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."

1 comment:

Jen said...

Hi, found your blog via expat-blogs. My husband and two young children just moved to Tokyo from Philadelphia a week ago.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the situation, reassuring words! And I completely agree with a point you made in an earlier post, one of the biggest obstacles to overcome when making the decision to move here was facing those who would think we were careless or "stupid" to choose to come here.

Hope to visit your blog again!