What follows is the personal account of the recent events in Japan by my friend Keiko Ito who lives in Tokyo, and who has kindly given me permission to share her Facebook entries on this blog. She wrote to her Facebook friends what is happening in her immidiate surrounding, wrote about her thoughts and feelings, and shared her worries about the fate of her relatives in Sendai.
I am posting them in English language, just as they were originally written. Keiko might join us from time to time (as she finds time), so I would encourage the commentators to post in English, if at all possible. If not, I'll try and translate, for her sake.
March 12, 2011
1.25am - What a day. Thank you so much for your messages of support. It meant a lot! Sorry I won't be able to reply individually today. It is 1.15am and I finally got back home. I managed to join my husband at his office in downtown Tokyo (I was not too far - only 1.5h walk!) so we walked back together, which was a great comfort. It is 4C/39F and the wind was very cold. No major damage in the house, but a lot of victims in the northeast part of the country, where my in-laws live. Telephone still not working, so after receiving a first "we're ok!" message from my sister in law, we still haven't managed to speak to them. Anyway, just a first "we're safe!" message. Lots of love, Keiko.
2.33am - Got our emergency bags out - containing food, water, radio, chargers, etc. My friends who survived the 1995 Kobe earthquake told me their first major problem was the glass debris all around their bed/futon so next to our bed, our shoes are ready. Aftershocks are still happening quite frequently so we are prepared. Good night and thanks again x
01.04pm - Another day started in Tokyo - nothing unusual here, we're fine. Just watching the terrible footage from TV and the extent of the damage being uncovered. Some aftershocks last night and today, crossing fingers that there is no further damage. Still no communication with my in-laws, I believe it's caused by power shortage (either phone battery or base station issue). Thanks again for your kind thoughts.
2.18pm - Good grief. It was just announced that radioactive cesium was found outside the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Not good.
3.11pm - Finger-pointing, not effective action, will start. Very soon.
5.57pm - Government spokesperson asked to save electricity and warned about chain emails spreading erroneous information.
08.16pm - TV's advice to people evacuating from the nuclear plant area: wear long sleeves, wear long pants. I mean, it is freezing where they are. Wet a handkerchief and hold it to your mouth. But they're still unable to tell HOW they are going to be evacuated. I feel helpless.
10.24pm - We just had a relatively big aftershock. Magnitude 6.0, off the coast of Fukushima, where the nuclear power plants are. We felt it here in Tokyo. Every time I do something normal, like having a shower, or using the microwave, I wonder if it is going to be the last time for a while because of the possibility of bigger aftershocks or blackout. I know this is not realistic, but those thoughts just come naturally.
10.45pm - Three patients in a hospital 3km/1.8mile from the nuclear plant were chosen at random to test for radioactivity, and all three of them were positive. The radioacitve substance are at a level that can be cleared only by being "washed off", and they're doing quite ok. Or so they say.
03.13am - Thank you all for keeping me company today. I am so grateful. The aftershocks seem to have subsided a bit, will now go to bed. What is surreal is that nothing has changed in my immediate surrounding, yet so much has changed in my own country. Hope I will be able to contact my in-laws tomorrow. Thanks again :)
13 March, 2011
10.22am - Good morning. No major aftershake during the night. Woke up to watch worsening of the nuclear power plant situation and finger-pointing on TV. New problems arising at another place in the same Fukushima 1 compound. 15 people contaminated, 150 people suspected of contamination, for now. The electricity company has a history of hiding information and they're delaying their press conference. Not good.
10.55am - Four babies were born last night in a hospital in Sendai! Delivery happened in the dark. Mothers and babies are doing fine!
12.42pm - Power is gradually working again in the cities surrounding the epicentre, and special treatments such as dialysis are now possible again in some hospitals. Both airports in Tokyo have mostly resumed their operations. Now trying to finish my never-ending translation job so I can go and volunteer if necessary. Many pages to go, but just trying. If I don't translate the magazine will not be issued - or will be published with blank pages - and I cannot be responsible for the whole loss ;-) Trying my best.
12.58am - TV announcing information hotline numbers for non-Japanese in... Japanese language. Sendai International Center is offering information in English, Chinese and Korean.
02.39pm - Minami Sanriku is the town where 10,000 people are missing. It suddenly dawned on me that I went there a couple of years ago with my in-laws to a hotel right on the ocean. A popular resort for people from Sendai. That hotel would have completely disappeared now. Amazing how I did not make the connection of my previous visit with the sight I'm seeing/name I'm hearing on TV. It feels so disconnected.
03.18pm - TEPCO (electricity company) currently planning 3-hour daily blanket blackout every day from March 14 in Kanto (including Tokyo) area as corporate activities are scheduled to resume on Monday.
05.38pm - Just received another very short email from my sister-in-law. Father, mother and sister all ok. Massive relief. x
07.42pm - All tsunami advisories and warnings are lifted, for now. Nuclear meltdown warning is still on. Don't know whether to laugh or cry.
08.58pm - We just learned that this (restrictions) will be implemented from tomorrow.
10.34pm - Just heard from my sister again. My husband's cousin was working at my family workshop near the sea. He survived the tsunami - managed to climb up on a building and says it was close. He also says it was hell on earth. He walked back to his house, because his car was also swept away, and it took him until the morning to get back. This is where my husband's cousin was. Mindblowing.
11.03pm - TEPCO's website is too busy - so I don't know what is their power cut programme nor at what time we'll lose electricity. There are rumours that it will not happen. We have to wait for the right information...
11.34pm - It may change but there could be a power cut in my area from 0.20pm until 4pm.
00.35am - We just heard a public announcement broadcast - so full of echo that even if we opened the window it was very difficult to understand what it was about - that the power cut would be in effect tomorrow morning at 6.40am. What??
00.50am - Apparently, the echo was because the announcement was made in the area next to ours - we just heard a clearer public announcement of our ward announcing a power cut between midday and 4pm. Charging PC, phone, everything, now.
01.12am - A DVD rental shop manager in Tokyo tweeted: "bored with earthquake news? come to our shop rent DVDs!" and there has been massive condemnation. He retracted and apologised profusely. You see many things, many facets of people under those circumstances. Unfortunately not only the good ones. But overall, it's been very positive so far.
02.21am - Off to bed yet again. Been a long day, but there were no major aftershocks and I received some good relieving news. Thank you all again for your company. I do not feel alone and I am so grateful for that.
March 14, 2011
10.41am - Good morning everyone. Waking up to many messages of support, thank you. No big aftershocks last night here in Tokyo, although it seems that small ones are ongoing up north. Must be so worrying every time a shake happens. Information about programmed blackout is erratic - they announced they were doing it, then that they may not do it, now it seems they're doing it. Causing chaos with public transportation now. So I will be offline for three hours (in theory) after midday here (which is in about 2h) not to worry. My Japanesse and European mobile phones will work (intil batery and extra charges will last).
11.00am - Electricity restored last night at my in-laws' place, still no gas no water, but at least that! My husband's cousin came to work today (my cousin works with my in-laws). Cousin's parents' house destroyed.
11.01am - On TV, they're showing how to keep oneself warm without heating and also how to create a candle with a can, aluminum foil and tissue paper.
11.18am - We just had a strong (M5.5) aftershake off the coast. When it's a relatively big one, there is first a warning on TV, telling us to be careful, then the shake will come. One of the best place is to go to the toilet because it is a smaller space which means better protection. One needs to leave the door open though because the door frame structure can become distorted and one can get stuck in there.
12.09pm - A few metres water level difference detected off the coast of Fukushima, new tsunami possible.
12.29am - Hydrogen blasts at nuclear reactor 3. Good grief. They're still saying that the core will be protected by casing. All I can do is to believe it.
12.31am - For now, got a bath tub full of water, cash, cans of food. (I don't know how cash can help if there's nothing on the shelves!) You know how stupid I can be? I just thought of vacuuming the floor. Of course I didn't but this is how disconnected I am right now. I guess what I need is to breathe. Inhale, exhale.
01.10pm - Tsunami was a false alarm. Pfew.
01.18pm - We still don't know if the blackout will really happen or not but shutting down computer now, just in case.
02.14pm - Blackout didn't happen for today. People saved more than necessary so TEPCO decided not to, but it was so last minute that many shops are closed now until 4-5pm.
05.34pm - Garbage collection was there, mail arrived, school was open and everything seems like just another day in Tokyo. Yet when I watch TV or go to supermarkets to see all those empty shelves, I know there is something surreal going on. It is a strange mixture of normalcy and emergency.
07.02pm - Just went to a nearby supermarket. Was expecting half chaos, saw calm panic. Some shelves are totally empty - bread, milk, rice, snacks, toilet and tissue paper are missing. But then again plenty of fish, vegetables so I am all set.
10.17pm - Spoke to my in-laws now! Phone working! Way too overwhelmed. Candlelit dinner now and will get back to you after that :)
11.12pm - Anyway, talked to my sister and bedridden mother-in-law, they are doing well. Some damage in the house (broken glass doors, fallen bookshelves and various things) but the house structure withstood and everyone is safe! Very happy to hear their voice, and of course, a huge relief for my husband too.
01.26am - Tomorrow's blackout in my area is going to be from 6.20am until 10am. And the electricity company is going to decide whether to implement it or not at around 5.30am. Bought some fruits and yogurt so we can have breakfast without cooking.
March 15, 2011
09.18am - The planned blackout did not take place. I slept well, and woke up to the news that there is a crack in whatever casing structure to the reactors. And right now there has been an explosion and staff evacuated. I received work with urgent deadline via email so I will mute my TV and close Facebook for a while otherwise it is too difficult to concentrate. Whatever happens with the reactors, at this point, is beyond anyone I guess. I am ok! More concerned about the stranded people because it is going to rain/snow in the area later today. Be back later x
02.58pm - My in-laws have water now! My sister's glad she can finally do some washing. Only gas is missing... No gas, no hot bath (very important for the Japanese people!) Now drizzling in Sendai, just hoping it won't turn into snow.
11.32pm - Still many aftershocks happening, but I haven't felt anything today. As soon as I wrote that, an aftershock came! I retract what I said... From Wikipedia: "Kotodama or kototama refers to the Japanese belief that mystical powers dwell in words and names. English translations include "soul of language", "spirit of language", "power of language", "power word", "magic word", and "sacred sound". The notion of kotodama presupposes that sounds can magically affect objects, and that ritual word usages can influence our environment, body, mind, and soul". It's a deep concept but usually we might use it as in "when one says something, it happens".
March 16, 2011
09.38am - Good morning everyone, beautiful weather here in Tokyo today, the sun is shining brightly. Just heard the news that the supermarket received some juice, milk and yogurt so off I go.
09.43am - Half million people displaced for now. Moving family reunions. People waiting to be in touch with their family members who are maybe in another shelter, maybe missing. People saved from under the debris 96h after the earthquake. Many people crying on TV that they did what they could to save their own lives - they survived and the people next to them were swallowed by the tsunami. My heart sinks but we have to remain strong.
10.01am - Branka, re: Senbazuru (thousand cranes). We all do what we can. Senbazuru is a great idea, not necessarily for the birds themselves but because when people fold their little bit of paper (can be any paper, you can cut newspapers the same size, etc.) people pray for recovery, for well-being. Bringing them to the Japanese Embassy might be a good surprise to them.
11.13am - I am now drinking a glass of hot milk, savouring every molecule :) Day 6, and there was some meat, milk, yogurt back on the shelves (although disappearing very quickly). Still many things missing but for me, I have everything I need.
11.32am - TV news presenters' clothes are in a brigher shade of grey. More spams in Japanese in the spam mailbox. Good signs? :)
11.45am - Whitish smoke coming out from one of the nuclear sites. Presenter: "can you guess what is happening now?" Commentator: "without further information it is difficult to speculate, but it seems that something very unusual is happening". Duh. Yeah, I could have coined that too.
12.15pm - I think people are getting tired. We were running on adrenaline for a while but exhaustion is setting in, I can see it on the face of the people on TV. At the same time, when I go out and see people in my area, I feel some kind of a little extra kindness here, but there must be some sence of perspective and gratitude in many people. That might be a very personal perception. But also, Japanese are no angels. There is patience and resilience for now, but when people are on the edge it is very easy to go overboard and go into a collective panic. I truly hope that the nuclear situation will calm down soon, although it really does not look good for the moment.
05.21pm - Something I found irritating. This from BBC Live: "Taro Kono, a Japanese opposition politician, criticises the government for not releasing information about the smoke above the Fukushima nuclear plant earlier. He tells the BBC that a three-hour delay in informing people. He tells the BBC that a three-hour delay in informing people has caused concern among the population." This is my reaction I sent (not that it will be published, but I needed to say it) : "I read about Mr. Kono's criticism of the way the communication has been dealt. I personally do not think that they (LDP, the current opposition) would have dealt with it better. I am no fan of the Democratic Party nor of the LDP, but this time I applaud Cabinet Secretary Mr. Edano's way of dealing with the situation and his clear presentation. I see some names in the list of the past Cabinet Secretaries who would have miserably failed in the task. Let's not forget that the nuclear situation is also under the past responsibility of the LDP. I am in no way excusing anyone for the lack of communication or mistakes in how to deal with the impending situations but I believe it is very easy to criticise - and honestly, the opposition should just shut up and help now."
06.11pm - Today's rolling blackout will take place between 6.20 to 10pm here in my area. It didn't take place for the last two days so it may be averted but I have a feeling it will happen today. So don't worry if I'm not here! I'll be eating in the dark, working in the dark, doing yoga in the dark :) Two years ago in the summer, there was a blackout in my area which practically never happens. It was in the evening on a hot day, and all of a sudden the world went dark and silent. This is when I realised about the amount of barely audible buzz created by electrical appliances. It was so very quiet and incredible! It lasted only less than a minute back then so today I am just going to enjoy it. Just hope no one gets injured because the traffic lights will be down too.
09.50pm - Back! Power came back a bit earlier than scheduled. Gas was still there so managed to have a hot meal. I am now translating a very good interview of a retired racer thinking back about his life. Doing this in the dark, by the candlelight, was most inspiring.
00.14am - Off to bed yet again, thank you for going through Day 6 with me. It is very cold here today in Tokyo and snowing up north. Seen a moving documentary of a young doctor whose hospital was affected by the tsunami, he went to the 5th floor with more than 40 patients but 7 of them died for drowning and hypothermia while waiting for the helicopter rescue. He talked about that very calmly, yet one could feel he was truly sorry he couldn't save them. Then, his wife gave birth today. He said he hoped his baby could face any difficulty in life, as he did, and he felt that if he is still alive, it is to help more people recover. Bless him, trully. Good night all! :-)
March 17, 2011
08.46am - Day7... day7?? Probably the longest and quickest 7 days of my life.
02.12pm - From BBC Live: "Employees of Tepco, the power station's operator, and other firms have volunteered to join efforts to control the escalating crisis at the power station, Japan's Jiji news agency reports. One volunteer is a 59-year-old man with four decades of experience working at nuclear power stations, who is due to retire in six months".
02.23pm - My sister wrote to say that it's snowing but it kind of melts on the ground, that they still have heating oil for their heater, and enough food. She went to a small supermarket with about 20 people queuing up, it took her 30 minutes to go in the shop and get some vegetable and fish. There was a restriction of ten items per person. Even I can't do much in this instance - all I can do is to be of some support. I've read that so many people are calling the municipalities to ask them if they could help, and those phone calls are so numerous that the actually important communications are not going through. So I am of support to my loved ones, I think I've never been this close to my sister-in-law in many years but now she really feels like a sister to me :)
02.47pm - Today's rolling blackout is from 3.20pm. It is 2.45pm now, so going to make myself a cuppa before it starts. Nice cup of tea with a dash of milk is all I need now :)
03.34pm - Hmm. Don't believe the news too quickly! Six minutes before the blackout was due to happen, I received an email telling me it's cancelled. And indeed power is still here. Err. Weren't they running out of electricity?
04.47pm - A PR car from the police just passed announcing that the yesterday, as people were walking in the dark, there were cases of groping and purse-snatching in the area so one needs to be careful. Good grief!!
05.25pm - My phone rings. "Allo?" The Frenchman seems hesitant. "Is this Keiko?" I do not recognise the voice. Turned out to be a person who used to work for the Peugeot WRC team back in 2005 and he looked for my name card and found it. I am terribly sorry I do not know who that is, I would if I could see him (and of course I forgot to get his last name which was very dumb of me)... Well he was in France and looked at all the footage on TV and just wanted to inquire about how I was doing. Isn't this priceless???
06.46pm - TEPCO, the electricity company, asked the train companies to reduce their services in order to save power. Now, do you know how many people travel on those trains every evening to commute? A LOT. Great confusion in some stations and train lines, I hope it will be resolved smoothly.
07.57pm - My husband came back from work. He said it was so crowded that he took it because it was on his way back, but if it was on his way to go to work, he'd come back home...
08:11pm - See, in Japan, the problem is always: who would take the responsibility? OK, a company tells its workers to stay home for a day, or even half the workers, and the workers would be happy to stay home. But then, if a client calls and the purpose of that phone call cannot be sorted because the person is home? That kind of stuff. So, who would be the person in the company (which would be big enough to impact the number of commuters; would be easier for smaller companies) who would take the responsibility over whatever the consequences would be? It is not only in this circumstance but it is same for TEPCO's decisions, or the government's for that matter: nobody really wants to say "I'll take all the responsibility for this therefore let's do it." It is so not in the culture.
10.01pm - Do you know when you step off a boat and you feel like you're still wobbly for a while? That's how it feels. We've been getting two rather big aftershocks tonight and many times I stop typing and try to suss out if it is an earthquake again or if it is just me.
00.30am - Yet again time has come for me to go to bed, and to thank you for your company, still feeling a bit wobbly. Set my intention not to worry about anything I do not have an influence on, such as the nuclear reactor issue. I can worry all I want and be angry, annoyed or whatever, but that will not change the situation so the only thing I can change is my attitude. Now, so many people kindly offered their hospitality to come and stay with them that I feel I now have a room all over the world! Now that is serious blessing and I am so very grateful. I will update my situation as time goes, and of course many things might change but for now, I will remain here in my hometown Tokyo, close to my husband who is still going to work every day, my family, and my in-laws still enduring the post-earthquake trauma. But I just wanted to express this - your friendship is invaluable, even though invisible, and it is what keeps me going now and I will be forever grateful. Good night!
March 18, 2011
08.28am - Day8! It's been a full week. 8 days ago on Friday morning, I was probably a different person. Subtly, of course, but different. It is amazing, one writes "thank you" or "love" or "best wishes" at the end of a message and it is definitely not a formality anymore (I'm not saying it was before! But you know what I mean). Probably one of the first mornings when I don't wake up with the image of new smoke or explosion of the nuclear power plant. Of course, what truly causes the damage is what we cannot see, and the situation is far from over yet, but those images of white smoke, fire and explosion first thing in the morning were not good for our psyche.
10.36am - Today's rolling blackout has been suspended in my area, for now. Some of you who came to Japan may have experienced heated toilets seats. It's really good when it's cold, especially as central heating is non existent even in Tokyo area and it can get very cold. Well, I've just learned today courtesy NHK that you can save more than 10 percent energy by shutting your toilet's lid. Makes sense! You always learn new things every day. I've cut the toilet seat heater, unplugged any unnecessary appliances, as that is the least I can do to give more electricity to the affected area. May not be much, but if many people do the same...
11.22am - There are so many questions I do not have an answer to. Why is the water blast to the nuclear reactor going to happen only this afternoon and not this morning? Why is it taking such a long time for food, blanket, heaters and whatever to reach the shelters where TV crews are getting? Why do rolling blackouts get cancelled when you hear that there's deffinitely some shortage? And why am I sitting here working and not doing my very best to go out and help with something? There is no one easy answer to whatever questions might be asked. We might know eventually. Or they just might be blowin' in the wind.
12.30pm - Graduation ceremony today at the nearby junior high school. Noisy kids. One side of me is purely congratulating them for their future, another side of me just wishes they would just stop shouting and cheering so loud. Life is not in black and white, but in all shades of grey.
07.54am - From BBC Live: "There is real fear in Tokyo about radiation despite official reassurances that the risk is low. Many foreigners have been leaving the country. The BBC's Clive Myrie says many busloads of Chinese nationals had arrived at Niigata airport. And some Japanese people are moving out of the area, our reporter says." Personally, this is the kind of blanket statement I don't like. BBC Live has been doing some great reporting. But to be honest, we are a country with 120 million people. 12 million live in Tokyo. How many people left the country after the earthquake? 10,000? 50,000? This is a free world and people can come and go as they can. You want to leave? Oh by all means please do. The news today as per the footage we saw show no real deterioration of the nuclear power plant. Probably what we see is not what we get. But to a certain extent, and this is truly not to justify any information that is concealed, but this kind of gratuitous fear-provoking information will create panic when repeated over and over again. And I do not think this is clever at all.
March 19, 2011
10.30am - Day9! Good morning everyone, last night I ran out of energy and went to bed without thanking you and I am sorry. I have a lot of energy but now understand sometimes you just can't make it! :) I am truly lucky because I can sleep and have been catching up with that last night. There is definitely a feeling of returning to normalcy, after a full week. TV channels have resumed their normal programming, but the image of people who lost a lot - family members, their house they have been living in for years, their dear friends. They themselves have survived but they have no idea about where to live, how and with which money to restart their own life. For sure there will be horror stories and I hope lessons were learned from the 1995 Kobe earthquake and back then Internet almost didn't exist. So there is extensive networking now that I really hope can be put to good use.
10.44am - I wake up to so many kindhearted messages from around the world it is so moving and fascinating.
01.51pm - Only now I am thinking I should have posted a note in my apartment block I have a few spare rolls of toilet paper and a few boxes of tissue - it's hay fever season here in Japan so people are in dire need. They're now back enough in the shops that people should be ok. It feels selfish to have lived with the stock without sharing. It just didn't cross my mind! Sigh.
01.59pm - Some good news: electricity is going to be restored at reactor n. 1 and 2 today and to n. 3 and 4 tomorrow. Now, this is apparently going to be used for the pumps to send in water to the reactors to cool them down. Now, the problem is to check whether the pumps, the pumps that cool down those pumps, and if the different valves will work. My thoughts and prayers to each and everyone working at the power plant.
03.58pm - We're now watching yesterday's footage of the water-spraying activities to the nuclear reactors on TV, taken from a camera just next to it. We're told that the surface temperature of the four buildings (reactor 1-4) are below 100C/212F. Of course we still don't know what is happening inside and how effective it is, but more water is being sprayed as I write. Crossing fingers and toes.
04.31pm - From BBC Live: "Mr Edano confirms that abnormally high radiation levels have been detected in samples of milk and spinach from the region close to the nuclear plant." To clarify: Mr. Edano said that the figures that were collected from spinach samples from Fukushima and milk samples from Ibaraki (both close to the nuclear power plants) were higher than the standard values set by the agencies (international agency, I missed the exact name). However, the criteria (for health risk) is created based on the consumption of these items throughout the lifetime. Therefore, we are increasing the collection of data so we can give you more accurate information as soon as possible. Of course, there are incidences of harmful rumours and I can see people avoiding milk and spinach now, as well as anything from Fukushima and Ibaraki. Yes I do understand. But I am not alarmed beyond reason.
05.41pm - My mother-in-law's conditions suddenly deteriorated very badly and my sister asked us to come to Sendai. Now I have no clue whatsoever about how to get there now but we need to find a way. I'll update as soon as I can but may not be able to for some time. May you all be blessed. Love, Keiko xxx
(To be continued...)