Tsukuba ( and everyone in it) Greatly SHAKEN UP by Strongest Earthquake Ever Recorded in This Area
BY AVI LANDAU
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
THE SECOND DAY
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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)!
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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: