Saturday, April 2, 2011

To the Fullest

Three Weeks to the Day: A week crept by normalizing things in Tokyo. Business crawls forward for Japan. The first steps to rebuilding starts with moving forward. Today, the weather was fair and more Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) buds are showing on the cherry trees. The early bloomers came a few weeks ago. These were sparse, albeit beautiful but somehow out of place.  The main flood of blossoms will appear soon. Within the next ten days Tokyo will be filled with clouds of white and light pink flowers. I wonder what this year's bloom will be met with. Will the locals celebrate as in other years? Here the celebrations are called "Hanami." It's essentially a traditional picnic with an open bar. Underneath the overhanging flowers, groups gather on mats. Drinking, eating, laughing, sleeping, singing, and forgetting their troubles. Parks, gardens, and nearly any place these flowers are present will be invaded by masses celebrating. People collect under large canopies of flora or even under a tree with only a few branches and sparse blossoms. Diverse may the amount of fauna be, the merriment is equal.  I don't think the Sakura this year will not be met with silence. But I do wonder what these pedals will hear in the conversations beneath them. I'm sure this year there will be laughter and I'm sure there certainly will be tears. I believe the celebrations are  important and that normalizing is a good thing. It means getting back up, dusting yourself off, and then continuing on. Take a step for each other and take these steps with each other. The Sakura have a very symbolic meaning here. They represent life and death. They represent life's delicate existence and it's brevity. They appear for only one week. They are taken by winds and rain. They fall like snow and vanish. Only the memory of their beauty remains until the cycle returns again. The flowers come from non distinct trees. Throughout the year these trees are plain and nearly unnoticed. They are dark with knobby gnarled branches. But when the flowers emerge, it's beauty unexpected. They are greeted with the changing seasons. When winter resigns the days grow longer and the warming weather moves from south to north. The flowers appear with these changes. Making their way from the warmer southern most island and prefectures of Japan to the northern most island. They are like a wave moving gently northward. Each place they visit, people celebrate, welcome the spring, and for a brief period neglect their woes. I hope that by the time they make it north this year; things will have normalize enough so that the people there too can have a reason to celebrate, reflect, and move forward with us. Sakura are a great symbol they teach us that life is brief and to live it to the fullest.

Friday, April 1, 2011

To Default is Unforgivable...

Two Weeks Six Days: Almost a full week back at work and business as possible at my office. Back at the office, check out my view. The city remains dim, no unnecessary lighting in the hallways, and we've almost finished a full work week. Woke up to the same things as yesterday. The reactor news seems like things are reportedly worse after the fact. These are not updates they seem more like confirmations after it's too late. It'll take years and years to resolve this one. In the evening we had another small earthquake which heightened alertness in an uneasy way. However stores seem better stocked, good news, I was able to have milk for the first time in a long time. At some point today amid my emails, calls, and catchup; I talked to a friend who hosted a group of aid and relief workers today. Many were doctors that just landed and were shopping for medical supplies before heading up north. With this group were also a few people who had just returned from trip delivering food, water, and necessities to a few hard hit areas. Their description of the carnage was beyond what we see in the media. Entire towns wiped out. Entire livelihoods shattered. One of their stops was to a shelter that housed close to 300 people. In the evening they cooked a hot meal for the refugees. To their shock the rag tag group huddled at the shelter were still wearing the same clothes they had on the day of the earthquake. Many had not had a hot meal for 2 and half weeks. When the food came they all broke down and cried.  This and many stories like this came from the witnesses who talked with my friend. It's a terrible place up there. It is one of my strongest inner motivations these days to go up there and do something positive. Make a difference for those people. As for the people of Tohoku area, I’m not sure if many of you know much about them. When we visualize Japan from afar we see a rustic blend of days past integrated digitally with the modern age. Where the east is electric. Japan is that and then some; most of the perception of this country comes from the areas on the Kanto Plain which encompasses Tokyo and the Kansai Plain that crests around the city of Osaka. These culturally are the same but socially the two areas have their own quirkiness and uniqueness. In these cities are the large business centers, commercial headquarters, and the urban megalopolis. Many of the residents live for their work in the big city and the sprawling towns bordering these cities are known as bed towns because people only return back late at night to sleep. A large demographic in the urban areas are very aggressive hardworking and high paced people. The slick suits, high-flying, big dreaming, stoic, well mannered, not open to true self expression, less friendly, and the stereotypical salary man.  Polite,but very reserved and distant. The people in Tohoku in the northeast of Japan for the most part are different. There, the pace of life is a lot more easygoing. Many are farmers, fishermen, civil servants, and factory workers. Blue collar. The people work very hard, make considerably less in terms of income and have the same type of daily struggles as any Middle American. These are the people that feel it first when gas prices rise or the economy slips. The people of Tohoku are just like the country folks and common people who live in the present but almost overlooked fly over territory of the US between New York and L.A. From my travels they are incredibly open and friendly. From my experience, each time I’ve visited one of these small towns; conversations arise easily and open laughter is plentiful. If you met them you would think that they are a lot like us Americans. If you lived in Japan as a foreigner you'll understand that it’s always nice when you find a way deeper into the cultural fabric here. In Tokyo this could take years if at all, but in the places away from the hectic mindset of living in a mega city; people draw you right in, tell you about themselves, and sincerely want to know about your world. It’s always nice to be welcomed by strangers. The point that I want to impress upon is that these people are a lot more like us than we may think. Right now they need help. They are simple people hit hard by a horrific disaster and its sideshow events. Since reading my daily entries I'm sure many have wondered why I've taken such attention to these recent events. Why I have such an inner motivation to write and why the burning need to go up there and do something useful. Well, for a few keystrokes, I'll unlock the reasons for many of my reasons and share a glimpse of it. It's dark, it's powerful, and the recall is at times painful. It's kept very well hidden and so deep many around me have no idea. It comes in  form of experiences. From it I owe a debt that I carry. In 1975 my grandmother and I fled to Saigon from Nha Trang. Life during the turmoil of a collapsing country at war was not easy. Fear, uncertainty, and hopelessness. There were times before we decided to leave that I awoke screaming and cling to her as gunfire roar outside our home. I was a child, I had no father, no mother, just my grandmother and me. On a decided day we found our way to the gates of an American airbase and miraculously amid a swarming chaotic crowd an unknown American soldier spotted an Amerasian child with an old woman. Snatched into a jeep and rushed to a C130 airplane, we where flown to Saigon where we roamed the streets looking for places to stay. We were homeless carrying all we had, we were afraid. Around us the world had gone crazy. Desperate and lost; we slept here and there and eventually a few of my grandmother's friend took us in. At some point I was separated from her and made my way to a refugee camp in the Philippines where I had never felt more alone. That state of being is the worse feeling in the world. Times like those somehow feel like times like these. I hadn't felt as much uneasiness in such a long time and it reminds me of how lucky I am today. By the grace of Fate, Karma, and God, I found my way to America and all the events then and there after made me who I am today. I carry a debt that has to be paid forward and the interest is high; to default is unforgivable.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Imperfection and Limitation

Two Weeks and Five Days: There's a temple in Kyoto called Ryoanji or "Peaceful Dragon Temple." In it is a rock garden that has 15 strategically placed boulders in a sea of racked stones. From any view the viewer can only see 14 at a time. These represent perception as well as teach those looking about imperfection and limitation. Try as anyone may, most can only see 14 stones within one glance. It is said that only an enlightened person can see all 15. For some reason I thought about this place today as I read the news. Today I'll draw upon two very polarizing things that I found which lead me to this place. First off is the cowardly way the TEPCO CEO Masataka Shimizu has handled this entire crisis. Since the first few days he vanished from the public scene and declined making any addresses. In full form TEPCO and its execs have painted a perception of competence, confidence, control. The fact is they have failed to contain the melting reactors and manage this crisis properly. They have failed to keep us informed and reassured. Through it all this privileged man and his advisers have declined interviews or briefings.  Then today it's been announced that he's been hospitalized for high blood pressure and dizziness so he has to step aside. I believe it's safe to say that most if not all the people in Japan today have had their blood pressure elevated thanks to TEPCO. What ever perceptions they attempt to create for themselves only unmasks their selfishness. The damage control should be focused on the reactors and not the stock market value of their shares. At times like these people need to see strong leadership and be properly warned and informed. Masataka Shimizu is a coward, he ran and hid, then did not face up to the responsibility that he has to the people of Japan and the world. Let me share now what real selflessness and courage is. I read something that's not been brought to light in the news outside Japan. I posted the link from Japanese news paper Daily Mainichi. Her name was Miki Endo; a city crisis management civil servant; 25 years of age. She was in Miyagi and broadcasting on the public announcement system during the earthquake. As buildings shook and the citizens of her community fled to shelters, she warned them of the earthquake. When the earth settled and the quake quieted like a calm before the storm, she monitored the tsunami warnings. Her voice again aired with messages telling people to head for safety, telling people to not go back to their homes but go to higher ground, telling them that a large tsunami was coming in from the sea. "Please run away fast.., a tsunami is coming, a very large one is heading here, you are in danger..." Fully aware, her concerns were focused on the 17,000 people in her home prefecture of Miyagi. As she stayed in her broadcast station. Her voice was heard by many including her fleeing mother. As her voice spoke, the waves came over the levees and barriers. As many listened and went to higher ground she continued to warm people. When cell towers collapsed and other forms of communication began to vanish. Only her voice and the horns of the tsunami alert systems could be heard. As sweltering violent walls of frigid water brought ships into the streets and tore buildings off their foundations her voice carried on warning others until it was engulfed and silenced. Here was an incredible person. Imagination can't even convey what she and those in her building went through in the moments before the waves overwhelmed their broadcast station and took their lives. I hope that readers and the world will remember this woman. She showed true selflessness. The only perception she conveyed was the truth and imminent danger. Her only concern was peoples lives. I think at some point in those moments she rose beyond our limitations and imperfections and demonstrated the best that humanity can have to offer. Her view was not clouded by ego and arrogance, her view was guided by the concern for others. It is written that a part of enlightenment is the relinquishment all worldly attachments. Once you attain this you are no longer trapped by the vicious circle of attachment and greed. Once enlightened you can lead others from suffering. In the serene Ryuanji Zen Garden in Kyoto; I believe that of all people in this world, this woman would have been able to see all the 15 boulders in the garden at a glance.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Peering through a clouded view...

Two Weeks and Four Days: Look, look closer, can you see, can you see it? It was a hazy day and at sunset from my view I could see a faint outline of the iconic mountain peering through the haze. Mount Fuji showed itself briefly, then vanished. A few earthquakes came today, but none disrupted the pace of today. Work seemed like a normal day aside the dimmer lights in the hall way and common areas. For the most part, business as usual for us here in Tokyo. Very few conversations about the earthquake and reactor issue at the office. The ones I did have focused more on the frustration of not feeling properly informed by the news. What news we did hear noted that one of the reactors had melted through it's containment vessel. This added mixes of radioactive plutonium and other hazardous materials into the environment. It's clear that the workers have lost control of a least one reactor. What happens next or what is to be done is not known. I had time to talk to a friend about volunteering and going up north. I was informed that access to the devastated areas were very limited and only groups associated with legitimate charities have access. The key concern is making sure the right supplies get to the right shelters. I heard that some shelters may have enough of one thing such as clothing but lack something else such as water. So, for the most part charities are organizing and are making sure the proper logistics and supplies are reaching the appropriate distribution points. My aim is to ride up on Monday with a team. I'm very motivated to go, but also have to consider that my presence is a responsible one. For as much as I would like be there, but the right people must go to the right place at this early stage. I'll find out in a few days. The trip lasts 4 days and participants must be fully self sufficient and willing to brave the weather and rugged conditions. It's important to me that I be a part of this. Yesterday I complained about TEPCO and they did deserve it. But in hindsight, I feel bad that I did not mention the people who today are still in a hopeless and destitute situation. It's been a long time and many are still looking for relatives. One story I heard today was heart wrenching. A man wandered through the remains of his neighborhood looking for his wife and baby daughter. Everything was razed, muddied, and buried. Near his home when rummaging through debris he came across a sock that was one of his daughters. When he went to get it, he found that it was still on his daughter's foot, at which point after he dug frantically with his hands and he found his wife who was wearing the baby carrier on her back. In all my adult years I can't recall a more heartbreaking bit of news than that. There are too many tragic stories going around and enough sorrow to last a generation. I've received numerous offers for care packages. I accept the kind gesture but would like to clarify that I'm well when compared to the tens of thousands who've lost their homes. Any efforts to send anything to Tokyo should be instead sent to an organization or a charity working with the Tohoku area. It's a hard time for Japan and for a while the life and soul of this country was fading fast. But in the midst of these times I see a spirit of a people fighting back and showing itself amid this very dismal and clouded view.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

10 Million; Opps.. Our Bad, it's only 100,000x times the normal amount -TEPCO

Two Weeks and Three Days: Well, early this morning another large quake or aftershock hit us. At these sizes we can't really tell the difference. It was a 6.5 to the north east out at sea and of course we felt it here in Tokyo. The start of another day. With all these shakes it appears that my confidence in Japanese buildings have been reinforced. Although they move and objects inside tremble, for the most part everything comes back to normal when the earth settles. They make the best earthquake resistant structures in the world likely. Most if not all the damage we see in the north was primarily from the Tsunami; nuclear reactor included. Regarding that reactor, more and more issues keep arising with it. The news at times is likely as toxic and disheartening as the radioactive waste. One of which really breaks any confidence if I had any left in TEPCO. The nuclear geniuses at TEPCO had reported yesterday that the radiation levels exposed at the plant was 10,000,000x times the normal limit. That's 10 Million Times the normal limit. 10 Million times the normal limit for almost anything is frightening. But fortunately, after leaving this number posted and reported for quite some time. They realized it was a MISTAKE! Well, thank God that instead of 10,000,000 it was only 100,000x the normal safe limit. Wow, I feel much better and reassured that the amount is 100 thousand times above the safe amount VS 10 Million; and me without my lead one piece jumpsuit that's all the rave. Thank you very much TEPCO for the clarification. I'm sure those of us who were concerned about the 10 million we were able to turn down the concerned level a notch by at least .00001. Then there's another development we discovered. TEPCO in their infinite wisdom claimed that they were over burdened this month and could not deploy enough man power in form of meter readers. So, they've billed us based on last month's electric consumption. Sounds good right? No. Last month our bills and usage was a lot higher because this month we've had imposed black outs and were asked to reduce energy usage. So, not only have they've put us through the fall out of their mistakes they are over billing us for it. We'll it seems like the good folks at TEPCO have a bit of a problem with numbers and math. So I'm going to make it very easy for them tonight. From all of us out here in Japan here's a number which all of us can cite as our confidence level in you guys; "0." That's right, zero, big fat sumo sized "0"; see if any of your experts can count forwards and or backwards to that? So I'm going to close my entry tonight with less angst. I've put up a photo of this evenings' sunset. I get some of the most amazing sunsets here from my terrace. So much that I keep a camera handy.This evening's was brilliant. Staring at the sun at dusk made me think of this. I'm all for nuclear energy, but it's human error that's always attributed to major disasters. Thus far the best nuclear reactor is the thermonuclear one that's burning 93,000,000 miles away; and that my friend is the sun and only something God can create and control.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Two Weeks, Two Days: For the first time in a while I avoided the news and media. Today, I moved. It was something I had prepared little for as I was distracted by current events. Luckily my move amounted to one floor up  to another unit. A bit more space, better view, and nicer terrace. Speaking of which things seem to be looking better. Although the reactor remains problematic and it will likely be a will before things are completely in order. Things are starting to normalize. It's like a shadow we've gotten used to. Most companies have now reopened. The stores today seemed slightly better stocked. As well as this, there appears to be less aftershocks. These factors are making life here less challenging. As I've noted, I've contacted a few relief organization. One in particular sends trucks up north each Monday and returns the follow Thursday. I'm pushing very hard to be going with them on their trip next week. If anything else comes sooner, I'll do my best to be involved. So far most groups are taking donations and staging supplies for the few trips to aid centers. Every bit helps. Today's entry is brief as I've been working since early in the day and now it's 3:00 AM. However as promised to myself, I aim to write each day and post something I shot. This one is the sunset. There was something about sky this evening that caught my eye. I'm not sure what it is but it looked very painted. There are hints of blue, orange, subtle variations of light tones, and a touch of gray...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Black and White

Two Weeks and a Day:
Black and White opposing and complementing I wish the news and reports about the reactor situation were a lot more clear. I wish they were as simple and black and white. Are we in danger or are we not? Facts which I've referenced cited worse case scenarios that seemed acceptable given the magnitude of disaster. A few chest X-Rays, if I did not protect myself. I'm for the most part assured but remain very skeptical. Why? When warnings are lifted, we find out that the evacuation zones have been expanded quietly. Then today, we hear that water pouring from the reactors is over 1,250 times the safe limits. We are told that this is a very dire situation by the Prime Minister. But then we hear an official from Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, say that the contamination posed little risk to aquatic life. "Ocean currents will disperse radiation particles and so it will be very diluted by the time it gets consumed by fish and seaweed..." -Hidehiko Nishiyama. So I'm to accept that it is a very bad situation however radioactive water that is 1,250 times the safe limit can be dissipated into the sea. When consumed by seafood there will be no adverse affect. What exactly does a safe limit mean when you can exceed it by over 1,000 times and not have to worry? It's not very clear information and very gray to me. This is just an example of what others including myself have been inundated with for the past weeks from the media and officials here. As for other things today, I went to my friend's restaurant for dinner. Nice place, a father and son establishment. They've been hit quite hard by these current events. I was told that they had a lot of problems getting enough materials and ingredients to fulfill the menu. A few days last week they had to remain closed. Earlier today, during a trip to the market they noticed that fights and arguments were starting to break out. People are slowly reaching their limits. It's been very difficult for them to earn a living. In all my years in Japan and all the years my Japanese friends have known Japan; they've never seen anything like this. It puts things in better perspective for me. Although I too share the frustration of uncertainty. The crisis has thus far not effected my livelihood. I must be grateful. Tonight there are still people waiting up north for something good to happen. That is as clear as black and white.