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March 11, 2011


Internet connections in Japan appear to still be working. I've been able to reach multiple friends/colleagues over and, thankfully, everyone (and their families) are okay so far. Skype is offering free calls to Japan from anywhere in the world. My wife was able to use it to reach a good friend near Sendai.

Thanks for putting this up.

I have an old friend in Chiba who has yet to respond, but I haven't spoken to her in years and there are any number of reasons why that could be.

Last I heard, she didn't live on the coastal side of the prefecture--she was closer to Tokyo, really--so the chances she was impacted by the tsunami are probably pretty low. The earthquake is another story.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Sorry, but I think you're crediting me wrongly -- I didn't start the open post. I've been away from home all day and away from the computer.

That said, one of the first things I did this morning was check with a friend whose daughter teaches English in Tokyo to make sure she was all right (she is). And then I watched the news footage on many channels on TV and saw the still shots from the BBC and others, and felt shocked at the sheer destructiveness of the quake and the tsunami.

thanks fiddler, I've corrected the post.

I was on the subway going to a dental appointment in Tokyo when it struck. I looked at my cell phone clock as the train was about to leave out of the station we had pulled into, just to check that it was leaving on time so I could gauge when I'd get to the station I had to get out of for my appontment. The subway car began swaying and at first, I thought it was a draft coming in through the conduits, but then I realized that in fact it was an earthquake when it lasted for more than thirty seconds.

After some muddle, when they opened the doors, I got out and saw the notices, along with some rumblings of an aftershock. It hit me that in fact we had had a big one and I tried to call my wife, who was at home. When I didn't get through I started to worry, though I noticed others were frustrated with their phones. It was clear that it wasn't just me, or our landline, or her cell phone server; communications were knocked out all around. I tried calling my dentist's office and couldn't get through either.

So the long and the short of it was that I ended up having to walk home. I assumed the appointment would be a no-go as I was certain that my dentist would close down (which I have learned that it did - they were worried about me making it there and not being able to get back).

I departed the station and followed the general direction of the subway station entrances along the Yurakucho subway line, which I had taken, as if I followed them far enough, I could connect to the roads leading to where I live in Nerima ward. I did just this - all 14 kilometers of it, which amounted to about a four-and-a-half hour walk. The sidewalks and even some of the streets were packed with people in the same straits, with lots of folks asking for directions and checking the navigation on their cell phones. I was able to get hold of my wife and she hopped on her bicycle to meet me at Nerima station.

So, I can back up LJ's remote insights of the accounts. Along my urban trek, I saw exactly one flower pot upended, and one cracked door window. That's it. Tokyo really has gotten the light end of things and while my side of our home office got messed up, with me now thinking of how to reconfigure the bookshelf and such, along with a broken teapot and one smashed wine glass, that's the extent of our damage. We had reinforcing done on our house a couple of years ago precisely for this sort of thing, and while there was some oscillation you could feel in the aftershocks plus the smaller quake we just had today (around 12:12PM local time or so - it's Saturday afternoon here now), it would've been worse without it, as it's an older house.

The only thing I would add to the yeoman-like insights LJ has is that neither my wife or I are sure just how comprehensive the coverage is in the Japanese media about the situation with the nuclear reactors. We've been watching NHK, TBS, FNN, and other Japanese networks and comparing it with CNN's coverage, and we get a sense there is at least a little sugarcoating right now in the Japanese media - though I would also add that it is understandable in a country with an unfortunate history vis-a-vis anything to do with atomic power. We're also feeling that at some point they'll have to be more forthcoming anyway as people in those parts of Fukushima and elsewhere have to know, with possibly more evacuation planning afoot.

Tokyo certainly is not representative of the rest of the Japan and we feel so much for the people in the Tohoku right now. I have a former student from Iwate who had done an English for the hospitality industry course with me at the vocational college where one of my jobs takes place. A lovely girl, and the best student in what sometimes was a surly, undermotivated class. She couldn't get a job in Tokyo - perhaps, thanks to her Tohoku accent - and, as far as I know, ended up going back to Iwate. I don't know what's become of her as she has a fairly common name with common kanji, and after checking, came up trumps with her.

That's all I have.

This footage is so damn hard to watch.Thousands of poor people swept away. Prayers to those who suffered and lost life or are injured.

> I believe I read a story about the fact
> that the vast majority of workers at
> nuclear power plants in Japan are
> foreigners, but it may come out.

The nuclear power industry developed on parallel paths in the 1960s and 1970s. Many nations' electric utility and engineering firms licensed the US designs of General Electric (boiling water reactors) and Westinghouse (pressurized water reactors); the first such units were basically duplicates of US plants (the two damaged by the earthquake being essentially sisters of Exelon's Dresden 2 & 3 near Chicago), but then each developed their own generations from there.

In the 1980s and 1990s the industry became much more global, particularly as orders for new US plants ended and both GE and Westinghouse pulled back from the market. Hitachi is now the largest supplier of GE-type units (and a French company the largest supplier of Westinghouse-type units).

However, GE (and the spun-off Westinghouse nuclear) is still heavily involved in the market, esp for services, and it would not surprise me if their services division had a good number of people at almost every nuclear site in the world. BUT - this would not be a majority of the workers; the Japanese plants are fully under the control of their national utilities and engineering firms who are quite proud of their technical and operational capability.


Thanks Cranky.

Unfortunately, there have been a handful of articles about the number of foreign workers in the Japanese nuclear industry because it is considered a 3K occupation (kitanai, kitsui, kiken or dirty, difficult, and dangerous, the equivalent in English is a 3D job) and young Japanese don't want to do these sorts of jobs.

a number of progressive sources discussed the notion of 'nuclear gypsies' in the early 80's. Here are some links
here page 37
here (a questia link, I can't find the paper online, but the author has written about it on some newslists, I believe

About 10 years ago, with the Tokaimura accident, the question of where nuclear workers were from arose, and this LATimes article which notes that 90% of nuclear workers in Japan are subcontracted.

A trivial point, in view of what has happened, but (and I speak as a professional), please forget about "Richter magnitude"--there is no such thing. There are a whole bunch of magnitude scales, all semi-arbitrary but all of which try to line up with what Richter did in California, and also do a good job of representing the size of big earthquakes (which his original definition turned out not to do). Moment magnitude is the best of these, and is generally used. Don't worry if you see different numbers, it is just a reflection of different definitions, and that the numbers change as more data get processed.

Thanks DCA. When I first came to Japan, 25 years ago, coming from a place with no noticable seismic activity during my lifetime, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what scale was what, but never did so to my satisfaction. I spent some time while writing this to try and make sure what scale was being used and was unsuccessful. I did find this for the math geeks, but I have no idea what to plug in.

I did hear one expert talking head on one channel say that they were reevaluating the readings and it is possible that the event reached 9.1, making it one of the top four strongest earthquakes ever recorded with a seismograph.

sekaijin -- thanks for the first-person impressions. I'm glad you and your family are safe.

Here's a good resources on questions about measuring earthquakes:


My favorite is "Where can I buy a Richter Scale?"!


One of my brother's coworkers has a son, Aaron Strumwasser, who is teaching at the Starry Kodoba English school in Sendai. They have not been able to contact him and are frantic. This is the google person search for him:


I'm sorry, but I don't have any other suggestions. I'll be back in Japan March 30th if the flight situation has resolved and I'll try from Japan.

Good news! Aaron called home tonight and he is safe and in a shelter at an elementary school. His parents are overjoyed. Here's a tv story that aired about it before the call came:



Reginac23 - not to trivialize things or anything of the sort with your brother's coworker's son - but really, Tokyo for the most part has really gotten off from all this. Tokyo Disneyland and the Disney Sea Resort, which are actually both in Urayasu, in Chiba prefecture just across the border from the Tokyo metropolitan area, did get their parking lots and entrance ways upended somewhat, but that may be about the biggest single piece of real estate damage sustained anywhere in Tokyo or proximate to it (not being such a Disney company fan, I would only have lost sleep over it had people been killed or injured the way they have in the Tohoku - the physical structures themselves I could care less about).

So as for anyone else from Tokyo - we're all okay. Having said that, I am very glad that he was located. The cell phone and landline servers have been knocked out somewhat, though I haven't checked myself so much lately. But that's the main reason why you weren't hearing anything from him.

Commuters working in Tokyo had been marooned in their offices and other buildings, as had students in their schools, but they've all been well-provided for given the circumstances. I've been hearing from a number of people I know in such straits through my Facebook page and they're all okay.

sekaijin, the person was in Sendai, not Tokyo.

Thank our lucky stars, according to the cold-hearted American vermin infesting the country:


My apologies to LJ and Reginac23 - thought it read "Tokyo." Sorry.

While Tokyo was disrupted by the quake there seems to be more news about Tokyo than the areas hardest hit by the quake. I have relatives in the town of Uwanuma Tomeshi Nakadacho which is fairly close to Sendai and I have not had any news about them or any other urban cities or towns in this area. I am sure that the relatives and friends of these people would like to know the situation in these outer areas. I guess I am just frustrated.

Do you mean Iwanuma? If you have a scan of the address and the name in Japanese so I can see the japanese characters, I can look for you. Send it to libjpn [at] gmail. Unfortunately Iwanuma and neighboring Natori seem to be an area that was really hit hard.

Sekaijin, please drop me a line at the above address, I am sure I will be up in Tokyo within the next 6 months, and would love to meet you IRL.

I've just gotten this link, which allows you to watch 4 Japanese TV stations simultaneously streaming, though at the moment, I am only getting two. Live reports from many of the small seaside towns that are now gone. Google maps has a special map with various information, including the epicenter and affected areas. The tsunami traveled at about 500-600 mph and the epicenter was about 125 miles, so towns on the coast had about 10-15 minutes warning. My hopes of the majority getting out are probably far too optimistic.

Maybe people have seen http://video.l3.fbcdn.net/cfs-l3-snc6/81489/34/1605260179420_2624.mp4?oh=ac31b4d8738221641ba490396dc19636&oe=4D7F9F00&l3s=20110313100648&l3e=20110315101648&lh=0a6cfa5eeaecd6dc12abf>this, but I hadn't seen anything like it. It's video of the water first just starting to come into a city street, a fast-moving trickle, and eventually it's at the level of the second stories of the buildings, carrying some buildings along with it. Someone stood there and took this footage, wow.

I've always pictured a tsunami as if it's a wave, only bigger. That may technically be what it is, but it's the wrong picture.

Words fail.

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