Saturday, March 26, 2011

I thought I was prepared for massive earthquakes. I've realized that I was wrong.

When the massive earthquake hit Kobe and Osaka 16 years ago, I lived in Osaka, but I was in Sydney on vacation when it happened. Fortunately, my house wasn't damaged. However, since my company and projects were seriously damaged, I struggled with the aftermath at work when I got back to Osaka. I learned a lot from the disaster.

It's been two weeks since the massive earthquake hit a large part of Japan. I think that now is when the gravity of the situation unfolds. Both the victims and people who are trying to help them are stretched thin and flare up easily, although it's been said that the Japanese people in the northern area are more tolerant. All the Japanese people understand that they are required to do anything they can do, but it's difficult to keep doing that. To make matters worse, the situations of shelters and hospitals in the disaster-stricken area are very serious. I attribute it to four main reasons: the very wide disaster-stricken area, no main roads and docks due to the huge Tunami washing everything away, the crippled Fukushima plant, and a sever shortage of gas. The situation is much worse than one was in Kobe two weeks after the massive earthquake hit Kobe 16 years ago.

Anyway, since then, I've been back and forth between Japan and other countries every few years. Every time I move back to Tokyo, I prepare myself for massive earthquakes. As for my current house, in my bedroom, there are only beds and low side beds for safety in case of earthquakes (There is a closet installed originally. Can you imagine it? Please see the attached picture). Tall furniture like bookshelves and cupboards--which are considered to be the most dangerous things when earthquakes occur --are not put in areas that would block the passage to the front door if they fall down, because the front door is the only way to go outside. Stoppers have been installed on cupboards etc to prevent the doors from opening (please see the attached picture). An emergency bag is prepared so that I can bring out necessary things and flee from my house immediately. Some bottles of water are stored. I've learned what to do when massive earthquakes occur.

Because of this, before the devastating earthquake hit Japan, I thought that I was well prepared for massive earthquakes. However, I was wrong. I found myself more upset than I had expected during the earthquake, although the common countermeasures against earthquake minimized the damage. Right after the first huge quake, I was able to manage to do what I was supposed to do. On the other hand, I noticed that I lost my head and I wasn't able to think properly.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The ringtone of earthquake alert texts always frightens me

About three years ago, the Earthquake Early Warning System was introduced in Japan. When the Japan Meteorological Agency detects that a stronger earthquake than a certain level is going to hit Japan, the agency will issue an Earthquake Early Warning/ 緊急地震速報. On TV, whenever the warning is issued, "At XXX areas, please be careful of a strong earthquake. Please don't rush and behave calmly. Please ensure your safety. A strong earthquake is coming in a few seconds " is announced. If you have cellphones and you are in an area where a strong earthquake is hitting, you will receive an alert text.

Since the devastating earthquake hit Japan, the warning has been issued very frequently. Whenever I receive them in public places, I'm frightened more because everybody receives the alert texts with the same ringtone at the same time. When the massive earthquake hit Japan, a Diet debate in Tokyo was being broadcast live on NHK (the public broadcasting service). When an Earthquake Early Warning was issued, the NHK announcer in Tokyo was calm. However, after a minute, people at the studio in Tokyo started feeling a huge quake and seemed to have a hard time broadcasting.

Please see the video in the link below. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A modern town near Tokyo Disneyland was transformed into a muddy town

It takes 15 minutes by train from Tokyo Station to Tokyo Disneyland (TDL). Before the place was hit by the massive earthquake, upon exiting Maihama Station in front of TDL, you would enter an exciting dream world. Sadly, if you go there now, a pile of mud will welcome you. Right after the earthquake, many cars were trapped by mud in the parking lots of TDL.

Next to Tokyo Disneyland, there is a newly developed area. A lot of modern apartment buildings were built and many people, especially the younger generation, moved there. In the past decade, this area has become very popular. However, the modern town was transformed into a muddy town by the earthquake. Mysterious statues have also appeared there. These areas were reclaimed from the sea. The devastating earthquake caused soil liquefaction. Right after the quake, water and sand burst out of the paved streets. In the wake of the soil liquefaction, some huge water pipes emerged from under the ground, and many houses have tipped over. Residents there have been suffering from water outages.

Unfortunately, aftershocks have become more frequent since yesterday.

Cars trapped by mud at TDL.

Soil liquefaction at the popular town.

Soil liquefaction started right after the massive earthquake hit the town.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How stupid we are. The current crisis has made us realize many things.

It's been 65 years since Japan lost the Second World War. However, there are still lawsuits against the Japanese government over compensation for exposure to radiation caused by the atomic bombs in 1945. Although our government has approved people who can meet conditions required by law as victims and compensated them, the conditions have been controversial because it's very difficult to identify victims who suffer from secondary or internal exposure to radiation.

When I was a child, my mother would always say to me, "Don't let yourself be exposed to the rain. The rain could be harmful ". At the time, nuclear tests were frequently carried out by some countries like the Soviet Union and America. Japanese people understood that nuclear tests were carried out so far away from Japan that the radiation levels in the rain were low and the rain was not likely to be detrimental to their health. Still, they were worried about secondary exposure to radiation through the rain since it was very well-known in Japan that a lot of people had been exposed to radiation in the black rain that fell right after the atomic bombs were dropped. As a matter of fact, when China carried out nuclear tests, radiation levels in Tokyo were higher than usual. Recently, I learned that radiation levels in Tokyo right after the nuclear tests in China were higher than the levels in Tokyo after radiation started leaking from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Anyway, I think that these experiences have been almost forgotten in the past two decades. On top of that, although Japan depends greatly on nuclear power, I suppose that many of us underestimated the risk of it.

Actually, the current crisis has made us realize many things. We've finally realized what it means to live in an eco-friendly way. We've realized how much we used to waste. We've realized how comforting simple phrases like "hello" and "Are you OK?" can be. We've realized how many people support us. Thank you very much!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I hope that Japan's crisis will help make the Chinese people aware of something important.

It's been a week since the nightmare. As time goes by, more details have been revealed. We have to face harsh reality. It has been said that there are still isolated places which some people have temporarily evacuated to but haven't yet been discovered. To make matters worse, some survivors at shelters died due to terrible conditions: lack of water, food, and the cold weather. Because the massive earthquake hit such a wide area of Japan (about 500 kilometers long), we've been having a very hard time transporting necessary goods to the disaster-stricken areas. On top of that, since refineries at many places, even near Tokyo, have been also damaged, we have been suffering from a serious shortage of gas.

As for the crippled nuclear power plant at Fukushima, I have no choice but to pray that the situation won't be worse, watching carefully to see whether or not our government discloses everything about the situation. So far, I don't plan on leaving Tokyo Chiba, but I try to get information from as many sources including those overseas.We are really sorry for making people scared worldwide.

I've heard that radiation leaks from the plant have caused panics in China. It's been reported that salt has disappeared from many supermarkets in China since a lot of people believe that salt will be effective when they are exposed to radiation.I really understand how much they are worried. However, I want to say something to the Chinese people.If you really care about your health, I strongly advise you to pay more attention to your environment. When I lived in Guangzhou, China a few years ago, to be honest, I felt that my heath was likely to be damaged due to air pollution and sick houses. I don't intend to rationalize our nuclear crisis. Needless to say, Tokyo Electric Power and our government deserve to be criticized. After the plant is under control, they will have an obligation to examine whether or not there were problems with risk management and to announce it.

On top of that, I hope that our crisis will inspire Chinese people to pay attention to contaminated areas in Xinjiang/新疆, China, although nobody knows exactly what is going on there. It has been said that the Chinese government carried out nuclear testing many times there and a large number of local people died due to exposure to radiation. It has been projected that since the Chinese government didn't announce anything about the situation of the contaminated areas, a lot of people there still suffer from cancers and congenital disorders.I've watched a documentary created by Channel 4 in the UK about that areas. The situation was serious.

I really hope that Japan will be able to deal with the nuclear problem well. In the past few days, the number of aftershocks has significantly reduced. However, it's expected that aftershocks will continue in the next six months.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I'm fine so far

As you know, a devastating earthquake hit Japan. When it occurred, I was at home in Chiba. I felt a huge quake. I even thought I was going to die for a second. Fortunately, I wasn't injured at all.

In my house, a lot of things fell down, and some of them broke.
I hope that I'll be able to see my husband soon. Now, almost all the train services are suspended. So, he doesn't have any way to come back home from downtown Tokyo. According to his text, he is looking for a safe place to stay.

Since the first massive quake, my house has been shaking intermittently. I feel as though I am on a boat.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I lived in Guangzhou, China from 2006 to 2008. Every time I came back from China to Japan, I would be subject to suspicion when passing through customs at the airport in Japan. I'm sure you can guess why. A few days ago, it was reported that the number of counterfeit products which had been confiscated at customs in 2010 was the second highest level, and the ones from China had reached 90% of the total.

To be honest, when I moved into Guangzhou, China, I was overwhelmed by pervasive and rampant knockoffs. If you don't keep up with trends, you won't even recognize some products as knockoffs in Guangzhou. Actually, it happened to me once. While I was hanging out downtown, I happened to find a cheap but lovely casual bag. I couldn't help but buy it. After a while, I found out that there was a small familiar logo inside the bag. Upon browsing the internet, I found that genuine ones had gone on sale about six months before. On top of that, regarding knockoffs, there were both substantiated and unsubstantiated stories swirling around Guangzhou. I heard that a well-known Japanese cosmetic company had found out that there had been a few counterfeit products even at directly-managed shops in reputable department stores in China, and the reputable stores had been intentionally selling them to make a better profit.  When I first rented a flat in Guangzhou, the landlord, who was from a moneyed class, strongly advised me that I should buy expensive, imported goods.

In Guangzhou, the rampant knockoffs would make me wonder what I was supposed to believe every time I shopped. I had nothing but prices to rely on. Actually, the quality of goods was directly proportional to the price. As for chemical products like detergents and food, I had no choice but to buy expensive ones for safety. Because of these circumstances, living cost there was much higher than I had expected.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

There are things in common between "gossip girl" and Japanese politicians!?

I've been watching American TV shows a lot to improve my listening skill in the past three years. Despite such long-term practice, I haven't improved much. If I took it seriously, I would feel like giving up. Yet, as long as I have fun with the shows, I intend to keep watching them, believing that I will someday be able to listen to English without focusing my full attention on it.

Anyway, in the past few weeks, I've been watching "Gossip girl". As you may know, the show is set in a high school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.Most of the main characters are students from wealthy families. They lead extravagant lives surrounded by luxurious things. On the other hand, they are subject to restraints which ordinary people are free of. They often have hidden agendas and play all sorts of power games. Meanwhile, they sometimes suffer from remorse. Although I know that the show is a fiction, I feel that similar things are likely to happen in our lives.

By the way, it was announced the day before yesterday that Mr. Maehara had just stepped down from the position of foreign minster. Although I don't intend to elaborate it, the battle between the ruling party and the opposition party over the stuff which forced him to step down somehow makes me think of the show "Gossip Girl". The battle is ridiculous and futile. Many politicians seem to be being overcritical in order to hinder others. I guess that there is a tangle of ulterior motives since it has been said that Mr. Maehara is very likely to become Prime Minster in the near future.

Although I know that political power games are inevitable anywhere, I really want politicians to compete against one another in policy. Actually, a lot of people have said so in the past five years because they have really realized that Japan is in a critical situation. Despite that, there is no sign of productive bipartisan discussions on major policies.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Chewing gum helps me memorize English words!?

Professional baseball players often chew gum while playing. In the past, a lot of Japanese people would consider it to be rude. In contrast, these days, people are encouraged to chew gum even in circumstances where people weren't previously allowed to do it.

In the past decade, it has been said that people should try to increase the amount of time they spend chewing things as much as possible. Under these circumstances, chewing gum is viewed as a good way to make it happen. On top of that, you are strongly advised to make efforts to chew as many times as possible while eating. As you may know, it prevents overeating and helps to enhance digestion and absorption. Other than that, it has been recently highlighted that chewing things is effective in activating brain functions. In fact, a survey has shown that students in the University of Tokyo, the most prestigious university in Japan, tend to have a habit of chewing more. Many surveys have shown that people can memorize things better while they are chewing things like gum than people who don't. The effect is more obvious on elderly people than young ones. 

According to the news, various scientific evidence for the relevance between chewing things and brain activation have been discovered. Some elderly patients who were on feeding tubes demonstrate how important chewing things is for human beings. When they were on feeding tubes, they weren't able to walk. Some of them were even unable to talk. However, after removing the tubes and letting them eat normal food, they regained the ability to walk and talk. All of them could get many functions back to normal.

In nature, being unable to chew things means death for animals. So, there is no wonder that chewing things is essential for us.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Why do you think Facebook has become very popular?

I've noticed that Japanese Facebook users have been increasing recently. I suppose that the remarkable role Facebook played in the civil disobedience in the Middle East and the popularity of the American movie "The Social Network" have been helping Facebook become more popular in Japan. On top of that, I've heard that Facebook has been very serious about expanding in the Japanese market in the past year in order to increase Japanese subscribers. It has been said that the immense popularity of Japanese social network service "Mixi" has been forcing Facebook to struggle to win the hearts and minds of Japanese people.

Speaking of social network services, more than five years ago, some friends of mine living outside Japan invited me to join "Hi5" and "Tagged". After that, they urged me to use Facebook, as well. Since then, I've been on Facebook for five years. On the other hand, I haven't logged into both Hi5 and Tagged for a few years because I have no active friends there.

I'm wondering if Facebook is more popular than the other two. If so, why do you think Facebook has become very popular in the past few years? What is the biggest difference between Facebook and the other two ?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Japanese mothers accompanying their smart, grown-up children.

Last week, I stopped by a four-star hotel in downtown Tokyo. When I arrived there in the morning, I noticed that there was something unusual in the lobby. Usually, the lobby is bustling with men and women in suits in the morning. In contrast, on that day, middle-aged women in casual clothes were standing in groups there. On top of that, other middle-aged women occupied the large part of a cafe in the lobby. It turned out that these women were mothers whose children were sitting the entrance examination for the University of Tokyo, the most prestigious university in Japan.

The hotel is located near the University of Tokyo. I've heard that the hotel has been popular among students who plan on taking the entrance examination for this prestigious university but live far from it. Given that the hotel is more expensive than average, I feel like the popularity has proven the fact that children from affluent families are more likely to enroll in prestigious universities than others.

Anyway, what I want to say here is that I was really surprised by how many mothers accompanied their grown-up children to Tokyo. When I was a student many years ago, students usually went by themselves to take entrance examinations wherever they were. Even if their mothers insisted on accompanying them, they, especially boys, would spurn the offer. Some of them would even feel annoyed. I'm not saying that mothers accompanying their grown-up children is wrong. However, I can't help but wonder whether or not they have realized that society requires young people to become more independent. It has been said that young people need to learn to make decisions by themselves and take responsibility for the decisions. Graduates from the University of Tokyo are the most likely to be given various opportunities, and they are greatly expected to play important roles in various fields. I hope that these mothers will let their children go after they pass the examination. Otherwise, Japan won't have a future.