Briefly Young Again

Nozomi and I generally stick to the same walking routes when we go out together. In the morning we get into the park and head west, where she can enjoy a great deal of soft grass and shade from the trees that tower overhead. In the afternoons we head south so that she can go up and down some hills that are just steep enough to encourage her to work a little harder. In the evenings we walk east onto the baseball diamond where she can enjoy a large expanse of safe, flat land after the sun's gone down. This regular pattern was stumbled upon after several months of sluggish walks where Nozomi would let me know in her way that she wasn't interested in continuing her outdoor explorations after covering about 100 meters of well-trod lawn. She's going to be nine years old next month, and she's clearly less interested in exploring all the smells of the park in one go, which is why we have three routes that are taken at three different times of day.

This evening, as we made our way to the baseball diamond, something in the distance caught my eye. The park is not very well lit after leaving the paved paths, so I wasn't quite sure what the object was, but my imagination filled in the gaps to reveal what could be a forgotten tennis ball. Over the last couple of years I've tried at times to get Nozomi to play around a bit like she used to without much success. While she still enjoys having her stuffed dog Kodama around, the toy is really more for smelling than anything else. She ignores balls and ropes completely.

A Forgotten Tennis Ball

As we got closer to what I believed to be a ball, I tried to get Nozomi feeling a little excited. I used a playful voice and asked her some nonsensical questions about running shoes and whether she stretched before coming out for a walk. My goal was to encourage her to get closer to the object so that I could see if she wanted to have some fun again like we see other dogs doing in the park from time to time.

The goading paid off. Sitting forgotten in the middle of the outfield was a relatively new tennis ball. I kicked it over to Nozomi and she responded instantly, jumping into the path of the spinning object and claiming it as hers with a playful growl. I managed to wrestle it away with some misdirection then tossed the ball a couple of meters, hoping she would chase after it. Chase she did. For the first time in quite some time a youthful, playful puppy was enjoying a warm evening outside with a ball and a game of fetch. This was the first game I taught her many years ago when we lived in Kashiwa, before the big quake hit. Watching her chase after the ball in much the same way she chased after the stuffed heart-shaped toy that she would chew on in the pet shop before we brought her home was like therapy. She growled playfully when I would approach. She wagged her tail just like she used to. Her eyes smiled with delight.

Sadly, this wasn't to last. In less than five minutes she was exhausted and wouldn't chase after the ball anymore. She wanted to continue with her walk and get home for dinner. Given that this was the biggest workout she's had in months, I can't say I blame her. This will not be her last workout, though. Not by a long shot; I brought the ball home.

She'll get another chance to chase and play tomorrow … if she's up for it.

A Quick Update

Just a quick note to friends and family to say that the wife, puppy, and I are now back in Gifu with the in-laws. With the amount of confusion and misinformation circulating through the news programs, we felt that it would be better to leave the area in the event we're told to evacuate even further from the Fukushima nuclear plant (which isn't likely to reach Kashiwa, but still). Of course the excessive earthquakes didn't help, either.

Kashiwa Station (Buying Tickets)Kashiwa Station (Half Lit)Kashiwa Station (40 Minute Wait)Tokyo Station (Hundreds In Line for Shinkansen)Tokyo Station (Loading on the Nozomi)

An Ever-Present Threat

Almost 48 hours have passed since the country was rocked by it's largest earthquake in centuries, and people are out in full force collecting the supplies they will need in the event we should lose power, water, or need to evacuate. Tremors continue to shake buildings across the east coast, with larger quakes interspersed at almost regular intervals between. It's an eerie situation, and it has residents on edge.

Long lines are seen outside of gas stations, where prices have gone up 10-13円. Convenience stores are empty. Grocery stores have item limits. Any food that can be eaten without preparation are gone. Dried foods, as well. Home improvement centers are jammed. And, not surprisingly, electronics stores blare their annoyingly high-pitched advertisements at maximum volume, as though they were a cheap amusement park. What is most striking, though, is the sound. Or, more accurately, it's the lack of sound.

Children are quiet or speak with low voices or in whispers, playing simple games not dependent on batteries. Adults also keep their voices low and even. Public cell phone usage has dropped noticeably, and the number of people using headphones are in the minority for the first time since Sony released the Walkman. Everyone is waiting for the next signal.

While many of us in Tokyo and Chiba have been spared the devastation seen in the northern prefectures, we're very well aware that disaster can strike here at any moment. TV stations have been showing news non-stop, and one of the largest threats facing people here is nuclear in nature.

Much of Japan's energy is generated by a series of nuclear reactors across the country. Many of them are approaching the end of their expected lifespans, but have performed quite well in a country where earthquakes are more common than rain showers. Yet there are concerns.

Recent reports are saying that some of the reactors aren't cooling properly and, as a result, have become over-critical. Some people have been exposed to elevated levels of radiation, which was found in their clothes and outter skin, but there have been no direct fatalities at this point. Despite what western media says, the plants are not going to turn into the next Chernobyl, though the situation is quite serious.

The wife and I have already discussed contingency plans, as well. Should the problems at the power plants get out of hand, we'll head to her parents' home in central Japan. The area has seen much less seismic activity, and it's too high to be affected by all but the most devastating tsunamis (a large asteroid would need to fall into the Pacific Ocean to affect 岐阜県). A lot of our neighbors have taken a similar approach, with families leaving the cities for rural areas that seem safer.

In my discussions with people, it seems that very few people know what to do when a crisis like this hits. While attending school, children practice what to do in an earthquake, fire, typhoon, flood, and just about every other catastrophe that can strike. These drills stick with people throughout their lives, which means that people don't need to be explicitly given instructions in the midst of a natural disaster. Unfortunately, very few people have knowledge of what to do after the fact. Some feel like they're in a bad dream. Others are in a sort of shock, doing what they see others do in a bid to both keep occupied and seem prepared for whatever might come next. One thing is certain, though; people will be better prepared for large quakes after this, but probably not for long.

We humans have a terrible habit of becoming complacent when our daily life is stuck in routine. As a result, we forget the importance of being ready for certain types of events, be they predictable or not. Let's hope this terrible tragedy will prompt more people to stay prepared … even if it's just having an emergency supply bag filled and ready near the door.

Are you in Japan? What are you doing in the wake of this event? I'd love to hear from you.

An Eerie Calm in Kashiwa

It's been less than 36 hours since a magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck the north of Japan, bringing with it tsunamis of disastrous size and proportion. Thousands have died. Thousands more are missing. Tens of thousands are injured. Millions are glued to their TVs to see what's going on and see if loved ones are safe.

The government has asked people to refrain from using a lot of water and electricity as the precious resources are put to use in the disaster areas, and many people are sticking to the quest. Homes across Kashiwa have gone dark … a single dim light seen within. Traffic, which is typically a decibel-bursting reminder that we live in a high traffic area, has been reduced to a whisper. For the first time since moving to Japan, I am able to see the stars in a residential area. The majestic beauty of these distant points of light is lost considering the dire circumstances we get to see them.

It's a scary situation.

The ground continues to shake. Tremors hit this part of Japan every few minutes, and the social networks are hit with a wave of people experiencing a whole range of emotions. Panic. Fear. Anxiety. Frustration. Anger. It's all there, in 140 characters or less for many of us.

The Long Way Home

Like many people, I was stranded in Tokyo for the night as trains were stopped or completely over-run with people desperate to get home. Throngs of people who lived relatively close to their offices were fortunate enough to walk home, though it was a six to seven hour trek for many. At 4 am anyone who was sleeping woke up to a relatively large quake that sent many of us dashing for cover. From this point, most of us couldn't get any sleep and planned the best way home.

上野駅 Ueno Station (Outside)Limited JR services started at 7:00, with more lines opening from 8:00. I left for Ueno Station by foot just before 9:00 and arrived to witness what looked like a large number of people enjoying a liesurely Saturday morning. Women in kimonos, men with fancy DSLR cameras, children playing, and elderly people feeding the seagulls. You wouldn't suspect that two prefectures were essentially wiped out the day before from the scene. Getting closer to the station, I could see people coming out of a large electronics chain with new computers and other electronics. This could have been to replace broken equipment, but didn't look any different from a normal Saturday morning.

The people of Japan have an uncanny ability to appear normal in the face of tragedy like I've never seen before.

That said, once inside Ueno Station, an impenetrable wall of people waited (impatiently and otherwise) for the opportunity to walk through the gates and board a train. What struck me as amazing wasn't so much the thousands of people waiting outside the gates to enter, but the thousands standing on the platforms. There was no room to move, and people were well beyond the safety lines when trains pulled in. Those behind would sometimes hold onto the ones in danger of falling. It was a sight to behold.

上野駅 Ueno Station (Looking At the Gates)上野駅 Ueno Station (Looking Down the Line)山の手線 Yamanote Line (Platform Full)山の手線 Yamanote Line (Platform at Distance)序盤戦 Joban Line (At Capacity)序盤戦 Joban Line (Beyond Capacity)

The trek home took a total of five hours, but Reiko and I were finally reunited outside of Kashiwa Station. Many people haven't yet been so lucky, making the moment much more significant. Hopefully everyone will get home before too long.

I've said many rather negative things about people's attitudes on public transport in Japan, but I've never seen people work so hard to get a country back on its feet after such an event. It's this kind of attitude that will ensure people who need the most help get it, and the rest of us will be available for support.

They Said Rain ...

I've often wondered what kind of person wants to be a meteorologist when they grow up. What qualities are required? What sort of goals do they possess?

In my mind, a weather person needs the following qualities:

  • an inability to look outside
  • a blind faith in computer models that have been consistently wrong since their inception
  • a strong desire to ruin the best laid weekend plans
  • the ability to lie with a big, believable smile

I honestly believe that if a professional weather person made the switch to federal politics, they would quickly be made leader of their nation. Why? Because people will know that politician is lying, but will give them just enough faith to consistently vote them into office.

We were told all last week that it would rain all afternoon on Sunday. As of 5:15, this was the view from my window:

Kashiwa Sunset