Saturday, March 19, 2011

Uncertainty and Certainties...

One Week Later: Evacuation, that's a powerful word. It's always matched with events when a formidable circumstance or predicament forces the panic stricken and helpless to flee. I've been through one of those once in my life before, going through it again is too ironic of an option; but I'll get to that later. Many I know have left. Some went right after the first earthquake, others waited. Today more departed Japan. Their reasons varied but the commonality was uncertainty. It's been a long and heavy week and I can see how the uncertainty triggers the survival impulse. What we are certain about is that the biggest natural disaster ever to hit Japan struck one week ago. That there are thousands confirmed dead and about 10 thousand still missing. The images of entire communities washed away will linger in fabric of this country forever. Right now there are people patiently suffering and humbly seeking deliverance.  This I know are certainties. A sideshow of this epic disaster is also the shadow of a nuclear catastrophe. It's a shadow, a big mean dark shadow that scares us all. But the size and scale of the source of this shadow is completely unknown. We are kept in the dark. The news media here tell us trivial things about reactor science and how the workers and specialists are fighting the meltdown. What they don't tell us is whether it's deadly, dangerous, our at what level of concern we should be at. They've done a great job at citing measurements and even elevating the nuclear disaster level at the reactor to a "LEVEL 5" which surpasses 3 Mile Island. Thank you for keeping score; but please let the masses know what the dangers are. What the sentiment should be towards any harmful effects. Are my children safe, are we in danger, should we leave..? These are what people here need to know. Certainties and Uncertainties were the thoughts that occupied today. As for today itself, it was much better than the others this week. For a friend of mine he said it best "It's a great day..." as his son was born today. Welcome to the world new born son of my good friend Peter. Once you get a name I'll make for proper introductions. Good news, something certainly good to be warmed by. As for the rest and other events today. Most stores had limited their hours. Signs and non essential lighting dimmed. The shelves in grocery stores are still bare. My friend's restaurant had to be closed for 3 days due to the lack of cooking ingredients. The day was clear and very windy until the hazy night came that was lit by a full moon. On this night I'm typing this as fast I as I can, I want the words and meanings to flow out, I want to hit the upload button before anything changes. I want to be able to post this and be able to say that today there were no major tremors, aftershocks, or new earthquakes near Tokyo. Today nothing shook us here. A turn for the better I hope, a turn for more certain things.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Day 07: Almost, we almost had 24 hours without any shakes or earthquakes. Just before I sat down to write and put into words how today had no major seismic activity. At 9:30 PM a quake hit off the coast of Chiba and we felt it. With this ended the chance of a day without a quake. Then again after the first one, at 9:55 PM even another quake hits. This one was weak but lasted a long time, objects in the house wobbled for an uncomfortable duration. We are starting to feel shell-shocked. I'm sure tonight will be long for us. As for today, I woke up to watch the news. First scenes were of a military Chinook heavy lift helicopter dropping water into a reactor. In my view it's a very desperate measure and much like pouring tea into a raging fire. Morning emails and calls bleed into noon. I spent lunch with an American friend. He was torn between staying or leaving. He thought by leaving he's abandoning his friends and team here. I urged him to do what's best for he and his family. I told him that I'm not leaving for many reasons and none of them material. I'm staying because I have an extended family here, if I left I'd never be able to live with myself. If I left them here, I would go mad watching the news about here. I would feel more helpless than I do right now. I won't go until I know they can go too and are safe. It's impossible to measure the human capacity for concern. My friend does not have the same connections here; he should go. Later that day he went home and talked with is wife; in the evening I heard that they are leaving for Singapore. I'm happy he's going, will miss he and his family's comforting presence. After lunch I ventured out to Shibuya, hence this photo. It's the famed Shibuya Crossing near Shibuya train station. This intersection is the Times Square and or the Piccadilly Circus of Japan. Full of hustle and bustle, lively, and usually jubilant. It is said that about 2.5 million people travel through this intersection each day. Not today, not this week. If you look carefully you can see that the marquee video screens which are usually flush full of brilliantly luminous adverts, animations, films, and invigorating music are shut down. Now just black unlit silent squares. Elaborate neon or signage also shut off. On this cold windy gray day the crossing had less than one third the crowds. Most folks at the crossing were traveling to the train station to leave early for home as many areas will not have electricity tonight. They want to get home before power goes off and the trains stop. The station is packed because the number of trains running today are less. The waiting crowds and ques of people flood from the platform all the way down the stairs to the turnstiles. Station attendants blocked and roped off the entrances sporadically to control the over fill of people in the station. It's an ocean of heads. Still with the congestion, long waits, and pressed together commuters, Japanese somehow retain order. No yelling, no screaming, no complaints heard. I soon left here for home, got on my bike and cycled back. Concerned about inhaling any radioactive particles? Yes, but too late now, I've been out for hours. Will take the chance that there's no harmful amount in the air today; a leap of faith and trust the news reports. It's getting colder, feels more like a bitter windy January night than a month from spring. I'm chilled to the bone. The streets again are less congested with vehicles. Not much fuel in the city therefore only cabs, buses, and a few cars. Again, the cold is biting into me. Riding into my apartment building my thoughts again fall upon those suffering in the dismay and hopelessness in North Eastern Japan. For them another long cold night. I'm relieved another day passed, surreal but not as bad. No major earth quakes or overpowering tremors I optimistically thought. Then as I sit down, write; it changes. Almost an entire day without an earthquake, almost...

On this day

Day 06: In this entry; I've decided to cite a basic time line of last 24. Last night another earthquake hit. This one a magnitude 6 was south of Tokyo in the prefecture near Mt. Fuji known as Shizoka. I thought it was an aftershock but it was again another earthquake. At this point, it's hard to determine the difference. We've been feeling the world move under us for nearly a week now. The night was long and restless as the unknowns regarding radiation effects from the reactor kept my mind occupied. Once asleep, I'm awaken a few times. Aftershock or earthquake, I had no idea. These shook everything in the house. Not so bad though, so I don't even bother getting out of bed. Just roll over, adjusted the blankets, flip the pillow get and feel the cold side, and then drift off to sleep. Morning comes, I'm up. Coffee in hand; I watch the news. Another reactor exploded. Now 3 of the 6 reactors in Fukushima are severely damaged, wrecked, rods exposed, and there's leaking radiation. On TV I hear a lot of complicated information as I watch news reporters who now apparently think they are nuclear physicists and or reactor engineers. They display charts, schematics, and diagrams about how nuclear power plants work. These look a lot like a child's science project. I'm understanding the overview of reactor science but no one is giving anything clear information on the dangers. We hear one moment that the levels of radiation is weak and not threatening. Then we see a lot of serious warnings and are given precautions. Later in the morning another earthquake struck. That's 2 earthquakes in less than 12 hours. This one was north east of Tokyo in Chiba prefecture. I'm feeling like Tokyo is a target and someone is taking shots that are getting closer to hitting the center. Strange as it sounds, I'm getting used to earthquakes. Afternoon; I go out to shop for things. The streets today are empty, the shelves in the stores are again bare, and no one knows when more will come. I get back home empty handed. In the evening a video message from the Emperor was aired. For the first time in history the Emperor of Japan made video message to the people. Wow, I just witnessed history. He read eloquently a speech in a soft sad gentle voice. He expressed sincere grief and called upon Japan to not give up, to stay calm, to come together. It comes with the intention to comfort as the situation is worsening. It's the darkest hours in the beleaguered areas. Temperatures drop tonight to freezing. It's snowing, it's cold, and many shelters have no heat and are low on food. My inconveniences are meaningless. It's been a long day, a long 24 hours with one thing after another happening. Right now as I write, it's darker than usual here, hardly a car is heard on the streets. Right now no aftershocks, no quakes, no sounds of voices from the sidewalk. I went up on my deck to shoot my neighborhood. It's darker than usual and hauntingly silent.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

This Blog Reaches Vietnam

A close friend of mine Anh Tai just told me that my blog was translated and published in a Vietnamese Newspaper. I believe it's the paper from my home in Vietnam. Thank you to those in Vietnam thinking of us.

The Character of this Nation

Day 05: Something happened midday today which wrenched my heart. Stopped it a few beats and rained in it as a wave of compassion filled me. What should have been a normal event such as a package delivered to my home brought the reality even closer. A simple delivery man in a well decorated uniform rang the bell, the dog barked, I'm inconvenienced as I was on a work related call. He came to the door I signed, and greeted him; package reached its destination. In the moment I made small talk. In Japanese I said, "Wow, I'm surprised you are delivering today." He responded "Yes, work is work." He nodded in a routine bow. Then I asked him "How are things for you during the earthquake? Are you ok, is your family all ok...?" He stopped blankly then a heavy frown appeared. He said to me "My family are in Miyagi (the city with an estimated death toll in excess of 10,000), I can't reach them, I have not heard from them, I don't know what is happening..." He then bowed very deeply and humbly at a very steep angle. He kept saying "Sumimasen, sumimasen" which means I'm sorry, I apologize, excuse me for inconveniencing you with my sad news. I can't count how many bows or how many times he said this. I told him no need to say sorry and that it is terrible, I hope they are all safe. I told him that I was very sad to hear this, very sad. He received my sympathetic gesture then an uncomfortable silence. I bowed to him as well and he turned abruptly and walked hastily down side stairs. It's hard to imagine but I can understand what he's doing. He can't control what's happening. There is no way or access to the north for him. Phones are down, all he has is the TV news. He's doing what he can and going about with ordinary things while being as reserved as possible. It's very Japanese and this catastrophe says a lot about the character of this nation. In the midst of calamity, people here have not rioted, looted, claimed being disenfranchised, the news media have been reserved and not sensationalizing, and politicians have not bickered. When instructions are given, people here collectively follow and keep order. It's all about respect and honoring those around you. It's about not making a scene and not raising unnecessary uneasiness for the whole. The discipline to control and contain one's self and emotions contribute to the harmony of society as a whole. It's Bushido. In the strangest way this seems to work here as evident by how this horrific event is managed. Right now the focus is to save lives, control the reactors, and keep social calm. The times are indeed bad that there even has been no time for a moment of silence or to mourn the dead. I'm moved, I'm affected, and I'm proud to be among these good people. Sure there are bad points of the day, worrisome, dark, uncertain, and we are not getting the information we feel that we need. But there's really not much we can do until we can all understand what's happening. Things don't seem to cease.Tonight just as I was sitting down we had another earthquake. It was inland and now south of Tokyo measuring 6. No threat of a tsunami but the shaking rocked my apartment. We've packed evacuation bags, documents, water, food, flashlights, and essentials. Now it's getting serious. First a quake hits just north of here, now south. Somewhere in the middle lies us. Keep calm, stay on track, plan wisely, and don't be hysterical. It's the way people are here.You may noticed this as you see reports, interviews, or know people with family here. You may think we are stoic here, too reserved, but understand that it's for a reason and it's the way here. One thing however I've come to realize is in these days is that the one emotion that can't be contained is compassion. If things get worse, I will in a dignified manner make sure those here I care about reach a safer place. More flowers in the darkness in tonight's image.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Darkests of Darks; Lightests of Light

Day 04; On this night, it's darker than usual. We are conserving electricity so that those who need it much more than us have enough. It's going to be a cold night for them. I think that in the dim candle lit rooms and shelters up north they know and feel that all of the world hears them. Many lights in my building and the lights at homes in the neighborhood are off. The street lamps still remain but the side streets and parks are now pockets of darkness. When your eyes get used to the dark the bright things of the day are still  bright in a relative way with the night. This is so true with these Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) that I shot.I studied art in school and one of the greatest lessons I learned when drawing or painting was this; "The Darkest of Darks are always closest to the Lightest of Lights.  I like this shot most because these days and nights are darker than usual and I'm just looking really hard for something bright. The news today was the same as yesterday's. Another reactor blew up. Shopping at bare stores to find food and supplies. Newly found footage of destruction.We had more quakes and aftershocks. At this point I'm desensitized to small and medium earth quakes. The repeat of the reactor scenes however were alarming. Tokyo is not far from these. A few folks I know are leaving town for a while. Ironically one of my good friends took his wife and family of 3 to Hiroshima today in fear of any nuclear accident in Tokyo. Tonight they are staying a few blocks from the famous domed ruin where the first atomic bomb exploded. Ironic indeed. Do I want to leave too? For those who know me, two weeks ago you could only hear me talk about planning another adventure and going off on one of my wild expeditions. The strangest thing is. right now, I don't want to leave here. I have so many friends here, I have so many people here who are my extended family. I just feel that leaving Japan now is running away from a place that's been my home for all these years. I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to sit it out, do my part, and see what happens next. I think right now it's important to share in the positive thinking, share in the compassion, and share in the search for brighter things.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Day and the Sakura

Day 03; Today was quiet and for the most part the streets are less crowded. People are going about with a certain level of normalcy. Shops are selling out nonperishable foods, water, toiletries, and essentials. For the first time since I've been in this country I am seeing bare shelves. Since the reactor failures power and electricity here in Tokyo is still about the same as normal. But we will likely start having periodic black outs to ration energy and make enough capacity for those stricken north of here. Everyone has to do their part. In Tokyo we are lucky, we were shaken and rocked but nothing here is anything like the harder hit areas. Of course there's lingering worries about radioactivity from the power plants. The company running the plant is known as TEPCO; which is the Tokyo Electric Power Company. They are historically notorious for hiding information and not telling the truth when it comes to their reactor issues. Yesterday during a live press briefing the announcer mentions that "...they have things under control." During his live broadcast  a reactor exploded. It's not a far stretch to say that a non exploding reactor means things are under control. The amounts of radiation leakage from one reports says normal while another states that in some case the levels were 8,000 times the acceptable amount. So far no one has any idea. Despite the radioactive shadow, warnings of aftershocks, and more quakes; we are the lucky ones here in Tokyo, luckier than those not so far from us. Just north of here, I read that the death toll may exceed 10,000 now. The thoughts and prayers of us all should be directed to them. The best and most uplifting news today came when I heard that a 60 year old man was rescued from the sea. He was washed out with the tsunami and sat floating on a rooftop 15km from shore. It's a bright glint in the mix of dismay. In Tokyo, we are managing today, the parks had people out playing, children laughing. On my walk I noticed the first Sakura (cherry blossoms) in bloom. Oh how I wish the Sakura this year came in good spirits and at a happy time.

Day 02

As most of us here on day 2 we were glued to our TVs and media outlets. Such was my day here today. I shot the TV for it was what's in focus from the moment I woke until now. I think today reality set in. The reports, the images, the carnage, and the devastation just north of Tokyo is unbelievable. Not that distant from here the landscape is a wasteland. Nature angrily surged over levees and washed away lives. Japan is not a large country, therefore far away places for us here is nothing like the US. The distance from where we are in Tokyo to the disaster area would be from Washington D.C. to New York City. Not far at all. During a live report in the afternoon a nuclear power plant exploded. The reactor's exterior building blew apart, spewing a cloud of white smoke. The officials claim that everything is in control and that not much radiation had leaked. I want to believe this because for me being in control would be no explosion at all. But so far I've been incredibly impressed by how well people here have handled this horrific catastrophe. There is no sensational media, there's no looting, no riots, no blaming, and everyone has become accountable for each other. Through it all, what goes on in my mind today is that no one here or anywhere deserves this. I hope tomorrow finds some good news...