Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Quake gallery

This pretty amazing collection of pictures comes from the Flickr 'quakebook' pool, and includes publically sourced photos associated with the 2:46 Quakebook project. I think that sometimes still photos can convey the emotion of the current situation in many parts of Japan even better than news footage.

The book itself, which started with a tweet and has all proceeds going to the Japanese Red Cross, collates stories from people on the ground in Japan when the earthquake hit and those directly affected yet further afield.

As the sender of the first tweet that launched the book project said today:
...alone we are useless, together we can create something amazing, selfless, to benefit others, and by so doing, improve ourselves.
Mmm, the power of the internet...crowdsourcing...it's got me thinkin' too...

***donate via Google Crisis Response***

Monday, March 28, 2011

A report from the disaster zone

Footage from Matsuzakiozaki city, 18th March 2011 (video by Peace Winds Japan)

When I was involved in producing the 'Peace Not War Japan' album, I worked pretty closely with people at Peace Boat (PB), East Asia's biggest NPO. Members of the PB team are currently working in the disaster zone in Eastern Japan as part of relief efforts for affected people.

Below is a report from one of the regions by a member of the PB team working there, reproduced with permission of the translator Meri Joyce. Many thanks for letting me repost, Meri, and best of luck to your staff and volunteers working there.


Peace Boat’s advance assistance team (including staff members Kobayashi Shingo, Ueshima Yasuhiro and Ueno Yoshinori) was joined yesterday by six more members, then early this morning four more including a professional photographer and a chef. We are now working with a total of 13 people on our team here.

At the moment, Shingo is working to run the secretariat of the volunteer centre set up by the Social Welfare Council. He's currently taking on the responsibilities of 3-4 people worth, including hosting and briefing different NGOs, NPOs and individuals coming in, dividing up areas for people to work in, booking and so on. He is now working very closely with full trust of the Social Welfare Council.

Yasuhiro is coordinating volunteer staff to help prepare meals at evacuation centres, deliver these meals by truck to survivors staying outside of the centres (people still at their own homes, living in private centres etc), and helping cater to affected areas where official support is not yet able to reach.

Today they put out some food that was left over in front of the city office, and amongst a huge queue 200 meals disappeared in an instant. Amongst the crowd, a mother with a young child told us that 'we haven't had anything to eat. All I've been able to give my child to eat was snow.' This is the situation now, even two weeks since the disaster. The team is now also working to clean the evacuation centres, clear debris and mud, make the roads functional etc.

From now, we will stay at the evacuation centres and be side by side with the survivors to learn about their latent needs, the situation in the different evacuation centres, and to deal with issues as they come up. This will also serve to prepare the work we can give to volunteers who will be arriving from this weekend.

We will also start to clear the huge amounts of mud in the evacuation centres and throughout the town.

At the moment, the hygiene situation in the evacuation centres is slowly but definitely getting worse, and there are already cases of influenza and noro virus.

Also, the temporary portable toilets are not able to keep up with the vacuum, and many are overflowing. Some evacuation centres do not even have such toilets, and so people are forced to go to the toilet anywhere outside. This leads to further deterioration of the hygiene situation both in the centres and throughout the town, which we have to urgently work to improve.

At the same time, we are also laying the foundations for a system and environment capable of hosting the many volunteers who will be arriving from this weekend.

To be honest, until a few days ago we really didn't even know where to start and what to do, but as the days go by it is becoming clearer, information is being collected more and more, and it feels like we are able to get more of an idea of what we need to do. We are also being greatly encouraged by the strength of the people here.

We visited some old women sleeping on blankets in classrooms at a school that is now an evacuation centre, and while making small talk also asked about their lives at the centre. Just one look shows how tough their situation is, but when we asked what they needed one woman told us 'well, even though I am old, I am still a woman, so we would like hand mirrors or foundation. But actually my skin is really good at the moment!' Although she had lost her home and all her belongings to the tsunami, she was still able to make such jokes.

The children are inventing games like we have never seen before, using tires or rubble lying around - although of course this is dangerous.

They are also making jokes saying 'you smell like farts!' when they are surrounded by the smell of rotting fish that is throughout the town. When I walked past a young boy and his father at an evacuation centre, I heard the son say 'Dad, gambatte (do your best.) It's not always going to be like this.'

Of course in such a situation where life and death is so close to each other, everything isn't so nice as that.

Yesterday, the dead body of a young child was found at an evacuation centre. This is even ten days after the disaster. The debris and mud throughout the town hasn't yet been cleared, but as it is there will no doubt be many more bodies found.

As the days go by we hear more and more ambulance sirens in the town.

This is the reality here.

When you look at the situation it really makes you want to be blindfolded, to pretend you haven't noticed. But even within this situation people are living with such strength, and we are reminded of this every day.

We are thinking really hard about what it means to live, what it means to have a life.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Message from a Nagasaki granddaughter

Emotions can move in wildly different directions after tragic events such as the recent series of disasters in Japan. Some in the areas most affected can veer into deep despair at the devastation or anger of the scale of loss. Others look to find positivity and ways forward, despite the immediate challenges they face. Others still get on with the job and just do what they have to do, as the before and after photos in this article demonstrate (six days and a brand new road - that's pretty impressive!).

Those living further away from disaster zones are also subject to such variances in mood, such as the uncertainties being reported amongst Tokyoites over the ongoing safety of the city (e.g. aftershocks, radiation clouds, unsafe drinking water). Further afield again, there is the pain felt by expatriates and others, not in the country but still umbilically connected via family, friends or heritage. Personal examples I've seen are people in the Japanese community at the college where I work and in the wider community of Brighton who have been galvanised into action to raise funds for their countryfolk and reconstruction efforts.

One such message of positivity and action, discovered via one of my social networks, comes from Nagasaki. It was written by the granddaughter of a survivor of the atomic bombing of that city, and it reproduced in full here, with permission of 'Ten Thousand Things' (the site where it originally appeared).

There were a number of reasons for republishing it here:
  1. The message of positivity amidst all the gloom, and the subsequent desire to spread others' good words.
  2. The list of linked (generally grassroots) resources that it contains.
  3. The link that runs from the past (the experiences of Nagasaki), through the present (the effects of the Touhoku quake), and on to the future, with the message for a new way forward.
  4. The lessons for those not affected by the quake/after-effects. For example, although in global/international discourse there is no longer talk of First World, Second World and Third World, a distinction is invariably made been the developed world and the developing world. This piece of writing is the first time I've heard reference to an 'overdeveloped' world. This suggests to me that highly urbanised, largely post-industrial societies such as those of Western Europe, North America and Japan itself, societies of hyper-consumption and economic mirages, are not just ends in themselves that all other nations should aspire to become - a final stage in the evolution of national societies - but examples for the world of what happens when 'growth at all costs' becomes the dominant mantra.
  5. The lessons that Japan has for the rest of the world as it recovers from this disaster.
I'll end this post with a quote from the article below that urges a rethink over the use of nuclear power, and then hand over to the writer:
Today, it seems Japan is once again being poised as a teacher. The wounds emerging from this crisis serve to underscore, once again, just how much the splitting of the atom remains a volatile global threat at many levels: personal, community, state, and environmental.


'Rise like Tsunamis after the Earthquakes' - an open letter speaking to grief, hope and sharing resources for healing

Greetings. My name is Crystal Uchino, and I am writing from my home in the southern prefecture of Nagasaki, Japan.

A somber dirge continues to play in the hearts of all of us here across Japan in the wake of this earth-shaking, tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis. This trifecta of disasters is truly beyond humbling: It is a living, grotesque and sobering nightmare that will haunt the world to come. As the after effects of both the earthquake and the tsunami continue to be revealed, so grows the depths of sadness over the magnitude of the situation. Watching events unfold over the news daily in real time delivers new quakes to test the resilience and endurance of our hearts, faith, the depths of our empathy, grief and determination to act.

The death toll has continued to climb daily, as does the number of homeless and seeking shelter from nuclear fallout. Additionally the conditions within the shelters appears grim: inadequate infrastructure to provide sufficient food, warmth, and sanitation. New explosions at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, and large aftershock tremors continue to rock this already shaken nation. The apocalyptic images we see on television news conjure memories of the damage reaped by the atomic bombs dropped here over sixty years ago, as the possibility for a new generation of Hibakusha ('nuclear explosion-affected peoples') emerges as a frightening reality.

Today, it seems Japan is once again being poised as a teacher. The wounds emerging from this crisis serve to underscore, once again, just how much the splitting of the atom remains a volatile global threat at many levels: personal, community, state, and environmental. Japan, despite past injuries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and its seemingly anti-nuclear principles (non-production, non-possession, and non-introduction of nuclear weapons) has become a world leader in nuclear development and production. According to Green Action Japan, before the quake, there were 53 nuclear power plants in operation in Japan: 53 nuclear power plants in a small island country notoriously vulnerable to earthquakes and other natural disasters.

My heart and prayers are with the people of Fukushima and the Tohoku area; it is they who are now shouldering this horrific burden so that the world may be reminded again of just what a painful and costly responsibility we bear when we allow bad stuff to enter our communities.

Around the globe, people are awakening to the reality of our fragility and vulnerability surrounding the dangers of all forms of nuclear development. Barely a week has passed since the initial earthquakes, but as a world we have grown up in ways that we had never hoped to; and with our newly realized maturity, we are challenged look ourselves in the face, to grapple with this saddest of lessons, and answer the question of how we will begin to take responsibility for our part in allowing bad stuff to enter our communities, on both the local and global scale.

The desire to help, to constructively affect the situation here in Japan, is echoing around the world. And the ways each of us can tangibly work to affect some immediate relief are just beginning to be known. Still, because I have gotten so many requests from folks for suggestions on how they can support things here, I wanted to share some of the initial resources I know of with you. These links offer the best grassroots alternatives to donating to the Red Cross that I know of at this time.

Second Harvest Japan: This group has been working at the community level feeding people in Japan for years.

Japan Volunteers: A great resource page consolidating links to support relief efforts, relevant to folks living in Japan and oversees. It is being updated daily with new resources as they develop.

Call for Home stay for Earthquake Evacuees (Only for folks currently living in Japan)

Translators United for Peace: For those who are bilingual. 日本の原発奴隷――原子力発電所における秘密

A friend of mine once wrote some song lyrics calling for people to 'RISE LIKE TSUNAMIS AFTER EARTHQUAKES'. It is a most hopeful metaphor for me in this time. And today, I received these words in an email from another friend: 'When Mother Earth speaks, all we can do is listen. But when humans' dangerous passion for energy consumption has wreaked such toil on her children, then we must act'.

The current genpatsu nanmin ('nuclear power refugees') have translated the reality of nuclear development into a language that the world can feel. Humanity is speaking clearly, and I feel as a result of this new communication, though painful, that many beautiful, hopeful and inspiring things have been brought to the surface. I have been so moved by the feelings of sincere and unconditional caring and support I have received from friends, family, and even strangers this last week; and equally as moved by the demonstrations and vigils manifesting in a multitude of forms that have been erupting with passion all over the world.

You may think me young, naive, callous or even insane to bring up politics in a time like this. But I tell you that I have prayed at the graves of unborn aunts and uncles murdered by the atomic bomb disease and I feel entitled to tap into ancestral lessons this week. It is from my vantage point of both proximity and distance from this crisis as a current resident of southern Japan; from my vantage point of both proximity and distance from the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima as the granddaughter of a Nagasaki Hibakusha, that I say with great hope and longing that this darkest of nightmares may serve as a catalyst to once again pump life into the stagnant pools of the anti-nuclear movement, to overflow them so that the energies built and created there may also nourish other movements. To me, the words 'activist' and 'healer' are interchangeable.

This tragedy has been an ugly and unsought vindication of many undersupported social-justice struggles, most poignantly the anti-nuclear movement, which warned about this eventuality time and again. Most people sat in silent denial as more nuclear power plants were constructed, not just in Japan, but around the world, and many people sit even now in disbelief, quietly burying their fears as development plans for hundreds of more (albeit 'safer') nuclear reactors remain on the discussion tables concurrently with the grotesque suffering of tens of thousands of displaced peoples. But in this cold and dark time resides new growth. A new spring is beginning and each day we rise anew, we each are gifted an opportunity to carve out a more sincere definition of accountability, to hold ourselves and each other responsible in new ways. Although our recent wounds are still gaping, still throbbing, the time is now for us to rise like tsunamis after earthquakes and once again recommit ourselves to the healing of the future for the next generation.

I've spent several days writing and revising this letter, it started out as some brief resource suggestions to friends but morphed into this. I was propelled to keep writing by my desire to combat the helplessness I feel sitting here, relatively safe, overdosing on miso, kombu, and the news in the southern prefecture of Nagasaki, Japan, as coordinated relief efforts have not yet begun taking volunteers. This time of mourning has given me a good opportunity to reassess what I hold important and clear out some clutter to make room for the work that lies ahead. Many exciting possibilities for new growth and new cooperation are resonating in the undertones of this funeral song. Those of us living in the overdeveloped world have become so accustomed to the ubiquitous take take take lifestyle that we have forgotten how to stretch our arms, to reach them out, to reach them up! in times when our spirits long to do so the most. This is an open letter to anyone feeling helpless at this time: let us relearn the actions.

It is my hope that some of the things said and resources within these words will be useful to you, please feel free to share them with others. The links below are also great places to continue to sober up through educating ourselves and get inspired for the long term work that is to come.

Nuclear Information and Resource Service: Updates on the situation at Fukushima and simple ways to engage in the movement to end nuclear dependency

Democracy Now: Sober news reporting.

Midnight Apothecary: Some recipes, because protection, healing, and action begin inside the body.

Anti Atom Demo in Germany

Anti Atom Demo in France

A look into the history of 'Japan's Nuclear Nightmare'

This is a great sticker

An excerpt for an article from Color Lines:

A little over a week before an 8.9-magnitude earthquake ripped open a fissure in the Earth, triggered a deadly tsunami and set off a potential worldwide nuclear catastrophe, House Republicans introduced a bill to permit 200 more commercial nuclear reactors in the U.S., 'enough to triple current megawatt capacity, by 2040'. Tucked into that bill is a clause that revives the long debate around nuclear waste storage in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, a move that Native American and environmental groups have been resisting for decades.

Japan quake radioactive material monitoring post MAP

Blog post by a Tokyo resident connecting a bunch of dots and sharing a bunch of really great links

Many of the words flowing from this page have been pretty heavy, so I wanted to share just one small anecdote with you.... This past weekend I went to the post office. And so I'm at the post office right, and there are people lined up out the door of the post office sending bags of rice and boxes of water or fresh vegetables to loved ones up north and I thought to myself...'What kind of apocalypse is this?...No one can get food or water, but they can get mail?!'

On that note, I end this letter in solidarity and with hope, taking comfort in the knowing that the same moon shines light down on all of us. Each day I wake up to the budding and flowering of the ume, momo, and the sakura as well are beginning to bloom, as if to say 春が来るよ ('Spring is coming!').

Crystal K. Uchino

Sunday, March 20, 2011

198 Methods on Non Violent Action

Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.
I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.

A week is a long time under the eyes of the global media. Events in Japan managed to stay on screens and front pages for just about that long, until last night when 'Allied forces' started missile attacks on Libya. The hunt for drama and stories is a hunger that must be constantly fed, thus all eyes moved on. Explosions carry far more drama than firehoses (the main story coming out of Fukushima Daiichi).

While there are many arguments given in favour of outside military intervention in Libya's internal conflict, some even hard to refute, a stepping up of aggression inevitably leads to more trouble down the line, more deaths, and easy propaganda coups for those such actions are directed against (in this case Gaddafi).

Should there not be a long and drawn out conflict, in Britain Cameron may well come out of this with his own 'Falklands moment' - a comparable incident that turned around Thatcher's unpopularity and laid the groundwork for a decade of Thatcherism - making it harder to turn back the tide of cuts and changes in this country. This may be of little importance to the Libyan people opposed to Gaddafi, but could be but one consequential turning point in Britain felt for many years to come.

Peaceful objection to militarism of any sort is harder to justify in the face of the slaughter of innocents, but I think that as more and more countries slide into bombing campaigns, it's worth taking a moment to pause and consider other methods of non violent action. Maybe none of the actions that are described in the content of this post would make a jot of difference to what Gaddafi seems to be doing, but they certainly had some effect in Egypt and Tunisia this year.

Dr. Gene Sharp created a list of 198 methods of non violent direct action that can be used to express opposition to an individual, government or other system. These include protest and persuasion, noncooperation, and intervention. This list was supposedly influential (and translated into Arabic) in what happened in Tahrir Square just last month, as it was in the revolutionary changes that swept Eastern Europe in the late 80's/early 90's.

They are published in English here in the document below, or are available as direct downloads here (same document as embed) and here (1 page, full colour). If any readers have pdfs of version translated into other languages, they are welcome to link to them in the comments below and I'll try to update the post with more versions. For more on the Albert Einstein Institution, an organisation that studies nonviolent action around the world and is part-run by Sharp, click here.

198 Methods of Non Violent Action

Photo credits: Atomic Headlines by London Permaculture (issued under CC-BY- NC-SA licence), LIBYA/ by B.R.Q. Network (issued under CC-BY licence)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Some light relief - a tune about green tea

A tweet from Tokyo appeared in my stream a few days ago which made me think, and reminded me a little of something that Michael Franti said after a visit he paid to war-ravaged Iraq.

He'd been writing a lot of angry protest songs following the US-led invasion. For his documentary film 'I Know I'm Not Alone' he visited Baghdad and did a walkabout with a guitar and some of these songs. I don't have the original quote but remember a comment of his that the local people had asked him why he wasn't singing happier stuff. An interesting difference in perspective there - Franti might have been writing for a home audience but when he went to play for the Iraqis, they just wanted their moods lighted from all the war stuff going on around them rather than being reminded of how bad everything was. The power of music...

I'm sure that many Japanese (those not actually in the disaster zones of Sendai or Fukushima) having been feeling similar feelings over the last week - a need to be cheered up but something lighter than all the dark, dark news that has been spreading all over their country.

While skimming through Soundcloud two days ago, I came across this delightful little number. Clearly someone else wanted to show some support and lighten the mood. So here it is...'Japanese Green Tea' by Languid.

Japanese Green Tea (My condolences to those in Japan) by Languid

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tokyo update

Sendai, March 12,2011 by U.S. Pacific Fleet (issued under licence: CC-BY-NC)

Here is the latest email send from my friend Paul in Tokyo:

Prime Minister of Japan press conference at 11:00AM Tuesday morning in Tokyo. Quick summary:

Fukushima Nuclear Plant #1

  • Reactor #1 - Suffered hydrogen explosion on Saturday
  • Reactor #2 - An explosion of unknown origin occurred within the containment vessel at 6:15AM today. It looks like some fuel rods are exposed. Currently being investigated
  • Reactor #3 - Suffered a hydrogen explosion on Monday
  • Reactor #4 - Exploded approximately 30 minutes after the #2 explosion, currently on fire, reactor is not in operation, but contains spent fuel rods that is creating a hydrogen oxygen build-up similar to reactors 1 and 3. The substantial increase in radiation may be coming from this fire.

Radiation levels immediately at the plant are substantially above safe levels. The 10 and 20 km radius areas are now being evacuated as those areas are no longer considered safe. People are being told to stay indoors between 20 and 30 km from the plant.

It is not clear if the explosions with #2 and #4 this morning are related.

The Onagawa plant has somewhat increased levels, but not at dangerous levels. The substantial increase I noted in the previous email was thought to be from a cloud moving north from the Fukushima plant as levels dropped quickly after the earlier high readings. The Tokai plant (75 miles from Tokyo) has been confirmed to be stable. It does have a broken pump, but all other pumps are working. The fuel rods are cooling down normally and the plant is operating smoothly. The Fukushima, Onagawa and Tokai plants all shut down operations when the 9.0 earthquake occurred, so nuclear reactions are not happening. The fuel rods in the Fukushima plant are still too hot, and being cooled with sea water as all other forms of cooling have failed due to earthquake and tsunami damage.

To keep things in perspective, the new radius around the Fukushima plant is 30km. We are ~260km from the plant here in Tokyo. Also, this is not the same situation as Chernobyl. The plant in Chernobyl was incredibly poorly built and was in full operation when fire broke out. In other words, it was still creating nuclear reactions while burning. The Fukushima plant is not creating nuclear reactions. It is more similar to the situation at 3 Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979. Similar. Not exactly the same. Each situation has it's differences, of course.

Winds over the stricken nuclear plant are blowing slowly towards the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, Reuters reports. However, the winds are expected to change between 12-2PM to blow from the west to east. We just got word from the BBC that there is a slight increase in the level of radiation in Tokyo.

Good links that I have found for information are:

The BBC live update page

The NHK English video stream

I agree with a post on the BBC live site by a man in Saitama in Japan who writes:

Ben Slaney, from Asaka City, Saitama, Japan, writes: "Most of the shops are closed and quite a few Japanese people have left Tokyo to stay with relatives further west. Right now it's very difficult to understand who to trust. While the government wants to minimize panic, the foreign media wants to exaggerate the importance of the latest developments to create a more compelling story. This is leaving many foreign nationals in Japan confused as to who to believe."


School on Monday was good and, mostly uneventful. Except for the 6.0 earthquake in the middle of class. That was fun. The school rocked around while we hid under the desks. The early warning system that is in place here is amazing. A siren went off throughout the neighborhood about 10 seconds prior to the earthquake, which allowed us to move under the desks prior to the 'quake starting. Once the earthquake was finished, we waited for the all clear, and proceeded with the lesson. No big drama. Just life post big earthquake. I guess there was concern about a tsunami, but, luckily, nothing emerged.

I stayed home today (Tuesday) as I woke up with a stuffed nose, cough and fever. Yoko and I are staying in our apartment, and discussing the situation and our options with friends and family. We are entertaining ourselves by sending audio messages to each other on Google Translate. We are eating lots of brown rice with salt, miso soup and kelp. This mix of food was found to be helpful to victims of the Hiroshima bombing. Hmmmm...that was a weird sentence to type.

In Tokyo, many restaurants are closed now as they have run out of food. Also, many stores have bare shelves as people are still stocking up. Surprisingly, the convenience stores are full of bentos!

The streets are jammed with pedestrians and cyclists, because the police are limiting the number of people allowed in the different stations to catch the trains and subways. Both the trains and subways are running at 50-60% of capacity and are packed. Some train lines are unable to run at all as the particular route travels through areas in which multiple black outs are taking place. It is difficult and uncomfortable to travel by train right now.

Lines of cars at gas stations are all over the city. I saw a "short line" that had formed at the local gas station that went down the street and around the corner. Probably about a quarter mile long.

Despite all of this, everyone is staying calm, fairly friendly and, despite the stress, things are okay.

The situation in Northern Japan is dire. Many people are missing, the death toll is rising every hour and more than 500,000 people are displaced. The temperatures this week are expected to drop below freezing in many areas of Central and Northern Honshu. Again, if you can help in any way, please follow this link:

Google Crisis Response page for 2011 Japanese Earthquake/Tsunami (English)

Anyway, you probably know a lot of this already, but I just wanted to give you an idea of what is going on here.

I'll be in touch!

Monday, March 14, 2011

After the quake

Sendai, 26/02/2011 (NASA satellite shot: before the tsunami)

Sendai, 12/03/2011 (NASA satellite shot: after the tsunami)

We awoke on Friday morning and switched on the PCs, as we do every morning, and the news of the quake started coming in - shortly after it had first hit. It continued throughout the day, with my wife fairly desperately trying to get hold of her family who live in Yokohama. Once confirmed that they were alive, we got caught up in the rolling news cycle, which has been flowing ever since then.

It's absolutely horrific to see the devastation that has been wrought on parts of the country, reminding her of the images of Kobe in 1995. I've felt fairly speechless about the whole thing and have just been trying to provide whatever comfort I can. Having spent almost five years of my life in the country and with a large number of my friends still there too, I'm also affected by what I've seen, but couldn't begin to measure up to what she must be going through. I experienced quakes when living there, but nothing like this. Then again, neither has anyone else alive in Japan either, by the sounds of it.

Google have set up a useful crisis page, with a button for donations to the Japanese Red Cross - I've been directly people to that page and asking others to make donations to help with immediate relief and recovery efforts. I would encourage readers of this blog to click on the links and make a donation of whatever size. Japan may be a very technologically advanced nation in many ways, but this is the worse quake it their history and they deserve all the support of the international community that they can get right now.

An American friend of mine who lives in Tokyo and works for an international theatre company emailed the following report to his friends and family, and gave me permission to republish it here. Some of the news might now be out of date, but it gives a flavour of the day it hit for those 200km away in Tokyo and how things are playing out now:

First, all of the members of Tokyo Novyi Repertory Theater are doing good considering the circumstances. For those of you who know Nitta-san, the producer of the theater in Yuda in Iwate prefecture, he was able to get through to us tonight, and told us that the cell phones are working; however there is no power or water in Iwate prefecture. Otherwise, he and his wife are alive and well.

Here is the update from Tokyo. I have typed this up over ~3 hours on Saturday night Tokyo time in between a couple of trips to the store and watching the news. And the news is coming in fast and furious and is not pleasant...

There is quite a lot of apprehension right now about the huge explosion at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture north of Tokyo. It just came across on the news that the explosion was the outer containment section of the reactor, that it was a hydrogen-based explosion and that the core is not in danger of exploding. The spokesperson also said that they are now pumping seawater into the reactor to cool it down. Everyone here certainly hopes the core is able to be cooled. Facing a worst case scenario is not something we would like to do. Iodine is now being passed out to citizens within the 20km evacuation area surrounding the plant. Fukushima is ~150 miles north of Tokyo.

In addition to the reactor problem, and to a lesser degree, there is a large fire in a refinery in Chiba that is rumored to be sending large amounts of pollution into the air in and around Tokyo. We have been advised to limit our time outside, to cover up our body, and to use umbrellas if it rains to prevent further exposure to contaminants.

Rolling black-outs throughout Tokyo could begin tonight as extra power will be sent north to Sendai and Iwate to assist with the rescue efforts.

The stores have been cleared out of most food and all water as people here are hunkering down. Yoko and I have a solid supply of both plus other needed life supplies.

We have been getting regular earthquakes. I really don't know if they can be called aftershocks as they are fairly large on their own. Many have been level 5-6.5. In fact, we just got another 6.0 as I typed that last sentence that was centered off the coast of Japan near Fukushima. We just spent a few minutes bouncing around lightly.

Yoko has some kind of alarm on her phone that notifies her when there is an earthquake about to hit, and it went off several times last night while we slept. The alarm sounds somewhat like the alarm on a submarine when one of those vessels is submerging, so it definitely woke us up. ;-)

A few friends in Tokyo proper have reported no water, so they are getting drinking water delivered by their local authorities on a daily basis.

Several thousand people are missing in the prefectures of Miyagi and Iwate, and it does not look promising...


The experience of being in an earthquake this big was certainly mind blowing. I was working on the computer at the elementary school where I work part-time, and heard the 'quake before I felt it. I was sitting next to a window, so I moved away to stand next to my desk. It started very gently, and we thought it would be just an ordinary Tokyo light tremble. In fact, one of the teachers, Nishiyama-sensei, saw the concern on a co-worker's face, smiled, winked and said "Daijobu. Dai-ai-ai-ai-jobu (basically, "No problem. No pro-o-o-o-o-oblem."). The intensity suddenly ramped up, a loud "BOOM! BOOM!" started, the building began rolling around, Nishiyama-sensei's expression changed drastically and we all dove under our desks. The school rattle and rolled, and withstood the earthquake very well. Only a few ceiling tiles came down. We have earthquake drills every two weeks or so, so everyone was prepared, and the teachers, staff and students calmly moved out onto the field once the earthquake ceased. The kids were really amazing. The students from one of the 5th grade classes walked out in file through the teachers' room, smiled and said hello in English as they passed and even offered a few high fives. While we were on the field a large aftershock hit and kinda freaked us all out. Then a regular announcement started that continued for the next two hours. A long wailing siren blared followed by this deep, creepy, computerized voice that boomed out over loudspeakers all over the area in both Japanese and English, "This is a tsunami warning. Please move to higher ground immediately." I felt like I was in a Godzilla movie. Beware the monster...The area where the school is located (Takanawadai in Minato-ku) is on top of a tall hill, so we were in one of the safest areas of Tokyo in case of a tsunami.

Over the next hour, parents and grandparents came to pick up the kids, and then it was just the teachers and staff who were left. While we were sitting in the teachers' room, after the students were gone, we watched the news and saw the tsunamis hit Northern Japan. At the same time a really large aftershock hit, which might have been the level 7.1 earthquake listed on the USGS site. After that things, calmed down significantly. The authorities recommended that all of us stay, but I really wanted to get home to Yoko. So, after sitting around for another 90 minutes of fairly quiet time, my American co-worker and I decided to walk down to the nearest train station to find out the status of the situation as the internet and TV reports were vague about train stoppages. When we got to Shinagawa station, we saw a mass of people in various states of standing around. There were approximately 200-300 people lined up to use the pay phones, another couple hundred lined up at the taxi stands and a huge mass of people sitting and standing quietly in the vast station. We tried to get information from station staff and other people to no avail, and then around 6PM an announcement was made that all trains were offline for the remainder of the day and possibly the next. After a short discussion, we decided to make our way on foot to our respective areas.

The walk home was kinda fun. We walked from near Shinagawa station in southern Tokyo to Nakano-Sakaue mostly via Yamate Dori (avenue). During the first hour there were so many people that I was literally shuffling pressed against the person in front of me while making our way to the next station in Osaki. In Osaki, we stopped to use the toilet at a convenience store, and pick up some snacks and water. The line for the toilet was about 30 minutes long and the shelves were mostly bare of food (we were able to get a few bags of chips). We saw a group of salarymen, who were probably either staying at the office or in a hotel, buying a boatload of booze. They had a rack of beer, two bottles of whiskey, snacks and soda, and appeared to be having a great time. Once we were done with our pit stop we continued on our way with thousands of other people. I want to emphasize that I am not exaggerating the number of people. Thousands. The sidewalks were full and in some places the people would just take over lanes of the roadway. Automobile traffic was barely moving, and, we had no desire to catch the buses crammed with people stuck in traffic that we were passing on foot. The people we encountered were generally light-hearted and orderly. Everybody just wanted to get home. We passed a few local bicycle shops, and they were each doing brisk business with upwards of twenty or so customers in each shop. Several restaurants, condominiums and apartment buildings set up rest areas for people with water, warm drinks and access to toilets. My admiration for the Japanese people increased massively with this experience. The behavior of people was pure grace under pressure. I saw only one...one...person causing a problem the whole of my journey.

My cell phone battery had died prior to my departure from the school. This was not a problem for phone calls as those were not going through, but it was a problem for email 'cause that was working. We passed many pay phones with lines of 40-50 people before we found a phone with one lone person using it in Naka Meguro. I was able to reach Yoko on our land line, we updated each other after no contact for 4 hours or so, and then it was off to complete our journey. We finally arrived in Nakano-Sakaue around 10:30PM. My co-worker was exhausted and had decided to find out if there was room in a hotel. Luckily, we bumped into another teacher we both knew, and he told us that one of the subway lines had just started running. This allowed the co-worker I had journeyed with to take a train to within one station of her home. I was a mere 5 minutes from my home in Nakano-Sakaue. Waiting for me was a smiling wife and a hot meal.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A toe back into the academic waters?

I rearranged my afternoon lessons today and went to the University of Sussex for an Open Day at the School of Media, Film and Music. Having now got the DELTA out of the way, I'm thinking about the next step and am looking into doing a Masters degree - ideally in something like Digital Media.

It was an intriguing afternoon, all in all. After a talk by the leader of the school and one by the convenor of the course, I then joined in with a tour of the facilities. There is quite a remarkable range of both kit and set-up there, with some serious cameras, edit suites and computer systems. I learned that although the industry-standard editing tool has been Avid up to this point, it seems to be moving towards Final Cut now. Apple get their fingers into yet another juicy market!

During the talk with the course convenor, I asked her to give me a definition of Digital Media in a single sentence. Quite a difficult task that I've been asked on some occasion when I've told people that I'm looking at doing this degree. Although a seemingly tough term to pin down in some ways, having been through being labelled as 'multimedia' and 'new media' before settling on its current term, it seems to be a fluid label given to any medium that can be digitised (i.e. news, film, audio, photography, etc.) and is underpinned by the Web. Interaction, virtuality and immersion are some of the other keywords that seem to hang well off the definition.

Being half theory and half practical, it looks like the perfect course for me. It would mean doing it part time whilst continuing to teach what I'm doing now, but having managed that with the DELTA, I'm confident that I could do the same here. Still, early days yet - much could yet be in store that could make things more of a challenge for balancing the two!

Once the tour was over, I went along to a lecture, which was on visualising climate change - a complex way of looking to a difficult problem. It was useful on a couple of fronts beyond just absorbing the subject matter, as not only did it give me a feeling for what it would be like to be a Masters student myself, but it also gave me further empathy for my own students.

We spend a lot of time preparing them for university, so it was good to sit as if in their seat and see what the experience is like. There were a few PowerPoint slides used at the beginning of the talk and then the rest of the 45 minute session was all talk and no visuals. Lexically dense and grammatically complex, I have no doubt that keeping up would have posed some challenges for lower level listeners that I have taught, and even some of the higher level ones. Postgrad courses at Sussex mostly require a 6.5 at IELTS for international student entry, which is not a particularly high level of language. Perhaps I'll be more careful about grading my language in the future.

It was great to be back on campus at Sussex. Reviewing the different interactions I've had with the place over the years, I realised that for someone that never actually studied there, I've actually spent an awful lot of time there. I was Head of Music briefly at the campus radio station in 1993. I worked at the bookshop between 1996-1997. From 1997-2003, I was a member of the IDS Band. I also put on a series of live events in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Perhaps it's about time I finally tried studying at the place too!

Next week there's also an Open Day at Brighton University, where I did my undergraduate degree. The courses there are more computing-based than media-based, but essentially with the same sort of principles. I'm keen on greater study of the Web, being the defining force that is shaping our times.

At the moment, I'm expecting to lean towards Sussex, but let's see what Brighton has to offer too before coming to a decision. Any readers out there done any similar courses that they'd be happy to share their experiences of here?