Monthly Archives: March 2011

News Photography

Update, links, a couple of pictures

Things are quiet in Tokyo this week.  My family left on Saturday, and this Monday I started my regular commute to work (I was staying at their apartment while they were here, which was only a 10-15 minute walk away from the office).  The Tokyo Metro seems to be running almost normally for the most part.  However, the darkened areas (due to efforts to minimize electricity usage) of the underground are a reminder that things are not back to normal – and are not likely to be for a while yet.

Efforts to contain the damaged nuclear plants in Fukushima continue, though right now it seems to be progressing at a rate of 2 steps forward, one step back as the radiation dangers around the immediate area force workers to proceed with extreme caution.  There’s a sense of helplessness (at least from my part) since there is really nothing the average person can do expect hope and pray that things will come under control soon.  We in Tokyo are safe, but not far away are people putting their lives on the line.

This is probably old news for all Japanese readers, but still thought I’d post the English information pages on the possible power blackouts.  Energy usage now is fairly stable and the power blackouts are minimal, but as the humid summer months come, people are expecting that electricity outages will resume again in the near future.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company site (English)

Google Crisis Response Blackout Information (English)

General advice from Yahoo on how to conserve power (English)

Metropolis documentation of Iodine-131 and Caesium-137 in Tokyo tap water

The English NHK website

Spring is definitely on its way, and the weather is getting nicer every day.  However, just about 250km away, people are struggling to contain a crisis that has the potential to impact not just Japan but the rest of the world.  It’s rather surreal.

I’ve uploaded a couple of pictures I took of early spring buds while my family was here.  It is odd to realize how much more I appreciate their beauty in times like these.

Humor News

Careful of those bananas!

In its usual humorously informative way, XKCD created the following chart which provides another measure of understanding radiation exposure.

Exposure to 1 Sv all at once (as opposed to spread out over time) is dangerous, and qualifies as minor radiation sickness.
1 Sv =  1,000 mSv (millisievert) / 1 mSv = 0.001 Sv
1 Sv = 1,000,000 ?Sv (microsievert) / 1 ?Sv = 0.000001 Sv

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More information can also be found HERE.

And from Wikipedia as well.

Experiences News

Spring’s on the way

Just a brief update in the vein of my previous “Things are ok” post… on Saturday I went out with my parents and J2 to the Yasukuni shrine.  The city (and shrine) was subdued in atmosphere, simply because things were so empty.

There were still plenty of signs of life though, and at the shrine the first of the annual sakura (cherry blossoms) were also starting to bud.  I took ALOT of pictures, but will upload those when I have access to my computer later so I can process the raw files.

For now though, here are just a few I took in jpg format.

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Link from Metropolis (daily radiation levels)

I don’t know if there are any sites in Japanese that also show this information, but just came across a page on the Metropolis site that offers measurements of daily radiation levels.  It’s not official by any means, but for English readers, another source of information…

News Thoughts

Things are ok in Tokyo (so far)

It seems that all the foreign TV channels are throwing a fit on how disastrous things are in Japan.  “ZOMG it’s the end of the world and Japan is gonna sink/explode/mutate/get eaten by a relative of Godzilla”.  That is not the case.

Yes, things are bad in Fukushima, with the threat of the radiation from the damaged nuclear plants.  Things are even worse for the many of the prefectures in the Tohoku region, as they continue the search for survivors of the tsunami/earthquake in 0 degree weather, struggling to get food, running water, and basic necessities for the thousands of families that have been displaced in the wake of the disaster.  They are the ones who are feeling the worst of the disaster and all our thoughts, prayers, and support should go towards them.

But the rest of Japan is for the most  part doing just fine.  At worst, all we’ve had to suffer are power blackouts and a shortage of some foods in supermarkets.  Many companies ARE advising people to work from home, but otherwise it’s business as usual.  I’ve been especially fortunate – my family has been visiting (though so far it hasn’t been much of a vacation…) and I’ve been able to stay at their apartment right in the center of Tokyo, which (so far) has escaped the power outages.

I’ve been going in to the office every day (it’s a 10 minute walk away from my parent’s apartment), and though traffic is maybe a little lighter than usual, there are still plenty of people, cars, taxis, and buses out and about.   Train schedules have been disrupted in an effort to decrease power usage, but they are still running – it just means you may be waiting a little longer at the station than normal.

I’m not trying to downplay the gravity of the situation.  Things are not good, and definitely could get worse, but frankly, much of the international news we’ve seen is downright alarmist.  Sensationalist news sells, but does little to reassure friends and families both in Tokyo and overseas.  Fact is, right now, most of us are doing ok.

If you want to help, please donate to the relief efforts that are working closer to the radiation danger zones.  Pray for the families that have lost loved ones.  Pray that the engineers working night and day at the damaged nuclear plants are successful in cooling down the damaged reactors.  Thank you.

Link to Japan Red Cross

Link to Google Crisis Response

If you read Japanese, here is a list of items people need
(you can buy items online and choose to ship to the following address:

2-8-1, Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo 163-8001,
Tokyo Metropolitan Government , Second Government Office bldg.,
1st floor center, North Eastern Pacific Earthquake Emergency Provisions Desk


The aftershocks continue (Sendai Earthquake)

The last few days have been surreal. As most of the world knows by now, the northern part of Japan was slammed by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake on March 11, around 14:46. Even as I type this out, my computer monitor is wobbling from yet another aftershock (have experienced 5 today so far), one of dozens that continue to jolt Japan.

When the earthquake hit, I had taken a day off from work to drive my family to the supermarket. We had just rented a car and were sitting idling in the rental car lot setting up the GPS when suddenly the car started shuddering. I initially thought it was because of a train passing underground, but the shaking just got worse. We were all getting more and more alarmed but I still didn’t think much of it until I looked across the street and saw the building in front of me literally rippling and swaying hard enough almost hit the neighboring structures.

The electric cables were swinging madly, the traffic lights and street signs rocking back and forth, and everything just became overwhelmingly chaotic as dozens of people ran out of their buildings. It only lasted for about 3-4 minutes, though with the constant aftershocks, it felt like it kept on going forever.

Believe it or not, after the worst of it was over, we still decided to head to the supermarket, figuring that was the end of that. It was only after we arrived at the supermarket that we saw live on TV the devastation that the tsunamis were causing. By this time, email and cell communications were down and we were having difficulty getting in touch with others.

(Some Before and After images of the Japanese landscape.)

We didn’t spend too much time at the supermarket. The sobering images on TV, as we saw the water sweep houses and cars away, made just want to head back home as soon as possible. It took us a solid 4+ hours to drive the 7km back to the apartment. Traffic was packed so badly it sometimes took us an hour to move 500 meters. Off in the distance we could see the smoke from the fires that had broken out at an oil refinery.

We now know that this earthquake was the largest to hit Japan (in recorded history), and that the shocks were felt as far away as the United States. The 9.0 quake was enough to move the entire main island of Japan some 16 feet/5meters to the east, shift the earth’s axis by almost a foot, and increase the speed of the earth’s rotation.

Today, the 3rd day after the quake hit, it feels almost like it’s back to business in Tokyo. People are at work, I’m in the office, and if it weren’t for the frequent tremors and the news that power blackouts will be starting soon, it would almost feel like a normal day. However, the news on TV shows us how bad it is just a few hours north, with entire towns washed away by 30-foot waves, the leaking nuclear reactors, and thousands missing or dead. I can only pause to thank God how lucky I and my family and loved ones have been, and to continue to pray for those who have are still struggling to recover from this tragedy.