Saturday, March 26, 2011


2 Weeks Later: It's hard to imagine but the view from my window is of one of the busiest parts of Tokyo. It's Shinjuku and the skyline looks limited. Harder to imagine is that this is Shinjuku at 7:00 PM on a Friday night. The darkness you see here offers light elsewhere. Today we all went back to work as my office was officially reopened from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM. Right at 5:30 teams were dispatched to ask workers to leave and lights were immediately turned off. Anywhere else in the world people hastily leaving for home on a Friday evening would be normal. But in Japan, this type of occurrence literally takes a near end of the world event. My day was good. Nothing shook me today. The same concerns about when the people at the reactor will finally have complete control. Reassured from my personal research about the radioactive dangers, I'm not putting down my guard until I have confirmation that all controls to the reactors have been accomplished. For 2 weeks now there has only been damage control and very little gains at that site. As for the Tohoku area in the north. It appears that things are still very challenging for the victims. The weather is still bitterly cold and aid seems to come at a trickle. The people have been incredibly noble, patient, and appreciative. I've engaged many volunteer groups and will make sure I will go there to assist in anyway possible. One of my good friends an artist/musician in California is with Habitat for Humanity and I'm urging him to include me when they start rebuilding homes. Also a friend's church here has been setting plans for groups to go to the hard hit areas to assist people. Although I may have a different type of spirituality, I'll go with any group who reaches out to help others with sincere compassion and assistance. Japan has been a great country to me and I owe it to the good people here to give back what I can. I'm going to relentlessly find a way to do something positive in all this strife. As the night is getting on, I'm cutting my writing short. I think I've expressed everything today, I cant' find anymore words. Now I'll cut the lights too and drift off to sleep. It's been a while since I've had a good nights sleep...

Friday, March 25, 2011

On Edge

Today: On edge, that's the consensus of how many people feel. There are mixed messages regarding the water situation. For the most part it's safe for adults but bad for small children. We are encouraged to drink bottled water accept there's no bottled water left in any stores. What would have happened if they deemed it necessary for everyone to drink bottled water? In that case there would major problems because supplies here are gone. I feel that the Japanese citizens have handled these disasters amazingly well. The buildings are by far incredibly strong and very prepared for earthquakes. Unfortunately emergency support, shelters, and logistics seem very unprepared. Shelters for the most part are a public space or gymnasium. Unlike US fallout shelters or emergency shelters; the ones here don't have stocked supplies. If you saw one of these gymnasiums with refugees in them on TV you may think they are like the ones in the US. Large, well lit, and heated. Think again. In these places people are given an allotted area for sleeping and a basic roof over their heads. These centers are poorly insulated. Heat comes from small portable kerosene burners. Hardly enough to warm a few much less a large group of people. People amass in these places for sanctuary but will have to wait for support to arrive. Long days sitting, listen/watching the news. Meals consist of 1 rice ball and miso soup. Perhaps now these conditions are slightly better, but people had to endure these conditions longer than necessary. Water for bathing and washing is extremely limited. I believe that although the circumstances are dire; they could have been better prepared than they are now. Then there's the mixed reports from the media and authorities. By giving so many vague and mixed warnings and padding information; they've lost credibility. Most of us don't believe or trust what's being said. It's tense, it's uncertain, and most are containing a lot of stress. As for the intensity of the nuclear disaster, I've done a lot of research lately. I contacted a few knowledgeable people who have access to researchers. All have given me reassuring information from scientist who studied nuclear physics and or nuclear engineering. Their message is that the situation is dangerous in the immediate area of the reactor. But even if it were to explode, the radiation is minimal. It will not be anything like Chernobyl. According to them the amount of exposure if a reactor exploded would be about 1 X-Ray for 8 hours of exposure. Unnecessary amounts but likely not enough to cause harmful effects. The leaked radiation also dissipates after 8 days. So far this is hard to believe but by far the most rational information given. I'm leaning towards their opinion. Good God, I hope they are right. As for other things on this day. Another large magnitude 5 aftershock hit during the morning. The weather has turned cold again and stores are still scantly stocked. All these factors make one feel like they are driving on a long trip with a quarter tank of gas and only able to refuel a few liters/gallons at a time. It's been 2 weeks now and we are running with our fuel gauges ominously close to "E." Things seem to be improving at a modest but hopeful pace. But most here are on edge.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Don't Drink the Water

Yesterday's rains and damp weather  continued on into today. I was awakened in the early morning as a few large aftershocks came. At least three and it's getting routine. A few days ago I heard that the water had certain levels of radioactivity that it was at an unhealthy level. This information came from a friend associated with one of the U.S. Military bases here. However it was not until today that this warning was issued in Tokyo by the local government. I wonder why the release dates differ? It's the same water from the same reservoirs. So now, "Don't drink the water." This is what it' s come to. We are told we are safe, but then warned about drinking water. We are told that there should be no major concerns regarding active radiation leaks and contamination however they have stopped shipments of milk and produce from the areas near the reactors due to contamination. So, water now has elevated levels of radioactive particles. More than double the amount that's deemed safe for infants. Perhaps not at dangerous level for adults as infants are more susceptible to radiation. I'm heeding the warnings and making sure I drink and use bottled water. Unfortunately these days bottled water is  hard to find. Stores have run out of them. It's going to be a long search tomorrow. Fortunately for families with small children, the Tokyo government has offered free rations to families with infants less than 1 year old. It's hard to imagine, but this is Tokyo today. Another surprise was milk. I was able to get a few quarts of milk today. However, I was told that the milk I purchased was shipped out prior to the radiation warnings. So milk that I've just received is also off limits. All of course small problems compared to the problems for the people closer to the reactors or in the tsunami hit areas. I personally feel that the levels thus far are not going to be harmful to adults. But the way these warning messages are delivered needs to be reconsidered. It's obvious now that the reactor is leaking. It's also obvious that they have yet to gain control. There's still a lot difficulties to go through. We have to now wait and see for what happens next and for when the water clears up.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Reflection...

Tokyo Today:  When it rains there's a lot of reflections. Hence I took the above photo of my building's reflection. There was a heavy rain during the night and the damp carried on into the day. The sky was gray with low hanging overcasts. The light rain and crisp winds made this March day chilly. Clouds skirted the top of my building. I went to back to my office. It was the first time were were allowed back since the earthquake. Only a few of our floors were open and most still worked from home. The building’s condition was unchanged. It was built to sustain the earthquakes and it did exactly what the architects and engineers demanded. During the tremors it tilted and swayed in an unreal manner. I can still remember hearing the creaking sounds of the substructure under the stress. It was a loud low pitched moan that moved with the stress points as the building bent. It’s known as Tokyo Midtown Tower. The tallest building in Tokyo and sits on a large complex of gardens. There are a few sculpture gardens, Koi fish pond, traditional pavilions, a Japanese garden, cafes, restaurants, bars, and a large open mall with a vast overhanging glass canopy. The main building stands at the center and is very modern in design with art integrated into the common areas. Usually tourist groups visit this site as well as people shopping at the high end designer stores. Today, the building was a ghost town. At midday there were only a few people. Most major lighting was turned off with only emergency lights left on. In the main lobby concourse the uniformed women greeting visitors sat behind their dim podiums under patches of light from table laps. It was a limited and voluntary black out. The elevator banks ran less elevators and on the upper floors most of the lights were turned off. Anything non essential was deemed wasteful. It’s all part of a nationwide contribution to reduce the consumption of power in our area so that they can divert capacity to the North East. Like clockwork, Japanese come together and contribute. When I arrived at my company I went past the receptionists, they were surprised to see me. Both asked me why I was still in Japan as most of the foreigners in my company have left Japan. My company in its sincerest concern offered to pay for the relocation of any of our Japan employees. More than 85% of the foreign staff accepted the offer and left. Few if any of the Japanese went any farther than the outlining areas of Tokyo to look after their parents. I told the receptionist that if I left during such a time of crisis would be ashamed of myself. This is not a time to walk away from my Japanese friends and extended family here. I would be going out of my mind if I was afar watching these events. I’m not leaving Japan until Japanese start leaving Japan. They seemed moved by my actions, I sensed that I earned more acceptance. This same conversation occurred repetitively as met other people. As Japanese are usually reserved, today all of our conversations were unusually candid. We  all of us shared the same frustrations, fear, and we reflected upon the previous week. Since it was a three day weekend, I believe people had more time to think about and accept what had happened. None of us could seem to decipher what the warnings and or levels of the nuclear situation was. We carried on, stayed here,  went to work today on blind faith and blind trust. It was not an emotional day. It was good to starting taking the first steps towards a normal routine. There is still a lot of uncertainty. We heard that they have connected power to the reactors and will try to bring the cooling systems online. As for radiation reports , we heard that there is contamination near the reactors. The weather is worse and tonight will be cold for those in shelters. A long tough night ahead. As for earthquakes, we felt several this evening. Most of them with epicenters north of Tokyo. It's getting better because nothing is getting worse. I joined a volunteer group today, I'm going to try to find ways to assist. We shall see. There's a long way to go. So on this note I'll leave you with a great expression here that Japanese use in the midst of a challenge. " がんばって!"(Ganbatte) It means be strong, keep going, have fortitude, do our best. " がんばって!がんばって!!!!" (Ganbatte Ganbatte Nippon!!!)   

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It Continues

10 Days Later: It continues, the city goes on. Tonight in the hustle and bustle of Shibuya a light rain fell. The dim lit scene reflected the passersby on the main crossing.  People in coats rushing across the intersection and many noting how much darker it is. The large video screen remains turned off; however many still look up expecting it to flash its usual images. As the rain fell I wondered about the radiation situation. Is it falling down with the rain? If so, should I worry. Should I be concerned? The reports on TV initially say no. If exposed, the levels are no more than a chest X-ray, an international flight, and or a medical CAT Scan. That's what we hear at first. Then within the same report we are told to be careful. We are reminded of the dangers of radioactivity. It was also mentioned today that traces of radioactive iodine and cesium is are found in the water. These amounts are at higher than normal levels. The U.S. military warns us not to drink tap water but there is no warning from the local government. Each time we hear that we are safe, it is contradicted. Warnings and announcements become very illusive messages. My concern is this. If you spoke to anyone at the Shibuya crossing tonight and asked them if they knew they were safe from radiation. None of them could give you a clear answer. If  you asked the same question to anyone in Tokyo tonight, you will get the same response. Something wrong when at a time like these people are not receiving the proper information. It is acceptable if a few people don't understand. But when a mass of people who are under a great deal of stress and inert fear are not clearly receiving the answers they need. Something is very wrong. It is likely because the media and government agencies here don't want to be accountable. They choose to give tactful amounts of contradicting information in a way so that people are left with making an uneducated guess. People are uncertain but somehow they are assured at the same time. People here act and seem peaceful and calm when danger is indecisive. But underneath there is a lot of frustration. There is a lot of frustration here now. My point tonight in my writing is that they need to do a better job when giving us information about the nuclear crisis. If it is safe, please tell us. If it is not safe and certain precautions must be followed, please let us know. This is not a time for uneducated guesses. The unknown for many of the people here is a present danger like radiation itself. It is unseen, it requires special detection methods, it requires some education to understand about it, and an excessive amount is harmful. Despite frustrations, people are more optimistic. I remain optimistic. Things have been improving as nothing has gotten worse for 4 days. Nothing shook us here again today. Be optimistic for us all here as well. But as you read this please remember that there are still a lot of folks in the Tohoku (North Eastern Japan) area that are in great need. The rain is still falling tonight as I close out my writing. It's quieter than usual.

Monday, March 21, 2011


9 Days Later: If the events we endured during the past 9 days were a heavy weight boxing match. We were out matched and out classed from the start. Our opponent was too big, too strong, and came prepared. What ever we did in training to ready ourselves was somehow not enough; we faced a fighter who attacked with impunity. If this were a prize fight we were knocked down in the first few rounds. As the bell rung for the other rounds we would have been desperately ducking punches and weaving our bodies in and out of harm's way. Our gloves and arms pulled close to our faces and torso to weather the onslaught. Our backs pressed against the ropes. In our corners we heard guidance and advice which did not seem to work. When we tried to punch and hit back we were punished again. Each round, each time we got back up, we were knocked back down. We were beaten, we were hit hard, and we were blinded by what seemed like an relentless force. In the mid rounds of the match our eyes would have been swollen shut, face bruised, bleeding, ribs hurting, and our breaths stung in exhaustion. Or legs our and our hopes stumbled heavily inside the ring. In this fight however the crowd was cheering for us. If I were to use a prize fight as an analogy for the past week, it would seem like a losing fight. But it's now round 9. We've somehow regained composure. Collected ourselves and we have started to make positive gains in the fight. I believe in this round we were able to figure out the challenger. We are now seeming to be able to gain control and attack back. In a boxing match this is called a second wind and or a turning point. It's truly been a tough 9 days, but I'm starting to believe we are at this turning point. I'm starting to feel optimistic. This is a fight, this is a fight we have to win. So on this day I read that workers had cabled power lines to the reactors. It appears that 3 reactor have regained their cooling systems although there is 1 still very dangerous. It's going to be a tough few more rounds and the next 48 hours will determine the course of the nuclear crisis. There is some radiation in the air and in the drinking water but so far none of it is noted as harmful. Milk and  agricultural products from the areas near the reactor have been contaminated. Winds are blowing away from Tokyo which is keeping us from danger. As for earthquakes and aftershocks. A few did hit today, but in Tokyo we did not feel any. The weather is warming and it is easing the burdens to those in the hard hit areas. Rescue efforts continue. We all cheered some good news about an 80 year old woman and a teenage boy being rescued after 9 days. As for shortages. People in Tokyo are still enduring them. It's still darker here than usual but it is not unbearable.  What is an interesting fact to note is that I've noticed less foreigners here. It appears that most of the expats left the country to evade the crisis. There's still a lot of people who need help and there's a long and difficult road  ahead. It will take years in order to build and recover. There's a Japanese saying that I will share it with you. 七転び八起き! It means "Get Knocked Down 7 times, Stand Back Up 8 times. Never give up. So on this note, I'm taking the chance today to be optimistic. As tomorrow is the Spring Equinox; I'm hoping that there will be brighter days ahead.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Walk Around

A beautiful pure white crane or heron wades through a shallow brook with moss covered rocks. Its eyes and head flash into just the right vantage points for darting at small minnows in the clear water below. The sunlight delivers a soft glow as an easy breeze moves the blades of grass and ferns on the embankment. It's the early days of spring. I caught this scene today with a few photos. Peaceful and light. Where am I? Where did I go? Did I get out of Japan and or Tokyo? Am I somewhere far, far away so I can take such a picture? Did I like many of my other foreign friends evacuate? No, not me; I'm still here. This was taken at a small park near my home in Setagaya-ku, a ward of Tokyo. This park consists of a long narrow trail that follows this stream. Along it are lined dark trees that in a week will bloom a canopy of beautiful  Sakura (cherry blossoms). This is Tokyo, this is today a little more than a week amid the earthquakes and nuclear warnings. A few bright things happened today. I got a message from my good friend Tai in Dalat. He said that a lot of people are reading my writing. I had no idea. If you are reading my words in Vietnamese; you are reading his as well. He's the one that's translating this blog for Vietnamese people. He's a nice man, talented photographer and lives in the town of my birth; Dalat in the Central Highlands. I met him last New Year's Eve for dinner. We are both photographers and we had a great conversation over French Vietnamese food with my friends. After late night coffees we parted. As I was leaving he said something that must have left and impression on me. Simple words but very wise ones. He said that the best photographic advice he gives his friend, his students, and his colleagues is "Walk Around..." Today, that's what I did, I put on a mask, went out and walked around. I walked around to take photos of what things are like here to share with all of you. The sparse stores, the dimly lit shops, the long gas lines, the gas stations with out of gas, and of other things such as people out and about enjoying the day as normal. I walked around looking for perhaps a sign. In a very skeptical way it's human I think to look for signs. For something lucky, some omen, some indicator to guide us, to warm, and or to ease. There are times when we look for shooting stars, halos around the moon, eclipses, omens, and messages from some great beyond. Today, a beautiful crane walked passed me in a brook, it flew right over me, landed on a branch, then fluttered away. When I saw this bird I felt that I was far away from here. But, I'm here, I'm still here and have no plans to leave. I have my reasons. 

As for the city on this Saturday, the sky was clear and bright. The same situation with shortages exists as other days. We are aware that what we don't have here such as an excess of bare essentials means that these essentials will be available for those in greater need up north in the stricken areas. Needful things are better intended and received by needful people. It's still very bad for them, but at least the weather has improved. We heard that someone today was pulled out alive after 8 days. Wonderful news. A large part of the TV news today showed the efforts to keep the reactors from melt down. Yesterday they used helicopters dropping water. Today, firefighters were dispatched dangerously close to the reactors with their water pumping trucks. They were shooting jets of water into the reactor wreckage. These men are in harm's way, they are the heroes of today. A press conference on TV had a Fire Chief deliver a briefing. While speaking he was holding back a wall of tears when the talked about his men at the scene. I think he knew that they were exposed to dangerous amounts of radiation being that close. I think he knew that the task his men were engaged in was essentially a suicide mission. As much as he spoke about the concern for his men, he spoke about the concerns he had for their families. Watching him was moving. Aside from these men,  we heard that there were other crew trying to reestablish power to the reactor control system. All of us and our thoughts go to them and their families as well. In the evening at about 7:00 PM, we had another earthquake. This time a magnitude 5 north of here in Ibaraki prefecture. We get quakes here all the time in Japan. But never so many within less than 10 days. Like the others this one shook us back into heightened awareness. Things today were about the same as yesterday. No big city lights in Tokyo. Tonight the skies are clear. There's a brilliant full moon overhead to light up my darkened city. This moon, maybe, just maybe it's a good sign. I think after I write I'll go out gain. I'm going out, I'm going to walk around...