Friday, March 25, 2011

Ame Ni Mo Makezu

My brother-in-law, Matt Wagner over at Hellion Gallery , put up this video of Watanabe Ken ("Letters From Iwo Jima" and "The Last Samurai" for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar) reading Ame Ni Mo Makezu (Strong Against the Rain) which I found both simple and powerful.  It's a poem that expresses the Japanese "gambare" spirit well, I think (there are subtitles accompanying the video).  Matt is putting on a show next month in Nakameguro, part of the proceeds of which will be donated to Japan Red  Cross or Peace Winds Japan--click over to his site and scroll down to see an *amazing* piece by Blaine Fontana that will be in the show.

(The drawing in the medallion in the center of the blog header, in case you were wondering, is a stylized drawing from a photo of Cici on Christmas morning in her undershirt wearing a holster and holding toy six-shooters from Grandpa.  Has to have exactly what her brothers have...)

At the store yesterday, I ran into a friend.  We stood talking about how we both thought the hoarding of bottled water was both unwarranted and silly for this area, not to mention the negative impact it will likely have on the Tohoku prefectures.  She, upon noticing me glance at her bag (only one--in the usual small-amount-daily style of shopping), took out the spinach lying on top and said she bought it on purpose.  Just because people were overreacting--and because there's no reason at this point to avoid it.  The detected levels just don't warrant the hysteria (though the NHK announcers, to be  sure, are anything but hysterical...).  Less than a banana.  I-san, you *rock*.  Eat that spinach with a big glass of tap water!

Gambarimasho, Nihon!

...And No Water

Farmers in Ibaraki, Gunma, and Tochigi were pulling their spinach and other greens up by the roots last night on the news-- over less than 0.1microsieverts of radiation detected.  At Daiei today, I noticed that all the greens were from prefectures *other* than those three--with stickers over the original origin listed on signs above the produce.  Hmmmm--did they really throw out all the "tainted" greens and replace them with greens from acceptable prefectures?  Or did they just put stickers on the signs?  All over BED-level radiation, too. (Banana Equivalent Dose)   Mottainai, ne! (don't waste)

"Limit 2 2litre bottles per family"
And in the same newscast, they mentioned tap water-- that 190becquerels had been detected in the Tama River flowing through Tokyo (levels over 300bq would prompt warnings for adults).  And that, therefore, people were advised to avoid giving tap water to infants.  Adults and older children would not be affected, and to please not hoard bottled water as that would seriously reduce bottled water available to the quake and tsunami affected regions still without water service.  Yokohama was not mentioned in the newscast--only Tokyo.

So, naturally, when I went to the store this morning...

...there was absolutely no bottled water to be had...

...and not much of anything else that comes in a 2liter pet bottle, either.  They had just put out more bottled green tea with the sign (pictured above) limiting people to "2 bottles per family" (so that couples shopping together wouldn't buy four bottles--two apiece).  I expect that will also be gone by tomorrow.

On the other hand, the Mugi Cha tea bags (barley tea that *everybody* drinks) that was completely cleaned out two days after the quake, was mysteriously untouched...

I wonder what all those people who were stockpiling Mugicha last week (one reason everybody drinks it is that it's *cheap*--Y198 for 54 bags that make 1 liter each) are going to do with it now that they think they have to use Y198/2l bottled water to make it...

Sometimes it's the things that are the same no matter where you go that surprise me.

Gambarimasho, Nihon!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

730 Earthquakes

We had 4 earthquakes (which we felt as Shindo3 or less) this morning for breakfast...

That's one of them above--the strongest one (my phone went off again.  It did last night around 1:30am, too--only I left it on the counter, and had to get up to open and shut it to make it stop whooping...).

But if you want to get a real feel for just how many earthquakes there have been since March 11, 2:46pm-- go visit the amazing Japan Quake Map built by Paul Nicholls.  It moves--the color of the circles indicates quake depth, the radius indicates magnitude (which you can also see running in a window to the right of the map).  I felt my stomach tighten as the clock ticked rapidly up to 14:46... BAM.  One huge circle engulfing the Japanese archipelago, then a fireworks display of aftershocks.  730 earthquakes in 12 days.   You can highlight individual quakes by running the cursor over the window right of the map.  Take note of the magnitudes of the 6 aftershocks that hit in the hour following the main quake-- all 6.3M or higher.  At 15:15 there was a 7.9M aftershock-- and I'd just like to note that that aftershock was higher magnitude than the 1995 Kobe quake, the recent Christchurch quake (Mr. Nicholls did a map for that quake as well),  the 2010 Haiti quake, and the 2008 Sichuan quake.

Gambarimasho, Nihon.

p.s.-- to fundamentalist zealots whose tactless reaction to the 9.0M quake of March 11 I have been told  was along the lines of "well they (meaning, apparently, the Japanese in toto) shouldn't live on the ring of fire!", I offer simply this:

click to enlarge
...I think 6 billion people will fit nicely into Greenland, don't you?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cici's Drawing

Cici drew a picture for you about the earthquake-- this is how she felt during the bigger aftershock that happened while she was in school.  Everybody had to get under their desks (that's her yellow school hat and backpack on top of the desk)...   She's drawn a bubble where she's saying "Kowai, yo--" (I'm scared).  They all seem jumpy when the room starts to sway (none yesterday, but four times today).  During the blackout time this evening, my phone went off, and all three kids dove under the table.  I'm wondering how long the aftershocks will continue (and the extra mini-quakes triggered elsewhere by the main quake)...

(Just a brief post today, 'til I get all my make-up classes done...)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Panic Shopping

quake damage at the store

A little quake damage to the front steps...  and everybody rushes to the store to buy up (as the sign outside says) all the rice...
all the batteries...
all the candles...
all the flashlights...
all the toilet paper...
all the tissues...
all the cassette gas (for cooking)...


...all the tofu (or nearly all of it)...

...all the milk (they've lined up juice and ice coffee where the milk is supposed to go here)...

...a new shipment of bread on Friday-- which was completely sold out on Monday-- is nearly gone the day it's put on the shelves...

It doesn't matter which store you go to...
(these people are lined up waiting for the Welcia drugstore/market to open after the scheduled blackout time--everybody heard they had toilet paper...)

...they're all out of bread...

 ...and toilet paper and tissues.  You'll have to line up for the next shipment, because you're up against grandmas who lived through the oil shock of the seventies, and whose own mothers lived through the real privations of the Second World War.

Diapers and wipes are out most places... is Cup Noodle, though our Daiei had gotten a shipment in last Friday...

...but they had to put up signs limiting sales to "5 per customer"...

Clearly panic shopping, as most Japanese shop like Europeans--every day or every other day.  Stores, naturally, stock their shelves and plan their shipments to reflect that style of shopping.  Except suddenly everyone is shopping like Americans--buying enough for several weeks all at once.  Fears of another large aftershock have been the driving force behind the panic shopping in places like Tokyo and Kanagawa prefecture (which is Yokohama and other cities), which were shaken but otherwise unharmed by the big quake and tsunami.  We aren't the people in need--it's the people to the north, people in shelters who don't have relatives in other parts of the country to go to.  Which makes the panic shopping here (unlike panic shopping before a blizzard you *know* is coming) irritating--it's not really necessary.  At least, to me, it feels selfish--buying up food when people up north *really* don't have anything.

In fact, it felt strange to go shopping--when other people are panic buying, it spreads.  I could have gotten meat for Yakiniku (Korean barbecue) on Friday... but I felt guilty just looking at it, and didn't buy any.  In Iwate prefecture, people were paying 500yen (almost the price of the barbecue meat) for a head of cabbage.   I bought milk, not because we particularly needed it that day, but because it would be gone in another few hours if I didn't--and no telling when the next shipment would come in. natto, either.  I have *never* seen the natto section empty.  Never.  But it's useful in a blackout since it can be eaten as is--plus plenty of protein (8g) and vitamins and minerals.  We had that with rice and Nira no Tamago Toji ...

photo taken on the floor by the window for light

...and Yamaimo (japanese yam) and Mizuna (potherb mustard) salad with Yuzupon dressing (a citron/soy dressing).  A rolling blackout meal--cooked (or, in the case of the salad, put together) in the deepening gloom of late afternoon.  By the time we ate, we had to light candles (to the children's delight).  Since the stove is gas, I can cook on that and make rice ahead of the blackout (if our time is around dinnertime).

Eventually other areas will be affected because the prefectures hit by the tsunami are all big rice-producing and fruit-and-vegetable-producing areas.  And this morning's news was mainly taken up with warnings against eating spinach or mum leaves or milk from Fukushima, or the three prefectures that border it to the south (Ibaraki, Gunma, and Tochigi) as some radiation had been detected in those foods.  I expect those warnings will increase--and farmers who escaped with their lives will have lost not only their homes but also their livelihoods.   The good news today was that the SDF (self defense force) had built baths of plastic (like big swimming pools) for refugees in some areas to bathe in.  After ten days without bathing (in a country where bathing is practically the national pastime), it must have felt like heaven.  They've also gotten water service to some of the schools being used as shelters--people were smiling and laughing at being able to wash their hands.  I saw grandmotherly women cooking up large pots of food to feed refugees in the school shelters--smiling, saying "we're all in the same boat.  Gambaru shikanai, ne! (we can only persevere, and not give up)".  Gambaru shikanai--even as the numbers go up.  8450 confirmed dead this morning, 12,909 missing, 27,399 refugees.  And if you've been wondering why everybody in the refugee shelters is wearing a mask--they're trying to prevent colds and flu from going around in the crowded conditions of the shelters.

...butter, but little yogurt and no eggs...

I've been sick the last two days, so my husband (good boy that he is) went to the store on Sunday--which was quite an experience.  He went early, before opening, and so was there to hear them announcing over the loudspeaker system to "please not run in the store". 

...if it's nail polish you need, though--we've got you covered.

(I apologize for the suddenly sporadic posting-- between jet lag, rolling blackouts messing up the wireless, and a fever and swollen throat this weekend, well... gambaru shikanai!)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Aftershocks, Snow, and Reactor Fears

So sorry to everyone who has been worrying--we are (relatively speaking) fine here!  Gomen nasai! (bow)

I started  to post yesterday--but an early pick-up from school, regular English teaching duties, preparations for dinner *before* our scheduled blackout time, and the evening blackout made finishing posting difficult.  So--today.  Morning, while the kids are at school 'til noon, and we have power.  Today's blackout time for Group 3 is 3pm to 7pm.  It probably sounds bad to have rolling blackouts, but--quite honestly--when the power went off last night it made me feel better.  It made me feel slightly less guilty--guilty for being alive, for having food and water and heat and blankets.  And my family--all of them safe and where I can see them.  The power going off meant that at least there was *something* we could do.  When the lights went off at 7:00pm, sending the kids into fits of excited giggles to be rolling around on the futons by candlelight, I thought "Good!  Please send it to Iwate Prefecture--it's snowing and cold there!  They need heat!  Send the rest to Fukushima to power the pumps at the reactors!"

Trains are back up and running, though not at capacity. My husband said trains were crowded since JR and other private lines are running at 30%, or 50%, or 70% of normal (meaning that if, for example, a particular line usually runs 10 trains in an hour, now they'd only be running 3, or 5, or 7).  He went back to work Tuesday, but he's been coming home fairly early.  He was sitting in the bathtub last night when the lights went out.  Teddy helpfully shouted "Papa!  Teiden da yo!" ("power's out, Papa!").  But since there are no windows in our bathroom area, Papa already knew that.  

 I keep hearing helicopters overhead (though not nearly as many as there are to the north)--and expecting my mobile phone to go off again with an early quake warning.  They use the mobile mail network to send early warnings when quakes 6mag or above hit.  My phone suddenly flashes a blue light, buzzes and emits a loud "whoop! whoop! whoop!" over and over.  It gives you 20 seconds or so before the shock waves hit your area from the epicenter.  Night before last, a 6.0mag quake hit in Shizuoka Prefecture to the south of us at 22:31pm.  My phone immediately went off at 22:32, and about 30 seconds later the shaking started.  We felt about a 4 here.  Fortunately, we were all in bed (Teddy, bless his heart, slept through it--though Koshi and Cici woke up), so we just stayed on the futons since it's about the safest place to be.  Last night, I just slept with the phone under my pillow so I wouldn't have to get up to find it.  The main quake has triggered quakes (in addition to aftershocks at the original epicenter) in other areas quite distant from the epicenter of the 9.0mag quake.  Day before yesterday, the magnitude of the quake was upgraded to 9.0, moving it up from fifth place to fourth in the list of the strongest quakes of the century. 

This made me cry yesterday when I walked into the kitchen.

It's the ten-pound bag of rice my husband bought on Sunday.  Those reading this who can read Kanji will already be aware of what the two Kanji top left say.  Here they are closer:

It says "Fukushima"--that's where this rice was grown.  In Fukushima Prefecture, where the reactors are.  The saying is that "every grain of rice has seven gods".  Every grain of this rice now has several thousand lives.  You probably saw some of the paddies where this rice was grown on TV--as dark, muddy, debris-filled water raced across them.  Between the tsunami damage and the reactors, it will be a long while before any rice is grown in Fukushima.  Those who escaped with their lives have lost their livelihoods.

We will not waste one grain of this rice--and we will say "itadakimasu" before eating it.  That means "I humbly partake".

For those wondering about the reactors-- I wish I could offer a detailed explanation, but I am no nuclear engineer.  I, like most of you, have just now learned the word "microsievert".  I can say that radiation levels measured this morning in Yokosuka (where the navy base is--diagonally from here straight out to the coast) were 0.138microsieverts.  Which is low to normal--you can't even round up to 0.2 with that figure.  Tokyo has registered a small rise in radiation levels--which went down again within an hour.  From the Japan Times:
At a facility in Shinjuku Ward, a maximum hourly level of 0.809 microsievert was detected at around 10 a.m., but the hourly level went down to 0.151 microsievert after 11 a.m. These figures compare with 0.035 to 0.038 microsievert detected Monday, and 50 microsieverts absorbed when one takes a chest X-ray....
While the highest level, 0.809 microsievert, was observed around 10 a.m., the average between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. was 0.496 microsievert per hour.
Even if one is exposed to that level for a year, the total would amount to 4,344 microsieverts. That compares with the 2,000 to 5,000 microsieverts per year that exist in nature, the metro government said.-- Japan Times, March 16

The thing that irritates me about media treatment of this event (and any other disaster like it), is that the relatively sane reporting in the paragraphs above are from an article with the title "Radiation levels spike in Tokyo; Capital still safe says Ishihara".  They couldn't have said "detected" instead of "spike"?   I don't mean to imply that the situation with the reactors isn't serious--it is.  But the media has no business using panic vocabulary when there isn't anything for people living at a distance to panic about.  So far, the Japanese government has been extremely cautious--they made people living near the reactors evacuate as soon as they were aware of the problem (on top of all the other problems ), and increased the mandatory evacuation radius as the situation worsened.    Radiation levels are high--around the plants.  Workers have had to leave because of radiation levels around the plants, as did a Self Defense Force helicopter which was to have dumped water into the suppression pool of reactor 3.
On TV right now-- there are SDF helicopters dropping seawater onto the reactors right now.  They have fitted the bottom of the helicopters with lead, and the pilots are wearing protective clothing and are monitoring radiation levels in real time.  Each helicopter will make a run or no more than 40 minutes to limit exposure time.  There are white plumes of smoke rising from reactors 3 and 4 suggesting that water has evaporated from the pools and the rods are exposed.  "The aerial spraying operations have started at 9:48am after being delayed" (typing what I just heard on TV).  They are also going to use a police cannon to shoot water onto and into the plant reactors. A representative from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency just said they should have some power this afternoon, which will help the cooling operation (they'll be able to use the pumps to pump in seawater).  I hope it's in time.  The defense minister is going to hold a press conference in a little while.  The winds are blowing toward the southeast and should continue 'til Friday (i.e.--out to sea).

Reported on NHK just now:  4377 confirmed dead, 9083 missing.  1545 confirmed dead in Iwate Prefecture.  2244 confirmed dead in Miyagi Prefecture.  533 confirmed dead in Fukushima Prefecture--a number that hasn't changed for two or three days,  I assume because they can't get in to search for survivors because of radiation levels and mandatory evacuations.  336,000 refugees in shelters, where the temperature dropped below zero last night (and it snowed all night).  And we have to be grateful for that, because the winds bringing the winter temperatures and snows come from Siberia to the northwest, blowing toward the southeast, carrying radiation out to sea.

In any case--as the stock market amply proves-- people are easily panicked, and the media has an obligation to report necessary information during a crisis, not to selfishly pump up their own bottom lines with panic-button-vocabulary. 

Fears of another high-magnitude aftershock (through the end of the week) are triggering panic-buying in Tokyo, Yokohama, and other prefectures near the tsunami zone. bread (and that's just in the Circle K-- large supermarkets are also out)... be continued (I'll finish writing "Panic Shopping" and try to post it tomorrow--our blackout time is coming up and I have to get things ready for dinner before the power and water goes out).

Monday, March 14, 2011


My husband came on home--trains are shut down going in to Tokyo.  TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company), which services the whole Kanto area cannot keep up with demand since the reactors in Fukushima are shut down.  In an effort to keep power supplied to Tokyo and the affected prefectures to the north and the reactors themselves (to avoid a meltdown, I assume), TEPCO announced this morning that there will be rolling blackouts for the entire Kanto area they service (the 23Tokyo wards excepted) starting today until the end of April.  Our area is block 3, so we'll be out of power from 12:20pm to 4:00pm.  The principal said for the time being, school would continue as normal (5 and 6-hour classes as normally scheduled), but school lunches would be modified because of the blackout--just rice or bread and milk.

I'm watching TV right now--they're showing huge crowds of businessmen milling around Yokohama station, unable to go to work.  My husband is complaining that he thinks that's a bad idea--they should at least keep the trains running.  I don't know whether they can do that or not.  The blackouts are rolling from one area to another all day long, so at any time of day some part of any line will be out and the train won't be able to run its line anyway.  It's a somewhat confusing situation.  They've said that people should be able to use mobile phones, but internet services may be disrupted.  I'll have to go pick up the kids from school (I'm one of the Seiwanin--mom who walks the group to school) because traffic lights won't be working.
 The TEPCO spokesman is live on TV right now--and the Group 1 blackout... isn't blacked out.  Demand was lower than expected, so they didn't black that area out.  And yet--the trains weren't running this morning--my husband said the station was shuttered when he got there.  A miscommunication between TEPCO and JR East?  Suddenly, things have gotten very complicated...

Gaman shikanai--we can but have patience and fortitude (gaman includes both of those words). 

p.s.--you'll have noticed by now that I haven't posted any photos of the disaster.  That's because they are all over the news--I don't particularly have any to add, and it breaks my heart to look at them anyway.


It is a testament to how well-prepared and organized for disasters Japan is that I was able to return home on my originally scheduled flight--I thought I'd be stuck for a couple of days for sure.  Yokohama had power and water services back up within six hours of the quake, Tokyo a bit longer.  By Saturday morning, most train and subway lines in Tokyo and all (I think) lines in Yokohama were running normally.  Narita and Haneda were opened Saturday.  My flight arrived 4:30am Sunday morning.  Had I not been watching TV, I wouldn't have known from the way Tokyo and Yokohama look (at least from the train) that anything had happened an hour or so to the north.

In Sendai and coastal villages the rescue effort is non-stop.  The most recent figures I heard (on tv this morning) were 688 confirmed dead, and 642 missing.  That figure was from the National Police Agency, though, as doesn't include figures from the Sendai police, who said 200 to 300 bodies had been found on the shoreline.  Near 900 confirmed deaths, in other words--and I doubt they've even begun to find all those whose were swept out to sea.  Over twelve thousand homes are destroyed, flooded, or damaged.  Some images I saw on CNN do, however, seem to have been over-reported.  A photo I saw on the front page of this morning's newspaper showed a train that had been swept away by the tsunami.  I showed it to my husband, who said that the train had been empty--all the people on it had gotten out and fled.  Which made me feel a little better, though of course I have no way of knowing whether those people were able to flee to safety.  I want to believe that they did.


  This morning's news said 1596 confirmed dead in Miyagi, Iwate, and Fukushima Prefectures.

It is almost surreal to sit here in my house with my husband, all of my children, and two of their friends....I went out a minute ago to bang the futons and bring them in.  It's hard to believe, looking out my window, that anything at all is wrong a few hours north.

The boys told me they were scared when the earthquake hit while they were at school.  Their teacher told them immediately to get under their desks (standard earthquake drill procedure) and to cover their heads with the Bosaizukin (literally "disaster prevention cushion"--it sounds so normal in Japanese and so weird in English) from their chairs.  Every schoolchild in Japan has one--it's a required purchase when your child starts school, along with pencil cases and crayons and such.  I had to write in permanent marker their names, addresses, blood type, and my name and phone number on the cushion.

Cici's Bosaizukin (contact info is on the other side of it)

 They have 4 or 5 earthquake drills per year, plus practices that include having mothers go to school to practice exactly how to line up in the gymnasium to be directed to pick up their children in the event of a disaster.  Elementary school gymnasiums are the most usual place to go for evacuations.  Most of the photos you see of evacuees sitting on the floor of a large room are school gymnasiums.  Teddy, my middle one, was in the house by himself when the quake hit because my husband had gone up to school to pick up Cici.  Teddy said he was scared, but scooted right under the table as soon as the room started shaking.  He was still sitting under the table when Papa came back to get him--good boy.  That's the sort of nation-wide, basic-level preparation they do that reduces deaths and injuries.  The death toll in the northeast will be high because the Tsunami hit so quickly following the quake, but not as high as it would have been were Japan not so well-prepared.  In our apartment, as in most people's in the Yokohama area, some things fell off shelves.  Shelves themselves didn't fall over because they are bolted to the wall or have tension rods to the ceiling--a basic precaution that pretty much everyone follows.  The kitchen cabinets that I bought when we moved here came with tough plastic strips that I bolted to the cabinet, then into the wall to prevent their falling over in an earthquake.  Not that that helps during a massive tsunami, but almost nothing helps against a force as elemental as a huge wall of fast-moving water.


On the news last night, the Japan Meteorological Agency stated that the magnitude of the quake at the epicenter has been designated a 9.0 on the Richter scale as additional evidence became available.  This quake was felt literally throughout the country, as the Earthquake Information map from the JMA shows.  The numbers on that map are the Japanese Shindo scale of the magnitude as it is actually experienced at sites away from the epicenter.  The strongest is Shindo 7 (at the seismic station in Kurihara City), and you can see Strong 6/Weak6/Strong 5/Weak 5 radiating out from that area.  Clicking on the map linked below will zoom in on a particular area.  The Yokohama Totsuka-ku station (where we are) registered a Shindo4, while Tokyo Suginami-ku (where we used to live) registered a Strong5.  The only reason the quake numbers aren't higher is that the epicenter was at the subduction zone some 80 miles offshore.  The magnitude of the subduction zone quake, however, is what triggered the Tsunami.

Japan Meterological Agency--Map of Seismic Activity

And here's why not one single building in Tokyo fell down, in spite of seismic stations registering strong5/weak6 activity:

After the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake that hit Kobe, the Japanese did not sit around saying "everything happens for a reason". They got busy inventing some of the most amazing earthquake building technology in the world.  That quake may have bent the top of Tokyo Tower--but it didn't fall over.   The vast majority of the deaths from this earthquake will not be from the quake itself, but rather from the monster Tsunami that hit only minutes after the quake.


Concerning the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini Nuclear Reactors--last night's newspaper reported that they are using seawater to cool the cores, people have been ordered to evacuate in a 12 mile radius of the plant, and they are being checked for radiation exposure (watched that on the news last night).  At this time, there is no meltdown--they are working against multiple factors (quake, tsunami, loss of power, loss of water) to avoid a full-scale meltdown.  Here are the most recent news releases I've found (click to open the pdf file):


My husband just got up and said there will be scheduled country-wide rolling blackouts, though he doesn't know when ours will be.  I assume it's to divert power to the tsunami-affected areas that are still without power, and probably to the nuclear reactors that are in danger of meltdown (though as far as I know, there has been no actual meltdown).

I'll post more when I know more.  Thank you so much to all who commented and emailed--I can't tell you what your concern has meant, and how much it helped when I was thousands of miles from my family during the disaster.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I can hardly express what it means that so many have stopped here to let me know they were thinking of me and my family.  If you could see me, you would see me bowing in deeply felt thanks for your concern. 

If there are typos in this, I hope you will overlook it.  My hands are still shaking.  The report from Kyoto news service has just said over a thousand dead.  And that is only a beginning estimate--the bodies have only begun to wash ashore.

My husband and children are safe--and I am selfishly grateful and horribly guilty.  The quake hit at 2:46pm.  All I can think of is that that's when school gets out.  I can hardly bear to think of how many children were stuck at school or already on their way home.  First graders would have been on their way home, like my daughter.

More than 80.000 are said to be missing. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sendai Quake--Update

I have been in San Diego this week visiting my family--just me.  My husband and kids are in Yokohama.
An 8.9 quake just hit off the coast of Sendai, a city about 30 or 40 miles north of Tokyo.  A 30ft tsunami has hit the coast. I was talking to my husband about three hours before it happened.  He just happened to be at home today instead of in Tokyo--Teddy had a cold, so he stayed home.

I can't get through--I can't call.  I think they have no power.  I can't skype or email him either.  My brother-in-law and his family are in Tokyo not far from Chiba.  My hands are shaking badly enough I can hardly type this.  I have never traveled without my family.  I was supposed to fly out tomorrow--but I have no idea whether flights can still go into Haneda or not.  I don't know whether I can get home.

Yokohama is ok, I think--it's farther south.  I think they are ok, but I don't know since I can't call or get through.

This is the big one--but it hit Sendai, not Tokyo or Yokohama.

I am crying for the people of Sendai and the coastal towns that have just been swept away--no figures have been released yet.  They don't have any idea how many people have died.  My computer is on Japan time--it hit at 2:46pm in the afternoon.  People were out in cars, on trains, in buses, walking.  Children were still in school or just starting to walk home.  I can hardly bear to think how many people have just been killed.  How many children have just been killed.

I don't know whether Mr. Harris is ok or not--or whether he's in England.

I apologize if this is hard to read-- I hardly know what I'm writing.  I hyperventilated when my sister called me on skype because I didn't have the tv on.  Tsunamis will probably hit Taiwan, Hawaii, Guam, Indonesia as well.  I have family in Hawaii (Oahu) as well.

I wish I had more information.

There is a major tsunami warning for sagami bay and tokyo bay.  I still don't know anything.  I don't know where they are.  Whether they are evacuating to higher ground.  my husband was at home with Teddy when it hit instead of  at work in Tokyo, so my kids are with him and not alone.  People in Tokyo are stuck there because all public transportation has shut down.

A tsunami warning has also just been issued for the west coast of the US--including San Diego where I am now.  This area is fairly close to the coast.  They just said some areas of Tokyo are also submerged--I don't anything about Yokohama, which is a major port.


This is a link to an article from someone living in Yokohama when it hit.  I know my husband and Teddy were at home and Koshi and Cici would have been still at school.  School children know to get under furniture, or under their school desks at school.  I'm saying this trying not to imagine that Teddy might have been injured at home by something falling.  Our big cabinets are bolted to the wall, but the ones in the north room are not.  I hope he was in the tatami room lying down on the futon since there isn't that much in that room.


I just got a video Skype call from my husband.  They are all fine--I could see Koshi, Teddy, and Cici.   No one was injured.  My husband had just left the house to pick Cici up from school when the quake hit--Teddy was alone in the house.  He knew to go right under the table.  My husband ran back home to get Teddy, then they both went to school to pick up Cici and Koshi.  My mother-and father-in-law also drove over from Ofuna (20 minutes away).  They have returned home now.  Our building is not damaged, and the area seems to be ok, but is still under Tsunami warning.  I still don't know when I will be able to get home.  All flights into Tokyo are cancelled indefinitely.  I heard that the US army and navy bases are letting planes that have been stuck in the air land on the bases.

Thank you so much to all who have been thinking of me and my family.  We were the lucky ones.  It could have been much worse.

If Pat Robertson says even one word about god's justice, I will personally find him and beat his face in.


I'm going to try to lay down for a little bit.  Thank you again and again to all of you who have been concerned for my family's safety and mine.  If you could see me, I am on the floor bowing my thanks to you for your kindness.  I can hardly express how grateful I am.  I can hardly bear to think how many people--how many children--have been killed in Sendai.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Favorite Japanese Music-- Hikawa Kiyoshi Brings ENKA to a New Generation

I never cared much for so-called Enka music favored by older Japanese (it's mainly extremely sentimental ballads that musically resemble traditional Japanese music) for the first several years after coming to Japan.

Until I heard boyishly handsome (and very *young*) Kiyoshi sing what is now considered his signature piece "Kiyoshi no Zundoko Bushi", a sort of samba-fied enka piece with a fun beat but which still shows off his very strong voice.

Every time I go to my in-laws, my mother-in-law and I always run to the tv and shush everybody when he's on:-))  My husband just sits there rolling his eyes at us ("what has he got dat I ain't got?!")--but one of these days she and I are totally getting tickets and going to a concert together...

If you've never heard any regular Enka before, here he is singing a typical piece called "Banda no Chuutarou" and wearing traditional men's kimono.  Note that it's sung in a pentatonic-type scale (the "Yonanuki Tan-Onkai", or Minor Scale without Four and Seven) and uses a *lot* of melisma called "kobushi" where a single syllable is sung moving between several different notes in succession in a sort of controlled uncontrol not unlike some blues and modern rap artists (Boyz to Men did it really well).

 Here he is singing the "Zundoko Bushi" that first caught my ear (with a collage of photos--check his style;-))

Kinda catchy, isn't it?  Here's a live version of Zundoko Bushi where he's wearing an absolutely hilarious outfit (OMG--I want those pants!)

And here he is singing the traditional Soran Bushi song in a not-so-traditional suit:

So--are you hooked, or have you had enough?;-))  Let me know in the comments!

Mata asobou, ne!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Land of Cute-- Backhoes (Really!)...An Update


Isn't that just the most *adorable* little backhoe you've ever  seen?  I know-- backhoe isn't the word you expect to follow "adorable".  But-- this is The Land of Cute.   Backhoes can and will be Cutified, according to Federal Cute Code, Sec. 109b.05 effective 02/14/50.  The Ministry of Cute, Division of Public Construction, which oversees construction sites and equipment has recently ruled that turquoise is henceforth an acceptable color for use on backhoes, in addition to teal, lavender, and purple.  Magenta and orange may be used as trim.

Purple backhoe--in accordance with FCC109b.05

Hello Kitty stickers optional... ;-)
(I checked all the way around that backhoe for a Hello Kitty sticker, or at least Sugar Bunnies--but there wasn't one.  I think it was vandalized...)

 An Update...

Riding down the road a day or two ago on the way to the post office, I went by the road construction that's been going on for some time.  In fact, I'd avoided going to that post office because it was a bit difficult to get to.  Part of the road has been re-opened, though, so I decided to use that post office....and got a close-up view of the construction equipment... two shades of purple plus magenta!

   One of those darling diggers--with stickers!!  Not Hello Kitty, but nearly as good:

From the bottom:  a handicapped sticker, a Beginning driver Over-75-Driver sticker, and a Baby-On-Board sticker... (rly? Baby-On-Board-A-Backhoe?;-))

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hinamatsuri--A Recipe for Chirashizushi


Chirashizushi is what everybody eats on March 3--Hinamatsuri.  That's Koshi up there holding the Shamoji (rice spoon) getting ready to dish some up for himself and Cici.  Chirashizushi is sushi...with sprinkles!  No--not chocolate sprinkles, nor sugar sprinkles.  Egg sprinkles, ikura sprinkles, sakuradenbu sprinkles (I'll explain in a sec)...and something green, too, so you get those nice pink-white-green spring colors.  My kids *love* Chirashizushi.  What I made today (fills up a ni-dan--two level-- o-bento box) is nearly gone, and I guarantee they'll get up in the morning and polish off the rest for breakfast.

"Chirasu" is a verb--it means scatter, distribute, spread.  I like to translate it as "sprinkle", because for food that's what you do--sprinkle on top.  Chirashizushi is simply sushi rice with certain vegetables mixed in and several other things sprinkled on top.

Full disclosure:  I don't make it entirely from scratch!  I use a package that contains the vinegar/sugar liquid for the rice (because I never can get the ratio of vinegar to sugar right), and the vegetables already cut and cooked to mix in, and the nori/sesame for final sprinkles.  I also don't own one of those huge wooden tubs to put the rice in while mixing in the vinegar/sugar (steps 1 & 2 in the photo).  Not that I don't want one of those, just that they're really big and hard to store in a teeny kitchen.  If I made this more frequently, I'd probably get one, though.  As it is, I just use my big tray (I wash it well first, of course).  So don't be put off making it yourself just because you don't have one of those nifty wooden tubs.  If you find a package version in an Asian market, then all you need are a couple of eggs, soy sauce, sugar, ikura (salmon roe), snow peas (saya ingen), and if they have it at your Asian market, sakuradenbu (explained below).

First things first--make 3 "go" (cups) of rice in the rice cooker.  You can make that ahead and leave it in the rice cooker 'til you're ready to use it.  When you're ready to start, make the Tamagoyaki first (kind of like an omlette).  One egg, beaten, add just a wee bit of shouyu (soy sauce) and a teaspoon of sugar, then pour the mixture into a pan and cook it the same way you do an omlette--letting the uncooked egg flow under the cooked edge 'til it's mostly cooked, then flip it over.  Shape is not important--I use my little rectangular Tamagoyaki pan for this, but any frying pan will do.

...don't have the flame up too high (oops!).  But it was rescued in the nick of time...

I make two eggs like this.  It's fairly thin--cut in half, then into  thin strips for sprinkling.  This tastes like sweet scrambled egg (well--sweet/salt, because of the soy sauce and sugar).  There are invariably little fingers stealing bites while I'm cutting up the egg...

Set aside.  Destring and briefly boil the snow peas, slice diagonally, and set aside.

Get out the rice--put it into a wooden tub if you have one, or just use a nice big tray with a lip.  A very large piece of wax paper would do, too, in a pinch.   Pour on the vinegar/sugar mix (if you're making it from scratch--1/2 cup vinegar, 2Tblsp sugar, 1tsp salt) and cut it in using the shamoji (rice scoop) or a wooden spoon.  Fan the rice at the same time.  This is surprisingly hard to do--like patting your head and rubbing your tummy.   I generally get one of the kids to do the fanning (that's Cici's hand holding the Uchiwa fan up there in the photo).

Next, dump on the vegetables (thin sliced carrot, shiitake,  lotus root, bamboo shoot, kampyou if you can get it--this is why I like to use the package version).  I've also seen the relevant vegetables available in a jar version, sliced and cooked and in the dressing ready to go.  Either way--it's easier and faster that way.

These are what come in the package version--vinegar/sugar mix on the left, vegetables in the middle, sesame/nori sprinkles in the small silver pack.

Once you've got the vegetables well cut in, put the mixture into what ever container you're going to use.  I've used my ni-dan (two level) o-bento boxes, but Tupperware works just fine, too.  The first time I ever ate Chirashizushi, my friend brought some over in a big Tupperware box.  I loved it the first time I had it!

On to sprinkles...

I sprinkle the thin-sliced Tamagoyaki (egg sheet) on first...

Ikura comes next...
...then the Sakuradenbu (Denbu is pressed, finely shredded fish and shrimp that's had sugar added and some food coloring to make it pink--hence the "sakura" appelation.  It's the same color as cherry blossoms:-))

And on top of the pink, put some green--I used snow peas, briefly boiled and sliced diagonally.  I've also seen Mitsuba (chervil) used, which is pretty also.

Final sprinkle is the nori and white sesame seeds.  Dekiagari! (Done!)


...and if you're still feeling adventurous, you can try Amazake--very sweet, thick, milky-looking sake.  It's basically sake in the very early stages of fermentation, so it has less than one percent alcohol.  People let kids drink small amounts of it.  Actually, I think everybody only drinks small  amounts of it (I can't imagine drinking more than about half a cup of it).  Teddy liked it--Koshi and Cici....not so much:-))  I noticed my husband making a face, too--there are plenty of Japanese who don't care for it.  So don't feel bad if you try it and aren't crazy about it.

So next time you're up for a Kitchen Adventure--head over to your nearest Asian supermarket and see if they stock the things for making Chirashizushi!

Ip---pai tabenasai! (please eat a lot!)
Mata asobou, ne!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

SpyShopper-- Snacks for Hinamatsuri


Hinamatsuri, in addition to the Dolls being put up, has several snacks and foods associated with it, one of which is pictured above.  It's Hisamochi, though you don't eat it as is.  Mochi has to be grilled first so that it gets soft and chewy.  This is the one snack that is also a part of the doll sets--you can usually see plastic versions on little stands (yesterday's post shows it as next to the Minister of the Right), and generally in the Three Colors of Spring pictured above.

My kids' favorite, though, is Hina Arare--also in white, pink green. Traditionally, I think this is roasted mochi pieces, but the kind we get seem to me more like a puffed rice snack.  "Arare" just means diced or chopped with reference to food, so it must mean (I think) the small pieces of this snack.  This kind is sweet (a little), sweetened with sugar instead of soy sauce.  I got a couple of bags for the kids...well, ostensibly for them;-))  And like all Hinamatsuri snacks, this one is decorated with the Emperor and Empress and the lanterns and plum blossoms. 

Even snacks like caramel curls (which are out all the time) will put out special packaging runs for Hinamatsuri.  See how the character of the bag has been turned into the Hina Emperor (left, holding his shaku, wearing his little hat, lantern to the side)On the right is special run Peach flavor (pink and white curls), with the character representing the Empress (see her gold crown?).

Today they got Koala no March, a snack they like year-round (chocolate-filled cookie puffs, a little like small ravioli but made of thin cookie.  And chocolate inside--reason enough to eat anything)...

Koala HinaDoll Cookies!

On Mar 3 (tomorrow), they'll get these beautiful snacks I found, each with a plastic plum blossom twisty-tied on.  Plum Blossom hard candies on the left, Hisamochi-shaped jellies in the middle, and another hard candy made to look just like those round, clear pieces of glass (like flat marbles) used for games (the name escapes me at the moment--I'll update when I remember).

candies displayed at Daiei on tiered cloth-covered shelves 

And this year, for special, we're going to try drinking a little AmaZake--sweet sake.  It's sake, but the alcohol content is very low, since is isn't completely fermented.  It's a bit like drinking slightly sweet, slightly alcohol-y rice that's gone to mush.  It's thick, not clear like regular sake.  Some people like it, some don't (my husband doesn't care for it).  I did not, however, buy that huge bottle of it (*mercy*!  It'd be in the fridge for the next twenty years, I'm sure)...

...I just got a small can, so they can taste it.  Ama Zake is drunk warm both for Hinamatsuri and for New Year's (they were handing out small paper cups of it at the area where we went to watch the Hakone Ekiden Marathon)...

I'll let you know whether they like it or not!

Even Daiei had a beautiful Hina-Ningyo set out (Ningyo = Doll) above the snacks (along with the Hinamatsuri song playing on continuous loop...).  I thought their set was somewhat unusual, in that is has three tiers, but instead of the Court Musicians (the usual third tier), this one has The Ministers of the Left and Right!  My favorites!  I'm sure Lewis Carroll could work them in to Wonderland...;-))

Mata asobou, ne!
Tomorrow:  Recipe--Chirashizushi for Hinamatsuri