopped being a practical issue, and a writing brush made with your child’s hair became a standard commemorative item with which to celebrate a birth. Ours was paid for by us and Mayuki’s non-Japanese grandparents, who may just about remember agreeing to that. Obviously, it took us quite a long time, but there are good reasons for that.

The box, however, is not one of the good reasons. The Japanese writing says “Birth Commemoration Writing Brush”, and the image of a boar is because Mayuki was born in the year of the boar. It didn’t take long to decide on those details. It did, however, take a little while to decide on the overall design of the brush, because they had a lot of options. The most expensive were entirely gilded, but those looked too gaudy, so we went for this option instead. It had quite a few options inside the box, and they did take some time.

The open box. The brush, also red lacquered, is visible, as is the inside of the lid

The brush and the lid of the box

The first problem is getting the hair for the brush. As you can see, you need quite a lot of hair to make the brush, and it takes a while for a baby to grow enough hair for you to cut that much off without leaving a bald baby. (Many years ago, babies were shaved bald in Japan, which probably meant that you could make the brush a bit sooner. Not any more, however.)

Then there are the things on the inside. First, the design above the brush is our family mon, or mark. This is a Japanese tradition, a bit like coats of arms, except that it was never official or regulated. Any family could have a mon, if they wanted it, and could choose anything they liked, as long as it hadn’t already been taken, and didn’t look too much like a very famous and important mon. Most Japanese families have one, although there is a default one, two crossed feathers, that is used in the absence of anything else.

Obviously, the Chart family does not have a traditional mon, and the dictionaries of “mon by family name” that you can buy in most shops don’t include “Chart” as one of the options. That meant that I had to design our mon from scratch. It is made up of three “musubi-fumi”, arranged so that they form a hexagon. A musubi-fumi is a folded and tied piece of paper, as used for writing notes and poems in classical Japan. “Musubi”, which means “tied”, is also used for relationships between people. Finally, three musubi-fumi could, in Japanese, be described as “mimusubi”, which, with different characters, is also the term for the power of life and growth. A nice bonus is that I think the design looks very nice, and the musubi-fumi was not, apparently, used in many traditional family mon (although the element appears in the dictionaries; that’s where I found it), so ours should be distinctive. Incidentally, most Japanese mon are in the public domain, because they’re old. I designed this one a couple of years ago, so it isn’t. So that took a bit of time.

Then there’s the writing inside the box. Most of this is fairly standard: Mayuki’s name, our names, and her birth date. That didn’t take much thought. However, there are two other things. First, there are eight characters, a short message, on the shaft of the brush. The catalogue provides a number of possibilities for people who don’t want to come up with their own, but I did, of course, want to come up with my own. It says “芯の愛が包まれる”, which means “The heartwood’s love is enfolded”. 芯 is the character used for the heart of a tree, or a brush, and includes the character for “heart”, as in emotions.

Inside the lid, you get twenty characters, and again there are options. This one really took time, because I wanted to write a tanka for it. A tanka is a traditional Japanese poem, often described as thirty-one characters. However, if you write it with kanji, you can get the number of characters down a bit, because many kanji stand for more than one syllable in some words, and it is the syllables that you actually count. It’s not easy to get it down to twenty, but I managed it. The final tanka is “筆先が命の道を画いたら真心以て自由と歓喜”, which is read “Fudesaki ga inochi no michi o egaitara, Magokoro mochite jiyuu to kanki”, and translates as “As the brush traces the path of your life, From devotion, freedom and joy”. The tanka starts with the character for “writing brush”, and the second part (the shimonoku, as it is traditionally called) includes all three kanji from Mayuki’s name, in order. (It starts with the first, finishes with the last, and the middle one is… a bit after the middle. There are limits.)

Writing those also took quite a bit of time.

The last bit that took time, and delayed this blog entry, was getting the photograph of Mayuki into it. You do that yourself, and it wasn’t hard, but I only got around to it today.

So, this is our new family treasure. We showed it to Mayuki, of course, and she wanted us to take it out of the box so that she could paint with it. No, Mayuki. It is your brush, true, but you’ll understand when you’re older.

Shinto Texts Course — The Kojiki and Archaeology

The Open College course on Shinto at Kokugakuin University has started again today, and the theme for this year is Shinto texts. They are working through in roughly chronological order, and thus starting with the Kojiki, which was completed in 712 (so next year is the 1300th anniversary). The last lectures will cover important twentieth-century figures, like Kunio Yanagita, so this promises to be another interesting year. Of course, given the emphasis that Shinto places on not putting things into words, there is a certain irony in basing a course on texts, but then this is a lecture course, so words are rather unavoidable.

Unlike the previous two years, the lectures this year are being given by various staff at Kokugakuin, and today’s was given by Professor Sasao, whose speciality is the archaeology of religion. Thus, “The Kojiki and Archaeology” was the theme of the lecture. While the Kojiki is not a very long text, it’s still far too long to cover in its entirety in a 90 minute lecture, so he focused on one incident: Ame no Iwayato, when Amaterasu hides in a cave and the other kami have to entice her out.

His initial description of the Kojiki was interesting, though. He said that it tells us what people in the early 8th century thought about the origins of the world, the birth and activities of the kami, and history up to Suiko Tenno. That is, the Kojiki does not tell us what actually happened in any of those categories. The context here is important. Kokugakuin is one of the two Shinto universities in the country, and this course is about Shinto. So, a western equivalent would be a public lecture on the Bible at a Catholic university that started by saying that the Bible tells us what people in the early 1st century thought about things. There is thus one clear respect in which Shinto is not about words, then: the Kojiki is not believed to report the truth.

So, back to the Ame no Iwayato legend. On my Japanese blog, I could assume that people knew the story, but I’d better not here. This is the very abbreviated version.

Susano-o, the younger brother of Amaterasu, the sun goddess, went to her home in Takamagahara. Once he got there, after promising to behave himself, he started breaking down the banks and filling in the ditches of the rice paddies, and scattered shit around the hall for the harvest ceremony. Amaterasu excused him, saying that he was drunk, and maybe trying to enlarge the paddies. However, he then made a big hole in the roof of the hall where the sacred clothes for the kami were woven, and threw in a horse that had been half-skinned backwards. This surprised the weaving woman so much that she stabbed herself in the vagina with the shuttle, and died.

At this, Amaterasu lost her temper, and went to hide in the Ame no Iwayato, a cave. When she did so, both Takamagahara and this world were plunged into darkness, a lot of kami made trouble, and everyone was at a loss as to what to do. All the kami gathered on the banks of the Amenoyasu river, and asked Omoikane what they should do. He told them to find a cockerel and make it crow, then get iron from Amakana Mountain, make a curved jewel and a mirror, and hang them all from a sakaki tree outside the cave. Amenotajikarao, a strong kami, hid beside the cave’s entrance. Then Amenokoyane and Futodama used a deer’s shoulder blade to divine the will of the kami, and the ceremony began.

Amenouzume danced outside the cave, becoming possessed by the kami, so that she opened her clothes, exposing her breasts and vagina, and all the kami laughed and cheered. Hearing this, Amaterasu became very confused.

“I’m hiding in this cave, so it must be really dark out there. How come everyone’s having so much fun?” she asked.

“An even greater kami than you has come,” Amenouzume replied, “so we are having a party to welcome her.”

Amaterasu wasn’t sure whether she believed that, so she pushed the rock at the cave’s mouth open a little. When she did so, Amenokoyane and Futodama pushed the mirror forwards, so that Amaterasu saw her reflection. Thinking it was another, greater, kami, Amaterasu couldn’t resist coming a little further out. As soon as she did so, Amenotajikarao grabbed her and pulled her out the rest of the way, and in that moment Futodama slipped in behind her and put a rope across the entrance to the cave, telling Amaterasu that she couldn’t go back in now, because the way was blocked. And so light was returned to the world.

As central myths go, this has some odd elements. For example, lying to the kami of the sun is a central part of restoring the order of the universe, and the kami of the sun can’t tell the difference between her own reflection and another kami. However, there are a couple of points that, taken literally, make no sense at all. First, Amenokoyane and Futodama perform divination to learn the will of the kami. This is a bit peculiar, as all the kami are right there, at the council, and they could just ask them. Second, Amenouzume is possessed by the kami when she dances. Which kami, exactly? Wouldn’t it rather be Amenouzume who did the possessing? These elements suggest that this scene is actually a description of a Shinto ritual, moved to Takamagahara, and that is how it is usually interpreted. It’s also how Professor Sasao interpreted it, so now we can get back to the content of the lecture.

Archaeology can tell us something about the rituals and social background at various periods in history, and thus help us to place the origins of the story. So, what does it have to say about this legend?

First, paddy fields separated by banks and supplied with water by ditches were found all across Japan by the late Yayoi period, about two thousand years ago, so Susano-o’s actions make sense in that context. Such damage would have caused serious disruption to agriculture. As for his desecrations, shit is always available, but horses only came to Japan in the 5th century AD, so that part of the story cannot date any further back than that. What’s more, miniature looms have been excavated from ritual sites dating from the 5th century in Shizuoka prefecture, and are still found in sites dating from the 7th century elsewhere in the country.

The inclusion of a cockerel in the story also relates to archaeological discoveries. Burial mounds from the 4th century on sometimes have clay models of cockerels set around them, among other things, which suggests that cockerels were a part of rituals by that point. On the other hand, if we go back a hundred years or so, we find that cranes are depicted instead, which tends to date the legend to the period after the 4th century.

Next, let us look at the items gathered for the ceremony. First, the kami are told to gather iron. Iron implements are found in 5th century ritual sites in Ehime Prefecture (on Shikoku) and in Chiba Prefecture (just east of Tokyo), along with iron ingots. In the 5th century, iron was not mined and refined in Japan; rather, ingots were imported from Korea, and made into tools and weapons in Japan, which is why the ingots are also important. Curved beads are also a common find in 5th century ritual sites, again from all over Japan. Mirrors go back a bit further, becoming important in the 3rd century, when they were made in China, although they were, later, made in Japan, following Chinese models. In the 5th century there was a vogue for making mirrors modelled after Chinese mirrors from the 3rd century, and they were commonly included in grave goods in the burial mounds. Thus, the ritual significance of mirrors in this period is also clear. Finally, the mirrors, including stone mock-mirrors, and curved jewels recovered from sites of this period very often have small holes drilled through them, so that they could be hung from something. It seems very likely that they were hung from trees, although I don’t think there’s any direct evidence of that.

If we now turn to the divination, this was performed using the shoulder-bones of deer. The excavated evidence of this form of divination suggests that holes were burned through the bones with hot needles, and the resulting cracks analysed. The dates are significant here, because divination using deer bones seems to have started in around the 2nd century BC, and continued until the 5th century AD. From the 6th century, divination shifted to using turtle shells, or cow bones if there were no turtle shells available.

Amenouzume’s naked dance is also supported by archaeological evidence. The clay figures from burial mounds of the 5th and 6th centuries include naked dancing figures, both male and female.

Putting all the evidence together, the conclusion is clear. This legend describes a 5th century ritual. The horse could not have been involved any earlier, deer-bone divination would not have been used any later, and all the other elements correspond to items found in 5th century ritual sites. The 5th century is also the period in which the unification of Japan got seriously underway, and the first period in which there is conclusive evidence for the use of writing by people who understood it. Thus, the 5th century also seems to have been the period of a very significant change in ritual practice, because when people came to record a ritual 250 years later, it was a ritual from that period that they described.

Now we go back to my editorialising. It is very hard to say when Shinto started, because there is no clear foundation event. However, we can say that there is a point at which it becomes useful to talk about the religious practices as “Shinto”, and start looking at the changes in Shinto, rather than at the practices that preceded it. I think that point is the 5th century, and I thought that before I heard this lecture and thus knew about the connection of the Kojiki myth to that period. There is also good evidence at Omiwa Shrine and Munakata Shrine that rituals that show strong continuity with contemporary Shinto started around the 5th century.

Of course, there have been significant changes. Deer bone divination had vanished by the sixth century, and naked dancing is no longer a prominent part of the overwhelming majority of Shinto rituals. (Shinto being Shinto, however, I’m sure it still happens somewhere, although it is quite likely to be a secret ceremony.) More subtly, although mirrors and sakaki are still important parts of Shinto ritual, mirrors are not usually offered to the kami, and offerings are not normally hung from sakaki branches.

However, I think that the common features mean that, if we are going to accept that Shinto has changed over time, the best time to start calling the rituals “Shinto” is the 5th century. That makes Shinto a fairly young religion, as religions go; Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism are all significantly older.

This lecture was extremely interesting, so if the rest are going to be like that, this is going to be a very good year.

2:46: Aftershocks

I just found out about this book via the Guardian, and I’ve already bought my copy. As the page will tell you, it’s a collection of personal reactions to the March 11th quake from people across the world with some connection to Japan. Most of them were in Japan at the time, and a fair few of them are Japanese, although, as the book is in English, the majority are foreigners in the country. All of the money from it is going to the Red Cross for earthquake relief; even Amazon has agreed not to take its cut.

I’ve read about half of the book, and it’s an interesting window into people’s reactions in the immediate aftermath. I found myself sympathising with the person who said he was in a very modern building and so didn’t feel much; there are also accounts from people who were much closer to the epicentre, making me very glad I wasn’t. Most of the book was written between one and two weeks after the quake, and a number of people comment on the continuing aftershocks. They still haven’t stopped; according to my student in Fukushima, they can hear the earth grumbling almost all the time, even when they can’t feel anything.

From what I’ve read, this book is a good way to both contribute to the recovery and find out more about what it was like, from multiple perspectives.

The link is an associate link, because that’s the easiest way for me to link to an Amazon book. I think that means I’ll get an Associate commission if people buy the book through the link. If it rises to a significant amount, so that it makes sense to do so, I’ll specifically donate it to the Japanese Red Cross. (They won’t take less than Â¥2,000, so that’s the lower limit.) If not, I’ve donated and will donate a lot more than that, so all my profits from it will also, in effect, be donated to the effort. If someone knows of an automatic way to channel my commission to the book’s fund raising, please let me know.

Matriculation Ceremony

Mayuki, in her uniform, looking up as she waits for Yuriko

Hurry up, Mummy!

There are a number of aspects of Japanese society that seem a little odd from a British perspective. One of them is the fact that Japanese kindergartens have matriculation ceremonies. And uniforms. Today was the matriculation ceremony for Mayuki’s kindergarten, so she had to get dressed up in her uniform for it. I took most of the day off work so that I could attend, but naturally I wore a suit. The question of what Yuriko should wear was a bit more vexed. I thought she should wear a kimono, and basically she wanted to. However, kimonos are more trouble than western-style clothes, so for a while she was undecided. Finally, at the beginning of this week, she decided that she would wear a kimono.

That meant that she needed to choose the precise outfit, and then practise putting it on, because it is a few months since she last wore a kimono. That, in turn, meant that I had to look after Mayuki and get her to bed for a couple of nights this week, so that Yuriko would have time to practise. We really do need to work on a way to get Mayuki to bed earlier, but unfortunately you really can’t force someone to go to sleep, even if you can convince them to stay in bed; it took about half an hour for Mayuki to get to sleep last night after I’d won that battle.

In any case, Yuriko got her practice, and wore a kimono today. That did mean that I was in charge of getting Mayuki into her uniform, because it takes time to put a kimono on, but fortunately kindergarten uniforms are not complicated, and I’m sure Mayuki will be able to do it by herself fairly soon. (It won’t be instant, because the skirt doesn’t just pull on.) We left the flat a couple of minutes later than planned, but we had, of course, planned for delays, so we still managed to catch the bus that takes us almost all the way to the kindergarten.

Unfortunately, on the way to the bus stop Mayuki fell over and grazed her knee, which made her less cheerful than she had been. She wasn’t at all lively on the bus, and it was obvious that she was feeling a bit sleepy. She kept demanding that I carry her, and although she was happy to walk when we got to the kindergarten, led the way to her classroom, and said good morning to her teacher, she wasn’t as happy about leaving us as she usually is. In fact, she was clinging to me and crying when it was time for the parents to go to the gym, ready for the ceremony. I had to hand her over to the teacher and then walk out on her.

Mayuki standing on the playground equipment in front of cherry blossoms.There were a lot of parents with cameras in the gymnasium, so it wasn’t really possible to see Mayuki much during the ceremony. However, I could see that she’d stopped crying, and was basically being cooperative, if not as active as she often is. The ceremony involved greetings from the chairman of the governors, singing the kindergarten song, a speech from the headteacher (“The slides are all your slides, and the picture book are all of yours as well.”), before finishing with an action song. I don’t think Mayuki did the actions, though.

After that, which took about ten minutes, the children left again, to play with their teachers while the headteacher told us a bit more about the kindergarten’s plans to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake. One point he made was that the kindergarten was happy to take children who had been evacuated from the northeast, which is good, because finding kindergarten places in Kawasaki is hard. The other points were about how the kindergarten would respond to various levels of radiation, which were eminently sensible. (“If the government is telling everyone in Kawasaki to stay inside, we will close the kindergarten”; yes, that sounds like a good idea. I really don’t think it will come to that.) After that, it was back to the classroom, for some more information from Mayuki’s class teacher. Mayuki got a bit clingy again at that point, and when we went out for the class photo, she didn’t want to leave us to sit on the front row. Fortunately, there was a low platform for the new students to stand on, and the parents were supposed to stand behind them in any case, so she was able to participate in the photograph. She then, rather more enthusiastically, went to play on the jungle gym-type equipment, which gave me a chance to take some photographs of her with the cherry blossoms in the background.

At the matriculation ceremonies for Japanese schools and kindergartens, the school puts up a sign saying that it’s that year’s ceremony, and everyone has a family photograph taken in front of it. We did that, but Mayuki wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about being involved. She was rather more enthusiastic about gatecrashing another family’s photograph, in fact. Getting her to head for the bus required promising her lunch (chips and ketchup) at the local family restaurant, but as soon as we got on the bus, she lay down on my knee and fell asleep. She remained asleep as I carried her from the bus stop to our flat, up the hill, and then woke up, wanting her chips, as soon as we put her in bed.

In any case, lunch was nice, and she ate some sweetcorn as well as the chips and ketchup, and we opened her cards from her grandparents. So, although I didn’t really get any work done today (I had one lesson in the evening), we did have a very nice family day.

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.

Concentration

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.

Stress

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