To the people who still read this blog, thank you. There isn’t much to say about the quake these days, although it continues to affect our lives, and probably will continue to do so for a long time. But we’re all right and things have mostly returned to normal, at least in Tokyo. I just finished working on the English version of an NHK program about Tohoku, and even the sixth time going through the script, it still made me cry.
For a lighter take on what’s happening here, I started another blog. http://mouseintokyo.wordpress.com/
I guess I missed the deadline for the four month update, but since I make the rules here, I forgive me. I was away and only got back on July 11, so I’ll cut me some slack.
At this point, there’s not much to add. Austerity continues. Lights are still turned off. Some stuff is still not available, maybe never will be. Everyone is trying to conserve electricity. In addition to the nightly TV weather report, Tenkiyoho, we are getting Denkiyoho, which means electricity report. (It’s a pun. Leave it to the adorable Japanese to come up with something like that.) Last I checked, we are consuming 85% of the electricity TEPCO is currently able to produce, but the truly icky summer weather hasn’t kicked in yet. We just had a three day weekend which was stinky hot, but we took refuge in a friend’s big expat house that has central air conditioning. Today is not so bad, but only because there is a typhoon trying to decide whether or not to come this way, so it’s cooler but rainy and very humid.
Apparently, the typhoon is huge, over 1000km in circumference, but they usually take one look at Tokyo and flee, or at least that’s how I see it. More likely is that they always come from the south and once they hit land they lose momentum, but I like the image of a powerful, macho storm tucking its tail between its legs and running away, much like a playground bully getting his comeuppance.
The city overall is quieter than I’ve ever known it, fewer cars and people around, but there’s little to complain about there.
While we were hiding in the air conditioning, the three of us worked on a real bear of a jigsaw puzzle, hardest one I’ve ever done. We put in maybe a total of 20 man-hours and only got half of it done, but the companionable silence and occasional jibes at each other were comforting. Jigsaws used to be a family activity when I was a kid. I hadn’t done that in years.
There was an article on the front page of the paper today saying pretty much exactly what I posted yesterday except with lots more details. There’s no by-line. Shouldn’t I have gotten credit for that?
In trying to keep perspective, I made a list of some of the awful items in the newspaper: Drought in Europe, food prices rising in China, US unemployment is at 10%, active volcano in Chile, continuing awfulness in the Middle East….
This was an exercise in futility that did not make me feel any better. Our news has understandably faded from the world scene but that doesn’t make it any less immediate for us. TEPCO keeps leaking bits of news about how much worse the situation is than they had let on. It wasn’t a meltdown, it was a melt through. Thousands of gallons of radioactive water need to be disposed of. It goes on and on. The economy is a mess. The exchange rate is putrid. I can’t concentrate and am having severe motivation problems. But maybe that’s just spring fever.
Things are back to “normal” in a sense, but “normal” now means lights and escalators are turned off, aftershocks still make us jump out of our skins, some things are not available. We can’t get blue cheese, of all things, so naturally I’m drooling for blue cheese salad dressing. Our biggest worry is summer. We’re all right now, but when the worst of the summer heat and humidity kicks in, are we going to be able to use our air conditioners? It doesn’t seem right to be whining about that. There are still thousands living in shelters. Government agencies are building temporary housing, but mostly in places nobody wants to live, and many don’t have running water. Donation money is not getting distributed, or is distributed weirdly. If you lost a relative, you get this much. If you lost your house, you get this much. If your house was only damaged, you get this much. Plus much documentation got washed away along with the government buildings that housed it, so people can’t prove where they lived or what they had. The drama plays out in unexpected ways.
There’s no good way to segue into this, but I wanted to mention it anyway. I saw a guy on the train the other day wearing a baseball cap with the word “Inhabitant” printed on it. Well…OK, but as opposed to what? Tourist? Alien? I’m already required to carry my alien registration card at all times. Are we going to be required to wear our residency status on our clothes?
Trauma still comes in waves. I had to really fight myself not to cry at the gym today. I was lying on a stretch mat and noticed that they’d removed most of the light bulbs from the fixtures, and it struck me that this is now what passes for normal. Most stations and stores are still pretty dark, and they’re going to stay that way, although the supermarket was blasting some annoyingly loud music yesterday. Shopping as a noisy experience is part of Japanese culture, but loudspeakers are not very traditional. It’s charming to go to Ameyoko and hear the fishmongers touting their wares in their unique, gravelly voices. The supermarket is less charming.
There are still some shortages. Bottled water is still hard to find. For some reason, convenience stores don’t have madelaines anymore, but I’ve pretty much gotten over that addiction. Japanese tobacco is mostly unavailable. Apparently the factories that make the filters are gone. I had a chat with a tobacco shop owner, saying that I wanted the 5 milligram type and he showed me that the imports come in 4 and 6 but not 5. Who knew?
One of the trainers at the gym told me that he’d done some work for companies in Tohoku and will now not get paid for it. There’s no place to send the invoices. There’s much debate about where things will go from here. Fukushima will never recover, so TEPCO is looking at other power sources, mostly reliant on fossil fuels, and that brings on its own set of problems. The news said there have been over 8000 aftershocks since the main quake, but we’re not feeling them here anymore, except for the occasional ghost one.
This has nothing to do with the quake, but I saw a girl on the train yesterday wearing a white lacy peasant dress with white patent leather shoes and carrying a black leather bag with a white skull and the word “PINKSNOTDEAD” printed on it. Huh. Pink’s not dead? Pink snot dead? Or maybe it’s an anagram: I spot kind Eda? Maybe it’s a message. Or maybe I need to find something more constructive to do with my time.
There was an article in the paper today by an American who has been living in Sendai for years and recently returned after evacuating with his family. He said that there had been no violence or looting, because that would be “unthinkable”. I found that deeply moving because it’s true. The reasons for it, though, are probably not what most people think. Of course, there’s an element of respect for other people’s property, but there’s also a deeply rooted fear of getting caught. The shame and social stigma attached to that would be more than most could bear. I did hear that someone broke into an abandoned bank and stole a bunch of money, but that’s not really the same thing. There must be some cases of people flipping out, especially the evacuees living side by side in places like school gyms, but people here are very good at pretending they don’t notice when someone loses it.
Things are mostly getting back to normal. There’s a little park next to our house and right after the quake, the sound of kids playing there was comforting. Today there was a group of kids from a local daycare center in the park running around screaming, and that was actually annoying. But yesterday there was an election, and you would hardly know it. Usually, the candidates have sound trucks driving slowly around the neighborhood shouting their names at full volume. “Sato! Sato! Vote for Sato!” There was only a minimum of that. What’s the opposite of “annoying”?
I saw in the paper today that most embassy staff have returned and are back to normal function. Travel restrictions have been lifted. The danger zone around Fukushima has been narrowed. Apparently, current radiation levels in Tokyo are only half what they are in Moscow. Most of the stuff in the paper is heart-breaking but that one made me smile.
People are still sharing “Where were you?” stories and my favorite so far is a friend who was in the tub at the gym. Imagine. Like you don’t feel vulnerable enough when you’re naked and wet.