March 2011 Archives

Mutant produce

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Absolutely enormous asparagus. Not from Fukushima. 398 yen per stalk.

Today in the supermarket, I expected to see some empty places in the produce aisle - conspicuously absent spinach and leafy greens with apologetic signs regretting the inconvenience. But I was wrong. There was as much spinach and other greens as usual. All from Chiba and Saitama, areas  adjacent to Tokyo.

But I think that abundant produce won't be the case forever. The government is making farmers in four prefectures destroy their crops and we will feel the pinch soon enough. Of course, we aren't going to starve; we will make do with what comes our way and it will be plenty, if not always exactly what our recipes call for.

As for tonight, while I have the luxury of buying exactly what I want to eat, I am going to enjoy my spinach - and the huge asparagus.

Enjoying and suffering

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On the weekend we hoopers joined together at Yoyogi Park to hoop and collect donations for the Peace Boat's earthquake relief efforts. They are cooking 500 hot meals a day up in Ishonomaki and we gathered some cooking supplies and cash for them. I am deeply grateful to everyone who contributed and especially to Sareh for rallying the Couchsurfing community to the cause. So many of the CS people turned up with bags of soy sauce and oil. Generous++

While we were enjoying the sunny day in Tokyo, Dee and Tracey from 37 Frames were up north documenting things there. They share their incredible adventure with heart-wrenching tales and photos. There is so much more we need to be doing to help the stricken survivors. I am inspired to do everything I can. I want to go up there and hold hands, boil rice, and muck out the mud, but for the next little while I am more useful in Tokyo, helping to organise the hooping community to do fundraising and good works. My turn in Tohoku will come in a few months, when survival issues have been sorted and I can bring joy and hula hoops while mucking out mud, too.

Tokyo is stuck in a strange place. Fear of radiation* and worries of nuclear doom mix with the practical need to get to work and go out to buy groceries. There's a mood of sacrifice with blackouts, energy conservation and the cancellation of many events, including hanami parties. But there's a counter movement afoot to enjoy life and boost the economy with shopping and gaiety. Sobriety vs hedonism.

When I step back and think about it though, Tokyo has always been "anything goes" and that hasn't changed. With so many people, there are bound to be contrasting views on things. They are all right and all wrong and there is no absolute. Thus are the times we live in.

A friend reminded me today that we are about to go into a month-long period of Mercury Retrograde, a time when communications run afoul and new projects should be put on hold. Unfortunately, I have great need of both communication and new projects at this time, so Mercury be damned. On a related mercurial note, the MESSENGER spacecraft is in orbit around Mercury now, preparing to take pictures and send data back. Mercury is a mysterious planet!

As is our own planet.

* You can't hide radiation. Lots of organizations are measuring levels now, so any concerns about TEPCO/government cover-ups are pretty well undone.  My favorite go-to sites for facts are the MEXT radiation graphs by prefecture, and the graphs of radiation in water and other graphs at that site. The electricity use meter shows how well we're conserving power and this earthquake graph reveals a real downward trend in aftershocks. Check out the other great informatics at - they have made the overwhelming amount of data visual.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow

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Yesterday I took a break from the computer almost all day and went out into the world for the first time since I caught my cold. Even though I was still coughing like a six pack a day smoker, I needed to breathe real air. And there were errands to run, so out I went. It was tiring but satisfying.

Apparently everyone else in the city wanted the same thing, because the trains were packed and the sidewalks busy. Outside Shinjuku station, I counted eight different groups soliciting donations for various earthquake relief projects. Each group stood in a line holding cardboard boxes or coffee cans with badly drawn signs, shouting out their appeals to the passersby. Most people ignored them, it seemed, but at one group an old man walked past and dropped a coin in every one of their seven boxes. There were a lot of smiles there.

Gratitude August 9, 10, & 11
My gratitude journal from 2009. A good practice in perspective.

Yesterday I also started a gratitude journal. While rooting around my papers the other day, I found the one I'd drawn in summer of 2009. It was a treat to be reminded of specific things I'd done that day. Every page was full of only nice things even on the days that weren't so good. I remembered how eye-opening it was to be able to flip perspective to find the good in situations. There is always something to be thankful for. This is a practice that I hope will support my days here and now.

Today I went to Justin's yoga class at FAB. It's only been two weeks since the last one and I've slipped a few asanas in here and there, but gosh, did I need a long stretch and some focused breathing. I walked away wishing that I could do another hour or two. Honestly, I think some of those poses unlocked my weird mental state so I can cry now. And then there was the pose I tumbled right out of, laughing as I rolled around like a dung beetle untangling myself. And then I felt so pleased when Justin praised me for my solid stance in another pose later on. (Pride not a good thing in a yoga class, but there you go. Ego wins again.)

Are you getting enough exercise? It's oh-so-easy to sit in front of a screen wrapped up in news and social networking for long periods without even realising it. So if you are reading this, consider taking a break to hoop or dance in the living room, or to run, do yoga or whatever you enjoy that gives your body a good sweat. You will feel so much better afterward.

Granola bars ready to be cut and packaged.

Today I also whipped up some granola bars to be delivered to a shelter in Sendai. It's not much, but I hope the people who receive them will enjoy a little treat made with lots of heartfelt compassion and maple syrup.

Tomorrow is 4th Sunday Spin at Yoyogi Park. We've got a lineup of donation activities. We're collecting cooking condiments for Peace Boat as I mentioned a couple of days ago. Also, Sareh is organising a flea market. Bring your unwanted stuff and let people buy it for a donation to the Peace Boat project. And there are plans afoot for other hoop community activities that we will discuss tomorrow in the park. And of course, we are hooping, too! So bring yourself and friends, a bottle of soy sauce, some old books or clothes, your hoop and some picnic yummies for a delightful afternoon. I'll be there from 12:30 - 4:30 in the usual place on the grass near the Harajuku gate.  see you!

The dance of progress

We are now firmly in a phase of two steps forward, one step back. It's like living a bad waltz. Let's try not to bump into the other dancers in the ballroom.

  • After yesterday's scare over radioactive iodine in the Tokyo water supply, we discovered that it was already halved by this morning. The mad rush to buy bottled water and the city's plans to distribute safe water to families with infants turns out to be unnecessary.
  • There is an increasing number of agricultural products being banned from the shelves due to high levels of cesium and iodine, but tests are in place to catch them and the food supply is safe.
  • At Fukushima today two workers had to go to hospital for getting their feet exposed to radiation, but thanks to their brave work things are moving in a positive direction towards bringing the plant back under control.
  • Starting tomorrow TEPCO is more finely dividing the blackout groupings and they've told us that residential central Tokyo (that would be me) is the next to be grouped up and turned off.

The awkward shuffle of progress is going to go on a long time. I hope we will all be able to relax and take a break at the punchbowl. But it seems like my dance card is filling up with partners new and old. I have more dances to learn and my shoes are starting to pinch. I still haven't cried.

But even in this seemingly endless procession of steps, there are a few special flourishes and beautiful turns.

I had a lovely chat with a friend this afternoon. We hadn't connected since the quake and though we each knew the other was safe (thanks again, Facebook), we'd tangoed through the challenges of the last two weeks in separate spheres of influence. As a result, our conversation was totally different than the others I've had with friends recently. 

We came to this talk with a desire to collaborate and aid the disaster victims, because like lots of people we are turning focus northward now. And unexpectedly, we each revealed similar personal revelations. It was as if the quake had shaken loose some mental plates inside our heads or taught us to jitterbug with our souls. There's a desire and acceptance for even more change in our lives. Things that were important before are now inconsequential and so many concerns from back then feel superficial. Oh, that dance was so two weeks ago! We have new perspectives but there are certain elements that will never lose importance: love, friendship and connections.

I'm sure this isn't the last conversation I will have with friends about new priorities. The earthquake has brought out such interesting traits in all of us.

Speaking of traits, a few days ago or maybe it was BQ (before quake), I saw a funny series of videos where the actress acted out the stereotypes of each astrological sign. I was fascinated and horrified by the portrayal of my own sign, Aries, and also a little scared at its accuracy. I checked out the signs of my dears and darlings...all were correct to some degree. Here's the Aries one; I'll leave it to you to click through to find your own star sign. It will be entertaining or possibly slightly embarrassing.

Actions are stronger than worries

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We may worry in Tokyo about aftershocks and radiation risks, but there are some people who have more than worries. They have troubles. This week I'm shifting my focus to helping the survivors of the Tohoku Kano Earthquake who are stuck in shelters with insufficient, heat, food and hope. While relief is arriving daily and things are improving, there's still going to be a lot to do in the coming months while more suitable shelter is created and people start to get back on their feet. It's really hard to know how to act on the impulse to help as an individual. Donating money is a very good start, but it doesn't feel like enough to me. I prefer direct action.


Peace Boat volunteers prepare supplies for their emergency relief project.

Peace Boat is a Japan-based NGO that's been delivering hula hoops from Japan to kids around the world. Now they are helping out with relief efforts in Tohoku by cooking 500 hot meals daily for evacuees in Ishinomaki. At this weekend's 4th Sunday Spin we're collecting some supplies that they need. If you are coming along to hoop and can bring (new, unopened) soy sauce, cooking oil, salt or miso, I will take everything we collect to the Peace Boat Center after the hoop jam. Cash donations are also welcome.


Go, go Tokiko! This is Tokiko Kitano pushing a wheelbarrow to deliver blankets to those in need. She keeps her spirits high by aiding others. 

Yesterday I packed up a box of blankets, towels and other things for the Kitano family in Aizu-Wakamatsu. They are hosting 17 evacuees at their house and also delivering supplies to neighbors and others in need. I know that my small gesture, when added in with everyone else's, will help to make some people more comfortable. If you're in Japan and would like to help the Kitanos and their evacuees, check out this post from Soness Stevens on Facebook.


I'm also starting to connect with hoopers in Japan to create fundraising activities and other events. We've got a lot of interesting ideas brewing and I will let you know what we're doing as plans come together. Ayumi from Hoop Tokyo has already collected 112,300 yen for  the Japanese Red Cross and is selling t-shirts in collaboration with Atama Warui to raise more money. 

If you are wondering how you can help to aid people in Tohoku, there are some great resources here:

Just a bunch of random stuff

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Tinfoil hat competition entries at the Equinox Barbecue yesterday.  Hat themes, L-R top row: nuclear cooling tower by Rob; BSD daemon by Paul; WTF? by Masa hand modelled by me; Disaster Airlines by me; Turkish fez by Yasu. L-R bottom row: propeller beanie by Tracey modeled by Max; wonder woman by Sareh modeled by Tracey; meta-hat by Tod; Bohemia by Yuka; minimalism by Ashley; fashion and safety by Naomi.

  • The most useful thing I can do right now is to support my friends by bringing them together to talk and laugh.
  • The next most useful thing I can do is to remain calm and observant and open to change.
  • The third most useful thing I can do is to dig deep for sources of reliable and factual information and share information with people.
  • Following those three things, I must do what I can to help people up north. That is my special focus this week.
This week's power blackout schedule from TEPCO. My neighborhood's fortunate not to be assigned to one of the groups yet.

  • When researching for information, getting to the true source is critical; whether it's the source of a rumour, wind direction, your spinach, or a radiation leak. Without pinpointing sources, nothing makes any sense.
  • Events are fluid and change every day - body and survivor counts, supply chains, radiation levels, blackouts -  and no news source is perfectly up to date or accurate. There are lots of actions happening simultaneously. Some things just can't be analyzed immediately with precision. But recognising the guesstimates and speculation help to keep alarm to a minimum.
  • This crisis requires a lot of arithmetic. Converting from milliseiverts to microseiverts, calculating the per hour radiation dosing rates, comparing distances between here and there, figuring out your power consumption...get a calculator and make friends with it.
Here's a pretty pink flower that Sareh and I planted the other day.
  • A revelation I had a few days ago is that people make decisions based on four different systems: logic/head, instinct/gut, feeling/heart, faith/spirit. Personal experience also plays a role. All four systems are valid and most people use more than one at a time. Each personal recipe leads to a different decision even in the same circumstances. All decisions are valid. I may not agree with them. That's ok. Not everyone agrees with mine. That's also ok.
  • When I am tired, my body lurches a tiny bit and generate personal earthquakes. But real earthquakes are getting harder and harder to feel each day. The threat of a huge aftershock is fading, though it's not entirely gone yet. There's a nice article at the US Geographic Survey that explains earthquake clusters and the function of time.
  • Humour, especially black humour, seems to run in my crowd of friends. Thank goodness.
  • For me, it is important to observe and experience the world. I admitted to a friend yesterday that I feel some pleasure at being in Tokyo right now; it I think it is very cool to see how people and places are changing in response to the situation. The lack of complacency, the alertness, awareness and action people are taking is stimulating and refreshing.
  • Foreigners are getting  bad rap in Japan. I've had a few Japanese friends express surprise that I am still here; the perception is that every foreigner has bolted off to their homeland. And one or two more talk about how they feel about the people who left. Someone even asked me what I think ought to happen with the high-paid, high-powered foreign executives who left - should they be allowed to keep their jobs after they return? I had no answer.
  • Because of that, I'd like to get some credit for the foreigners who have satyed and are doing good works here. There are tons of non-Japanese who are organizing benefits, donation drives, going up into the stricken areas, or like me, trying to keep friends calm and misinformation to a minimum.
  • This morning I justified using the vacuum by having had 15 friends over for dinner last night. All of their lights and appliances must have been off while they were here so I was not using much in comparison. At the time I switched the vacuum on, I silently thanked everyone who was going to experience a blackout on my behalf today.

Tokyo's food supply

Yesterday I was in bed with a fever and I spent most of the day sleeping. Even in a crisis, we catch colds. Germs don't care.

Celestial mechanics don't care either. March 21 is the spring equinox and we will celebrate it today with a barbecue. It's been our tradition since last century to fire up the grill on the first day of spring. After my father died in 2005 we changed our spring ritual to visiting the ocean and toasting him, but today we revive the barbecue. It will be a great pleasure to bring friends together and enjoy each other's company and feast to new beginnings. Plus we're having a tinfoil hat competition and my friend Sareh is adding in her Iranian new year traditions with a haft sin table and decorated boiled eggs. It will be fun and we'll be sure to remember the departed as well. (You're invited, of course. Join us anytime after 3; bring something to grill. I promise not to cough on your food.)

After a lot of napping yesterday, I dragged my fevered brow out of bed and to the supermarket to get the necessary supplies.

I was really hoping for some exotic portobello mushrooms, though I doubted there would be any, what with food shortages and all. Hahahaha, joke's on me. I got ten gorgeous mushrooms! And asparagus. Pretty much every vegetable I could desire was available. The in-store bakery was churning out baguettes and pizzas. The deli section was full of salads, sushi, and lunch boxes. Aside from a definite lack of milk and a minimum of rice, the store looked as well-stocked as usual. I got lots of tinfoil, too, for our millinery competition. And two cartons of eggs to boil and decorate in the Iranian tradition.

So we are ready to have a great celebration, thanks to the hard work of everyone in the food supply chain. I wish I had time to do some research into the way it works so we all could understand exactly what a feat it is to keep our metropolis well fed, but I have to go make some coleslaw now.

Happy spring!

We'll leave when...

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...the Japanese government announces Tokyo evacuations. Until then, Tod & I are staying here to experience this.

Friends and family have been so supportive since the disaster - old friends have come out of the woodwork to wish me well, my mother reports lots of people inquiring after my health, my sister offers to mail us care packages, my in-laws express their concern with lots of links to articles. Thank you all for putting Tod & I in your thoughts and prayers. It is comforting to know you care. And I understand that at least a few of you are deeply frustrated that we are still in Tokyo. I'd like to address that today.

The entire world is waiting for a resolution to the nuclear emergency - but the fact is that resolution isn't going to come overnight. Every day brings a bit of good news from Fukushima and some setbacks, too. We may have weeks or months to discover how this plays out. In the meantime, there is a huge disaster up north where over 400,000 people are suffering for real and right now. They should be getting the attention; they need our compassion and our help.

We are not ignorant of the state of affairs. We access news, speculation, rumours, opinions and worse case scenarios in two languages. We are paying attention, and we don't feel an urgent need to pack up and go. We talk it over daily.

"What do you think? Three more friends have left; they are getting stressed out. Should we go?"
"I'm not scared yet. Packing up and leaving is more disruptive than staying."
"Yep, that's what I was thinking, too. Good."

There have been deeper discussions, of course, but it boils down to that. We are staying because we aren't scared. Science backs us up.

We believe the dreaded worst case scenario - all six reactors explode simultaneously sending a radioactive plume into the air just as the wind swings toward Tokyo at typhoon speeds - is only one scenario among many. The more likely one, which yesterday's news seems to indicate, is that they will bring the reactor temperatures under control and start a long process of decommissioning the plant. This is a dangerous, complex situation but there are smart and brave people doing their best to handle it. I trust them.

There are many foreigners who are leaving Tokyo, that is true. Several governments are advising their citizen to consider leaving if they wish to, and are helping citizens in the disaster areas to get transit to Tokyo or elsewhere. A few have pulled their nonessential diplomatic staff back to the homeland.  Among our personal acquaintances, we've heard a  wide range of reasons for going: some friends cite concern for their children's safety; some have been pressured by their family; a few admit true panic and even cowardice. Others are leaving because they can't live in an environment with daily power and transit disruptions; some have left because they were planning to anyway and their work situation (cancellations or closings) allowed them to go early. The number one reason seems to be escaping stress from information overload. It's a long holiday weekend this weekend and many of our friends - foreign and Japanese both - have decided to spend it in Osaka, Kyoto, or one of the southern beaches where they can relax from the tense atmosphere. They will return next week.

But if we do decide to go - if the Japanese government says to leave Tokyo - then we will get ourselves to Osaka and will be on the first available plane bound for Australia.

Non-electric housecleaning

Today's adventure involved a lot of elbow grease as I decided to turn my attention to my untidy environment. Not only had I not cleaned since the quake, I am having guests over on Monday to celebrate the Spring Equinox (Want to come? You're invited!).

First, I pulled the plug on the emergency reservoir. The threat of huge aftershocks has passed now, and I have been watching the mildew creep across the grout in my bathroom for days. So drained the tub, bleached the walls, scrubbed everything, and felt a lot better.

The sun streaming through my windows showed off the dust to good effect, so I gave all the surfaces a swish with a towel. I also called on the sun to dry three loads of laundry I'd been letting pile up to conserve energy.

It's easy enough to wipe and wash things without consuming power but what about the carpets? They were in bad need of vacuuming, but my vacuum consumes 1400 watts.  I know how hard every TEPCO customer is trying to conserve power and I didn't want to be the greedy one today. I'd already done three loads of wash and made both coffee and toast this morning. I felt like I'd had my share and maybe more.

I recalled my grandmother's "carpet sweeper" with sweet longing. It was a sort of rotary brush and dustpan combination that lifted the crumbs from the floor when you rolled it across the carpet. I needed one of those - but wait...why not just use a broom?

I tried my little 100 yen kitchen broom and it helped but the bristles kept falling out. So I opted to go get a proper broom at the local housewares shop. I also bought a terrycloth toilet seat cover because it is shockingly cold now that I've unplugged the seat warmer in the otherwise unheated toilet room.

The new broom did the trick on the carpet, though it was a lot more effort than vacuuming The secret is short, quick strokes with more muscle power than sweeping a tile or wood floor, plus frequent use of the dust pan to keep the crumbs from getting matted into carpet. I swept the entire house in about 45 minutes. It's imperfect but a big improvement!

I managed to get just about everything done before the sun set and I lost my light. I feel more comfortable in my clean house and virtuous that I didn't have to use much electricity to get it done.

Tokyo transit & other notes

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This afternoon I went over to Tracey's to hang out and bake bread. I took my video camera along with me for the journey because I wanted to show you what Tokyo looks like today.

Each day, more trains run and commuting schedules are getting back to normal. It's still complex with service outages, but the transportation chaos is settling down.

There's still no milk. Bread is starting to make an appearance, particularly in bakery shops - oddly, bagels are abundant. Bentos and deli lunches at the conbini are still understocked but it's not a big deal and getting better each day. I hope that any shortfalls we are experiencing are due to food being routed to the 450,000 earthquake/tsunami survivors in shelters up north. They are stuck on slim rations, I've heard. I wish I could send them some of my food...

Power conservation has expanded today. Escalators were shut down and barricaded in subway stations, the stations were dimmer in general and the interior lights on the Odakyu trains were off during daylight hours. On the walk home tonight, I noted that the streetlights on Kasuga Dori are off except at intersections. Streelights on the side streets are all still on. TEPCO was warning about unplanned blackouts in Tokyo tonight because it is freezing cold out there but I haven't heard of any happening yet.

Aftershocks continue daily. I seem to be adjusting because quakes that would have put me on high alert a few weeks ago now pass with only a thought to whether the shaking is getting bigger or not. No? Ok, good. Carry on.

Which is what we all must do every day here. Carry on. I'll have a new adventure and notes to report tomorrow.

Notes from Utsunomiya

Heather & I had planned to get together on the 15th well before the earthquake and with trains running again, I decided to keep our appointment. At the same time, I was able to do something helpful by taking her my old laptop as a substitute for the computer she lost in the quake.

So shortly after 11 am on Tuesday, I found myself in a oddly quiet Tokyo station. It wasn't deserted, but the number of people moving about was lower than I could ever remember seeing before. That's because they were all waiting in line to get Shinkansen tickets. Me, too! A twenty minute wait in line - everyone quiet and patient - got me a ticket on the next train north. I had an hour to wait, so I got a coffee and camped on the platform along with everyone else. The journey was standing room only from Ueno to Utsnomiya but otherwise normal.

Damage: I saw some damage to tiled roofs, old lathe-and-plaster buildings, and unsupported cement block walls. I didn't see any major collapses or cracks.

General Disruption: Lots of offices are closed. Both Heather and Kat have had most of their work hours cut 'til the end of the month. Schools seem to be open, though graduations are coming soon. Most stores are closed during blackouts and plenty are just shut for the duration. For example, all the shops in the station complex are shuttered except one kiosk and a gift shop.

Blackout & Energy Conservation: This morning I experienced a scheduled blackout, the first one the Heather's area has gone through. "Did the power just go out?" she called to me from the other room as I sat at the computer. "Um, yes. I guess that means you are in group 5!"  After breakfast, which had just finished baking before the power cut, we went out for a drive and it was interesting to see the irregular edges of the Group 5 area by observing if the traffic lights were working or not. I think drivers in Japan need a refresher on how to drive when there are no signals or cops directing traffic.

Aftershocks: Felt at least 8 in the 24 hours I visited. Heather's house creaks a lot as it has an old tin roof, but it doesn't shake much more than my apartment in Tokyo. The last quake I felt was on the platform at Utsunomiya station just before 1 this afternoon. I've never seen Japanese react to an earthquake, but several people around me sought shelter or looked frightened. The quake was a Shindo 3 - enough to rattle everything in the station for about 20 seconds before settling down.

Radiation: Utsunomiya is about halfway between Tokyo and the Fukushima nuclear plant, so closer, but still well outside the danger zones. On Tuesday after another incident that leaked some radiation unexpectedly, there were elevated radiation readings "33 x normal" in Utsunomiya.  I never heard what normal was but let's say it's the worldwide average of .00027 millisieverts/hour (average background radiation dose is 2.4 millisieverts/year). That means the radiation level in Utsy yesterday hit .009 milliseiverts/hour. That means the 10 minutes I spent in transit outdoors yesterday was equal to one long 4th Sunday Spin on a normal radiation day. Looking at it another way, you could be outside in Utsunomiya for over 11 hours yesterday or get one chest xray - it's about the same radiation dosage. Not many people panic about an xray, but everyone in Utsy was staying inside or getting out of town. 

Food & Other Supplies: As in Tokyo, no bread nor milk is available, but plenty of vegetables are since Utsunomiya is a farming area. Kat discovered a cache of orange-scented toilet paper in one store and bought a pack as that is another commodity in short supply, along with menstrual pads and diapers. Plenty of alcohol remains but chocolate supplies are thinning out.

Gasoline: Petrol and deisel shortages are a problem. Rescue workers don't have enough fuel to run their operations. The Minowas have two cars and one tank was full, the other was not. Kat waited in a relatively short line to refill his tank late last night. This morning as Heather and I drove past a gas station, there was a traffic jam for several kilometers because people at the head of the jam were waiting to turn to join the line at the gas station to get fuel. I am sure most people stuck there did not realise they were waiting in line for gas!

I'm glad I went up to see Heather; we had a good time despite the challenges and uncertainties. We nibbled and noshed and laughed lots. I gave dramatic readings of the news, told bedtime stories, played with Nina and got to sleep with Shaft curled up on the bed keeping me warm.

Observations on power conservation & food shortages

Rolling blackout are in effect throughout Kanto but there are so many individuals and businesses trying to conserve energy that only one of the 7 planned outages happened today. Who know about tomorrow, but let me tell you what I saw (and Tod told me about) around in Tokyo today.

Train companies reduced services drastically. No promises made on schedules and the subway lines no longer directly connect to the commuter lines (since the commuter lines are not running all of their trains). It is fascinating to realise that this can even happen - where are they putting all the extra rolling stock and how do they cut apart a schedule that usually runs like clockwork? On my way across town at lunchtime, I checked the online train schedule to see what my ideal route would be  - the trains it said I would want to catch were right there waiting for me. So maybe the schedule isn't too messed up after all.

In the Metro stations, all the elevators were powered off. Whether this was a conservation method or for safety, I'm not sure. They have also turn off the heating/cooling on the trains. I didn't really notice a big difference today.

Convenience stores are keeping their brightly lit store signs off.

In Tod's office, the lights are set to "night mode" - dimmed in the halls and toilets.

Pachinko parlors in Kanda were running without neon, interior lighting or aircon.

Ramla shopping center in Iidabashi was opening an hour late and closing three hours early.

Miuriya supermarket had turned off its cold case and freezer lights and was not running air conditioning in the store.

Lots of small shops were closed, with notes of apology on their shuttered doors.

Even in our notoriously unresponsive apartment building, only half the lobby lights were switched on today.

On the food situation

Tod's favorite sushi shop told him that there didn't know when they'd get more fish after today. And they are having a half price maguro special on Thursday.

Hanamasa wholesale food store in Iidabashi was sold out of milk, yogurt and flour among other things. They still had some eggs, butter and meat/fish. Stocks of produce were dwindling.

Miuriya had signs up saying no more shipments of produce from tomorrow. There was someone stocking one lonely case of 500ml milk cartons - the only milk I've seen in three days.

People are definitely hording and buying defensively. I saw a woman with a shopping basket full of random baked goods - cinnamon rolls, sweet steamed buns, anpan. A man at Hanamasa had a cooler filled with pints of cream; he might have been working in a restaurant, but regardless, he had cleared out the stock of cream in the store. People seem to buy whatever they can, even if it isn't quite what they wanted. Instead of rice, one older lady had four packets of the grains you mix with rice.

I've eaten out once a day since the earthquake. So far, no shortages. The Indian restaurant where I got a takeaway curry for lunch was only offering a buffet for sit-down customers. It won't be long before we see some interesting specials made with the random ingredients still on hand.

Maintaining sanity in a stressed environment

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Here we are a few days after the big earthquake. Things are grim up north as the death toll rises and tense as nuclear plants struggle to cool their reactors. 

Around Tokyo we have power shortages with schedule blackouts and a there's good likelihood of another earthquake that we'll feel strongly in the next couple of days. Things are safe but uncertain. Shops have been emptied of food and water. People are stressed and panicking.

But panic and stress don't make the situation better. In fact, they make you less prepared to handle things as they come. Yes, we might have another earthquake. There could be a meltdown (or another one). But does worrying about it change anything? No. It makes you too tired to respond wisely. It makes you crazy after a while.

So what can you do to stay sane? Here's my advice:

  • Be informed and check trusted local news sources a few times a day. Do not rely on entirely on foreign news agencies - they are not always up-to-date or detailed.
  • Take all news with a grain of salt. Have they sensationalised the situation or are they giving facts?
  • Turn off the TV/computer/radio. A constant stream of information, conflicting opinions, rumours, old news and scare mongering is only going to make you anxious. A few hours away from Facebook really isn't going to hurt you. I promise.
  • Prepare for contingencies - emergency food, communication, meeting points, etc - and then trust your preparations to carry you through as needed.
  • Donate. Money and blood are the most urgently required things and giving one or the other will help you feel useful and actually help people in need.
  • Exercise. Moving your body busts stress like anything. Make sure that you don't slack on your exercise routine. If you don't have a routine, join a friend at the gym, at a hoop jam, or on the yoga mat. 
  • Eat well. As much as it seems thematically appropriate to eat cup ramen in emergencies, you're better off with a well-balanced meal. Get your vegetables, fruits and grains. Don't drink to excess.
  • Sleep. It can be challenging if the bed is shaking in a tremor, but do your best to sleep soundly.
  • Connect face-to-face with friends. Hear their stories. Share yours. Discuss events. Have a beer. Laugh. Make plans for next week.
  • Write it out. Journal your days - write your experiences, worries and concerns. Putting it down on paper (real or digital) gives you a chance to uncover some things you hadn't considered. If you are an artistic soul, add drawings, photos, etc to your journal.
  • Make a quiet space. Maybe it's by listening to music or meditating, getting a massage or taking a hot shower. Quiet will help to slow your brain and relax your body.
  • Go outside. It's spring and the days are lovely. Fresh air and the scent of plum blossoms will clear your head and energise your body.
  • Keep your space tidy. While you worry over events you can't control, it seems inconsequential to clean your apartment. And yet a room in disarray does nothing to keep your mind calm. Put away clutter, dust, wipe some surfaces to feel more grounded.
The less anxious you can be, the more likely you'll survive these interesting times with your sanity intact.

Post-quake power issues

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When the quake hit, most of the power plants that serve Tokyo went offline automatically. That was a very good thing because Tokyo is served with nuclear, thermal and hydroelectric power. Nobody wants a nuclear emergency due to an earthquake.

Unfortunately, we are having one.

TEPCO is handling it as professionally and safely as possible by evacuating 90,000 people in a 20 km radius of the the Fukushima 1 power plant, venting pressurized gas in controlled ways, and basically destroying reactor number one by pumping sea water and boric acid into the reactor to cool it and kill the reaction. Very likely, reactor number one will never be brought back online.

Reactor number three is experiencing a cooling system malfunction today as well, so the TEPCO folks are really hustling. I have confidence that they will keep things under control.

Nobody in Tokyo is at risk. Even if there is meltdown in either reactor, it is unlikely to affect Tokyo dwellers with radiation. Scare tactics aside, we are 200km away and the type of reactor that is in crisis isn't going to explode.

But the power plant shutdowns very may well affect us in another way. With so many sources of energy offline, TEPCO may not have enough electricity to meet peak demand. It said on Saturday morning that there might need to be blackouts and requested us to conserve energy as much as possible. But then they found some more electrons in a back closet or something and avoided having to cut any power. Today rumours of rolling blackouts and power loss are rampant and it's hard to find out the facts, so let's conserve as much as possible and hope for more back closets at TEPCO.

10 ways to conserve electricity

  1. Turn off your TV.
  2. Same goes for stereo, game consoles, computers, printers, etc.
  3. Disconnect your heated toilet seat.
  4. Move your computer server to an offsite host outside Japan.
  5. Unplug appliances you aren't using. Lots of them draw power even when they are off.
  6. Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs.
  7. Turn off lights if you aren't using them.
  8. Use solar power to dry your washing.
  9. Turn down the heat and put on a sweater.
  10. Start a raw foods diet.

I will be implementing #4 today, hopefully before any rumoured or real power disruptions. But I expect that this hosting transfer isn't going to go 100% smoothly as I am also upgrading my blogging software at the same time. So I apologise in advance for any ugliness, broken links, or other discombobulations on mediatinker. I will strive to have it all up and running beautifully again asap.

Grocery non-shopping

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The supermarket in my neighborhood has a lot of empty shelves tonight. People are panicking and hording, I guess. Here's what's missing:

  • rice
  • tofu
  • eggs
  • bread
  • milk
  • juice
  • pasta
  • leafy greens
  • mushrooms
  • eggplants
  • pineapple
  • bananas
  • cup ramen
  • retort pouch curry
  • udon
  • nabe sets
  • bento
  • sushi
  • deli foods
  • most meat and fish

There was a fair supply of tomatoes, fresh herbs, zucchini, beer, wine, cookies, ice cream, and yogurt. I have a feeling that produce is going to be hard to come by for the next few days as transport and farming are disrupted from the earthquakes, tsunamis, and the nuclear emergency.

Staff in our local grocery store, and also in the convenience stores (also bare of most fresh foods), were busy trying to restock the shelves with cup ramen. At least there will be something to eat. We won't have to add "famine" to our list of apocalypses.

The Big One, Bunkyo style


Well, I think we just lived through the long-overdue, ever-feared "Big One" that seismologists have been predicting for decades. It didn't have its epicenter in Tokyo, but we sure as fuck felt it. I can't even imagine what it must have been nearer the epicenter. But let me tell you what it was like here.

Tod & I were together at home this afternoon when the quake struck at 2:45. It was scary. Our five story apartment building shuddered and rocked like a ship at sea.

After the first few seconds, when the initial shake started getting worse, I opened an exit to the balcony and we stood together in the doorway watching the birds flap confusedly, trees sway and every local structure rattle and moan. It was disconcerting and eerily beautiful at the same time. I was fascinated and calm while it happened and very grateful that I wasn't alone. It seemed to last for an eternity, though it was maybe less than two minutes in reality.

Our lucky boat capsized.

Even when the shaking calmed to a rolling wave and it seemed safe to move, things were still swaying. It felt like stepping back onto land after a long voyage and we were both feeling sort of seasick. I ran around the house to see what had happened. Stuff had fallen off shelves, counters and surfaces over all over the house, though amazingly enough nothing really broke. I put most of it to right in a few minutes.

The city made an emergency announcement over the public address system - the first time they have ever done that in my memory - though with the flapity-flap of helicopters and the echoing distortion off buildings, I could barely make out a word. Our apartment was still standing, so I figured we were fine to stay in it. We checked Twitter for the first details, updated Facebook status and more or less calmed down for a few minutes.

Japanese lanterns are stacked stones, now unstacked.

Then I wanted to go examine the what was up. In the hallway, the first sign of trouble. A stone lantern had fallen over and cracked the floor-to-ceiling plate glass window. Oops. Another stone lantern was toppled on the first floor, but that seems to be the extent of problems in our building. Amazing considering how loudly it was creaking and the amount of sway it experienced.

We went out to see the world. Really not a lot of damage in our area. A few unhitched cable TV wires and some crumbled old plaster. We stopped into the flower shop on the corner to check in with the store owner. She said she could see the big apartment buildings swaying. From one of the 13th floor balconies, someone's stuff had fallen to the street.

After the quake a beer to celebrate surviving.

We continued on to Kashiwaya, our local liquor store, to see how our friends there had fared and also to get a beer. Our friend and their shop were fine - two bottles of sake had toppled over and broken but that was all. We ordered two draft beers and sat at the table outside the shop to watch people go by. We got a lot of double takes and some envious smiles, the two of us calmly enjoying our drinks. The worse was over and we were safe together. It was going to be OK.

The sidewalk was crowded with commuters walking home because every train in the capitol was stopped. People were actually hurrying, unusual in a city where ambling is the norm. Kasuga Dori is a main emergency road and it was pretty much packed with people from the afternoon until well into the night.

Determined walkers head home.

When it got cold after dark, I felt compelled to go out and give away my extra hats, gloves and scarves to all those people walking home a long way who needed them. I was oddly fearful to get too far from Tod so I pushed aside the feeling of needing to help and stayed inside. But the need to do something, anything to help people on this very strange day got too strong and I worked up the courage to go outside alone. It is hard to give stuff away in Tokyo, but I eventually found people who were cold enough to accept my mismatched accessories.

Now it's almost 11 pm. We are listening to the Japanese news radio reporting on people trying to get home. At Shinjuku station the trains are still stopped, there is a 100 meter long queue for taxis...and no taxis. The streets are gridlocked with traffic. All the buses are completely crammed. Hotels are full. Convenience stores are running out of supplies in some places. Some people are in for a long, cold night. The aftershocks continue to make everything shake and sway in Tokyo.

And we got off lightly in Tokyo. The worst happened more than 300 km north of here. The magnitude of the quake was 100 times stronger than the one in Haiti last year. It reached the highest level of the Shindo scale, 7, and was eventually given an 8.9 magnitude.

Every minute brings more horrible news from the north. There's a nuclear emergency in Fukushima with a reactor on the verge of melt down and people being evacuated; Kurihara, a town of 77,000, was entirely destroyed; 1800 people are taking refuge in an elementary school in Aomori; and the videos of the tsunami rolling inland are so disturbing that I can't watch them. The grisly discoveries of corpses are just beginning; the number will not be small.

Tomorrow some friends and I are getting together to hoop at Yoyogi to relieve our stress and brainstorm ways we can help even a little bit. Feel free to join us. 12:30 in the usual place.

Here's another hoop drill that I learned in Sydney. The idea is simple and the training effect is strong. Using one hoop, you hoop on all your body parts for longer than you ever really would during a dance or performance. Why do you want to do this? It improves your control, strengthens your body and develops your stamina. You will discover weaknesses you never noticed as a hoop dancer; it's pretty amazing. Get ready to sweat and bruise - if you haven't trained like this before, these drills can be brutal. But they are worth it.

The video shows 12 different levels to hoop on from hands to knees. When we did these drills at SJC and Circus Fest we added a few more places to hoop, did the drills for a minute rather than 30 seconds, and added entertaining variations like turning with and against the hoop.

As with the previous hoop drill video, this isn't a tutorial as much as a guide for your training. Play it while you hoop, keeping an eye on the countdown timer to know when to change to the next level. If you are paying close attention, you'll see some prompts, tips and encouragements as the video plays. I plan to make more hoop drill videos for us to use as we advance through this basic one.

I picked music that I like to hoop to, but feel free to turn the sound down and crank your own tunes.

Happy training!

Here's a circus-style hula hoop drill to train your posture, condition your core and build strength. Get a stack of hoops spinning on your waist and then follow along with prompts for 5 1/2 minutes of tips, challenges and prompts to keep you going. This drill will carve you a six pack! (or a three pack, if you only go in one direction...)

The video is meant to be played while you are hooping through the drill, so it's not a tutorial as much as a set of instructions and prompts set to music. There is text (high contrast for when you've got your iPhone outside in the glare, though this drill is very indoor friendly, too) and some graphics to help you keep track of where in the drill you are. Glance at it to get your bearings and don't stop hooping!

How many hoops to should you put in your hoop stack? The Australian circus hoopers told me the "number of hoops you can split plus one or more." So if you can split 3, your hoop stack is 4 hoops or more. If you usually only use one hoop, start your stack with two. The hoops should be the same size and similar weight.

When you can do the whole five minute drill without dropping your hoops, do it again in the opposite direction, or extend to ten or twenty minutes. When you have it in both directions, add another hoop.

I plan to make more hoop drill videos in the same vein: simple explanations in graphics and text plus the timings for each move and music. The next one will involve spinning the hoop on all parts of your body. It's a fun one.

Thanks to Jewelz and all the Aussie circus hoopers who helped me to learn this and other drills. You're wonderful teachers and so strong. P.S. I AudioSwapped the music so it should play in all countries now.

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