Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Biggest Room

The biggest room anywhere is the room for improvement. With this note, I feel privileged to list the following four items.

1. Tokyo Shinbun reported yesterday the differences in two tsunami counter measures. Tepco operates Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and Tohoku Denryoku, Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant. The Onagawa plant is located in Miyagi prefecture and it was closer to the epicenter of the 9.0 than Fukushima Daiichi plant, but it had a little damage, and all the reactors have been stable.

For the Onagawa plant, Tohoku Denryoku estimated the worst tsunami at 9.1 meters high and built the plant on 15 meters higher ground which was 5 meters higher than the place Fukushima Daiichi Plant is. Tepco estimated tsunami at 5.5 meters.

I did hear on March 12th or 13th from a Tepco spokesman about their assumption, 5.5 meters tsunami. I had no idea how high a tsunami climbs, so I felt sympathy to Tepco then. Since March 11th, I’ve listening to new numbers for the highest tsunami. It’s been climbing up. I heard “more than 10 meters” one day, “must be 14 meters or so,” then yesterday, “It was in fact 16 meters,” and according to Nikkei newspaper yesterday, Yoshiaki Kawata, a professor of Kansai University said the number, “50 meters.” He is a Disaster Prevention Engineering expert. All the information came from reliable sources.

I think all their numbers are matters of national security. All the companies that own nuclear power plants need to share such important information among them. On sharing, I don’t mean to expect such as “Oh, I sent my report and mailed it,” or “I don’t know what they did with it because they haven’t responded.” To me, this is not the way to sharing our concern. To be responsible, sometimes, we need to be pushy! For Americans, we use the word, persuasion, but for Japanese, I would use this wrong word, push push and push. We need to persuade others to check and balance.

Also, according to the article, Fukushima Daiichi plant was built facing the vast Pacific Ocean, but the Onagawa plant was built inside a bay. So the tsunami weakened a little by the time it reached the plant.

It sounds as though the design of the plant has flaws. NY Times on March 25th shows that the plant was built in 1970. My goodness, it’s very old for such a super technology.. I guess Tepco does not own reactors, but paying license fees yearly or something. I don’t know the detail, but IBM mainframe machines are similar. We renew contracts for license, but IBM provides new machines, and computers don’t explode. So, this comparison is not the greatest, but l’d like to know the detail about the contract on maintenance. I think GE has responsibility in the design of the nuclear plant and the maintenance is a part of the design, I think. What do you think?

2. I tried to find the article I’ve read, but couldn’t find it, but I read that the regulators or engineers had recommended Tepco to retrofit the reactors before the earthquake happened. Tepco has not responded, but the regulator gave renewal permission anyway. Readers probably read that news because I think I read it in English. It must be more than a few days old papers. Yes, I’m disturbed by this article, but I’m equally disturbed to have read it in English before finding the counterpart article in Japanese. Maybe, I missed it because I’m not reading all the papers. Now I try to read Nikkei, Asahi, and Tokyo newspapers, and sometimes, Yomiuri.

3. Scheduled DR exercise is a must.

Companies need to follow yearly or whatever reasonable timeframe schedule for disaster recovery exercise.

In 2008, the northeast general Inspection body conducted a disaster recovery exercise, Tokyo Shinbun reported yesterday. The assumption was to be hit by magnitude 8.0 off the Miyagi coast. It included two prefectures which house 22 towns in their cities. Private companies joined them. The article said, “The exercise excluded Fukushima prefecture. Because the headquarters of Tepco is located in Tokyo, therefore scheduling coordination for the DR exercise would be difficult. Tepco did not join the exercise. It operates two nuclear power plants in Fukushima. There is more to the article, but I stop translating it for now.

I can’t tell you how important scheduled disaster recovery exercises are. I used to be a disaster recovery contractor in systems. My background is operating systems programming in mainframe computers. I did data center merge, split, moves, and set up a disaster recovery exercise environment and scenario. I did that from 1984 to 2008. Although I don’t know anything about nuclear reactor, I’ve learned quite a bit in last two weeks. What I’ve learned is that the basic idea is the same. We can’t act properly at the time of crisis without exercises. So, I recommend Tepco and all other companies to conduct scheduled DR exercises.

4. Need to talk.

PM Kan has been criticized to have visited Fukushima Daiichi at the time of crisis. Boy, I can’t believe this criticism. This proves to me that Tepco executives and many people in Japan are not in tune with crisis management. I knew all along that we are behind in setting up DR exercise and crisis management, but I thought by now, we must be equipped with such procedures. I was wrong. If a manager or two cannot receive PM at the problem site and communicate what’s going on at the time of national crisis, we all are in trouble. Communication is required especially in crisis. I think we need to get used to that if we aren’t.

Also, I want to add one more odd matter. I didn’t see any women among Tepco executives or in other scenes. I think they can benefit from female talents. I think at least she would have noticed the workers who were going into the Turbine room without rubber boots!

Saturday, March 26, 2011


1.  A while back, Edano, chief cabinet secretary, ordered the people in the radius between 20-30 kilometers to remain indoors. But criticisms arose, of course, because not all the survivors there could receive relief supplies. Not everyone live in the shelters. Some still live in their homes. They have to get to a shelter daily to receive supplies.

2.  Since the 9.0 hit on March 11th, some airlines haven’t landed in Narita airport. The U.S. pledged a return flight to 9000 Americans. On 24th, according to Nikkei newspaper, French ambassador said during his interview that he did not order his citizens to evacuate, but some of them and companies left Tokyo and the surrounding areas right after the earthquake hit. He said such behavior was inappropriate, and he wanted to apologize to Japanese people.

Edano has said he understood such actions. He said he would do the same if he were in similar situation. I feel the same, and I mean it, too. But, when I read the above apology by French ambassador, I appreciated it.

3.  If we received little information from Tepco (Tokyo Electric company) or the government, it might create fear in us. So, newspapers reporters and television announcers have been repeatedly reciting the rate of radiation for various items so that correct information would calm us down. If I see such news once and be assured of safety, I think it’s good. But if I see a high rate again and again, it isn’t. The thing is, if we worry, we tend to watch more. But again, I appreciate correct information.

According to Asahi newspaper on 25th, after Chernobyl nuclear blast, only thyroid cancer rate went up, but no other illness has increased. It said that the increase in thyroid cancer at Chernobyl came from those babies who drank contaminated milk over a period after the explosion. If that were true, why hasn’t the authority explained to us this important fact earlier? Does everyone know this except me?

Also, I’ve learned that, according to Nikkei newspaper on March 26, the voluntary restraint set for radiation by Japan’s government is 5 milisierbert. But it is planning to raise the amount to 10 milisierbet according to International Control of Radioactive Protection. ICRP raised the value to 10 milisierbert in 1992, and at that time, they decided that they would increase further if alternative products were unavailable. Hmm. I didn’t know that is how it works. Again, why hasn’t the authority explained this important fact in detail before? I did hear before that Japan has stringent regulations, but I wish I was confirmed on this fact backed with numbers.

4. Page 2 of March 24th Ashahi newspaper: A 64 year old man who lives within 40 km radius to the nuclear plant spoke angrily, “The government said my area is safe, but the city workers said as if it were very dangerous. Which is it? The rumor spread. People think the entire city could be in danger. Nobody will deliver goods to the town where people are leaving.”

That’s all today.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Legitimate Scare Part 2

A Japanese physicist and excellent writer, Terada Torahiko wrote,

“It’s easy to be overly scared or not scared at all, but it’s difficult to be scared legitimately.

It is so true. With that note, I have translated the following article from Asahi newspaper of March 23, 2011. This is not full, but a partial translation, but I think I captured the main body of the article. The following article appeared on page 5.

Yoichi Kato, a member of the editorial team flew on an American rescue team’s helicopter to a disaster stricken area on 22nd and 23rd. On the first flight, there were dozens boxes of water plastic bottles, dozens of plastic bags full of used clothes, and three workers dressed in a dark special uniform sat among those used clothes as though they were half buried in them.

The first stop they made was the Shizugawa Middle School. Members of the Japanese defense force and local people came over. The American team members on the helicopter did not speak Japanese. On behalf of the team, Kato asked the people there,

“What do you need the most?”

“Nothing particular,” a local government worker said.

Kato was surprised with the reply. “

Many goods have been gathering here from all over Japan, and we haven’t been able to distribute them all,” the worker said.

But they needed water and clothing after all, so the American team downloaded their supplies. Kato flew back with the American team to the carrier (Ronald Regan), but there were no more goods available. Again, they flew the empty helicopter to search for survivors.

Before the beginning of the first flight, the team was briefed with emphasis that their mission was to search and rescue. The pilot was giving his order to the team members, “When you see a survivor in the ocean, you go,” or “If you see a survivor on the ground, you’ll go.” The members on the helicopter stared below looking for survivors or a sign of SOS.

The second flight the team took, they landed in the spacious field among a housing complex of the same town as the first flight. A local person said the minimum needed goods have been supplied at a middle school nearby, but they needed gasoline. They said they have been pushing a cart on foot for a 6-km roundtrip daily in order to transport their needed supply. They said they needed insulin for diabetes, clothes detergent, cotton work gloves, candles, and shampoo. An American team member wrote it down, and told the locals, “I’ll bring them over tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”

The Japanese rescue member in charge on the Ronald Regan carrier said, “The rescue effort has entered a new phase. We are now required to provide more detailed and considerate efforts according to the survivors’ needs.”

For the issue of radiation contamination, the Americans were surprisingly extremely cautious. When the reporter got on the helicopter originally at the Atugi airport (Kanagawa, the same prefecture as Yokohama where I reside), he was asked to wear a white protective uniform and a pair of rubber boots. He was also asked to keep wearing a radiation scale. Then, a worker raised his radiation measuring device and checked the reporter’s body all over from top of his head to the bottom of the boots. Afterward, he took off the uniform and the boots, and he was permitted to enter the carrier.

When the reporter asked the location of the carrier, the answer was,

“231.5 km away from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, and 37 km to 55.6 km from the coast.” The reporter inquired further and was told that the American Navy was ordered not to go closer than 231 km from the Fukushima No.1 Power Plant. Even within the radius of 93 km from the site, airplanes are not allowed to fly over.

The reporter was also asked to sign a paper titled “Prevention of Potassium Iodine” and also asked to take an iodine tablet. The town they had visited was Minamisanriku town in Miyagi which was within 185 km radius. When they returned to the aircraft carrier, the result of the radiation measurement gave a no-problem result.

When the helicopter flew initially from Atugi airport (it is in the same prefecture as Yokohama) and landed on the carrier, not only the crew and reporter, but also the body of the helicopter and all the goods were checked for radiation one by one. A member of the crew there said that he has been inside the carrier almost the whole time as though he were in the submarine. But another member said, “This is nothing compared to the training for Nuclear wars.”

Legitimate Scare Part 1

Since four days ago, milk, yorgurt and pancakes have been unavailable at the restaurant I go to in Yokohama because the milk from Fukushima was stopped circulating. After a week or so, we had rain, and the rain collected all the radioactive material in the air and caused the tap water in Tokyo to raise its Becquerel value. The level became 131 becquerel which was double the standard amount acceptable for infants to drink. For adults, it is 300, so for most of us, it is safe. But since then, it went down to 79. Problems will go up and down unless the problem at the plant is dissolved to a reasonably satisfactory conclusion. Until then, steams from the plant will come up because fire fighters are struggling with the pressure and the temperature. When the temperature goes down by watering, the pressure goes up, then steam comes up, workers retreat, then the steam stops, workers return and work for connecting electricity so that cooling systems will be enabled, meantime the temperature goes up again, so fighters again pour water into a reactor and so on until all the reactors are back to normal.

On the water scare since yesterday, the government will provide three bottles of drinking water to each baby under one year old. According to the standard, there is no harm to adults even if people continue to drink. Most of radiation will dissipate in eight days. I’m glued to the development...

Also, television programs have been showing volunteer rescue efforts, and here and there, announcers and other people appeared on the screen and said repeatedly, “Don’t send used clothes. It takes too much time and effort to sort them out. We send survivors only boxes of new clothes which are divided clearly in sizes.” A survivor in her interview, her shelter received used clothes, but they threw them away because some of them had stain. There must be hard effort to match the needs of the survivors and their needs changes in each day. Any help is appreciated, but it will be wasteful if the needs do not match. The kind of help that matches the needs of survivors is much more appreciated and least wasteful.

My daughter’s boyfriend sent me a heartfelt message to me from San Francisco asking me to come back to the U.S. He wrote he could not sleep. I appreciate his concern. I wrote him that my daughter is a lucky woman. I wish I have a boyfriend like him.

I wish everyone can read and listen to the Japanese news. My daughter studied some Japanese, but not long enough. With this blog, I hope to help her and her boyfriend and everyone else. They can research and compare the facts and standards, kilo meters and miles, and other details by accessing both Japan’s and American news. If you have questions, please let me know. This post will continue to next blog.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Thoughts on US Reports

Today is Tuesday. We haven’t had power outage since Saturday. Thank goodness.

So far, the Japanese news I’ve been reading are quite detailed, not as vague as some U.S. news reported. But it takes time reading because I have to think and reread. I’ve learned quite a lot on nuclea power plants and radiation so far. I only read a few American reports on the web, and compared to the Japanese reports. Those few reports looked sensational and pessimistic. Also, I see here and there wrong information. For instance, Ibaragi is not the northeast. Ibaragi is a part of Kanto plain. That was on the Huffington Post. You might say it’s a big deal, but I don’t feel like reading news with fundamentally wrong information. I also see a mix-up or unclear terminology, or vague or confusing names describing the inside parts of reactors. Japanese newspapers show very clear view of the reactor’s entire picture. I was confused with those terms looking at the picture in U.S. reports. They make a big difference.

We had an earthquake in Kumamoto, Japan, yesterday. Today, I felt about magnitude 5 three times although in my area, it was diminished to be 3. As I write this, all the lamps are swaying. I just wish at the end of all these shaking for a whole month, a new island like Okinawa will appear off Yokohama. I think we deserve it.

So, I decided to go to the Yokohama central library and read American news papers. There, I found the NY Times and the Washington Post of March 16th and 17th. The library used to carry the Los Angeles Times, but disappeared a year or two ago because of their increasing budget cuts. I had protested it, but I’m not a VIP. I’m just a blogger. Below are my comments to some of the articles I have read.

NY Times March 17, 2011

Page 1. “More Dire Appraisal of Crisis Creates Split With Japan”

About Jaczko’s most startling assertion that there was now little or no water in the pool storing spent nuclear fuel at the No. 4 reactor…

With my sympathy, I wrote this comment. I don’t know Jaczko’s exact conversation with a Tepco official, but I thought about a discrepancy in language. If I’m speaking with my Japanese colleagues or boss for the similar subject, I could say about the water in the pool, “kara ninatteiru” or “naku natteiru.” Kara means empty, and “nai” means gone. Those phrases can be translated as “it became empty” or “it is gone.” Because I’m Japanese, speaking to Japanese persons in a similar situation even if the Japanese person is speaking in English, I will comprehend what the person said to me with a bigger margin. Of course, I wish the person would communicate more detail without my further inquiries, but in Japanese communication, both of us have bigger margin in understanding. But, not just in Japanese, but in any communication, we always have to be smarter than others if we want to accomplish our task. Don’t you agree? So, if the target person seems not giving an information we require, we need to ask more creative questions while being aware that no one can see inside the pool with our naked eyes.

Article: “In Tokyo, a Dearth of Candor…”

In a press conference, Mr. Edano said that a steam is rising from No.3 reactor, so radiation is spiked, and all staff members moved to a safe place.

I don’t think he said “temporarily,” but I understood what he said. It wasn’t vague. It was clear. On this issue, NY times reported that what he said confused foreign reporters, and Al Jazeera made panicky headlines. I’m amazed with this report. How in a world, those reporters assumed the workers abandoned this gravely important job. I wish a foreign reporter with such negative assumption should have immediately asked him, “I don’t mean to insult your country’s integrity, but have you just said your staff members just abandoned their work?” Reporters are brave animals. I hope they ask such questions.

The Washinton Post March 17th, 2011

Article: U.S. government offers to evacuate Americans from 3 cities in Japan

I find the ending paragraph a bit disturbing. It said, “Yukio Edano, the government’s top spokesman said Thursday that it was understandable the U.S. government might take a “more conservative approach in protecting the lives of its nationals,” because the U.S. is not directly charge of bringing the nuclea plant under control.” I was listening to this press conference, and I didn’t hear the following, “because the U.S. is not directly charge of bringing the nuclea plant under control.” He didn’t say that. Edano said it is understandable, and he would do the same if he were in the President’s situation. He spoke with much consideration to President Obama. He repeated this. Do you feel what I do?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fire Fighters

Spring starts tomorrow.

People are frustrated because they’ve been unable to help while the survivors need help desperately. This is the first time I see many men even in leadership roles are crying in front of cameras. I saw on television that a fire fighter went to close a gate to fight tsunami after the 9.0 hit. He said his mind was completely occupied with his work. After the tsunami subsided, he went back to his house walking through debris. He could not find anyone there, he said. Later on, a rescue team found his four family members upstairs of their house, but all were dead.

To be effective in rescue efforts, each affected area needs a local leader with an organized and able team. But, those local teams lost members, and the surviving members lost their loved ones or their houses or both. Today, the leader of Ootsuki town was found dead. He was conducting his town rescue meeting when the tsunami hit. Communication and transportation stopped. Their streets are filled with large debris from tsunamis. Cars disappeared along with dwellings and businesses. Some cars survived, but gasoline has been unavailable. Even airports and harbors are damaged severely.

But the situation is improving here and there. A part of their important airport and harbor were restored, and goods have been transported to the rescue centers. But it’s been slow. Not fast enough. Some people are still living in those areas without any electricity, goods and support. In an interview, one woman said she worries about safety. We haven’t heard of much negative news like looting, but I sense that immoral people are at work. They should be caught before they touch other people’s properties and should be sentenced to the highest penalty.

One of the kind emails I’ve received, I wrote back with a comment about the past criticism Japan had received in the past which was not accepting foreign help in the Hanshin Earthquake Disaster. I told the sender that I was glad that in this current disaster, Japan seemed accepting help from foreign countries. This issue has been on my mind ever since Hanshin Earthquake disaster.

Who would resist help at the time of disaster? The sender had a legitimate concern. She wrote to me, “…I think it shows willingness to accept the love the world wants to offer and to not to be ashamed in this predicament because, after all, it’s a natural disaster. Could happen to any of us, at any time.”

I appreciated her words. But I thought it must be hard to read Japanese behaviors and news in English. There have been always language and cultural problems, and the situation has been changing every minute, and over the years, Japanese behaviors have been changing. After all, we need all the help we can get. I don’t think anyone want to resist others’ help, especially at the time of this enormous crisis. We all appreciate it. But the Japanese receivers must be going through difficulties in accepting some of the help. For instance, on 17th, 6 fire engine trucks and one American truck went to No. 3 reactor to send water jets. Asahi newspaper reported the six trucks shot 40 tons of seawater, and the American truck, 2 tons. There were 30 trucks which were gathered already from all over Japan, and they were to take turn, I’m sure. This is my imagination, not non-ficition, but I think the fire fighters were required to include an American engine. It’s a gesture of accepting. At the time of crisis, I don’t think this is easy to do for Japanese fire fighters no matter how much we are appreciative. They probably rather use their own vehicles. Also, I read in the report in Huffington news that the workers inside that American truck were Japanese.

What do I sense from those sentences from a Japanese newspaper and an American report? It’s hard to offer help and accept in some cases. It isn’t like depositing money into an account. I imagine the conversation behind those critical scenes. I feel for those Japanese fire fighters’ frustration when they were required to operate other than what they are used to. And I also feel very much for American fire fighters. I can imagine their disappointed faces. This is what I think from reading both articles, but I could be wrong.

Talking of fire fighters, about 50 fighters have been acting to save the nation. Yes, they are saving Japan, not just those local people. I’m speechless. I don’t know how to describe my emotion. I wish to express how appreciative I am about their actions.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Toilet Papers

The power is up all day today, and hopefully until Monday. Monday is a national holiday.

This morning, I went grocery shopping after talking with my children in a conference call. They are concerned about me, and I appreciate it very much. It was 10:50 am when I arrived at the market, and about twenty people lined up in front of it. The shop used to open from 9 am to 8 pm, but because of the power cuts, their current schedule is 11 am to 6 pm.

While I waited in the line, I chatted with a few shoppers. I said to one woman,

“I heard fire fighters shot tons of seawater into the No. 3 reactor, but have you heard the result?”

She shook her head.

“I hope we hear a good news,” I said. “I hope the radiation rate has gone down.”

“If they have any good news, they would have already announced it,” she said in a scolding way.

Her mood became darker than she already looked. She said it in a way that the news was in fact bad, therefore, we were not told. Gee, she was a spooky looking woman.  Very depressing. 

The store opened at 11 am. Twenty or more people were already behind me. They were all very quiet.

I didn’t need toilet papers because I bought two large packages when I returned to Japan ten days ago. But I asked a cashier anyway if there was a toilet paper shortage.

“No,” she said. “I don’t know. People already bought them all.”

“Oh, then are you going to have more this afternoon?”

“Don’t know,” she said.

“Do you have it tomorrow morning?”

“We can’t tell you,” she said without looking at me. “Products come in when they come in. That’s out of our control.”

She seemed irritated. People are usually very polite. Not today.

I should have known this, but my neighbor told me that ever since the earthquake hit on March 11, the toilet papers disappeared from the markets. I wonder where did they go? One of my neighbor said he saw about one hundred people lined up in front of that local market the day after the big earthquake happened. He said he didn’t need much, so he didn’t buy any. I guess he returned home with some other products.

Some people are insecure. But more than that. Most people are affected by others’ behavior. They don’t think on their own, but follow the other people. This is a problem. This problematic behavior happened during the oil shock about 40 years ago. People went nuts and bought all the toilet papers available. I guess people pretend with all their power to appear normal, but they are not as calm as I think. One female neighbor said she called Tokyo Denryoku to complain. She said we belong to Group 5 of their conservation program, and her son’s area is also Group 5, but he gets no outage. The Tokyo Denryoku operator replied that her son lives in the no-outage area. She said the substation is different.

I know the area her son lives. I told her that the area was a commercial area where more businesses were concentrated such as clinics, restaurants,, a bike shop, a mortuary, and so on . Our area is a residential area.

About a week ago, the carpenters started to build a house. They are working non-stop since then. That means they have been working through many earthquakes without a day rest. I hear energetic banging noises daily.

At four pm today, chief cabinet secretary Edano reported some good result from the seawater applied on the No. 3 reactor. He stressed that the government continued their utmost effort in reducing harm to people. He also reported on the health hazard of the Milk in Fukushima and the spinach in Ibaragi. He said the finding is based on consuming regularly for entire year, and on that condition, the amount of radiation on the milk is equal to one CT scan, and on the spinach, it is one fifth of one CT scan.

Well, I don’t think Japanese would eat any produce coming from the northeast now. But, it’s good to know all the information in detail. Ignorance makes us act funny.

Friday, March 18, 2011

March 18, 2011

no cakes available at a Doutor cafe because of the power outage or gasoline shortage

I wore a mask and took a photo of my reflection in a train.
Right now, many people suffer with allergy, and some are cautious of Influenza.

Today is March 18, 2011.

The value of Japanese currency shot up because of the earthquake. At one point, it was 76 yen. The highest I’ve ever heard. But because the government conducted an emergency G7 phone meeting and received the members’ agreement, it eventually went down to 81 yen which is close to the before-earthquake rate. Some people only think of taking advantage even at the time of others’ tragedy. If I see one, you can count on me to report it.

I’m aware that the world audience is watching this tragedy with much sympathy as well as much curiosity. Sometimes, I sense some discrepancy in perspectives. I’m sure you have noticed especially if you are writers. It’s a challenge for me not to explain because I cannot possibly explain why we are the way we are, but to describe my sense of this discrepancy.

I’m also aware of the criticisms that Japanese government downplayed the nuclear reactors situation. When we hear any problem at the nuclear reactor incident whether in Japan or the U.S., we tend to think perhaps the truth is hidden from us. I think this is a wise attitude. This incident is no exception. The fear is there no matter how much we are ensured of our safety even prior to this incident. I’m not here to defend any mistakes or to try to make the enormous disaster look better. But I hope this disaster promotes understanding of human behaviors, not only Japanese’s but also all the world citizens’. This gives us opportunities to think further about each other. How we act and interact at the time of crisis is the most important behavior as human beings. This is not a war. This is a natural disaster. We can help each other.

In response to some criticism about whether the evacuation distance was appropriate or not, chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano said that the requirement was decided based on all the data gathered and the assessments and opinions of the experts. He said he understands the foreign countries make higher requirement, and if we are in the same situation as theirs, we probably do the same. The other day, the same question came up from a reporter. The question repeated itself, and it seemed to come from a foreign source. Of course, expanded evacuated area is better. 30 km is better than 20. 40 is better than 30, and so on. So, 80 km away from the reactor is much better off than 30 km requirement. And Tokyo and Yokohama are about 350 km or so away from the northeast. So, we are much better off? What is the point of argument in this? First, where do you draw the line? So, the U.S. is definitely better off than Japan right now? What is the point of pressing the obvious fact at the time of disaster? This is not helpful. That is as though saying to Jewish people during WWII, I’m better off because I’m not Jewish. To be helpful to the disaster team, please think if an advice you want to give is logical and supported by expert opinions, new scientific findings, and so on. This is not a test. This is a real situation. Chief cabinet secretary Edano needs to deal with disaster, not those guestimate type of advices.

About the reports on the radiation rate, we’ve been updated on the rise and fall in detail at every news program. We are still concerned, but so far, the rate is within normal boundary. We’ve been educated about micro and millisieverts, and some examples of ailment at a high radiation. But there is no report on anyone who received an alarmed rate. There was a report that the survivors close to the reactors have been tested on radiation, and each received a certificate of their health. I don’t know all the detail, but that must be ongoing process.

But at noon today, chief cabinet secretary Edano said in the 30 km area, the highest radiation was reported in some places which was 100 microsievelt per one hour. This is much higher than normal. This is alarming. He said over all, the rate in the area is not the level harmful to human bodies. .

Some part of the Miyagi harbor has been operational since yesterday. Trucks and buses have been transporting goods and people. A part of the defense force airport was cleared, so they started to operate

We also had a report that the fire fighters worked yesterday received a few millisieverts of radiation. I’ve learned quite a bit today about specially equipped fire engines. There is a special fire engine car that is equipped to decontaminate and normalize the affected persons. There is a car which is capable to shoot water from 2 km away, and there is a car that can extend its ladder 40 meter high.

The radiation rates at the west gate of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear reactors.

Yesterday 3:30 pm 309 micro sieverlts per hour

8:30 pm 292 “ “

This morning, 7:30 am 271 “ “

Above rates are high. Today, I heard 30 specially equipped fire engine cars were gathered from all over Japan and 139 fire fighters were sent to the problem area. At 2 pm today, seven special fire engine cars shot all together 50 tons of sea water to No. 3 reactor. The fighters operated the control from inside their cars, and they took turns to minimize their exposure to radiation. I hear shameful news here and there, but I want to focus on these heroic fighters’ job on the most important problem. I can’t wait to hear the result tonight.

Still, we have to be watchful at secondary disasters. Because of the earthquake, some areas went down lower than the sea level. So, when high tides arrive, flood is highly possible.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Still in Japan

    Today is March 17, 2011.

(I ran out of time to upload this blog last night because the café with wifi closed early.)

On the way to the train station, I spotted my favorite cat. She lives in a parking lot across the river near my apartment. I’m not a cat person. I’ve never owned a cat in my life, but I like her although I don’t know if the cat is female or male. It doesn’t matter. I like everything about her or him. She is orange, white, and black. She looks dirty, so I don’t touch. But she comes closer and pressed her body against my leg. She knows I like her. So, I like her more.

I’m still in Japan... Some people in the U.S. have asked me if I’m still in Japan or if I want to go back. I heard many foreigners went back home. My son has been asking me to go back to the U.S. I appreciate all he wrote to me, but I told him,

“I’ll think about it, but I’m here because I don’t have a U.S. health insurance.”

“Health insurance doesn’t do any good if you’re dead,” he replied.

Mmm. He is right…if I’m dead. I’ve been thinking what I should do. First, my children are grown and independent, so I don’t have that heavy responsibility of raising them. On the other hand, I don’t want to die yet. But at least, I don’t have that responsibility. And I can’t possibly be in two places at the same time. That’s what I’ve been telling myself all these years. I’ve been thinking back and forth. And yes, the nuclear reactors’ incidents are making us worry. Japan is facing the worst disaster ever, and I’m helpless. I’m thinking about it and then about a three-hour power outage.

“The power cuts schedule shows my area three times tomorrow. If I have to suffer without electricity for 9 hours a day, I’ll go back to the U.S.” I wrote this to my son yesterday.

This morning, I awoke at 6 to make my breakfast. The outage was scheduled between 6:20 am and 10 am, but it didn’t happen. Tokyo Denryoku hasn’t given us a fix schedule, but I can’t blame them for it. Some of their workers are risking their lives to neutralize the affected nuclear reactors. Also, the self defense force had a plan to fly over the site with sea water, but the radiation was over the limit, so they couldn’t execute their plan.

In the meantime, many businesses are affected by the outage. The central library is usually open until 8 pm, but they close at 5 pm for now. Everyone I meet is affected by this, and all of them say that this outage is good for us. We all realized how dependent we’ve been to electricity. Nobody complains because this inconvenience is so small compared to the suffering those northeast people are going through. Many people are dead.

I spend my time writing, and I read because I want to write better. I think most of my waking hours I spend time in order to write. I eat, walk, sleep, read, go places and talk with people to relax so that I can go back to write. So, either I’m in the U.S., or in Japan, I do the same. If I return to the U.S. right now, I probably write more about the human behaviors, language and cultural differences and so on closely related to this disaster. In that case, I’m better off staying here and write if I feel reasonably safe and if the electricity cuts stay reasonable.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nuclear Reactors

March 15, 2011 
Close to Minami Elementary School, Yokohama
Cars line up before a gas station.

March 16, 2011 (My current date on my laptop is correct, but I still receive errors when I try to sync.)

Yesterday morning, there was an explosion at the First Fukushima Nuclear Reactor site. Tokyo Denryoku (The power company for the northeast and the kanto plain) reported that the suppression pool area of the second nuclear reactor vessel had some damage. Also, the fourth reactor had started a fire before the second reactor’s problem. And the radiation amount was shooting up. The news was scariest of all.

The first and the third reactors already had explosions, but they came from the outer structures of the vessels, not from the core structures. But, still I was scare watching the news. All these reports are clearly very bad news. Winds are blowing, and 500,000 people or so are closely affected, and the rest of Japan and other countries like China and Korea will be affected if the situation doesn’t improve. Radiation is our main concern.

Japan asked the U.S. for help to neutralize reactors. I also heard the water supply trucks were sent to the Fukushima reactor site, filled with sea water. Japanese Government stepped in to remove communication gaps with Tokyo Denryoku. PM Kan is said to be extremely dissatisfied when he received no report for one hour from Tokyo Denryoku while the television kept reporting about the second reactor’s incident.

In the meantime, we need to save electricity. As I mentioned in the previous blog, Tokyo Denryoku divided their supply area into five groups. For some reason, my area appears in both Group 3 and Group 5. The day before yesterday, I expected no power after 5 pm to 7 pm, and yesterday morning, from 6:20 am to 10 am, but it didn’t actually happen. But yesterday, while I was having my lunch at a local noodle shop, the power went down. The shop serves the best noodle, but I will blog about it some other time.

Before I entered the shop, I saw a long line of cars in front of a gas station. Both sides of the main Kamakura Kaido Boulevard have a gas station. When I paid and went out, there were no cars in both stations. The sign, “Closed due to gas shortage. The schedule for tomorrow is undecided.”

The local swimming club near my home is usually open from early morning till late at night, but they show a sign, “Closed from Tuesday to Friday.” I was surprised that a local hot springs called Super Sento was open. I was naked lying down on a running warm water surface, watching the dark sky when magnitude 6.4 hit. I stood up with the young woman next to me. Six or seven women came out of two hot tubs nearby. We didn’t want to be stranded in a cold and dark night in our birthday suits, so we walked into the building. After I dressed and walked out of the locker room, I found all the foot massage machines near the lobby were gone. A worker said they were sent for repairs. I thought it odd. Did all four foot massage machines become out of order at the same time? Then, I passed the line of five or six body massage chairs. One showed a sign, out of order. The second had the same sign. I checked them all. All were out of order. Oh, I thought. That was the reason why a spokesman on television recommended to turning off breakers if possible.

Right now, my place is affected by the power cuts. I left my refrigerator plugged in, but the rest, I unplugged all. I’ve gone to a convenience store and bought a package of masks just in case. I’ll go buy a few more items if stores are open.

The other side of the same road as above photo.
The right top corner is another gas station and cars are lined up along the street.

Closed for the day.
Tomorrow's schedule is undecided. 

My area is both Group 3 and 5.
The top line is March 15th.  On 16th, today, we might get our power cuts three times if the situation gets worst.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Following Up

Because of the earthquage, we all close
 at 14:00 today to save energy. 
Wing at Kamioooka, Yokohama
March 14, 2011 
Today is March 14th, and right now is  15:31.  But I still have problems in updating to current date.

If someone asks me which country is the most ready for tsunami, I will still reply it is Japan. If Japan wasn’t, yes, the disaster could have been in much worse situation. The whole country could be completely incapacitated by now. So, I expect we’ll be limping here and there in order to recover. I already hear the secondary disasters here and there. The exterior of the second nuclear reactor exploded today. They have six all together there. The core energy is not affected, but it is scary.

This disaster was not Magnitude 7. Not even 8.8. It was 9.0. I heard that the difference in energy between 8.8 and 9.0 is much larger that the number suggests. And the wait for the tsunami wasn’t standard one-hour, but it took only 9 minutes. At the time of crisis, one hour is short. 9 minutes was probably like a blink of eye for those survivors. The tsunami pushed toward inland with tremendous force, surging to build like a huge dark wall (one reporter mentioned 30 meters high, but I haven’t confirmed), travelling up to 5 kilometers nonstop, and then, it pulled back as forcefully as before. In Fukushima, they had a very impressive, long tsunami guarding wall. It was 10 meter high, but the tsunami went past it.

Because of more nuclear reactors’ failure, we had announcements last night about energy conservation by groups. The power company, Tokyo Denryoku, divided the area into five groups, and their schedules were announced, but gave no other detail. Many free phone numbers were announced, but when I called two numbers for my area, I heard the message, “It is crowded right now, so please call back.” The web site for the detail was listed, but I received an error on my cell phone. This morning, I heard the schedule for the group one was cancelled. It was scheduled to be out of power from 6:20 am to 10 am. Then one hour later, they announced again to say that they might resume according to their original decision. Most transportation companies seem to contribute in conserving energy by stopping their services here and there. Some train and power services could stop without prior notice. But some confusion cannot be avoided. My cell phone has been erratic, but I can see my email.

Before I returned to Japan last week, I almost bought a one-week railway pass to visit Miyagi, the northeast, now the disaster area. I wanted to travel to Aizu Wakamatu before April. In April, all new classes start, so I was thinking of a short trip to visit there. But because of high yen plus Federal Express charge, the cost of the pass became similar to one regular round trip ticket I could buy at any station. Besides, I didn’t think I could take maximum advantage from one week pass. So, I didn’t buy it. It isn’t a blood related ancestor, but my grandfather left a photo in which he and his siblings posed with their smiles in front of a temple, and the back of the photo shows the name of one ancestor who died in the war before Meiji Restoration took place. That samurai is the ancestor of an older sister of my grandfather. In the traditional Japanese families, if women married, she belonged to her husband’s family, so she worships their ancestors also. I searched the internet and found a match with the name on the back of the photo. On a Web site, an old grave stone with the name appeared as a historical site. That samurai belonged to Tosa Clan (Shikoku, south) who went to support Aizu Clan (the northeast) to fight the last battle. They were on the Shogun side, Kan-gun. They lost to the Emperor side, and he died in that war, Boshin War.  Now I don’t think I can travel to Miyagi for a long time unless someone needs me there.

I wrote this mostly this morning.  At 10:02 am, my apartment in Yokohama was swaying. It’s Magnitude 6.2, the depth was 10 kilo meters in Ibaraagi prefecture. I tried to call out, but my phone wasn't working. I received the message, “The line is filled up, please call later.” Today, I could access the power company’s web site, but when I clicked my area for the power conservation schedule, I received an error.

One good news is that I heard many foreign aid teams are in Japan. I think Japan has learned from the past criticisms especially after the Kobe Earthquake, and this time, she could accept many offers. Good. Probably, some members of those teams speak Japanese or they brought their own interpreters or maybe Japan could provide some interpreters.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Many people have contacted me. Thank you very much.  I’m all right. The following is my reply.  (Reset of the time failed for some reason, so the date of this blog is wrong.  It is 3/12/2011 05:44 pm)

I returned to Japan a few days ago, expecting my favorite sushi bar already closed. So, when I met a friend of mine at the Yokohama station, I told her I was very disappointed about the sushi bar. “No, not yet closed,” she said, “it is still open until the end of March.” I was overjoyed. So, we had our lunch at the sushi bar which I have blogged about before. The blog title was “Ito-san’s Smile.”

The restaurant is on the 6th floor of the building named Cial. The building was probably created around early 1970. It will be demolished along with the Tokyu Hotel next door, and a new and larger and stronger- to-earthquake building will be built later.

I’ve never felt an earthquake as strong and for a long period as this one. There was a minor one the day before, but I didn’t know. So, I guess the magnitude 8.8 yesterday was an after-shock. A few minutes after the beginning of the earthquake, I crouched under the counter and persuaded the people around me to follow. Nobody moved at first. I repeated, “Get down! Duck your head under the counter!” My friend replied, “I’ve been living in the earthquake country all my life.” I said, “I know you have, but never mind that. Get down here. Put your head under the counter at least!” A young couple and two older women were sitting near us. They said nothing, unmoved. I kept repeating the phrase, and eventually they all got down because the shaking didn’t stop.

“I came here to eat lunch,” I said under the counter, “because the building will be demolished soon for earthquake. So, I wanted to eat their sushi one more time before the price goes up.”

A woman across me got down under the counter and turned her head toward me.

“Me, too,” She said.

I smiled back. A young man clicked his phone and said, “The epicenter is Miyagi and 6 strong.” 6 strong and 6 weak are Japanese earthquake terms. They are confusing because they also report by the world standard, Magnitude. Magnitude 8.8 cannot be 6 strong, but I think Japanese delicate or vague sentiment plays a role here. Every time we have an earthquake, generally people try really hard to downplay everything so that we would at least appear normal under any circumstances.

I’ve been in the U.S. maybe too long. It is okay for me to say, “Gee, I’m scared!” when I’m scared. But, nobody around me had said, “I’m scared.” They all looked very cool.

After the earthquake settled a little, we paid and walked down the stairs, not elevator or escalator, and went across a bridge. The area is reclaimed from the ocean, so it is spacious, and many high rises have been under construction. We spotted a large number of construction workers gathered in a field across the sidewalk. It’s the first photo. One worker yelled at us, “Don’t go near the edge of the sidewalk. It is sunk.” Sure enough, all along the sidewalk, I saw a dark line between the asphalt and the grass and flower area. The second photo you see, there is a crack on the concrete. It wasn’t there before. And the photos are Yokohama, not the northeast.

Then we decided to walk home straight. It was about 4 pm already. My home is farther than my friend’s. I rested a while at a crowded burger shop before I started to walk home again. It usually takes one hour, but yesterday, it took much longer. I was calling and trying to reply my son’s email message on the cell phone. I’m very slow in typing on the phone. One side of the river had street lights on, but the other side was complete darkness. Many people were walking beside me, and train, bus, subway were unavailable at the time. I saw one taxi with four men inside. One okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) shop was open, but it had a long line. I went around finding other shops, but no places were open close to my home. I reached my home and found my electricity was out. It was 7:30 pm, but I went to bed.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Who's Who?

I’ve been digging into my ancestors and various links. It’s been fun, but I have my doubt in the direction I’m heading. In the last comment to my blog, “Ancestors and Descendant,” ZACL has given me a good advice. Thank you, ZACL. Her advice is to focus, not to branch out too many ways. That’s the good advice I needed. I don’t need to stop my search just because I’m discouraged a little.

Sometimes, I feel discouraged to go on my research for various reasons. One is to go back to the dark time of the Japan history. I cannot possibly write and deal with one by one. It’s way beyond over my head.

Second is about my interviewee. They are old. So, I want to interview them before I regret. But because they are old, I have to be very careful in believing their words. My aunt Ruri has dementia. When I’m talking with her, she is still quite sharp. She remembers details of the incidents that took 50 years ago. Some of them seem to be important and not known publicly. But I have a doubt.

My doubt is about how to be careful. It’s easy to say to be careful, but I know no such technique. I just realized. This is what happened. Yesterday, my aunt gave me a very interesting and unique name that I’ve never heard of before. She uttered this name while I was asking about a man who had gone to Brazil 70 or 80 years ago. Maybe, he has no blood relation with us, or maybe related by someone’s marriage. I’m unsure. But if we have any link to the man who had gone to Brazil and married a Brazilian woman, I wanted to find out and let Luciana (my fellow blogger) know. She lives in Brazil.

So, I asked my aunt yesterday about that man who came up in our family conversation several times. My aunt’s reply included a name, Oobinata Den. Wow, what a name! I researched that name this morning. I’m not describing exactly what she said because that part is not important. It was wrong information. But because of the wrong information, I’ve learned who the man on the above photo was. My aunt must be about 15 year old on the photo. She is on right, and the girl on left must be her friend. She has gone to a movie studio and took the attached photo. I knew the man in the photo was an actor, but I didn’t know his name. Yes. I think the man is Oobinata Den. What do you think? The photo was probably taken around 1938.

大日方 伝・おびなた でん