Friday, April 29, 2011

Blindingly bright lights in Osaka & Japanese traditional beauty in Kyoto

A week ago, I went to my parents' house in Osaka to attend my cousin's wedding party which was held last Saturday. I took the bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka. When I arrived at Shin-Osaka Station /新大阪駅, I had to squint. The station was too bright. I thought that it was because I was used to dimness (In the Tokyo area, towns are dim to save electricity due to the power plants seriously damaged by the 3/11 earthquake. Since the electrical frequency in Osaka is different from that in Tokyo, electricity generated in Osaka cannot cover the shortage of electricity in Tokyo). At the same time, I was wondering if the standard Japanese illumination was too bright. As a matte of fact, I often hear foreigners, especially Westerners, saying that shops, restaurants and rooms in Japan are too bright.

In the past, during the war, people were required to turn off the lights at home. Because of this, it's been said that brightness and bright lights became the symbol of peace among ordinary Japanese people, and they became fond of bright rooms. This tendency still remains in Japanese society. Brightness makes many people feel secure and cheers them up. On top of that, since many people are used to bright lights in stores, dim lights in shops in Japan make them feel like these shops are old and unfashionable, although some people like dim lights in shops and restaurants in Western countries.

Anyway, at the wedding ceremony and party, I really enjoyed the traditional Japanese beauty in Kyoto/京都 for the first time in years. Although Western-style wedding parties have become very common in Japan, the marriage ceremony was conducted according to Shinto rites at Shimogamo shrine/ 下鴨神社, which is a World Heritage site. (Please see Link #1 below). The wedding party was held in a traditional Japanese-style inn (Please see Link #2 below). Ten small children attending the party warmed it up. Surprisingly, the bride's eldest brother has five kids (9 ,8, 5, 4 and a 3 month-old) and her elder brother has three kids (my cousin was the groom). These big families gave hope to Japan which has been suffering from a low birthrate and the 3/11 earthquake.

Link #1

Link #2

Monday, April 18, 2011

Impressive posters to encourage people in the tsunami-stricken areas

Coastal areas in Iwate prefecture/ 岩手県 were very seriously damaged by the 3/11earthquake and tsunami. A few days ago, some ordinary people living in Morioka city/盛岡市, which is the capital of Iwate prefecture, launched a poster project to encourage people in the Tsunami-stricken areas.

The posters are drawing considerable attention on the Internet. I think that they are impressive and touching. The posters show what the victims are thinking about and how they are struggling to rebuilt their lives and towns.

Every poster has a short sentence. It's a message from the people in the poster. Please see the link below. There are English translations.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

If a massive inland earthquake hit Tokyo, what would we do?

Right after the 3/11 earthquake hit Tokyo, all the train services were suspended, and then a lot of people had difficulty getting home. Under these circumstances, the government strongly advised them to stay at their offices or public facilities like schools, and not to try to go back home. Despite that, a lot of people tried to go home on foot or by taxi mainly because they were very worried about their children. Actually, it's reported that things that happened in Tokyo right after the 3/11 earthquake have revealed various problems in the Tokyo area.

It's been said that a massive inland earthquake could hit Tokyo. Some specialists predict that there is a 70% chance it could happen within the next 30 years. The government has made a plan for massive inland earthquakes in Tokyo. According to the news, when a massive earthquake hits Tokyo, to minimize the damage, it's very important that most people working in Tokyo stay at their offices or public facilities. It's expected that more people will die by the fire than by building collapses. Tokyo is more vulnerable to damage by the fire. Under the circumstance where traffic lights don't work and train services are suspended due to blackout caused by the earthquake, if a lot of people try to go back home on foot or by taxi, emergency vehicles will be surely blocked by them, and it will add to the damage. This is why the government strongly advised people in Tokyo not to try to go back home. 

On the 11th of March, Tokyo shook heavily. Although all the train service were suspended, electricity, gas, water and fixed telephone services worked properly. However, it's reported that more people tried to go back home on foot and by taxi than the government had expected. It took more time for people to get through to their families than expected because cellphone service didn't work properly due to overcapacity. Convenience stores etc--which are expected to provide food and official information to people based on a contract with the government--didn't play the role as well as expected.

On top of that, there are many double-income families with children in the Tokyo area. Generally, they don't know their neighbors well. So, I've heard that many school children were forced to spend a night at home by themselves while they were frightened by frequent aftershocks because their parents were unable to go back home.

Now, people in large cities are required to think about what they would do when a massive earthquake hit their city and how to improve local community relations.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

No more pumps !

About five years ago, I had a co-worker who was very concerned about strong earthquakes. She was beautiful and fashion-conscious. Her outfits were always fashionable. However, she always carried a big bag. Sometimes it didn't seem to match her clothes. Actually, she always carried a pair of comfortable, light shoes in her bag. On top of that, there was always a pair of sneakers under her desk. She'd often say to me " Do you realize that we'll have to walk home when a strong earthquake hits Tokyo? You should keep a pair of sneakers at the office at least. Unlike me, you often go out to meet your clients. So, you have to wear good-looking but comfortable shoes". When I was working with her, I didn't have the opportunity to realize that I should have listened to her advice.

When the 3/11 earthquake hit Japan, even downtown Tokyo shook heavily. In the wake of it, all the train services were suspended. As you may know, there were a lot of people in Tokyo who had difficulty getting home. The government strongly advised them to stay at their offices or public facilities like schools, and not to try to go back to home. However, many of them tried to go back to home by walk mainly because they were very worried about their children (there are many double-income families in the Tokyo area). A lot of women suffered from pain caused by their pumps.

According to the news, good-looking sneakers and comfortable shoes have been selling well since the massive earthquake occurred. Although I was at home when the earthquake hit Japan, when I saw a lot of people trying to walk home on TV, I remebered that previous colleague.

Anyway, can you guess why the government strongly advised people not to try to go back home? It's a long story. I'll write about it in the next post.

Friday, April 15, 2011

It's surprising. Which way is better? It's always controversial.

The day before yesterday, right after a Cabinet Secretariat Matsumoto met Prime Minister Kan, Mr. Matsumoto said to reporters "PM Kan reckons that some of the areas from which the government has ordered the residents to evacuate because of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant are likely to become uninhabitable for probably one or two decades. So, we have to think about moving them to another town". When I read the comment in the newspaper, I took no notice of it since given the current situation, the comment was expected. However, the comment became controversial. It sparked outrage among some mayors and residents in these areas. According to the newspaper, one of the mayors insists that politicians are supposed to say that they'll do their best to get the evacuated residents back to their towns. Although I really understand how hard it is for the residents to accept the harsh reality and the fact that they've been very frustrated with the government in the past month, the mayor's response surprised me. To be honest, I don't understand what the mayor said.

About a week ago, I saw some evacuated people saying on TV that they realized they wouldn't be able to go back to their towns. Some insisted that they didn't want to hear hopeful news, and wanted to know the real situation about the crippled nuclear power plant. They added that they had already prepared themselves to accept the harsh reality. Because of this, until I heard the mayor's comment, I had forgotten that there are still many people especially in small towns who don't get used to face the harsh reality or don't like to be told about the reality this way.

Actually, the mayor's response reminds me of the issue of whether or not doctors should tell their patients that they are suffering from cancer when doctors detect it. Until two or three decades ago, in Japan, it was uncommon for patients to be told directly by doctors that they were diagnosed with cancer. Let's say for example that a doctor detected that Mr. Smith was suffering from cancer. The doctor usually only told his family members about his cancer and asked them if and when they wanted the doctor to tell him about his cancer. The doctor and his family discussed the best way to tell him. At the time, many people assumed that patients shouldn't be told that they were suffering from cancer because they would lose their will to live. Many people said that they didn't want to be told that they were suffering from cancer, although these days, many people want to be told so and now doctors usually tell patients about their cancer.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I'll look up when I walk so that my tears won't fall from my eyes.

After the devastating earthquake, we often hear the phrase "頑張ろう、日本” on TV. 頑張る/ganbaru is a little hard to translate into English. It depends on the context. In this context, you could translate it as "to stay strong" or "to keep a stiff upper lip." 日本/nippon means Japan. Since Japanese people have really realized that Japan won't overcome the crisis unless every single person seriously prepares themselves to work hard to overcome it, the phrase is often used as a slogan.

However, although it's been more than a month since the earthquake hit Japan, about 15,100 people are still missing (the death toll is about 13,400). They are only those who have been reported to the police as missing. Since some small towns were entirely washed away and all the databases on their residents were also washed away, it's been reported that the accurate number of missing people is much higher. In many tsunami-stricken areas, time stopped after the earthquake. The scenes which we saw right after the tsunami hit the areas are still there. Frequent strong aftershocks, unlikely circumstances like a boat on a building and other things complicate removal of the wreckage.

Many of the victims are fighting as hard as possible to live and move on at shelters. Some of them honestly say, "I always hear the slogan, "stay strong/頑張ろう". However, I don't know how I can do that". As their words show, the slogan is crucial for the victims.

About a week ago, Suntory, a well-known Japanese beverage company, started broadcasting a special TV commercial (Please see the right YouTube video). Some celebrities are singing the popular song ”上を向いて歩こう/I'll look up when I walk" in the commercial. The song has been very popular since it was released in the 1960s. The lyrics are touching. Not only the victims but also other people, including myself, are encouraged by the song. The phrase "I'll look up when I walk so that my tears won't fall from my eyes" describes what many people are feeling now. The song is well known in western countries as Sukiyaki song.

The singer of the song, 坂本九/Kyu Sakamoto, died in the JAL(Japan Airlines) crash in 1985. JAL was a government-run corporation until 1987. t's has been said that the company's culture was partially responsible for the crash. Now, every time I hear the song, I'm moved. At the same time, I remember the crash and think that there seems to be things in common between the crash and the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant since I think that TEPCO is similar to JAL.

English translations of the lyrics

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sendai city fascinates people from Tokyo. Tolerant people in the northern area support our economy.
Sendai city /仙台市 in Miyagi prefecture/ 宮城県 is the largest city in the Tohoku/東北 area (the northern area of Japan). As you know, the area was very seriously damaged by the 3/11 earthquake. Since the epicenter of the massive earthquake was near Miyagi prefecture, the earthquake has wreaked untold havoc in the prefecture. It has been reported that Miyagi is the worst-hit prefecture.

Before the crisis, Sendai city fascinated people, especially those from Tokyo. Since Sendai is a business hub in the northern area, it was not uncommon for people in Tokyo to be transferred to Sendai before the earthquake. I'd often hear that these people were reluctant to return to Tokyo when they were transferred back. Sendai was a peaceful and relaxing place for people who were tired of the hectic life in a large city like Tokyo. Sendai provided both a city life and a country life. The modern city was in harmony with nature. A one-hour drive from the city took you to a famous range of volcanoes, and a 15-minute drive from downtown Sendai took you to a beautiful beach, although it was entirely washed away by the huge tsunami. Matsushima Bay/松島, which is well-known as one of the three most scenic spots in Japan/日本三景, is approximately 30 kilometers from Sendai. On top of that, the local food was good and the living cost in Sendai was much lower than that in Tokyo. Local people were friendly (I'm sure they are still friendly even after the earthquake). Sendai had things that Tokyo had lost.

A lot of factories in the northern area were seriously damaged by the earthquake and Tsunami. Many auto parts and electronics were produced there. As you may know, the shutdown of these factories has greatly affected both Japanese and global supply chains. I've heard that since people in the northern area are persistent and tolerant, they are well oriented to manufacturing precision or sensitive equipment. Speaking of supply chains, many factories associated with Hitachi in Ibaraki prefecture/茨城県 were also seriously damaged and haven't restarted production yet.

93 year-old woman who lost everything because of the huge Tsunami said on TV while smiling " When I was young, I lost everything because of another huge Tunami from Chile. We rebuilt our town. However, the town was washed away again. I'm very frustrated. So, I don't want to die until my town is rebuilt. I'll live until I turn 100". She was playing with children at a shelter where she stays and was trying to cheer them up. How strong she is !


The three most scenic spots in Japan

Saturday, April 9, 2011

It's been about a month since the nightmare. Need somebody who can stop aftershocks.

It's been about a month since the nightmare. Although there is growing concern about the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, even people in the most severely damaged areas have started getting back on their feet. However, mother nature is really cruel. As you may know, last night, another very powerful aftershock hit the Tohoku/東北 and Kantou/関東 areas again. During the aftershock, I was saying in my mind, "Hey, Fukushima nuclear power plant. Hold on! Please hold on" while I was pushing a bookshelf back against the wall at home in Chiba. Although we've gotten used to earthquakes because we've felt more than one thousand quakes since the devastating earthquake, that strong one reminded us of when the 3.11 earthquake hit Japan. It makes us feel shaken up and discourages us--especially the victims-- from moving on. Electricity, water and gas supply services which had just recovered in some disaster-stricken areas stopped again after the strong aftershock.

It's reported that due to the 3.11 earthquake, a sea plate about 200 kilometers from Miyagi prefecture moved about 55 meters southeast, and the range of the movement is 55 kilometers wide and 160 kilometers long. How immense nature's power is.

Anyway, as the concern about the Fukushima plant is growing, many people in the Tokyo area seem to be wondering what to do and how to protect themselves amid a flurry of speculation on the internet. A lot of people are skeptical about the information from both TEPCO and the government. I'm amazed at their inability to deliver reliable information. Their ineptness fuels anxiety and anger. I understand that Tepco is in a tumble since they are required to recover not only the nuclear power plant but also countless other their facilities damaged by the massive earthquake and tsunami. However, every time I see TEPCO making an announcement at a press conference, I realize that TEPCO is a monopoly and their culture is outdated and bureaucratic.

In Japan, unpredictable things have happened and will surely continue to happen. Even I've noticed some diplomatic games related to the disaster. Under these circumstances, I feel like I have no choice but to struggle to survive based on my decisions while trying to enjoy my life. I really appreciate thoughts, supports and donations worldwide. They can't help but make me wonder if I'd pay enough attention to people worldwide who really need help.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How stupid we are !

When I was around nine years old, I watched a documentary at school. It was about the atomic bomb that dropped in Hiroshima in 1945. I was so shocked that I still remember some of the scenes. I also remember that a classmate fainted from shock, and then a teacher picked her up and carried her away. Now that I think about it, the movie affected me and my basic attitude toward wars and nuclear weapons. I believe that things should be solved without the use of force and nuclear weapons should never be used.

As for nuclear weapons, I think that a lot of Japanese people are still opposed to them not only because of the atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but also because of Daigo Fukuryū Maru accident caused by Operation Castle, which was nuclear tests carried out by the U.S. at Bikini Atoll in the 1950s. However, there was a significant change a few years ago. With the change in world power relationships, we have become more serious about our security affairs. Relating to them, the issue of whether or not Japan should own nuclear weapons to protect Japan and to let them act as a deterrent --which had been a sort of taboo until a few years ago--also started to be discussed openly ( I don't intend to discuss this issue here).

Anyway, in 1953, U.S. President Eisenhower delivered a speech titled "Atoms for Peace". At the time, Japan was suffering from a chronic energy deficiency due to the rapid economic growth and struggled to discover a solution. Under these circumstances, the Japanese government, some Japanese media and the American government started a powerful propaganda campaign for the peaceful use of nuclear power in Japan. Then, they successfully convinced the public who was opposed to atomic power. In the 1960s, the generation of electricity by nuclear power started.  Electricity generated by nuclear power helped enable Japan to maintain economic development.

Since then, nuclear reactors have increased under the slogan "nuclear power plants in Japan are safe". A lot of people have become less interested in nuclear power plants. I think that the indifference partly allowed TEPCO and the government to let it all go to their heads and underestimate the risk.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

It's been about three weeks since mother nature attacked us.

If you go to downtown Tokyo now, it'll feel like everything is normal. Only four things: people trying to raise money for the disaster-stricken areas, some places suffering from soil liquefaction, darker downtown at night and shortages of some goods will make you realize that the devastating earthquake hit Japan three weeks ago. However, if you don't know Tokyo before the disaster happened, you may not be aware of the darkness and the shortages. As a matter of fact, many people in the Tokyo area have already gotten used to the new changes, realizing how conformable and convenient their lives used to be.

Although Tokyo is seemingly normal, even people there are struggling to discover how to cheer themselves up. We've realized that Japan will be considered as a contaminated country for the next few decades. We'll be required to prove that manufactured products aren't contaminated even if they are produced in places far from Fukushima. These things will very seriously damage our economy. In the competitive global market, competitors worldwide will take advantage of the disaster. Tax increases and pay cuts are inevitable. We'll need to support the victims in the next decade at least while struggling to develop a new economic model and system. Although my house wasn't damaged by the massive quake, I can still think of endless difficulties I'll have to encounter, and then it took me more than two weeks to prepare myself for struggling with these difficulties. Que sera sera / Whatever will be, will be!

Actually, children inspire me to struggle with these difficulties. I don't know why. I don't have a child, but many children in the disaster-stricken areas on TV make me feel like I have an obligation to keep a stiff upper lip and move on. I really hope that we'll be able to transform the disaster into an opportunity to change.

As for the Fukushima nuclear power plant, we are very sorry that there is still no sign that the plant gettingunder control. I acknowledge that the plant remains in critical condition. In order to be able to protect and prepare myself, I've read various articles on radiation. Actually, I was a little shocked to learn that the normal radiation level in the air in Guangzhou, China are higher than the current radiation levels in Chiba and Tokyo since I lived in Guangzhou for two years.

According to Bloomberg, many countries have naturally occurring radiation levels that exceed Tokyo’s (Please see Link #1 below). A few days ago, cherry blossoms/sakura started blooming in Tokyo, and the controversial pandas at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo were opened to the public. The pandas came to Japan from China one and half months ago and were supposed to be opened to the public two weeks ago. They experienced massive earthquakes in both Sichuan and Tokyo. How pitiful! They started playing an important role in helping people cheer up.

Anyway, I really appreciate thoughts and concern worldwide. Many victims of another devastating earthquake - which hit Kobe 16 years ago - say that people's concern made them move on.

Link #1