Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Friday, April 01, 2011

Life in the Wake of the Great Quake, pt. V: Beyond the Hills

Life in Namegata, where I live, and in Kashima, where I work, seems to have returned to normal. As I've mentioned before, both areas benefited from the fact that they mostly stand atop granite hills. Namegata was without electricity and phones for only three full days after the Great Quake. Central Kashima never lost its power, and its phones were back online within a day. Both cities had their running water and sewer services restored within five days. Damage to roads and buildings in both cities was minor. Of course, we had to deal with the shortages of gasoline and certain staple food items, but we dealt with it, and life went on.

Now, three weeks after the Great Quake, all the regular businesses and services in Namegata and Kashima are up and running. I and my family are able to go about our normal lives more or less the same way we did a month ago. The routines are back in place. Everyday things are taken for granted as before.

And yet, even now, everything changes once you come down from the hills.

I tried to make a routine trip over to the little Apita shopping center in Inashiki City a few days ago, and reality hit me square in the face again. Route 51, the main boulevard linking southeast Ibaraki Prefecture with Mito (Ibaraki's capital) and Chiba City, was suddenly filled with dips (I mean besides the usual idiot drivers) and ruptures. I turned off onto one of the side streets leading into Apita and was shocked to find myself driving on mud and rocks; the road, along with almost all the smaller streets in the area, was just plain was half of Apita's parking lot. The shopping center itself was closed. I tried again yesterday and found half of it open (including my favorite little import goods shop, thank goodness!).

An even worse scene of devastation greeted me when my kids' juku (cram school) finally reopened in the Hinode district of the city of Itako. I don't think I saw a street there that didn't look like giant hands had pried it apart. Some had pavement that had shattered as if it were glass. Not surprisingly, several roads were blocked off. A lot of areas had subsided as the soft ground, set on reclaimed marshland, had liquefied and flowed away. Almost all the poles were leaning, as were some of the buildings. Some areas were reportedly still without water weeks after the quake.

The city of Kamisu, just downhill from Kashima, got it even worse. As I've mentioned before, it sits on a giant sandbar. Not only did it get shaken apart, but parts of it took the brunt of the tsunami. The scenes of devastation are nothing like those still seen on TV from further north, but it's still sad. As for me, I've had no reason to go that way, so I've been staying away on purpose, but my friend Pandabonium has posted pics and videos from Kamisu on his blog.

We should never forget how fortunate we really are to have been safe atop our hills.

Even so, there are little changes here and there that remind us life is still not fully back to normal. Most businesses are closing early, and those that stay open after dark are keeping their outdoor signs and parking lot lights turned off to ease the burden on the damaged power grid. Certain food items continue to be scarce, many of which we never really thought about much until they vanished, such as spinach and parsley (banned from sale because of radioactive contamination). Milk is available now, but many of our most familiar types are still gone (also banned from sale due to contamination). Although I'm not a smoker by habit, it's still strange to see normally packed cigarette shelves standing empty and the ubiquitous cigarette vending machines switched off (as tobacco has also been banned from certain areas due to contamination). Many if not most stores are limiting purchases of bottled drinks (PET bottle rationing). Moreover, certain popular drinks, such as Coca Cola, have suddenly vanished with no explanation given. (On the other hand, Dr. Pepper seems to have suddenly become more abundant than before.) So while life in general seems to be back to normal, a lot of our usual comforts are either still missing or have taken on a strange, new form.

Radiation? Last I heard, we were still in the nanosievert range, i.e. no health risk. They say the biggest problem now is intensely radioactive water leaking out of the reactors into the tunnels under the buildings at Fukushima No. 1. They hope to stop it from getting into the ocean. They've also said that another nuclear plant up there, No. 2, has been steaming a bit. Whatever.

This is reality, Ted. It's what we live with. And at least I was able to get this year's tunes submitted to the Torycon all-Japan amateur recording contest.

(I'll try to add some pics to this post once I get some usable ones available.)


  • We went grocery shopping in Kashima today. No milk, yogurt, etc. No orange juice except single serving boxes. Minor inconveniences really.

    I monitor a website that shows radiation levels for 40 or so sites in Ibaraki (the southernmost being a bit north of us, ie closer to the reactors), updated every 10 minutes. Nothing alarming, and in fact it has declined from the (not very high) peak of a week ago at the rate of about 10% per day, so is less than half of what it was.
    The website is: Ibaraki Environmental Radiation Monitoring Center

    To get a sense of the levels: at current levels which are in the nanosievert range as Moody says (and mind you are decreasing rapidly), one would have to stand out of doors naked 24 hrs a day for four years to receive the minimum allowable dose of 20 mSv per year reactor workers. (Also, any time spent indoors cuts the radiation by a factor of 10).

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 10:22 PM  

  • Thanks for the update, MM. Good to know that your city and the city of your school are back to normal.

    As for radiation, some Japanese restaurants here are assuring customers that their food is safe for consumption.

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 12:06 AM  

  • Pandabonium
    You can still find orange juice or milk. You just have to look around. Yesterday there was no milk at our local supermarket, but there was some at the Terashima Drugstore across the street.

    The level of radiation in the air is no longer the problem; it's the radioactive water leaking out of the reactors. It has already found its way into the ground water around the plant. They're hoping to keep any more from getting into the sea, too.

    Another problem is that radioactive contaminants can build up over time in leafy vegetables and grazing animals such as cows. That's what probably caused the most deaths after Chernobyl; people drank milk from local cows and ate locally-grown leafy vegetables and got thyroid cancer. The level of contamination here is nowhere near as bad as it was there, but the government is still playing it safe.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:22 AM  

  • Happysurfer
    It'll take a lot longer for the fear to dissipate than the heat and contaminants from those reactors.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:23 AM  

  • Moody said, "We should never forget how fortunate we really are to have been safe atop our hills."

    Indeed. It is as if we live on islands that are insulated to large extent from the raging seas around us.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 9:26 PM  

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