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Monday, April 25, 2011

Clean Up in Japan

Thursday last week, I met a friend from Germany, who is also working in Japan. He decided to go up to the North and help to clean up a town called Ishinomaki. He did this together with an organization, which was also very active during the Kobe Earthquake and has a lot of experience: Peace Boat (

It is very interesting to listen to his stories how he had to prepare himself for the trip ("you need to have everything for yourself for one week like dry food, water, etc. and it was so difficult to find water in Japan. I went to several supermarkets to collect everywhere my small bottles until I had 12 liters") or how he lived in a small tent and heard the after shocks coming ("in the evening you are lying in your sleeping bag, and then you hear the earthquake coming by small rumbles before it really starts to shake below you").

Please have a look at his blog and read more about his trip: Stephan's Blog 

We also talked a bit about our project and he likes the idea. Stephan told me that he visited an elementary school and the teachers asked them to speak a little bit of English with them. It was a lesson with laughters and he believes that this can help the kids a bit: smiles and a bit of fun.
He gave me a contact of the head of a this school in Ishinomaki and told me that the head would be very happy, if we contact him, but of course we need to go via the educational board of the region beforehand and we will definitely do this.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Safety Concerns

One questions, which I always get asked by friends is, how we deal with the radiation fear and if it is dangerous in Tokyo.

I can always answer very confident, that I do not live in fear and that Tokyo is safe. Tokyo is almost 300 km from the Fukushima Nuclear Plant and the measured levels are very low. I also believe that nobody can lie on these facts, as we have too many journalists in town who also measure all the time the radition in air and water. If there would be the slighest mis-communication by any official in Tokyo, then they would publish it immediately. They wait for this...

At the same time, the levels are not very good nearby the nuclear plant, as you can see on below graphic (

Tokyo and Yokohama have white tags, which means that the radiation levels are below the average, but in the area of Fukushima you see yellow and orange tags (up to 4.7 micro Sv outside of the evacuation zone).

Yesterday I wrote about our friend, Yusuke, who lives in this area and does not feel very safe, but he has the personal feeling not to leave his friends, family and responsiblity behind. He might not be in direct danger as the radiation is decreasing these days, but many people have saftey concerns and espcially for the children. Today I could read in the newspaper about the precautions of the government, which makes me worried for the people and especially for their emotions:

"Outdoor school activities limited in Fukushima"

The school kids are not allowed to play outside for long time and as well not allowed to use swimmingpools, etc. Of course, this is depressing and the kids need a lot of care. Because of this, people like Yusuke and all other helper are so important for the children and all people there.

Please let us thank them and pray for them today.  

Monday, April 18, 2011

How is life in Fukushima now?

Today we met a friend, Yusuke, who lives in Koriyama-shi, Fukushima which is located about 60km inland from the coastal line, the Tsunami impacted area, and the Fukushima #1 nuclear power plant.

It was an emotional meeting for us as he experienced the earthquake on March 11 at the kindergarten where he works. Yusuke is a very positive and caring guy, He looks forward and tries to help the environment & community. This impressed us very much.

On that day, when the 9.0 Earthquake happened, they took and carried all the kids outside to the playground. It was difficult to walk while the earth was shaking. Outside, it was still cold and a couple hours later it started to snow. All the electricity, Gas line & Water were dead, including phone lines.

Fortunately they did not have any damage from the tsunami but they had or still have difficult times from all the daily after shocks (there are 5-6 shocks per day, which he can feel) and the fear of radiation.  

He said when the earthquake comes he can "hear" them coming, earth rumbles.

The life for the little children is not quite the same as before. Their board of education has decided not to let the kids play outside, all the swimming pools are closed, and having kids wearing masks all the time. It is difficult for them, but at least many of the kids are too young to understand the entire consequences of earthquakes and they are not panicking.

The worst is the fear of the radiation: they calculated if the situation doesn't change, they would be exposed to radiation 2-3 micro sievert per every hour, sums up in 1 year to 20-25 mili sievert. This is the reality but still, nobody is telling them how to prevent or what exactly will happen to their health. They hear nothing from the government or Tepco, no reliable information, he feels the government is not telling them enough. 
My question to him was, of course: "Did you ever consider to leave your hometown?"

He answered to us: "Well, I am scared about this whole situation but I can not just leave. My family owns the kindergarten where the parents of these kids rely on. Some are doctors and nurses, some are member of the Self-Defense Forces. People need them and they need us. If I was there just alone, it would be easy, I would have left already."

This shows Japanese mentality and attitude which they should be very proud of: 
Many of them care for others very much. They are brave and responsible for their families and community. I can not imagine any other country would be that strong (but to be fair, it is a unique situation and I hope that it will stay unique forever.)
Although, any other nations and governments might have reacted complete different to the situation, starting from evacuating further areas... but today I do not want to put the emphasis of this post on arguing on the Japanese governmental decision of the evacuation radius, but praise the Japanese gracious attitude and caring nature.

People there still have to live, they have to go to work to live their lives. Who would help them if they leave their city and go to else where... Government subsidy is only for people who lived in 30km evacuated zone.
What would you do? Suffer your own health and live like it is or suffer your own home and leave your family, friends and community behind? 

I want to end this post with an outlook on our project. 
Yusuke was very happy with our idea and engagement. He will help in Fukushima to identify the right schools and the right needs (what we should put into the cones). He said, that many kids from the evacuation zones are in schools all over Fukushima now and the schools are packed with kids, many don't have enough and schools are short of  stationaries etc. 

Yusuke thinks that many schools will be interested in receiving these school cones. Now he is looking forward to seeing many happy faces which he believes school cones will bring.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

1015 Earthquakes (since 11th of March)

Today I like to address a topic, which many of you asked me before: how safe do you feel in Tokyo? I would like to address the issues with the earthquakes today and tomorrow I will talk more about the radiation fear.

To start with: You will never be safe when we talk about earthquakes in Japan, but this is what you accept when you live here.

I believe that there is no other country which is so well prepared as Japan and all the buildings seem to be very stable and well designed for quakes. Of course, we are always scared when we feel an earthquake, but I think this is normal as you never know if it will get stronger and how long your building is shaking now. Just imagine you sit in a boat with no windows and someone tells you it will be rough sea. Everything is swaying and you never know how long more and if the next wave gets higher. This is a bit how we feel. Well, the only difference is that a building is usually stable and you do not expect to be on a boat from one to the other minute.

A colleague of mine told me yesterday that there is a prediction for a 9.4 magnitude quake directly in or very nearby Tokyo. Of course then there will be a lot of damage, injuries & death, but as I mentioned, you need to accept this risk when you start living in Japan and therefore nobody will run away because of a prediction, which is anyhow speculated for many years already.

At the moment the amount and strength of earthquakes are decreasing and I hope that this will continue to decrease. Not necessarily for me, but especially for the people in the North of Japan who suffered enough.

Here is a link about the 1015 earthquakes which happened since the 11th of March:

What is quite scary for me, is the fact that almost all earthquakes hit in the same/similar area and this is also causing the drowsiness of the people in that area. I read today that some people imagine that there are quake 24/7 now, just because the earth did shake so often.

So let's hope and pray for these people that we will be able to look into a brighter and more peaceful future for this region and Japan.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cherry Blossom in Japan/ Kirschbluete in Japan

Im Augenblick ist Sakura - Kirschbluetenzeit: Mehr als jemals zuvor steht die Kirschbluete fuer die Hoffnung und den Aufbrauch in eine neue Zeit in Japan. Fruehling und damit eine neue Jahreszeit!

Spring Time is Sakura Time in Japan: More than ever before, the Cherryblossom stands for hope of Japan and the start of something new! Gambatte Nippon! 

Media in Japan (during these difficult times)

Hello Everybody,

today I read the following in an International magazine: Two Extremes: Foreign "Sensationalism" and the more measured, even censorious, coverage by local Journalists

I like it very much as it explains exactly how I felt during the difficult times of the last weeks in Japan.
On one side I thought it is irresponsible how the international media is slaughtering the topics and use people's agony for propaganda in their own countries. And for this I have to praise the Japanese media, as they kept their duty to help the people in the country with fact-based reporting. NHK in Japan did report almost adjective-free in order not to create more fear than there was already. "Domestic media has a responsibility to report the news and important developments, but I think it also has a duty to avoid public panic" stated Martyn Williams in that article. What do you think, how would CNN reacted if it would have happened in USA or "Bild" if it happened in Germany? Would they have acted responsible as well? I honestly doubt it and therefore I like to praise the Japanese Media for this.

On the other hand I must say that the Japanese media did not question anything. They were informative and it seemed well prepared for each development during the day, but at the same time they never criticized  anything (e.g. when TEPCO did the "10 million mistake" or the Government corrected TEPCO in a few cases). This is something what made me worried a bit...

At the end I am happy that I could mix the two media sources and find the middle way, which I think is always the best in life: find a good balance.

Please do not be too hard on the Japanese media as they dealt with the worst catastrophe after WW2 in a calm and professional way. They reported based on facts and not speculation, and this is the nature of this culture. Of course not everything is good, but at the end I prefer an objective analysis over exaggeration.

(The mentioned Article is from EuroBIZ Magazine, April 2011)