Saturday, April 30, 2011


Buy it today!

All proceeds - every penny of the $9.99 you pay for this digital collection of stories about the events of 3/11 in Japan goes to the Japanese Red Cross and its relief efforts. To get my copy, all I did was go to, where I could get the free Kindle iPhone app and then the ebook itself. If you already have a Kindle, you're ahead of the game. (There's a Kindle app for every other kind of smart device, it seems.) Easy peasy.

Here is the link to the Quakebook website. Apparently it soon will be available in paperback too.

2:46: Aftershocks

I haven't read through the whole thing yet, but would like to draw your attention to these two pieces in particular: "Beautiful"
and "Leaving" ...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Village

Japan's original nuclear trouble:
Culture of collusion

Long before the tsunami, protection of interests undermined plant safety

The International Herald Tribune
April 27, 2011

Given the fierce insularity of the Japanese nuclear industry, it was perhaps fitting that an outsider exposed the most serious safety cover-up in the history of Japanese nuclear power. It took place at Fukushima Daiichi, the plant that Japan has been struggling to get under control since the tsunami last month.

In 2000, Kei Sugaoka, a Japanese-American nuclear inspector who had done work for General Electric at Daiichi, told the main Japanese nuclear regulator about a cracked steam dryer that he believed was being covered up. If exposed, the revelations could have forced the operator, Tokyo Electric Power, to do what utilities least want to do: undertake costly repairs.

What happened next was an example, critics have since said, of the collusive ties that bind the nation's nuclear power companies, regulators and politicians.

Despite a new law shielding whistle-blowers, the regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, divulged Mr. Sugaoka's identity to Tokyo Electric, effectively blackballing him from the industry. Instead of immediately deploying its own investigators to Daiichi, the agency instructed the company to inspect its own reactors. Regulators allowed the company to keep operating its reactors for the next two years even though, as an investigation ultimately revealed, its executives had actually covered up other, far more serious problems, including cracks in the shrouds that cover reactor cores.

Investigators may take months or years to decide to what extent safety problems or weak regulation contributed to the disaster at Daiichi, the worst of its kind since Chernobyl. But as troubles at the plant and fears over radiation continue to rattle the nation, the Japanese are increasingly raising the possibility that a culture of complicity made the plant especially vulnerable to the natural disaster that struck the country on March 11.

Already, many Japanese and Western experts argue that inconsistent, nonexistent or unenforced regulations played a role in the accident - especially the low sea walls that failed to protect the plant against the tsunami and the decision to place backup diesel generators for powering the reactors' cooling system at ground level, which made them highly vulnerable to flooding.

A 10-year extension for the oldest of Daiichi's reactors suggests that the regulatory system was allowed to remain lax by politicians, bureaucrats and industry executives single-mindedly focused on expanding nuclear power. Regulators approved the extension beyond the reactor's 40-year statutory limit just weeks before the tsunami despite warnings about its safety and subsequent admissions by Tokyo Electric that it had failed to carry out proper inspections of critical equipment.

The mild punishment meted out for past safety infractions has reinforced the belief that nuclear power's main players are more interested in protecting their interests than improving safety. ...

...In Japan, the opaque network of connections between the nuclear industry and government officials is now popularly referred to as ''the nuclear power village'' - an expression connoting the collusive interests that underlie the nuclear establishment's push to expand the industry, despite the discovery of active fault lines under plants, new projections about the size of tsunamis and a long history of cover-ups of safety problems.

As in any Japanese village, the likeminded - nuclear industry officials, bureaucrats, politicians and scientists - have prospered by rewarding one another with construction projects, lucrative positions and political, financial and regulatory support. The few who are openly skeptical of nuclear power's safety become village outcasts, losing out on promotions and backing.

Until recently, it had been considered political suicide to even discuss the need to reform an industry that appeared less concerned with safety than maximizing profits, said Kusuo Oshima, one of the few lawmakers in the governing Democratic Party who have long been critical of the nuclear industry.

''Everyone considered that a taboo, so nobody wanted to touch it,'' said Mr. Oshima, adding that he could speak freely because he received financial backing from Rissho Kosei-Kai, one of Japan's largest lay Buddhist movements, not from a nuclear-affiliated group.

''It's all about money,'' he added.

Click here to read the rest of this article on (you have to be a subscriber to read the archives) or here to read it on the Herald-Tribune site.

Friday, April 15, 2011

1 month, 2 days later

Yoyogi Koen, Wed., April 13, 2011, 3pm

Can't think of a better way to get reacquainted with this city than to wander into our favorite city park and come upon this man making things out of balloons -- and not just swords and puppies, but Donald Duck (see above, small child at right) and Snoopy as The Flying Ace (click to watch youtube vid). The kids were entertained for more than an hour, along with a handful of other observers, including two young couples and their tiny dogs (my friend thought the guy on the far right, below, was holding a baby).

On this, our first full day back in town, I learned that local govt officials really had canceled city-sponsored hanami. Which didn't stop drunken student gatherings in Yoyogi but apparently did affect Ueno Park, where in past years we'd seen lots of food vendors set up their takoyaki and yakisoba grills, corn-on-the-cob and chocolate-dipped banana stands, and where prime viewing areas would be roped off for lucky groups with reservations. According to AFP, this year was the first time since official celebrations began at the end of World War II -- and possibly the first time in four centuries -- that the city didn't make its usual preparations for the season. "As an expression of our condolences to disaster victims, and of self-restraint, we have decided to cancel the festivities," Masahiro Kayano, who heads the Ueno district's tourism federation, was quoted saying in this April 1 article.

Terry had told me about this general mood of self-restraint -- jishuku in Japanese -- on March 29, when he was in Tokyo and I was still in New York (I know the date because I took notes in iPhone Notes). He said the unofficial consensus was that it was inappropriate to party. Nobody was going out or celebrating or making noise, and the karaoke clubs and izakayas were empty; people were heading home straight after work to hunker down with the family and think about what's important. "It's very somber, very post 9/11," he told me. His office lights were left off during the day (which he considered an improvement over the fluorescent lighting). The AFP article (mentioned above) notes that on TV, many commercials had given way to public service announcements; companies had delayed product launches, and many neon lights have been switched off amid a national power shortage.

Now, one month and two days after the earthquake-tsunami one-two punch that left some 28,000 dead or missing, and subsequent 'nuclear accident,' the city still seems quiet, subdued, but not dramatically so, I don't think. Terry agrees that the jishuku seems to have lifted, somewhat. There is milk and eggs and bread in the shops. Some vending machines have bottled water, some don't. The international schools are back in session (except those on a scheduled spring break, like ours) and the trains and buses are running. There were a dozen expats drinking coffee at Segafredo in Hiroo.

But the National Azabu supermarket parking lot, usually full of black SUVs, was deserted. And I had no trouble getting Conor in to see the very popular pediatrician Dr. Che on Thursday. The doctor, a Korean-American, told me his sister in New York had begged him to leave Japan until he finally sent her a detailed analysis of exactly how much -- or, I should say, how little -- radiation had been released out of the Fukushima plant. "Now she says maybe my brother knows what he's talking about."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

health/safety risks "low" in Tokyo

Today a travel "alert" was issued by the U.S. State Dept. to replace the travel "warning" of March 31, 2011. Here it is (I tried to put all the important bits in bold)

The assessment of technical and subject matter experts across U.S. govt agencies is that while the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant remains serious and dynamic, the health and safety risks to areas beyond the 50 mile evacuation zone, and particularly to Tokyo, Nagoya (Aichi Prefecture), Yokohama (Kanagawa Prefecture) nearby U.S. military facilities and the prefectures of Akita, Aomori, Chiba, Gunma, Iwate, Nagano, Niigata, Saitama, Shizuoka, Tochigi, and Yamanashi, and those portions of Fukushima, Ibaraki, Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures which are outside a 50 mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are low and do not pose significant risks to U.S. citizens.

This analysis takes into consideration both various age groups and the classification of the severity of the situation at Fukushima Daiichi as a Level 7 event by the Government of Japan, which reflects what has transpired since the initial incident and the potential long-term effects in the area surrounding the plant.

This assessment reflects inputs from our national laboratories as well as the unanimous opinion of the U.S. scientific experts on the ground in Japan.... Based on the much reduced rate of heat generation in the reactor fuel after one month of cooling and the corresponding decay of short-lived radioactive isotopes, even in the event of an unexpected disruption at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, harmful exposures to people beyond the 50 mile evacuation zone are highly unlikely, and there would be a significant amount of time to best assess any steps that might have to be taken.

The situation at the plant is dramatically different today than it was on March 16, when we saw significant ongoing releases of radioactivity, the loss of effective means to cool the reactor cores and spent fuel, the absence of outside power or fresh water supply for emergency management, and considerable uncertainty about the condition of the site. Today, while the situation remains serious, and there is still a possibility of unanticipated developments, cooling efforts are ongoing and successful, power, water supply, and back-up services have been partially or fully restored, and planning has begun to control radioactive contamination and mitigate future dangers. Our coordination with the Japanese is regular and productive, and we have a greatly increased capacity to measure and analyze risks.

The Department of State has lifted Voluntary Authorized Departure, allowing dependents of the U.S. government employees to return to Japan.

We continue to recommend that U.S. citizens avoid travel within the 50-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. U.S. citizens who are still within this radius should evacuate or shelter in place.

Japan is one of the most seismically active places in the world. Tokyo and areas to the Northeast continue to experience strong aftershocks related to the March 11 earthquake. Aftershocks following an earthquake of this magnitude can be expected to continue for more than a year. Identifying potential hazards ahead of time and advance planning can reduce the dangers of serious injury or loss of life from an earthquake. See the Embassy Website for detailed information on earthquake safety: .

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Springtime in the 'hood

Walking the back way through Ebisu Prime Square around 12:45pm today, on our way to Meiji dori and the 06 Toei bus that will take us to Shibuya, where we are to meet Terry for lunch

Goodbye New York...

Hellooooo Tokyo!

The boys and I are back home in Hiroo. Haven't left the apartment yet- boys are catching up on their "home learning" (big piles of assignments we put aside while they were attending school in the States) while I putter around and enjoy being in my own home, in my own kitchen, where I can make any old mess I want and leave it sitting there until I decide to clean it up. Or not. No disapproving neatniks in sight.

The best part is, I am finally after 27 days, sleeping in my own bed! With my husband!

It's a beautiful spring day, clear skies and sunny, so we'll be meeting Terry for lunch near Shibuya station, maybe ramen in Dogenzaka...then I will take the boys to the park near the supermarket.

We definitely need some hanami, and stat. Terry says it had been assumed that the usual partying under the trees would not take place this year, out of deference to the tsunami evacuees and devastated areas in the northeast, and in keeping with the city's post 3/11 somber vibe, but on Sunday the revelers were out in force. "Yoyogi was packed today," my neighbor Nancy told me via FB. "It felt like Tokyo had its heartbeat back finally, lots of people laughing and having a good time and in the shops buying. Let's hope it continues."
Terry in Yoyogi Park, Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

'let's not beat ourselves up'

the New York mag piece (cited in previous post) got so many comments!

Take this one, for instance, posted by JugglingTam:
"Nice article and completely on point. I was 1 week away from moving to Tokyo when the earthquake hit. My life was packed, the decision was decided, and then this happened. I decided to go despite all of the protests from friends and family... mostly because I had made a ready decision a long time ago to make the career change. Now that I am here and realize that the media is fairly sensationalized and that Tokyo life has moved on, I am relieved that I made the decision I did. I wouldn't say I feel pride for coming or scorn toward those who left or are leaving, but I feel that I want to help others realize that the conditions here are safe. On the other hand, though I do occasionally roll my eyes at the fact that people are delaying or canceling trips, I can't help but agree that all the pressure from friends and family is almost impossible to handle, as well as the 24/7 scares from the news. Whatever your decision is, I think it's justified and we (including myself) should accept it and move on."


And this one, from American Tokyoite:
"Please try to imagine the courage of the Japanese people. Their calmness. Their fortitude. Not only the folks trying to get the reactors under control at Fukushima, but also the thousands who have lost a family member or a home, the ruined farmers, the millions of Tokyoites shivering in the cold without complaint because they want to do what little they can to help.

No hysteria, no panic, no looting.... Instead, cohesion. Kindness. Support.

Now look at the foreigners, particularly the relatively new "expats," many who live in luxurious apartments in essentially earthquake-undamaged, radiation-free Tokyo, where there is electricity and plenty of food, pushing each other out of the way as they scramble to flee the country.
[Blogger's note: Harsh! and totally unfair characterization given all the agonizing...]

We long-time Japan residents have Japanese friends, Japanese spouses, even Japanese children. We care what people think. We try hard to project an image as responsible parents, coworkers and neighbors. It has taken decades to build what we have.

So again, look upon the quiet strength of the Japanese people. Then turn to the frantic flight of the foreigners. Can you blame us for not wanting to be associated with them? "

And from 34Watts:

"Agree with (previous poster) in that while it's easy to simplify what's going on here as unique to Japanese culture or a foreigner issue, there was a similar exodus of transient Americans (and probably foreigners too) leaving NYC after 9/11. The backlash towards those who fled the NYC then was less extreme, but there was certainly a renewed pride among those who chose not to leave the city. At any rate, there is no shame in re-evaluating one's choices after a brutal reminder of mortality."

Many of my Facebook friends also commented when I posted the link there. Here's the transcript:

The Departed: Exodus of Expats Draws Scorn in Japan

Is leaving Japan for safer ground an act of betrayal?

(CHM) Ooh LIKE! Shall we discuss while on the secrecy of Facebook?!
(MB) Well, where do I start.....I don't really like to idea of "foreigners" sometimes myself, (in my opinion) they're sometimes loud and bawdy and I've met some that are proud that they've lived here for 15 years and still don't speak a word of Japanese, to a Japanese person leaving when things get "tough" must only serve to compound this cultural division further, however, we'll never fit in, not in a million, I think its a personal decision that you make for your family at the time and no one should judge that.
(Me) Carole! be sure to read the comments posted below the article too- some are a bit nutty/angry/hostile...
(Me)‎@MB yes I agree everybody's situation is different. I am trying not to be too defensive- not just about our leaving, but also about our plans to go back
(MB) Don't be defensive at all M..., if anyone has completely embraced this city and its culture you
(KE) we went "home" to protect our children...less use of electricity and food items, and many city guys stayed and held the fort...lets not beat ourselves up about this...
(KP) You linked to a blog some time ago that gave a foretaste of this discussion, the wall growing between those who left and those who stayed. I looked forward to watching the discussion grow but now it is already leaving a bad taste. Only home a few days and some comments I've heard are rubbing in the wrong places. There is so much to discuss. I just hope the fallout doesn't get uglier than necessary.
(KP) I was the only Gaijin at Nissin and National Azabu. Very empty stores. Man it felt weird. The cashiers at Starbucks Roppongi gave a very very warm welcome. Will those that need our patronage be the first to welcome us back?
(LH)Awesome! I get to witness yet another pissing match among American expats. The dialogue is always the same. The name-calling. The arrogance and self-righteousness. The shame-blame-guilt game...
(AL) I am simply a simple expat living in Japan for financial means. I don't try to be a hero and have no guilt of leaving Japan now or later.
(KW) for some reason this term 'flyjin' annoys me enormously. I want to slap anyone who uses it in anger! However I do think any of you coming to HK for sanctuary may have been somewhat misguided! 'cough cough' the air here is dreadful! I don't think there is anything to discuss. Whether you stayed or left is surely ones own business, desu ne?

This Flyjin has no regrets

My grandfather died yesterday. So, really, it's lucky that I am here in New York with the boys, because now I can help commemorate the life of a man who lived for 93 years (72 of them in Brooklyn), a barber by trade who gave my son Conor his first haircut back in 2001.

Here they are in the basement of the old house in Bay Ridge...

Monday, April 4, 2011

'Flyjin' shame

To now abandon Japan for a former, safer home—to take the escape hatch not available to Japanese friends—would be a betrayal, both of your hosts and of the expat identity you’d carefully cultivated. -Paige Ferrari, New York magazine, 3/24/11

This is how I felt leaving Japan with my two boys on March 16. (We are still in the U.S. but plan to return next week.) But my own decision to go after the quake-tsunami, in the midst of a "nuclear emergency," was made significantly easier by a few very simple facts: that I have young children, and that their school had closed. Oh, and the fact that my husband's employer was offering to pay for the plane tickets.

Call these excuses, justifications, rationalizations, whatever. Or tell me I'm foolish for feeling guilty at all (Hi, Mom). But whatever you do, read this piece, it's really well-written.

The Departed: An Exodus of Expats Draws Scorn in Japan
By Paige Ferrari

Before I left Japan three months ago and returned to New York to take a new job, I had dinner with a fellow American expat at a ramen-counter restaurant in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. As we sat side by side eating our noodles, I sought assurance that my impending move wouldn’t constitute desertion—a strange anxiety, maybe, but one an expat feels acutely.

In the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, expats in Tokyo confronted that same insecurity as they wrestled with a far more fraught stay-or-go dilemma: to tough it out or join the great, and greatly maligned, foreigner exodus. Complicating the calculus was the fact that the decision wasn’t simply a matter of self-preservation, the way it seemed to be from thousands of miles away. To judge from foreign-news segments in the days after the disaster, all of Japan was a radioactive hell¬scape, one aftershock from even graver calamity, and families watching those broadcasts understandably urged their loved ones to get out, now. But life in Tokyo offered a less alarming perspective: The lights were slightly dimmed and the trains out of whack, but the karaoke bars remained open, as did the pachinko parlors. And with city radiation levels reportedly below what you’d be exposed to on a long flight home, there were reasons to bet against catastrophe.

Leaving meant abandoning that reality in favor of the apocalyptic narrative from abroad—to take the outsider’s view after wanting so badly to prove yourself an insider (another expat fixation). For Tokyo expats, many of whom take pride in rejecting the conventions of their old lives, it also meant suddenly, openly, opportunistically trading on their nonnative status. Foreigners in Japan are sometimes given a “gaijin pass” upon trampling one of the country’s social codes, but if you want to fit in, that’s not a privilege you exploit. To now abandon Japan for a former, safer home—to take the escape hatch not available to Japanese friends—would be a betrayal, both of your hosts and of the expat identity you’d carefully cultivated.

Over the past two weeks, the same social-networking sites invaluable in confirming acquaintances’ safety following the disaster have doubled as a scorecard for tracking how expats were resolving that conflict. Among those who stayed put, status updates carry a whiff of back-patting, as if, once the Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactors cool, the government will begin distributing awards for loyalty. Expats who announce their departure, meanwhile, are now “flyjin,” a freshly coined pejorative for fleeing foreigners. (“Maybe it’s good if those people don’t come back,” a Japanese finance worker told a friend. “Then maybe some of the homegrown talent can finally rise through the ranks instead of being condescended to by Brian or Jean-Philippe.”)

With the nuclear situation still uncertain, those now watching from abroad hope for the best while ramping up their defenses. “Running away is not what I do,” wrote an American friend I’d made in Tokyo, “and yet, here I am, on my boyfriend’s dad’s computer in L.A.” In other cases, guilt is mixed with counter-resentment. Another friend, who’d kept his movements off social networks, spoke candidly via Skype after arriving back in his home country. “You know this whole going-down-with-the-ship thing?” he said, leaning into the screen and eyeing me as if facing an accuser. “I am not the fucking captain.”

why the news is making me crazy

Articles like this one (below) convince people who are not in Japan that it is dangerous to be in Japan. Anywhere in Japan. Not just in the evacuated zone around Fukushima where the nuclear reactors are, not just in the areas east of Sendai devastated by the tsunami, but anywhere in the whole country. In the minds of many Westerners, Tokyo is Japan, and so Tokyo must be dangerous too.

It's tough to talk to people who think this way. If I say I am going back soon, they look at me gravely and say, but think about the children.

I am thinking about the children! About how they need to get back to some semblance of normal life, about how they need their dad, and for our family of four to be under the same roof. Of course nobody knows what could happen up there in Fukushima (140 miles away from Tokyo), because the situation remains serious and won't be under control for several weeks or even months, probably. But staying away isn't a good option either.

Japan Struggles to Plug Leak as Radioactive Water Seeps Into the Sea
By Ken Belson and Hiroko Tabuchi
April 2, 2011

TOKYO — Highly radioactive water is leaking directly into the sea from a damaged pit near a crippled reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, Japanese safety officials said Saturday. The leak was the latest setback in the increasingly difficult bid to regain control of the plant.

Although higher than normal levels of radiation have been detected in the ocean water near the plant in recent days, this is the first time the source of any leaks was found.

Because the government did not report the levels of radioactive materials in the waters near the stricken plant on Saturday, it was difficult to judge how dangerous the levels of radiation were for fish or for humans who might come in contact with it. The government has already set up an evacuation zone for 19 miles around the plant, and fishing in the area has been suspended since the earthquake and tsunami...

click here to read more (you'll need a digital subscription I think)


(Copied from the April 2 New York Times)

The town of Taro's sea wall was one of Japan's tallest and longest. It was called Japan's Great Wall of China by the government and news media. It consisted of a 34-ft. high inner wall reinforced by an outer wall, stretched 1.5 miles across the bay, and had a surface so wide that people cycled, jogged and strolled along it.

So unshakable was this town's faith in its sea wall and its ability to save residents from any tsunami that some rushed toward it when the 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off Honshu's northeast coast on March 11. But then the tsunami caused by the quake tore right through the outer part and surged over the inner part -- sweeping away those who had climbed on its top and then taking most of the town.

Japan now has to decide whether to rebuild this infrastructure that failed to hold up when it was needed the most -- the so-called Great Walls that provided towns like Taro with a dangerously false sense of security -- or skip the coastline engineering and focus on education and evacuation drills. Maybe it's just not worth turning beautiful seaside communities into "garrison-like towns with limited views."

"For us, the sea wall was a source of pride, an asset, something that we believed in," Eiko Araya, 58, the principal of Taro No. 3 Elementary School told the Times. "We felt protected, that's why our feeling of loss is even greater now."

Read the whole story here. (You may need to be a paying subscriber to the NYTs online to access it)

What's in the Water

You can read all about what's in Tokyo's Tap Water on this web page, aptly named
Tokyo Tap Water Information, brought to you by Metropolis magazine. Most info comes from the Ministry of education, culture, sport, science and technology Japan (MEXT), which has its own website for reporting the same data.

Roentgens and Sieverts

Terry just sent me the link to a Tokyo Radiation Levels page on Metropolis magazine's website. It looks like a very handy way for anybody following this dicey situation to keep things in perspective.

The gist:

"Due to concerns about radiation in Tokyo from a number of our readers, Metropolis will publish daily radiation levels (sometimes multiple times daily if relevant). This is a log of background radiation levels in Tokyo from March 15 2011. Measurements will be taken daily at different times. Levels are measured in micro-Roentgens and micro-Sieverts using using a Polimaster PM1703M Scintillator and S.E International Radalert 100 Geiger counter respectively."

The disclaimer:
"We are not qualified experts in the field of nuclear science and nuclear medicine. Metropolis owns a Geiger counter and we are just giving a daily reading of exactly what we see on the screen of the Geiger counter. Geiger counter readings are taken outside, in an open area after the device has had 2 minutes to get an average reading of the background radiation level."

I like the "what does this compare to?" section, and the "what do the units mean?"

Bottom line: Levels detected over the last several days are "safe"

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Yep, the Ueno Park Zoo has pandas once again.

Check out this BBC News story about the exhibit's opening day.

The much-anticipated arrival of "Shin Shin" and "Ri Ri" finally happened in late February -- just in time for the big earthquake-tsunami. According to Japan Probe, these pandas were living in Sichuan, in the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center there, when the May 12, 2008 quake devastated that area. (Now that's unlucky.)

When the March 11 quake hit here, the pandas ran around in their cages and took two hours to calm down, NHK reported. They're better now, zookeepers say.

Fun fact from the Probe: these pandas are not a "friendship gift" from China. Japan will pay $950,000 a year (about 90 million yen) to "lease" the animals.