A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Tsukuba ( and everyone in it) Greatly SHAKEN UP by Strongest Earthquake Ever Recorded in This Area



Books knocked off the shelf at the Tsukuba Central Library

It was just before 3 in the afternoon, and I was sitting on the floor reading in one of the aisles at the Tsukuba Central Library. There was a deep rumbling, and with my butt on the floor, I soon felt the slight vibration, which along with that distinctive sound, signals the onset of a tremor.

I , as well as all the other studious library users around me, had experienced such sensations thousands of times before, nearly everyday, and at that moment, none of us gave it a second thought.

In a few seconds though, we had all stopped reading and were looking edgilly around us, as the library, the books, the shelves, the walls, ceiling and windows all seemed to have COME TO LIFE, throbbing and rattling, like a well shaken OMIKOSHI ( portable shrine) at a Japanese Festival.

The vibrations ( and the rumble) grew more intense, With the high panes of window glass and the concrete ceiling high above seemingly about to explode, all of us instintively started to head out of the building. We didnt run, we walked- briskly. We picked up the pace as the books started to shoot out of  their shelves- as we neared the outer door, glass began to shatter.

This was it. What we had all long dreaded, but knew would one day come (though not necessarilly in our lifetime)- THE BIG ONE.

Broken glass at the entrance to the Library

Outside in the safety of the open spaces dozens of people had gathered- all noticeably shaken. We were all trying to call family or friends on our cell phones but it was impossible to get through ( my family had gone to Costco for the day).

When it seemed that things had settled down, after a few minutes, some of us went back into the library to get our belongings,

It looked like the place had been attacked by vandals- books scattered everywhere, glass…..- suddenly an aftershock struck, with almost the same force as the original quake ( or so it seemed), and we hurried out again.

Outside I heard from someone who had checked the internet on her cellphone that the epicenter of the quake had been in Miyagi Prefecture- hundreds of kilometers to the north-east. I couldnt imagine what it must have been like there with such a big quake so far from the source.

I started to walk across Tsukuba`s Central Park, towards the station and the Seibu Department Store. I ran into a couple of foreigners who said that  they had been walking outside when suddenly they had been unable to stand up straight.They must have thought they were having a STROKE before they noticed all the utility poles, trees and buildings swaying, and realized what was happening.. I told them to stay calm, wished them good luck and walked on.

Large chunks of concrete had falled from the pedestrian bridge near Seibu and QT- luckilly nobody was hurt there

Outside the Tsukuba Station ( for the TX Line) there were large crowds who had been told to evacuate the underground facilities. The TX staff were standing guard to make sure nobody entered or re-entered.

Looking across the street at the QT Mall I noticed that many restaurants on the upper levels had been badly damaged, and under the pedestrian bridge large chunks of concrete had fallen.

Since all the buildings had been evacuated, the streets were full of people- all calm and under control, but clearly shaken.

At the top of the stairs to the plaza between QT and Seibu, I was taken aback by the large crowd-  a sea of people-all the employees who under the leadership of civil defence foremen were squatting down and looking up to watch for falling debris.

None of these people had jackets and it was VERY COLD.

I walked on…….. more aftershocks! Really strong. People walking beside me could not keep their balance. I noticed a crow, trying to no avail, to stay perched on a street light that was swaying violently.I watched, fascinated, as it finally gave up the pole for a more manageable tree.

I crossed the street- the Gusto Restaurant was being evacuated- hey! There is Fumi Tanaka, the guitarist for the Tengooz! We embrace, exchange greetings and best wishes. He goes to take shelter, and I walk on.

Most of the buildings I pass along the way have been damaged, with the debris which had fallen off their roofs ( mostly tiles) filling the parking lots.

I keep trying to use my cell phone, but cant get through to anyone and hope my family is safe.

Employees of Seibu Department store and the various shops of the QT Mall take shelter outside in the cold- they were told to squat to avoid falling down in the shaking

Department store employees take shelter outside just after the earthquake

Debris that fell off a restaurant in Tsukuba

As I enter a residential neighborhood I find most of the families outside in the cold, pacing, often hand in hand ( united in tragedy) or with arms wrapped round each other- worried about the aftershocks, which kept coming IN STRENGTH.

I noticed groups of school children, who had been evacuated from school and were now in the open under their teachers supervision. The kids did not have warm clothes and it was really cold- and drizzling. The teachers were having a hard time maintaining order ( though in Japan that just means that some of the kids were horsing around despite being scolded).

Kids who had been evacuated from school

I entered the Teshirogi Community center. It had been evacuated. Books were strewn all over the place and the electricity was out. So was the water. I was told that the power was out all over Tsukuba- and I still couldnt get through to anyone on the phone. Very nerve wracking!

When I spoke to some of the older native Ibarakians, they told me that they had never experienced anything like this before- and the aftershocks were still coming.

Very uncomfortable in the cold and wet, I decided to head back to Tsukuba Center by bus ( because one just happened to be passing by).

When I got there, there were much larger crowds outside the station. Unfortunately, they would be going nowhere!

The line for taxis was longer than I had ever seen it, and there was not a cab in sight!

I headed on into the lobby of the Okura Hotel and was surprised ( startled) to find it filled with the hotel guests, all calmy seated in chairs. One guy had a battery operated computer and was watching the news.

This was the first time I realized how much worse things were in Miyagi Prefecture.

Upset at the news of the loss of life, I started to walk home, wondering if my house had been flattened or burned down ( all around sirens were sounding and helicopters flying.

I walked and walked in the mid-winterlike cold ( and this just after my surgery!) suspecting the worst.

When I turned the corner to my house, I noticed that it was still standing ( to my relief and surprise!), but when I got inside I grimaced! It looked like it had been viciously ransacked- all the shelves were emptied and everything was piled on the floor- including a very large tv, my thousands of books, and all the knick knacks that I have accumulated over the years on my travels ( in various states of disrepair).

I couldnt even ENTER the kitchen, as all the contents of the cupboards had spilled out onto the floor. There was lots of broken glass.

The power was dead , too, so there was no heat, no light, and no hot water. In fact there was no water at all! With the sun quickly disappearing I was left in the dark and in temperatures not much different from those outside ( maybe even colder).

Still my phone did not connect.

I thought that if I waited a bit, the power would come back on.

How mistaken I was. It is midnight now and the lights still havent come on.

A PHONE CALL FINALLY GOT THROUGH- my family was safe, but because of the traffic, would be very late in getting home. What a relief. (Not being able to get in touch with family was just about the the worst of the earthquake experience around here).

Now that I had spoken with my wife, I didnt have to wait at home in the freezing dark.

I started walking again- into the night. With all the power out, the night sky was brilliant ( but I couldnt enjoy it very much knowing that people were suffering , even dying, in other areas)

The only reason Im able to write this, is that I had walked all the way to an internet cafe- which was not open for business but is letting me take shelter here. My family later joined me.

I dropped by for something to eat at the convenience store nearby but there was almost nothing left in stock and the lines  very long ( for those buying the last remaining items).

I dined on peanuts and chocolate.

Luckilly, my family had been at Costco and had bought bagels, smoked salmon, fruit and plenty of water, and they are now trying to sleep in one of the Karaoke rooms. I`m having some bagels as a dessert to my peanuts!

Im not sure many people around here will be getting any shut-eye as the aftershocks continue- PAST MIDNIGHT!

One interesting thing.

We have a big TV here at the internet cafe and Ive been watching the news as I write. But when I checked out the dramatic and horifying video footage on some foreign websites, including that of the New York Times, I realized that the Japanese news is PURPOSELY not showing anything too, horrible, in an effort I guess to keep the calm.

And for those of you who are concerned about Tsukuba, please rest assured that nothing quite so dramatic as the footage shown on the international news has happened here ( not that that should make us feel any better).

People sheltering at the lobby of the Okura Hotel in Tsukuba

The aftershocks continued throughout the night, some really frightening. Could only get about two hours sleep.

Its now about 7:30 in the morning and I strolled down to the convenience store ( on the corner of Higashi-Odori and Kita-Odori). Again the parking lot was full and the store crowded, but the shelves were practically empty, reminding me of the shops I saw on my travels in the Soviet Far-East.

The manager of the store told me he had no idea of when the next shipment of  fresh supplies would be coming in ( they usually come from somewhere near Mito he said).

I picked out one of the few remaining drinks in stock, and he refused my money.

Whooo! ANOTHER aftershock.

Empty shelves at a convenience store in Tsukuba (March 12, 2011)

More empty shelves


With fires blazing, radioactivity leaking, and thousands homeless and still unaccounted for in more northernly parts, I feel a little embarrassed writng about what is going on in Tsukuba, as the situation here is TRIVIAL compared with what is going on in Miyagi Prefecture.

Still, it seems that there are are plenty of people out there with a special interest in, feeling, and concern for our  fair city (Tsukuba), so I will try to document, however poorly, what is going on here ( as far a I have seen things).

Waiting to get water at the Takezono Park parking lot

As I have already mentioned, we had spent the night ( in relative luxury) at an internet cafe ( Cybex). We were really the only ones there at the large facility and had access to computers and a large screen tv ( to which we were rivetted).

Since the convenience stores were all out of stock, our first priority was obtaining food. We were also worried about gas for the car. Many gas stations were SOLD OUT, and others were selling only 1000 Yen worth to each customer. We found such a place, and waited in line FOUR TIMES ( to get 4000 Yen worth), which took well over an hour.

We found an open supermarket ( in Takezono), but the lines were VERY LONG and there was very little in stock.

In nearby Takezono Park, water was being distributed ( from an emergency reservoir) and dozens of people were waiting in line with jerry cans.

With some snacks and drinks we headed for home to see if  our house would be safe to enter.

When we got there , we found that the power and water were still out ( while in other areas of Tsukuba things had already returned to normal).

Walking around the house and checking the external structure we found several long cracks and holes which to us seemed dangerous. Luckilly, we were able to get through to 119, the city`s emergency phone number. They were able to contact some engineers who would be able to determine whether the house was liveable anymore or not.

While we waited, we cleaned. To my dismay ALMOST ALL of my Japanese pottery collection had been shattered ( a mere triviality, however, compared to the losses sustained by others, so I dont complain), I filled up a couple of garbage bags with the shards.

I noticed that objects on shelves which faced north or south were all violently thrown, while stuff on shelves facing east or west was spared.

Engineers from the city office who came by to check whether or not our house was safe- note Mt Tsukuba in the background

Within a couple of hours the engineers had arrived. They were polite, patient, and very professional, giving the house a very complete looking over. Their explanations were also very detailed.

Much to my relief ( and surprise) the house was rated as SAFE! The cracks, I was told were merely superfiicial, while the inner structure contained steel bars (they insisted, however, that the place be renovated as soon as possible).

They told me that in the central part of Tsukuba ( where I live), there were no houses which had to be condemned. Closer to Mt. Tsukuba, however, in the northern part of the city, I was told that their colleagues had found numerous houses which were now unfit to enter.

I wished these busy gentlemen good luck as they left to continue their very important work, and just as they had disappeared from view- a very pleasant surprise. Asako-San, a friend with a very big heart, arrived with a CARE PACKAGE for my family- food and drink! Apparently she had read Tsukublog and was worried that we were homeless.

Thank you Asako! That was very much appreciated!

Asako-San to the rescue! A much needed (and appreciated) CARE PACKAGE!

Our clean-up then continued ( and will for the next few days). Without water or electricity (which means no heat), we were wondering what we would do for the night.

Still undecided, we all got into bed and under the covers in our clothes and jackets, and completely, exhausted ( physically and emotionally) we fell asleep!

At just about 10 pm, I was lying half awake, when I heard a distinctive CLICK. The electricity was back on! We jumped out of bed, turned on the heaters ( and the computer!) and rejoiced in this little return to normalcy ( while I kept in mind the suffering of those less fortunate).

Five minutes after the lights were back on, a large aftershock struck. There have been several more since then. WE hold our breath with each one.

A common form of earthquake damage in Tsukuba`s tradtional neighborhoods- collapsed stone walls

The Third Day

After a well needed good-night`s sleep we awakened to a house with electricity and (thankfully) heat, but no water. We have plenty of bottled tea and mineral water, but we will have to go line up in Takezono for our water ration for washing ourselves and the dishes ( the few that remain unshattered). Luckilly, we have a bathtub full of water which we use ( by pouring it out of a bucket) to flush the toilet.

With phone connections better, we have been able to get in touch with friends, and because of this I have learned about another major aspect of the earthquake , as many Tsukubans experienced it- long, stressfull separations from family with no information as to the safety of loved ones, and the long hard road getting home.

My good friend Sandro from the Republic of Georgia, was on the road for 15 hours, with no cell phone, stuck in traffic. I was relieved to hear that he is finally home, getting some well needed sleep.

Mamoru Shimizu, a regular contributor to Tsukublog, apparently had to WALK HOME from somewhere near Tokyo. It took almost two days.

As more calls and mail come in from near and far, the concern of everyone is now about the raditaion leaking from the nuclear power plants.

I have several friends and acquaintances in Tsukuba who are experts in radiation, and I will try to get the most accurate information about what is going on out to you ( hopefully today).

 If anyone has any good advice or suggestions for us, PLEASE WRITE to us here.

Well, now its time to go get some water- and then clean up.

People waiting on line at the natural stream ( the Kowashimizu) which runs out of the ruins of Konda Castle in Tsukuba

The gas man came to check our house. He, also  did a thorough check and said that everything was ok. Whew!

We  suddenly remembered that near our house there was an old spring ( associated with several local legends) and we drove over there with some empty bottles. As you could imagine there was a long line. We waited for more than 30 minutes, but it was interesting to hear ( overhear) the local peoples conversation, which mostly consisted of expressions of sympathy for what was going on in Miyagi Prefecture. The mood was solemn, yet everyone was polite, courteous, and patient- no griping or complaining- no hording or acts of selfishness.

I have written more about the spring here:


Taking a round about way home we drove through some of Tsukuba`s oldest neighborhoods. Everyone seemed to be outside, cleaning up and repairing roofs and gates. We saw one old house very badly damaged.

Waiting on line for some fresh spring-water in Tsukuba`s Konda neighborhood

Long lines for water at the Former Sakura Branch Office

A water distribution site in Tsukuba

Did some cleaning up ( numerous trips back and forth to the garbage pick up spot), and noticed that MOST of the roofs in my neighborhood had been damaged and now had blue tarps over them. My next door neighbor was up on his roof doing some repairs.

I walked across the fields to get to the water distribution point at the former Sakura City Office. The lines were long and the mood somber. Few words were said. When I spoke to the city official in charge, however, he was very helpful and told me that the water pumps would be turned on tonight between 6 and 10 pm.

I rushed home, and like magic, at 6 sharp, my toilet tanks began to fill. When I opened my sink faucet, however, I just got a slight trickle ( thats what happens when lots of people try to get water at once), but slowlly but surely I have been able to fill a couple of buckets.

Now its really flowing!

What started as a sputter and then a trickle has turned into a hot turrent and we were able to take hot showers and scrub away all the sweat and grime- all the worry and fear.

Still, despite this new return to comfort I cannot help but be moved near tears by the fact that some rescue workers are now GIVING UP THEIR lives to prevent the situations at the nuclear power plants from getting out of hand…………………………..

The Fourth Day

Slept well after last nights hot shower, but woke up feeling uneasy. The situation in Fukushima Prefecture, where the nuclear power plants are, appears grim.

Suddenly, a pleasant surprise- TOSHIKO, my 88 year old Grandmother-in-Japan, dropped by our place ( driven by her grandson) and brought us some traditional Ibaraki style foods! Perfect to lift the spirits! Toshiko, who has survived the great air-raids of the world war, was of course unfazed by the situation, and in fact seemed energized and ready to HELP anyone i nay way she could- a true embodiment of the irrepressable Japanese spirit. When I saw Toshiko ( so small and with legs so bowed they seemed about to break) and stood in the presence of her infectious determination, I felt assured that Japan would overcome this crisis in no time at all, as it usually does ( and I was reminded of how impressed I had been at the Hiroshima Peace Museum, at a display which showed how Hiroshima residents started to rebuild their city 3 days after the atomic bombing!).

After long goodbyes, we drove to the city office where it seemed like business as usual. We stopped a 7-11 nearby and found the place completely empty ( except for some ice cream)!

The Seven Eleven near the Tsukuba City office on March 14th ( White Day)

I remembered that it was White Day today and noticed that one of the last remaining ice creams in the freezer was a little box of two, Godiva white chocolate ice cream balls. I purchased it and presented it to my wife for the occassion. 

She said that this was not the time to think about White Day, but still seemed to enjoy the gesture ( and the ice cream!).

For those of you who would like to know what this day would have been like if it hadnt been for this terrible disaster  read : http://blog.alientimes.org/2009/03/men-facing-tough-choices-as-white-day-draws-near/

Entering the City Office it was surprising to find thing looking like business as usual, lots of people there to file their tax returns ( the deadline is tomorrow).

Just near the eastern entrance their was a table where you could register as a volunteer to help clean refuge areas, assist elderly people who live alone, etc.

The passport section was also busy, with people preparing for the worst- having to get out of the country.

I took care of some business ( paying bills!) walked around a bit to greet some friends and colleagues ( I found out that a lecture of mine sponsored by the city for the end of this month has been postponed), and then checked out the city offices restaurant- which was serving customers!

We opted instead, to lunch at Mosburger, a Japanese version of McDonalds which my boys love ( because they can get toys with each kids set ordered). The place was not crowded at all and we had a good time- for that 40 minutes or so it was like everything had returned to normal again- munching on burgers and fries, sipping drinks, playing with the freebee spyrograph.

After finishing we drove around to check on which restaurants were open for business. The fast food outlets ( besides Mosburger) were closed, but most of the ramen ( Chinese style noodle) places were open along the Tsuchiura Gakuen Line ( a major thoroughfare here in Tsukuba).

I went to the Okura Hotel to blog ( the Internet Cafes next to Mosburgers was closed), and found the lobby in darkness ( they are conserving electricity). The hotels second floor restaurant , however, was open.

After writing a bit, I walked over to check on things at the Seibu Department Store ( closed) and the QT Mall ( also closed).

The SUNKUS convenience store on the ground floor of QT, near the TX station was not only open but pretty well stocked as well.

The manager told me that supplies had been getting through regularly, and they were expecting another delivery soon. Lots of people in the store, and loitering outside.

Going down to the TX station I heard excited announcements over the loudspeaker. They was going to stop the train sevice ( at just before 2pm) because of lack of power.

At the bus terminal I learned that the buses between Tokyo and Tsukuba were not running.

I went back to SUNKUS, picked up a load of yoghurts and drinks and headed on back home.

Aftershocks have been shaking us regularly ( I have just been awakened by a big one at 5 am) and though right after the quake we had grown accustomed to them, they are now starting to make us hold our breaths again.

The Fifth Day

Phone service is still hit and miss, and water at house limited to a few hours per day. This has become a very concern , however, as we now focus on the situation up at the nuclear power plants. There is a sense of dread in the air, and people have been calling wondering what to do.

One Tsukuba resident, probably the most practically minded person I know, has booked a flight out of the country for this afternoon. Im sorry to have to say this, but that might be the best thing for anyone who absolutely doesnt HAVE TO be here.

Ive just gotten word that some other friends have sent their kids out of the country.

My wife and kids, have just gotten into the car ( kids wrapped in blankets) and I told them to head west. They will fist stop in Tokyo to pick up their cousins.

Looking out from my house ( which overlooks a wide area) everything seems eerily deserted, with hardly a car on the roads. The news for the nuclear power plants is bad, and the winds are blowing steadilly

Im sorry to have to say this, but we shouldnt rely on POSITIVE THINKING in this case.

At home, watching the rare car pass by. Ive got to work on a translation, but besides that all appointements have been postponed indefinitely. Dont want to leave the house with the possibility of radio-active particles in the air. Even indoors, Ive got a surgical mask on ( dampened), along with long sleeved shirt and pants. Ive also got a towel around my head. Some in Tsukuba might say that this is an over- reaction, but I say it isnt, as it is better to be on the safe side.

I was reassured at about 3pm by a friend whose profession it is to monitor radio-activity. He mailed me saying that though his instruments did pick up higher levels of radiation in Tsukuba, these levels were not at all dangerous to humans.

Still, something seems strange and frightening- there have been NO BIRDS at all around my house all day, not even a crow……………..

What will it be like tomorrow?

I speak LITERALLY when I quote the old song:

The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind…………

The Sixth Day

Rained last night, and its quite chilly this morning. Here in Tsukuba, though, we have all the amenities- electricity, water, hot showers, heat.

What cast a giant shadow over these comforts is the fact that radio-activity is being spewn into the air- with the rain most probably bringing it down-which gives the world outdoors a CREEPY sense of contamination- though according to friends of mine who are specialists in radiation, the levels of radioactivity detected around here are far from dangerous to humans.

Japan is naturally the country MOST SENSITIVE to radiation poisoning, since, as you all know, it suffered two atomic bomb attacks during the war. Here in Tsukuba, I have some (much older) friends and acquaintances who survived those catastrophes. I cant imagine the DREAD they must be experiencing now. I have previously written about Chizuko Furukawa, whose father was in Central Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. He survived ( protected by a thick concrete wall), and wandered for a few days trying to reach his family, which had been sheltering in a far off place- Nagasaki! Amazingly the whole family survived, and though the psychological scars must remain deep, they are always cheerful and positive- and always bust with something. Read about that story here:


Im especially worried about people like Chizuko as I watch the news.

When I called her ( she had already tried to contact me), I was relieved to hear that her daughter who lives in Sendai ( one of the hard hit areas) was alright. Chizuko, like Toshiko ( who I have written about above), showed no signs of being down or worried (about herself). She seemed fully energized and ready to do whatever had to be done to help.

Encouraged by Shizuko-San`s attitude, I headed on over to the University Hospital, where I had some work.

I was about ten minutes late to my appointement- delays by the long line of cars waiting for gas.

 Two well respected doctors that I met in the hall saw me without a mask and told me I had better put one on- not for fear of the flu- but because of news that there had been explosions at the reactors up in Fukushima.

I was relieved to learn that no serious trouble happened at the hopital during the earthquake, as they have their own power generator and water supply.

Students coordinating relief efforts in Tsukuba

Next I went to the city office. The ground floor was business as usual. The mood was somber, however, and the hush in the large bulding was noticeable. On the second floor, the activity was more frenetic. Students, who have organized a team of volunteers were coordinating relief efforts in Tsukuba- helping old people living alone clean up debris, delivering food and water to the elderly, etc.

I also took a peek into the Disaster Task Force Room. Things looked very hectic inside and I was not allowed to enter.

Passing by the IIAS Shopping Mall I noticed that the supermarket was open, and pulled into the parking lot ( which had very few cars in it). I eyes opened wide when I saw all the aisles of food standing before me- fruits,veggies, fresh fish, meat and bread. Plenty of prepared lunch-boxes as well. I did some shopping and asked the woman at the register why there were so few customers. She was probably right when she suggested that people were worried about using up their gasoline.

Anyway, that store will be open until 9pm tonight.

Its interesting to see how people react differently to the radiation scare. While most people are probably staying indoors ( or when they venture outside they wear masks and cover up as much skin as possible), there are still plenty of people ( of all ages) who are wandering around on foot or by bicycle ( many with no protection at all). I feel  sorry for the civil servants, such as postmen ( who in Japan make deliveries for motor scooters), who HAVE NO CHOICE but to expose themselves to the air.

It is also touching to see how many dog owners are still dutifully taking their pets for walks ( there are also plenty of people who have not left Tsukuba because of their dogs or cats). There must, however, be plenty of animals which have been abandoned- just one more thing to feel stressed about.

The Sixth Day

In the morning lots of kids on bicycles on their way to school. Suprising to see that- but its a sign that many parents are confident that it is safe ( for now) for their kids to be outside. This a bad day to be cycling though. Not only is there the creepy suspicion that radio-active particles might be landing on you, but there is a continual wind blowing, strong and frosty ( and thankfully towards the east) which the poor kids have to battle through as they slowly make their way to class- tomorrow is graduation, to be held on schedule.

Like everyone else, I have the tv on all the time ( though mine has no picture now after it fell off its stand- I just listen to the sound), and am saddenned by the heartbreaking situation. The folks up north are just not having ANY luck- there was a big snowstorm last night and it is absolutely freezing ( and will be again tonight and tomorrow morning).

At about 8:30, Asako-San ( who I have mentioned before) dropped my place with a huge care package- now I could hold out for a month locked up in this place ( dont worry thats not what I plan to do!)- so I broke my fast on plenty of wholesome, farm fresh food!

Tsukuba City Councilman Igarashi busy at work coordinating relief efforts

I got a lift to the city office where I immediately checked out what was going on with the volunteer task force headed by maverick city councilman Igarashi. I learned that hundreds of refugees from Fukushima Prefecture ( where the damaged nuclear plants are located) had arrived in Tsukuba and were being sheltered at Doho Park ( in the gym) and at the International Conference Hall. Many were in need of mattresses, blankets, diapers, and baby formula. Also, lots of elderly people needed help clearing debris ( or fallen stone walls).

There was one interesting hitch in the progress of these volunteer activities, I found out. In order to being a volunteer, you NEED volunteer insurance, which costs only 270 Yen. The only problem is that the city had suddenly stopped issuing the insurance ( due to lack of sufficient budget) and thus, for the time being no new volunteers can go into action! Bizarre!

The wind in Tsukuba has now become ferocious, whipping up soil from the numerous vegetable and rice fields which lie fallow in this season. Peering out the window, it looks like the end of the world.

The Seventh Day

A gas station employee spending the day running back and forth directing traffic

Riding on a bus that is stuck in a gas line

On the Seventh Day there is NO rest here. Firemen, soldiers, engineers and other brave men and women continue in their efforts to contain the damaged reactors, while rescue and relief workers frantically search for survivors and care for those who have been made homeless.

Here in Tsukuba things are not so dramatic, but many  have gotten up at the crack of dawn ( or earlier) to line up for gas ( the one  essential which we still have shortages of). A friend of mine waited four and a half hours ( from 5am-9:30 am) to fill her tank! This can cause major traffic problems, as many of Tsukuba`s roads are very narrow ( one slim lane each way) and the lines at the gas stations can back up for kilometers. The way this is being dealt with is by gas station staff who literally run back and forth all day stopping on-coming traffic so that cars stuck in the gas line ( who are not there for gas) can pass. Those guys are running a marathon or two out there to help the traffic flow.

Naturally, many opt NOT to get any gas at all.They just dont use their cars. So the roads which dont run by gas stations are almost devoid of any motor vehicles. Around my house, where traffic is usually constant, hardly a car or truck passed all day. This brings a strange kind of hush to the neighborhood which in fact causes a buzzing in the ears!

Instead of cars and trucks, there were plenty of bicycles- the local junior high school kids on their way to school. In fact today was GRADUATION DAY at many schools in Tsukuba. Of course, this years ceremonies have a severely toned down atmosphere, but still there were many teary eyed parents that I saw leaving the ceremonies, and lots of happy kids.

With the weather a little warmer than the day before, and the sweet perfume of various spring blossoms wafting in the air, the graduation ceremonies, important RITES OF PASSAGE could be seen as a symbolic turning point- there are even indications that the reactors are getting more manageable.

I noticed,too, as I left my house that the grounnd was covered with tiny flowers which created a delicate purple carpet. These plants brought a smile to my face , because, one: a their name in Japanese is quite amusing-(read a previous article of mine:http://blog.alientimes.org/2010/04/tiny-spring-wildflowers-with-an-embarrassing-name-to-say-in-japanese-o-inu-no-fuguri-large-dog-testicles/) and also because they seemed to me to represent renewal or rebirth.

Today I had a class to teach. One that I love. The Folk Songs of the 1960`s ( in which we look at the background and lyrics of various songs of that time, and then sing them!). It was good to meet my students, an excellent bunch of people that I had not met in a month ( because of my surgery), and whom I was very glad to find had all safely made it through the quake.  For todays song I decided to focus the great civil rights anthem WE SHALL OVERCOME today, and it was moving to hear the class sing  its great lyrics, exuding solidarity and hope for a better future.

tsukuba`s International Conference Center and the gym at Doho Park have been turned into shelters for those fleeing the vicinity of the nuclear reactors. The sign read: HINAN JO- Place of Refuge

Meanwhile, hundreds of refugees have been arriving in Tsukuba- those who have been ordered to evacuate from the vicinity of the damaged nuclear power plants in Fukushima Prefecture. The International Conference Center and the gym at Doho Park have been turned into places of refuge to accomodate them.

Volunteer workers have been doing their best to make these people as comfortable as possible, giving out plenty of food, drink and snacks ( donated by shops ,restaurant and private citizens), bedding, haircuts, massages, etc.

Some elderly refugees enjoying a shoulder rub at one of Tsukuba`s Places of Refuge

Its a little warmer now outside, and from the smell of things, spring is in the air. Lets hope that on this one week anniversarty of the devastating earthquake and tsunami, that we are seeing a turn of events- more control over the reactors, and more comfort for the refugees.

The Eighth Day

Awakened to a beautiful morning and immediately called friends still in Tsukuba to make sure that everything was ok. At the same time I checked radiation levels and the direction of the wind. Everyone  seemed to be doing fine ( besides being tired and stressed), and conditions favorable ( for us in Tsukuba).

I did a little walk around my neighborhood, and found that despite all that had been happening, the traditional calendar of events was not being neglected. The little graveyard on the corner was bursting with color- with fresh flowers placed on all the graves. This was not to honor vicitims of the quake, but for O-Higan- the one week period around the equinox days during which offering are made to ancestors. Read more about this unique Japanese custom here:http://blog.alientimes.org/2010/03/around-the-spring-equinox-all-things-begin-to-stir-even-the-graveyards-revisited/.

Did some cleaning ( in more than one week I still havent made much progress!) and waited for Asako-San ( who has been such a great help to me) to come give me a ride to one of the Places of Refuge. On the way, we stopped at a big drug store and I bought two big packages of diapers to donate.

Some entertainment for the kids at one of Tsukuba`s Places of Refuge

At the shelter ( the one at the International Conference Center) the people I was able to see seemed to be in good spirits. There was some entertainment for the children ( even in the morning)- some guys dressed up as popular tv characters were there to pose for pictures and play with the kids.

From there I went to the TX station to head for Tokyo ( I had to take some clothes and medicines there). The mood on the train, as it was throughout Tsukuba- sober, somber, and brooding. By that I mean, there was no joking around, no loud talking- in fact hardly any talking at all. it was like that, on the longer than usual ( there are no expresses at the moment- the train stops at every station) ride to Akihabara.

Emerging from the underground station into the glare of a beautiful clear spring day, I could immediately sense difference from Tsukuba- people were noticeable more relaxed and NORMAL ( though this was only compared with Tsukuba- Tokyo-ites were also more toned down than usual) .

Arriving in the unique part of Tokyo where my wife and kids have been staying with relatives I stepped out to a bustling world teeming with shoppers- with the busiest shops being the florists selling flowers for O-Higan ( the Equinox Day). But even here there was evidence of the quake- a severely damaged old shop just near the station.

My kids greeted me excitedly ( I was worried that they might have forgotten me!), and I was reassured to find the atmosphere of my wifes cousins place, warm, loving ( and fun)- an abundance of  good food,  plants, dogs, cats, pet fish and indulging relatives.

Later in the evening, at a restaurant ( the owner told me that he had to evacuate his apartment in Tokyo and stay with his wifes relatives!) there was a big earthquake. The epicenter was in Ibaraki Prefecture- I immediately called friends in Tsukuba ( they had gotten a scare, but were fine) and we kept our eyes on the tv ( while we ate) waited for news about any damage to the nuclear power plant in Ibaraki Prefecture).

Back at the Tokyo apartment, we watched some more tv- disaster updates- stories of families reunited or lost, orphaned children at freezing shelters, and the heroic ( and selfless) efforts being made by the firemen,policemen, and members of the self defence forces.

I fell asleep on the living room floor and was awakeed in the middle of the night- by a sound, a scratching- and then a sharp smell. I realized to my dismay ( and disgust) that my head had been laying just next to the cats` litter box (toilet).  

March 20th, 21st, and 22nd
In Tokyo for two days. It was like a somber and sober O-Shogatsu ( Japanese New Years), in that as is usual on that most important holiday in the Japanese year, we just stayed home eating and watching tv. In fact the only time we ventured outdoors was to visit the local shrine ( as it is also the custom for New Year`s), because that is the only spot in the area with any greenery ( huge, ancient trees, in fact). At the shrine, there was a constant trickle of worshippers who had come to pray ( I assume for the succor of the victims of the quake and tsunami) and make coin offerings.
It was especially on the 21st, that we cooped ourselves up without going outdoors even once- it was raining hard all day, and the wind was blowing in from the dirction of the affected nuclear power plant. We didnt even let the dog out to do what he had to do- we provided special doggie sheets which she used.

(In Tokyo, I experienced what so many refugees and their relatives are now experiencing- the pressures of more than one family suddenly being thrown together into a rather small space. And though my wife`s relatives are truly kind and generous, I couldnt help but feel bad for them having my VERY NOISY stir crazy kids at their feet for so long)

The tv was mostly focusing on the 16 year old boy who stayed nearby his 80 year old grandmother who had been trapped in her demolished house ( luckilly she happened to be in the kitchen next to a fully stocked refrigerator) for nine days. It was only natural for the media to paly up this story, but I felt it was going a little too far trying to interview the filial boy, who seemed to be barely conscious in his hospital bed ( grandma appeared to be in much better shape). This story did give hope that more survivors would be found ( I am shocked by the foreign media which already lists those reported as missing in Japan as dead!).
Unfortunately, the rest of what was being broadcast was extremely grim ( devastated landscapes) and even horrific ( the story of one shelter which was completely flooded by the tsunami- 60 people drowned, while one woman, sucking air from a small water free area at the ceiling survived). I fell asleep to uneasy dreams, and got up at the crack of dawn, itching to get back to Tsukuba- I was feeling guilty being away.

Still unseasonably cold, there was also a nerve-wracking drizzle ( we are now all very rain conscious), I waited at the station for the train to come. When it did pull up to the platform it struck me how lucky I was to have spent all my Japan years in expansive, sparsely populated Tsukuba, as opposed to Tokyo. All the cars were absolutely jam-packed with mostly gray or black suited men in surgical masks. I actually thought about giving up trying to force myself in ( this station had no train packers- the men wo held stuff the passengers in), but really wanted to get back to Tsukuba to see how everything was faring- so I pushed my way on. It was comforting in a way to have the door to be pushed up against. I tried to TUNE OUT like everyone else ( that was the only possible way to endure) and I closed my eyes and breathed through my mask. Luckilly, I only had to go one stop or I dont know if I could have stood it ( the heat was what was so trying- we were all dressed for the cold outdoors, while in the train cars the heat was turned up high!). When the doors opened at Ikebukuro ( the last staiton) all those who seemed to be in suspended animation, burst into life with startling force and poured out of the train ( at speed), going off into different directions to take their places as cogs in the fine tuned machine that is Japan Inc. I too, moved on as if driven by an unseen force, to the Yamanote Line which would take me to the TX.

When I finally emerged out of the station at Tsukuba Center, I found that I would not be recieving a warm welcome by the weather. It was in fact uncomfortably cold, windy, and wet. We just cant seem to get ANY breaks.
Despite these conditions it still felt good to be back.
During the day, besides going to help out at the shelter and do some cleaning up in my neighborhood, I was able to meet many friends, acquaintances and strangers, and hear their stories.
There was Ozawa-San who is taking care of ten relatives from Iwaki ( near the nuclear plant). Luckilly, they brought lots of food with them! I also, heard from her ( a native of Fukushima Prefecture) of how years ago, the oppossition to the construction of the plant was unusually violent. There were injuries and even deaths involved. Very rare in Japan in the past few decades. May they had a premonition.
There was Tomoko, whose husbands uncle ( in his 80`s) was still missing in an area struck by the tsunami.
There was A-San who was bringing groups of refugees with small children to her house so they could have a nice private bath.
There was M-San, whose daughter had been studying in the US for a few years and was scheduled to arrive back in Japan at about 3:30 on March 11th ( the day of the quake)! The earthquake struck while she was waiting at Narita for her daughter`s plane to land. A few minutes later, the flight made its approach- only to be turned away! They eventually landed in Nagoya ( but it took a few days to get back to Tsukuba from there in the disaster`s aftermath).
Each family, each person, has their own little drama to tell.

At two weeks since the quake

Though the relief drive is really starting to roll into full gear, news from the still very cold and snowy north, reveals that there are some shelters without adequate supplies ( especially blankets).
For those of us in Ibaraki Pefecture (as well as the other prefectures in the Kanto Region- including Tokyo), the main concern now, and for the future, is the radiation leaking from the disabled nuclear reactors in Fukushima.
The official announcement that certain vegetables and dairy products have been contaminated with radiation has cast an even further pall on the mood here- the fruits and vegetables produced here are the pride and joy of native Ibarakians ( and Tsukubans), as now it will be hard to find takers for any of the produce grown in the area- even if it is given away for free.
This seems to be a bit unfair since Ibaraki,Fukushima and Chiba Prefectures are all relatively large, with some areas very near the reactors and some quite far. Despite this fact, all the produce grown ANYWHERE in these prefectures will have a stigma attached to it, probably for a long time to come

Feeling very concerned about this situation, I spent time yesterday visiting some farmers I know, to see how they were faring since the fateful announcements. However, since this post seems to be reaching its limit in the amount of words and photos I can upload onto it, I will tell you about their feelings in a new (and separate) TsukuBlog article.
So I will leave you here, with a Tsukuba filling with refugees, and day by day patching up the little bruises suffered during the quake.
And despite the fact that there IS radioactivity in the air, most people do not seem to be concerned ( this is probably surprising to those of you following the foreign media). This is because the government has been assuring us that these levels are not at all harmfull to our health – and all the radiation professionals that I know in Tsukuba, and there are MANY here, both Japanese and foreign, have confirmed this.

And about Japan`s recovery? Well, of that there is no doubt. I dont know if I could name another nation which is better at pulling up out of the rubble and ashes.
I will end this post by quoting a middle aged construction worker who I saw interviewed on tv. He has been working all day clearing rubble, and spending the freezing nights sleeping in his vehicle ( bundled up in blankets).
He said: We are going to stay here and work day and night until this town is liveable again- then when we have done our job, I will find someplace WARM, curl up and have a GOOD SLEEP.

For anyone interested in earthquakes in Japanese history and culture I had previously written this article:



  • John says:

    I only found your blog today, after being transfixed by the terrible tragedy north of you. I am very relieved to here that Tsukuba and its inhabitants seem to be OK, with only a few inconveniences (it’s all relative, isn’t it). I lived in Tsukuba (near Ninomiya park) 18 years ago and always remember my time there fondly. We experienced many earthquakes while there, but nothing like this one. As a physicist I am not particularly worried about the reactors, although it would be helpful if we could get some accurate and honest information…too much reassurance and not enough facts. Radiation comes in many forms and the danger and long term effects really depend on what is getting out of the plant. Best of luck in the recovery period after the earthquake and if you see anything that I can do from here in San Francisco please let me know. I will make a donation to a relief organization to help the tsunami and earthquake victims, but it’s hard to know where it can help the most right now as people are lacking for basic needs like food and warmth, and money doesn’t seem to be the limiting factor right now.

  • ginni-California North Coast says:

    Dearest Avi, Family, & All in Tsukuba ~
    I’m watching the news day & night. I’m so worried about all of you; all of Japan is suffering. I’m terribly afraid of the news about the nuclear power plants, of course, and I wouldn’t blame you for an instant if you leave.
    Our Sister City is Otsuchi. There is practically nothing left of it now; my heart is just breaking for all the loss of life…
    Avi – Yea!!! for Grandmother Toshiko!!! What a dear wonderful story. So: 7-11 store “had nothing left but ice-cream” – ?!!!? That’s what I would eat first!!! My Favorite. YumYum.
    May All Blessings Come To You.
    your friend on the far north coast of California.
    ought’a be a song: “Sitting on the Fault-Line” – cuz we are, and way overdue! :(

  • Myra Bonhage-Hale says:

    I am in Alum Bridge, West Virginia, USA at La Paix Herb Farm. I am worried about my former apprentice, Yuri Kuromoto Atukso, who I believe has a small farm 45 miles east of Tokyo in Tsukuba. Her blog ishttp://blog.cocoronet.net/?cid=26013 I cannot get her by email (returned message she left to me Feb. 16th) Her last entry on her blog is March 3rd. Could you possibly find out if she and her family (husband and little girl Chan) are OK – and also let them know if they want to come here for awhile don’t hesitate to take a plane – we can meet them either at the Charleston WV airport or Pittsburgh airport. I am very worried. Myra Bonhage-Hale http://www.lapaixherbfarm.com

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    Dear Myra Bonhage-Hale
    I have already sent mail to that address,
    I try my best to get information on Yuri Kuromoto Atukso.
    Most of Ibaraki-Prefecture are almost OK besides the northern coastal area affected by Tsunami which is slight compared to much farther north.

    • Thank you so much Mamoru for trying to find Yuri. She has a business nearby – making baskets, etc. having a small hotel/B&B with her husband and daughter Chan. Please let her know that if she wants to she and her family are welcome here at La Paix in Alum Bridge, WV USA. Peace, Myra

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    Hi Avi-san and TsukuBlog-readers
    Avi-san it is very nice of you to write your article from the the First Day until today – Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5. It will be very-understandable, especially for oversees people to understand continuation from the beginning -11/March/2011.

    Today I did a patrol of my own.
    First, I visited two convenience stores and super-markets and found no ready-made or instant food, breads, ham, sausages, or batteries. But I did find plenty of packs of raw meat or fish, fruits, vegetables. There were plenty, just like two days ago. Maybe people already have bought their usual food stuffs for daily cooking. Those sold out I think are for emergency purposes. And milk, ice cream and snacks for kids were almost sold out, I think people think of their children first. In TV interviews young mothers commented that they needed powder-milk and paper diapers.

    Next I patrolled my neighboring area. I found a few nice Japanese-style-tiled- houses that had lost their top-straight tiles. ( these houses were now covered with blue sheets ). New style houses with roofs of slate appeared to have no damage.

    In the nearby park around 10 senior citizens were playing lawn golf.(There was a middle size earthquake 1 hour before my patrol, maybe on the lawn it was safer, or they didn’t mind the radiation because the amount was said to be low enough: the Government announced that there were no dangerous amounts of radiation outside a 30km range of the Plant area, Tsukuba is 170 km distant from the plant).

    And these people had all experienced the Chinese Nuclear bomb experiments, when so much ash fell on Japan 50 years ago and had been a big concern. Did they remember or not. Sure they did.
    Except for them and me all people I met(around 50) wore masks( we are accustomed to masks). I could not know whether they wore for hay-fever, flu or radiation. My daughter`s was for radiation.

    Then I visited a near-by home for the aged . They were a little bit scared but mostly calm and watching TV ( not the news). There had been no problems they said. Old people especially over 80 were strong minded since they survived many crises like WWⅡ when almost all regional governmental cities and industrial cities were bombed and burned except for Kyoto.

    During my writing these comments, the Emperor: His majesty Akihito, 78 years old, madea speech to the Japanese people and also to the people of other countries. Encouragement and gratitude. Nice timing and good speech from his majesty. I respect him very much.

    Thank you TsukuBlog readers for your extending sympathy and encouragement to Japanese people. I also give my gratitude to foreign people overseas, and foreign-rescue teams now in Japan working hard in severely affected snow-falling region.

  • Elicia says:

    Thank you Avi. It is so helpful for me to read your blog, and get some sense of what Japan-dwellers outside of the devastated region experienced. I can picture these scenes. You describe them well.

  • Will McWhorter says:

    Thank you for your report on the impact of the earthquake in Tukuba. I lived in Tsukuba from 1988 until 1991. I pray that the reactors at Fukushima will be brought under control, that aid and comfort will be brought to the victims of the quake in northern Japan and that life will return to normal in Ibaraki prefecture. My former home has been very much on my mind and in my prayers this past week.

  • diana says:

    Dear Avi,, Hope you and all in tsukuba continue to stay safe esp from reactors now.. My son Steven just arrived Chicago! We are very happy.. He has a return ticket april 13, if all is calm.. What do you teach? My husband and daughters are teachers of art and math.If you would like anything from the USA please let me know, Ill send it with my son.. Your blog has been a big source of calm for me… It is painful to hear and see the people in the north are still without heat, food and water and have suffered so much. I have made a donation to Red Cross, but that seems so muniscal. As a nurse i wish i could jump in and help. When my son returns I hope he can meet one of the people who has kept me sane. Only good wishes to you and the people of Japan

  • Mariana Musat says:

    Dear Avi

    I am happy to hear that you and your family are alright.
    My condolences to all those that lost loved ones in these terrible days especially those in Sendai .

    My family and I would like to help someone there:an orphan child ,a widow or an elderly person so if you know someone that we could help,could you put us in touch with that person.We would like to send a little financial help untill hopefully things would get better.

    Please email me at marianapusta@yahoo.ca

    All the best,good luck to you,your family and Japan
    Mariana Musat

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    From 0645 to 1300, 19/3.Sat./2011

    I have been working as a volunteer at the Do-ho-park gymnasium, 10 minutes by bicycle from my house.Refugees:there are around 300 people, from babies to seniors. Many from Iwaki- City, 150km north of Tsukuba, 30-40km from the nuclear plant.
    Many of these people are refugees who have escaped their homes because they fear the effects of Radio-activity.

    There are a few who were actually attacked by the Tsunami, lost their relatives, houses, and are also scared of radio-activity. They can be somehow be recognized by their attitude and tired faces. I could not respond with words when I heard their stories (I talked to two men, aged 30 and 60). The tsunami story is horrible (just run! run! run!). They had got good excersize!

    There is plenty of food, clothes which were donated for relief. More still comes in all day.
    Powder milk for infants, books, magazines, toys and new womens-under wear are also donated.
    The gym has been well warmed and the refugees said they slept well (they said they are very lucky to compared to the people who were almost frozen to death in far northern prefectures, which they can see on the TV news).

    They have warm showers here, a big-Hot-spring-style place nearby, coin-laundries, and a plade to walk- the park.
    Most Volunteers are young college students, YMCA, YWCA, Young-men-conference, etc.
    , they are young and willing to work. The Tsukuba-City office has become the responsible organization coordinating with the Ibaragi-prefecture government.

    Doctors and nurses stayed in the corner during certain hours, police officers often visited. Fire-officers checked for radio-activity.

    How long can we manage this situation? There will be a need for new houses in the long run. We would like to trust the Goverment.

    The biggest concern of the refugees and of all the people throughout the world now:

    When will the Radio-activity be under control? 

  • Mariana Musat says:

    Hi Mamoru

    I really hope that will happen soon unfortunatly nobody can tell,at least not yet ,i don’t think so.
    It great that there are so many volunteers there ,I’m sure they are a great help.
    What concerns financial help,Red Cross got lots of donations but I hear the money is still in Canada,apparently the japanese governement does not accept the money(at least not yet).
    Many of us would like to help and that is why I believe if I could find someone there that I could get in touch with,I could help faster and more this way.
    I know japanese peoples are brave but when you lost everything it takes so much more energy and money to rebuild that.
    I can see mothers that lost everything and will need to keep her child (children)in school.Jobs were interrupted and with that comes lack of income and here is were I would like to help.

    Take care

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    Dear Mariana Musat

    I very much appreciate your sympathy for the people who are suffering and your wish to make a donation.
    You can find out how to donate to the Japanese red-cross below by searching google(There are direct ways to donate , as well).

    Japanese red cross donation

    We have just heard from official sources that last night by spraying water using special pump cars which added 2000tons of water to the pool which needs1400 tons of water to cool down the used-fuel of nuclear reactor. This resulted in a 500mmcv decrease in radio-activity near the plant, from 3300mmcv to 2888mmcv, and also we can expect farther decreases. And electric circuits are now under repair for future continual electric power supply for checking equipment, the watering pumps etc. at the plant. (NHK news 0700/20March/2011)

    In short, it is possible that there will be NO Melt-down!!
    We are feeling a little relieved now in Japan.

    Last night we felt a middle-class strong earthquake here in Tsukuba.
    So we have to expect continious ones for some days and weeks.

    Thank you very much again.
    Sincerely yours.
    Mamoru Shimizu

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    There is a possibility that there will be NO Melt-down!! 0400/21.mon./march/2011

    Yesterday morning we heard from official sources that by spraying water using special pump cars 2000tons of water was added to a pool which needs 1400tons of water to cool down, resulted in a 500mmcv decrease in radio-activity near the site of the plant, from 3300mmcv to 2888mmcv, and we can expect further decreases.

    They are adding water day and night until now. Also electric circuits are now under repair which will enable continual electric power supply for checking equipments, and for operating the water pumps of the plant itself. (NHK news 0700/20March/2011 and on)

    The news here is now concentrating on contamination of
    milk and vegetables in nearby prefectures,and the stopping of shipments because markets don’t want such products even though radio-active levels are low enough for human consumption.
    At the gym- shelter where I volunteer there are 86 families and 319 adult-children-infants. They look mostly healthy, and say they slept well after taking hot showers and getting hot drinks,meals. Children under 10years-old number around 20, and are mostly vigorous. Adults use the laundromat, go shopping,walking and exercizing.

    We still felt very sad when we watch TV showing hundreds of thousands of people in the Northern seaside areas(300-600km from here) who suffered very much due to that awful TSUNAMI after the storng EARTHQUAKES, and lost family members,close relatives and friends.There are shortages of food,fuel and information. Mostly because of damage to transportation infrastructure.

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    About the Nuclear plant FUKUSHIMA-No1

    The latest news from NHK, broadcast at: 0600/21/March/2011

    There are 6 Nuclear Reactors at the plant. Specialists commented that “situation is getting better”.

    Nuclear reactor No.1:is Safe (Hydrogen Explosion under-roof of pool.12/March)sufficiently Watered, with electric-power recovered)・・ok

    *Nuclear reactor No 2: is possibly damaged, ( and is being watered with thousands of tons of water)

    *Nuclear reactor No.3:is possibly slightly damaged, hydrogen explosion on 14/march ( its pool is being watered) and the reactors own Water-supply system operated by electricity is being checked.

    Nuclear reactor No.4: possibly damaged pool ( has been Watered and will continue
    to be watered)

    Nuclear reactor No.5: No damage (electric power supply system has almost recovered)・・ok
    Nuclear reactor No.6:the same as No 5・・ok

    Now two tanks with blades attached from the Self- Defense force are on the way, the purpose of these tanks is to remove residue debris from the explosion to facilitate other repairing-operations.

    I am relieved. Many thanks those people doing such dangerous work and their families.

  • Keiko says:

    Thank you for not leaving us. Now it is time to do the volunteer work, like ShimizuSan. Thank you to all the foreign residents in Tsukuba who are helping and making efforts

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    Asylums in Tsukuba 1650/22tues./march/2011
    From 16/March/2011 two asylums have been opened, one at the Doho gymnasium and the other at the International Conference Hall. Both these facilities are owned by Ibaraki Prefectural government. After a warning was issued htelling people to stay inside their homes within a 20km radius of the damaged reactors ( those within 10km were told to leave) which are 170km from Tsukuba. Many people left their homes in Iwaki-city, Tomioka- town, Futaba-town. Few went west and many headed south-west ( towards Tsukuba).
    Ibaraki prefecture and Tsukuba-city-office have been working together to respond to needs of the refugees, who have come by car, and were mostly afraid of radio-activity. Few have lost their houses due to the Tsunami.

    I have been working as an individual volunteer at the Doho gymnasium. Right now 86 families, 319 people ( my guess including around 5 babies, around 15 children, around 20-seniors over 70-years old, and there is one 90-year old lady).( At the International Conference Hall there are 225people, and in nearby Tsuchiura City there are 377people at the Suigo gymnasium).
    I have become an expert at baby pants and diapers or even some cosmetics like opening general store.

    Now, in Doho-gym Almost everything are looked to be going well, Every morning I asked especially older men and women whether they slept well or not, they said slept well recent several nights, after having hot shower and hot soup and heating. I knew they said true from their expressions. A middle age lady told me she could not sleep well because of just she was not in her house, asked the doctor for sleeping pills. Children are vigorous, adults are calm reading papers, talking, watching TV. Inside smoking area (I became a light-smoker again). The conversations are about their acquaintances, condition of home area, and no big complaint about managements of asylums.

    Now their anxiety is condition of Nuclear Plant. When or how long does it take to regain of control of the plant and to force it quiet? No news said exactly. Nor no news says when their home town will be safe again. They said about contamination of soil, milk, vegetable.

    They say inside family each other “I want go back my home now!”.・・・・ I heard.

    All over Japan 230thaousands people are scattered in thousands of asylums (NHK news). Houses were destroyed, by earthquakes, burned, carried away by Tsunamis.

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    Thanks to the Activities of foreign rescue teams 22/march/2011
    Diet member KONO TARO ( of the LDP, known as an expert on foreign affairs, former chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house) said in his twitter last night.

    ①Foreign rescue support.
    *Rescue teams entered Japan from Korea, Singapore, Germany, Swiss, USA, China, UK, Mexico, Australia, NZ, Taiwan, and Mongolia
    *Rescue teams are still working from France, Russia, Turkey, and South-America
    *Rescue team will comefrom Nepal, Pakistan, The Philippines, Sweden, Luxemburg

    ②The US Navy is operating off the shore of north-east main land( the area attacked by theTsunami).
    **The Air Craft Carrier Ronald Reagan,The Cruisers: Chancellarsbill, Cownbess, Shilo, The Destroyers:Brebull, Fitzgerald, John-S-McCain, Macanbell, Curtis-Wilber, with help from the Unloading-ship Tochega, and the Supplying-ship Mash berry
    ・Using Helicopters for unloading relief supplies to distant small islands, and isolated places.
    ・Air-craft P-3 scouting near the plant working with Japanese Naval-self defense-force, etc.
    (Sorry don’t know exact names)
    ** theUnloading-ships: Essex, German-town, Harpers-ferry
    Between the Ports of Hachinohe, Oofunato and Port Kamaishi: landing-crafts are being used
    for unloading relief supplies.

    We Japanese all give a big thanks to the people of these countries, to the families of those people working here. To those people who are working very hard.

  • Rick Lewis says:


    We are trying to get in contact with Mariko and Noritaki Kumamoto, 3-13 Sakura, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-0003 Japan to determine their well being and that of their extended family.

    We have tried to e-mail Mariko without success. If possible, could you try to contact her and ask her to email Rick and Barbara Lewis (rbarlewis63@msn.com) or contact Barbara on facebook. Mariko lived with us for almost one year as an exchange student when we lived in Bethel, Maine, USA.

    Although we remain very concerned, after reading you blog we are encouraged. We are praying for the people and the situation there and supporting relief agencies.

  • Rick Lewis says:


    We are trying to get in contact with Mariko and Noritaki Kumamoto, 3-13 Sakura, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-0003 Japan to determine their well being and that of their extended family.

    We have tried to e-mail Mariko without success. If possible, could you try to contact her and ask her to email Rick and Barbara Lewis (rbarlewis63@msn.com) or contact Barbara on facebook. Mariko lived with us for almost one year as an exchange student when we lived in Bethel, Maine, USA.

    Although we remain very concerned, after reading you blog we are encouraged. We are praying for the people and the situation there and supporting relief agencies.


    Rick & Barbara
    NH, USA

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    About conditions around Tsukuba and Japan 0500/23/march/2011
    * Tsukuba has had no blackouts since power was restored after the earthquake.
    * Water supply: mostly ok.
    * Transportation system: ok (but not completely back to normal)
    * Distribution system: almost ok
    * Food supply: ok, the government announced yesterday that even though radio-activity was low enough, shipments of green vegetables from this prefecture (Ibaraki) and milk shipments from Fukushima-Prefecture. (our neighboring prefecture) would be prohibited.
    * School: from yesterday every school in Tsukuba began classes.
    * Community activities (for example: chorus, dance, table tennis circles etc) have begun again here in Tsukuba.
    * Community facilities: have beeen checked and opened in Tsukuba.

    The worst affected regions , northern-east-coastal cities, towns and villages hit by that fearful Tsunami are a far different story ,however..

    The nuclear plant appears to be getting under control day by day. Our big concern is exactly when it will be ok.

    A few families who had come to take refuge in Tsukuba have already left to go back to their homes beyond the 30km-radius of the affect power plant. They said many-thanks.

    * My Chinese language teacher went back to China with her daughter, leaving her husband in Tsukuba. That is the only case of my foreign acquaintance leaving Tsukuba and Japan. I think she got spring holiday a little bit earlier than usual.

    * My volunteer task today in DOHO gym. (Asylum): To box big piles of donated clothes which are already sorted, also to box huge piles of sorted groceries for sending to the Tsunami affected area.

    Then I will help rationing, say hellow to senior people. Spend some time in conversation ( with fellow smokers) conver to gather information about their feelings etc…

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    Since the earthquake two weeks ago, times seems to be slipping by very very fast. Every day there is so much related news, and frequent small to middle-sized aftershocks. This morning two middle size tremors near the off shore of Ibaraki prefecture occured, while I was sitting on the Toilet. First pitching, then rolling. This was the first time for me to experience an earthquake in a private place. My quake-sensible elder daughter taught me that it is actually the safest place(several years ago when we were chatting in our kitchen, a middle strength earthquake suddenly struck. Everyone except me disappeared instantly, my supposed dearest wife, daughter and granddaughter all running into the bath room in a flash. I remembered later how my daughter said “Run to Toilet !!” Afterward that occurrence became somthing to laugh about. But now I can not laugh.

    Even I find myself trying to stay calm all the time. I have become some-how a little bit High-tension, sometimes laughing until I feel pain in my stomach (Japanese way of laughing too much) for just a simple joke. Other times I feel very sad, tear fall down, and my heart trembles to see, to hear, to think. I should stay calm. This situation will not be over very soon..

    Now we have the water pollution problem.
    The Tokyo metropolitan Government announced last evening that for infants the tap water should be avoided. Better use Water sold in bottles. All mothers suddenly scrambled to buy some.

    In my house we have to drink water from the bath-tab, which we filled two weeks ago. It has become very valuable water in my house. Our water resources from Lake Kasumigaura are closer to the nuclear plant than Tokyo.

    My relief:The national High school-baseball tournament started yesterday. Those boys presented a strong message “Ganbaro Nippon!: Come on Japan”, which many famous people are saying same now.

    Now I am going to the Gym to take care of our neighbors-from the north-east. I would like to do my best.

  • Edmund says:

    Disasters seem to bring out the best and worst in us. Tsukuba City
    opened 2 evacuation centers. About 500 people from the north are
    staying. A call for volunteers was put out and more than enough
    people helped. People started donating/dumping all kinds of things
    at first and the city didn’t know what to do with it. They narrowed
    it down to cup noodle, diapers, underwear, socks, t-shirts, washing
    Some people left the area to go south or to another country. In a
    few cases they abandoned spouses or in-laws. I hesitate to judge
    what others do. I have never seen such anger from usually calm
    people about those that left.

    It’s interesting how people gravitate to various groups and support
    networks for help in these times, e.g., rugby players group, national groups (sometimes organized by embassies), church groups.

    We’ve heard there have been about 600 aftershocks since the big
    quake. The sensor system here is very good. While watching TV the
    room will start shaking a bit. Even before the big shake comes a
    bell on the TV will ring and it will be announced where the quake
    originated and the magnitude in different regions. Before it’s
    announced we guess. I’ve gotten quite good at guessing.
    This morning was a rather big one. It’s predicted these will go on
    for a year. (But not the magnitude of the big one on the 11th.)

    I think that the reports on CNN & BBC are detailed and reliable. But
    CNN tends to over-sensationalize sometimes. The reports from the
    company (Tokyo Electric Power Company) that are broadcast on Japanese
    TV give a kind of over-optimistic picture to avoid panic. The
    reality seems to be that they often don’t really know what is going
    on and what to do but they cover that with double-speak. In this
    area there is very little earthquake and tsunami damage but people
    are worried about the radiation. Our relatives from northern Ibaraki
    Prefecture may come to stay with us. This has been discussed all
    week. At one time 6 people were expected. That would give us 9 in
    the house. My joke was that we would have a baseball team. One of
    the grandmothers would be the catcher and I would put one in the
    A few ideas flying around;
    -Six reactors should not have been built on the same site. It’s
    dangerous. But to find 6 different towns willing to accept a reactor
    is very difficult. So they found one town and put them all there.
    -Compatibility may have been a problem. When we first heard this it
    sounded incredible. But think about compatible parts for your own
    computer. Or cables for your TV. Or parts for your car. The
    reactors were bought from GE in 1971. Many companies supply parts.
    -Money was allotted for safety updates which weren’t carried out.
    -This area has over 100 research institutes and the earthquake has
    caused some serious problems. But they are overshadowed by the
    Fukushima situation and they will probably not be made public.
    -Radioactive fallout on us is not such a big problem because our
    skin and hair grow back. It’s what gets in the food chain.

    The day after the earthquake one of our neighbors put a big tent in
    their backyard and slept there.
    I hang out the wash every morning but now I must hang it inside.
    (Most people don’t have dryers.)
    –Nuclear power plants I have mixed feelings. Of course there is
    anger about them now. But with the amount of energy we use what is
    the alternative? Chinese people who visit say they are amazed at the
    clean air. They say it’s a lot better than the air from coal dust in
    –Depression I can only admit it to myself now but I was depressed.
    I slept very much. I felt like I should be doing something but
    didn’t know what to do so I cleaned the floor several times. I’m not
    usually effected so much by outside events but when the Libya bombing
    happened I couldn’t do anything for an hour. Too much stress had
    piled up.
    –Important I was hurrying to get my registration in for a
    conference. And get our taxes finished. Then I thought, “Is this
    important?” What’s important? After seeing people struggling and
    then seeing something about fashion, or Charlie Sheen, I have mixed
    feelings. Perhaps it’s anger or disgust.
    –TV TV programming has gradually returned to normal. For a week
    regular programming was replaced by disaster news. I could watch my
    morning exercise program again. Then a program on proper manners
    came on. For some reason it made me angry. I thought, “What is
    the importance of manners when they are pulling dead bodies out of
    –Neighborhood association All of the areas have these. Ours (10
    houses) is not so social or active but when information comes from
    the city it is passed house to house and signed off on. I’m glad
    this system is in place so we could be informed on garbage
    collection, outages, etc.

    These days on CNN and BBC the news about Japan is overshadowed by
    reports of our bombing of Libya to protect some Libyan people from
    other Libyan people. (As we did in Vietnam to protect Vietnamese
    people from other Vietnamese.) I’m concerned about who will take
    power? Will this become a revolving door government like we saw in

  • Dear Avi and Family, glad to hear that Tsukuba survived the trauma. As for the north east, the devastation is unimaginable and you can only pity the people who suffered.

    I lived in Tsukuba for 22 years, leaving in April 2010 from Umezono (and in hindsight I wonder at the timing). I left many friends behind, too many to actually remember, as when I first arrived there I became a volunteer teacher at Takezono Primary school for several years.

    Tsukuba is certainly a special place, not due the structures of course but due to the people who live there.

    May the Japanese people in the north east persevere and fully recover.

    Apichato bikkhu
    Sri Lanka and Himalayas