March 30, 2011

Pikachu in the Sky

Since 1998, ANA (All Nippon Airways) has been using Pokemon-themed Boeings for domestic and international flights.

The plane I was on is the most recent model, unveiled in 2004. ANA was planning to release a new model this summer and have the public vote on the new design. However, this was halted after the March 11 earthquake, and plans to reveal the winning design on TV were scrapped.

While I missed out on the whole Pokemon craze that began in 1996, I appreciated the sense of fun that was projected onto the plane. I'd be curious to see how the plane looks when it's in the sky! 

If you're in the mood, you can make your own paper Pokemon plane! Just download, print, color, fold, and glue!
The link is here:

Where Jishuku is a Mindset, Not a Necessity

(On the monorail to Haneda Airport.)

I went to Okinawa last weekend on a business trip. I got to trade the dour gray of Tokyo for...

(A doctor's office in Naha, Okinawa.)

bougainvillea-covered buildings and...
(Someone's house in Naha, Okinawa.)

random pops of color spurting from trees.
(An area in Urayasu, Chiba that was weakened by liquefaction is surrounded by bags of sand.)

After being confronted with the reality that my town is facing a looong process of reconstruction in the aftermath of the earthquake,

(A supermarket in Naha, Okinawa.)

it was wonderful to be somewhere that wasn't facing shortages of electricity or food supplies. Look at all that milk!

The word jishuku (to restrain oneself, to act with restraint) has been thrown around a lot since the earthquake. I jishuku-ed from dressing up too much for work, a friend recently canceled a trip to Hakone in the name of jishuku, and people in the Kanto area jishuku from using up too much electricity.

In the face of all this restraint, even convenience stores in Okinawa were dimming their lights, although western Japan is on a different electricity grid and therefore is facing no shortages. But I met an Okinawan filmmaker who put things in perspective: "Areas like Osaka and Okinawa shouldn't jishuku to simply show solidarity with the rest of Japan. We have to keep creating and producing and do our best to provide even a little bit of laughs or entertainment."

Perhaps in the long run, that would help shift the balance of power from Tokyo to other regions in Japan.    

March 25, 2011

Taunting the Urban Myth

In a shopping square near Kachidoki Station stands a head-scratching sculpture of a giant water bottle with a cat on top. Is this a cheeky nod to the unproven yet still widespread belief that surrounding your house with clear water bottles filled with water will help keep cats off your property?

March 24, 2011

New Realities

Escalators are now closed off on most train lines around the Tokyo area, to conserve electricity. (Elevators are still available, though, for people in need.)

The backlights of vending machines have been turned off, and in some cases, less frequently-used machines aren't being re-stocked with products. Still, the Tokyo area has more than enough working vending machines to keep people happy.

One of the things I hope will become permanent in post-Earthquake Japan is a trimming of excess: who cares if a convenience store is lit with row upon row of florescent lights? Who cares if vending machines light up in different colors? Does a clothing store really need to put your newly-bought sweater in a plastic wrap before putting it in a paper bag? I wonder how long this new consciousness will last.

The escalator ride up to this JR train platform was once accented with ads for holidays up north, but quite understandably, they've been taken down. In the days immediately following the earthquake, television commercials were dominated by AC Japan (Advertising Council Japan), who ran the most innocuous images possible, but still irritated viewers by tacking on a female voice singing "AC" at the end of each commercial. Watching the news for an hour meant you would hear that voice at least 20 times.

March 23, 2011

Fivefold Shadows

The shadows cast from a lamp that has five tiny LED lights embedded in it.

I tried to take a break from writing about the earthquake, but these photos merely remind me of Richter scale measurements.

March 20, 2011

Soy or Nothing

In Tokyo, things are calming down, with trains gradually returning to their regular schedule and supermarkets well-stocked once again. Even bread, which was hard to come by in the days following the earthquake, can be spotted again. The only noticeable absence is milk, which comes mostly from Hokkaido. Since Hokkaido is at the north end of the country, it gives you a good idea of how transportation routes around the earthquake area are still crippled.

In the several supermarkets I went to the past couple of days, milk was sold out and only soy milk was left on the shelves. In the above photo, a sign reads, "due to limited supplies we ask that you buy only one carton per person". I've been making do with powdered milk for tea, which isn't bad at all.

March 19, 2011

The Many Iterations of "Setsuden"

The gorgeous Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple, which I pass on my way to work. I love how the structure evokes everything from the Taj Mahal to a Christian cathedral. (My grandmother says it was built when Japan was in love with everything Western, hence its passing resemblance to a church. You notice it more when you look at it from the back, from far away.)

Since the earthquake, the staff have put up posters on the fence encircling the temple. They all have the same message: setsuden, to conserve electricity and prevent a large-scale blackout. There must be at least 50 posters, and each one looks remarkably different. You wonder how they managed to whip them up.

I'm proud to say that my office is doing all that we can. We're fortunate in that our area isn't scheduled for brownouts, but we use only the minimum amount of lights we need (if we had people tripping in darkness, that would be counterproductive). We've also rounded up a lot of supplies that we had in the office and sent them to the earthquake victims up north. I look at the offices that have lights blazing in the daylight, and wonder if the employees there don't feel completely helpless. Most likely the lights are positioned in a way that doesn't allow them to be partially turned off. At least, that's what I hope.

March 17, 2011

I'm Going to the River to Get Water

My area in Urayasu is still without running water. In what seems like a throwback to a different era, my mother, brother and I went to the nearby river this morning to replenish our supply. Because of the low tide, I was forced to step inside the river and stand on the barnacles that clung in masses on the side of the concrete wall. Luckily they held quite firm.

The water looks unhygienic, and it probably is. The Self-Defense Forces come by in a water truck every day, so our drinking water is plentiful, but our main objective was to get water for the bathroom. Therefore, we weren't too bothered by the color. When this is all over, the term, "If it's yellow, let it mellow" will bring back uncomfortable memories.

March 16, 2011

The Downside to Reclaimed Land

The parking lot of Tokyo Disneyland, a mess due to liquefaction. They initially announced that they would re-open on the 21st (the beginning of spring break for schoolkids), but now that date has been pushed back indefinitely.

On the bus in Urayasu. The mud that has dried on the window is from when water started to flow from the concrete roads.

It's going to take a while for all these roads to be cleaned up, much less straightened out.

It's disheartening to learn that the foundations of such a large structure are actually quite fragile.

I went out for lunch today. Other than the fact that the main topic of conversation was the earthquake and the nuclear situation, it was a nice cozy lunch. We were interrupted at one point by the screech of the fire truck (prompted by the slightly large earthquake that occurred around lunchtime?) and the sight of people walking down the hill with their suitcases, perhaps headed overseas or futher south.

March 15, 2011

Work, Post Earthquake

Differences in the workplace before and after the earthquake: we now have a TV in the office. Someone dragged in an old TV from the 80s, and it's showing earthquake news nonstop with the volume turned low. 
My computer was once surreptitiously kept on the NY Times homepage. Now, I read it openly for the latest news -- along with the pages for Yahoo! Japan and Facebook, for keeping in touch with worried friends and trading information.
Office attire, once supremely relaxed, has subtly changed to more sober fashion. My boss now wears sneakers with his suit, and a usually elegantly-dressed woman forgoes her spike heels for Converse sneakers. You never know when blackouts will force you to walk.

Othewise, the atmosphere is still very Japanese. Upon hearing that the brownouts would be happening in the area around his house from 6pm to 10pm around dinner time, one man says, "I'll work late and then go out to get a drink. Anyone else?"

March 12, 2011

The Big One

My room after the earthquake.

People in Japan always talk about "the next big earthquake", the one cataclysmic earthquake that will absolutely paralyze Japan. We've seen had horrible ones in the past, but people still had a nagging feeling that worse could be infinitely worse.

But nothing could have prepared us for this earthquake. We know the routine -- the evacuations, the excavations, the tsunami. But the complete paralysis of the metropolitan transporation system was a major shock. I'd never seen so many people walking in the streets of Tokyo. We were all taking part in the giant exodus "home", which was almost laughable because it would be hours before the subways were up and running. A common reiteration was a dazed, "If the earthquake happened 400 kilos (250 miles) away and Tokyo is this crippled, what would have happened if the epicenter were here?"

Sitting out the aftershocks at Kyobashi Tsukiji Elementary School
My office is in Tsukiji, where the first earthquake was strong enough to cause alarm in some, but only mildly distract others. Experiencing an earthquake in Tokyo, with its cramped high-rises and often-old buildings would seem like a nightmare, but luckily I was able to make my way to the nearest elementary school, a designated gathering area for emergencies. I fretted through the aftershocks with over a hundred other people.  

When this is all over, I am going to find a way to thank the principal of the Kyobashi Tsukiji Elementary School. She directed not only her own students, but workers from nearby offices in a calm, decisive manner, making sure the school grounds were clear of any potentially dangerous equipment, and then ordering the dispensal of a blanket, a woven mat, and later, candy and biscuits to everyone. To go from being a leader of your school to a leader of the community is a daunting task, and the seamless way she inhabited that role undoubtedly eased many people's minds.

The local elementary school gymnasium, which was the emergency shelter area. Many tourists spent the night here.
After, I made my way to my grandmother's, a 20-minute walk away, and spent the night in an old folks' home. Once again, I was treated very kindly by the nighttime nurses, who must have been anxious about their own families. What I was most struck by during the whole experience was the way people put aside their personal worries and concentrated 110% on helping others, from schoolteachers to convenience store workers.  

The next day, back home near Tokyo Bay. The damage was much more noticeable than central Tokyo. Liquefaction on roads was so severe, some areas looked like there had never been any roads.

A kitchen cupboard full of glasses, some reduced to fragments.

Cosmo Oil Co.'s factory, still smoking 12 hours after the fire was reported. This was taken from my window.

The pipes aren't working in my area, so the Self-Defense Forces have brought water trucks to the local elementary school. It's unusual to see Japanese people freestyling: I've seen a man carting five 500 ml bottles in a stroller, and someone using those giant glass jars you use to make pickled plum sake. Despite the seriousness of the situation, I laughed out loud when I saw two boys carrying a slippery-looking fish tank half full of water. My family? We took an old plastic tank that is generally used for filling petrol (for room heaters), but one we bought years ago precisely for this sort of emergency. We knew that we might end up using it, but we had no idea when that would be.

March 9, 2011


In the Kanda River, right near Iidabashi Station. That poor ibis, foraging for food amid urban waste.

March 8, 2011

Sliding Down the Elephant's Nose

A small, narrow neighborhood playground in Kagurazaka. The space is so confined, it feels like you're walking through a hallway or cutting through someone's backyard. That elephant slide, though: a total work of art!

Cats Vs. Dogs

In Kagurazaka. One house had decorated their windows with miniature dogs, while another had done the same with cats (click to enlarge). I wonder what happens to them in stormy weather?

The Generic Tokyo Sunset Shot

Taken on the Shin-Kiba Station platform. The Keiyo Line happens to be built in a way that allows passengers to see beautiful sunsets, albeit through a foggy haze. 

"The Social Network"'s Legacy

A Social Network spoof, where you'd least expect it. This was in the administration area of a Tokyo hospital. The poster reads, "Dr. Sato. Popular man. Dependable guy. Orthopedic surgeon."

Somehow you can't imagine The King's Speech leaving its mark on pop culture in any way.

The instantly recognizable poster for The Social Network.

March 7, 2011

Katsuura Fishing Port

Katsuura Fishing Port, in Chiba, which brings in fish from all over the country. They're especially known for their bonito catch.

Locals, spending the afternoon catching small fish with the strays keeping them company.

Occasionally the fishermen through them a bone -- or some of their catch.

Makeshift fires keep the fishermen warm.

A small shrine on the shore...

...and further out.