Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tohoku Earthquake and Fukushima - Looking back 2 years later

a few minutes after quake - picking up son at school



When the quake struck at a quarter to 3, Finny, my youngest son and I, were by the front door putting on shoes and getting ready to cycle over to pick up my oldest son, Owen, from elementary school.
Suddenly there was a bang, then slight shaking that kept increasing in intensity until things were falling off shelves and we couldn`t stay on our feet - so, we squatted under the frame of the doorway and hugged each other. 
After what seemed to have been a very long time, the shaking finally stopped - and we got on the bike and went to pick- up Owen at school.  Unbelievably (in hindsight), I foolishly and naively  rode over to Marinos Town (on the waterfront!) to see if their scheduled soccer practice was still on.  Of course it wasn`t. 
Only when we got home and turned on the TV, and I saw the images of the tsunami, did the magnitude of the event become apparent to me.  Then, sometime later, and gradually, I started to hear rumors, and bits and pieces of (vague and imprecise and often conflicting) information about trouble at the Fukushima nuclear plant. 

What follows is an an actual Facebook messaging conversation I had at the time with a good friend, a teacher at a university here in Kanagawa.   Right before the quake we were thinking of starting a business together and he had learned that his wife was pregnant.   
March 14, 2011
  • Friend

    you planning evacuation?
  • March 14, 2011
  • 4:49pm
    James Szypula

    I`m really not sure what to do. What do you think? Am I worrying too much?
    My instinct as a father is to get the kids out of harms way. I want to make an informed decision but there is no definitive info about what could potentially happen.
  • Friend

    i don't think you can worry too much about this if you keep it well short of irrational hysteria. i'm also thinking of bugging out -- at least until i start to teach again in april. miho's about 3 months pregnant!
  • 5:55pm
    James Szypula

    wow! well then go, especially if you have no reason to be here now.
    Junko said we should go "if you are worried", but she can`t come because of work. I can`t let her stay by herself, so I am thinking of putting kids on plane by themselves but they are probably too small to handle it.
  • 5:57pm
    James Szypula

    at what point, i mean what news, would make you pack your bags?

  • 6:00pm

    the only problem with us is health care. miho's permanent resident card has expired so she'd have to go back on a tourist visa and apply again. during this time she wouldn't be covered.
    there are other things like flying on a plane, leaving her parents etc. she's concerned about.
    didn't your mom or someone offer to come and get them?

    i dunno. waiting for that news might already be too late.
  • 6:34pm
    James Szypula

    right.. at that point it would be pandemonium. I think we both are pretty good at seeing through govt and organizational BS, so maybe we need to have some faith in our instincts here.
    I will talk to Junko about having my sister or mom pick up kids.
    Junko`s permanent visa expired too. Can she take a few days off?
    Maybe you should get out of dodge and go to Kyushu or back to SE Asia for a week or so until things become more settled.
  • 6:40pm

    yeah we'd have to weigh the known harmful effects of radiation to a fetus while flying against the unknown, but potentially much greater, amounts of radiation down here.
    but there is radiation out there. you saw that report about the ronald reagan, eh?
  • 7:18pm
    James Szypula

    yeah 160 km. when the wind shifts I suppose we will get some of that.

    160 km away
  • James Szypula

    how about just a shinkansen to as far as you can go south. what I`d do to be in Nagasaki or Hiroshima.
  • 8:46pm
    James Szypula

    I just got some advice from a former navy nuclear technician - yesterday, I asked him what he would do if he was me living 200 km from the plant. he said there was almost nothing to be concerned about, but he changed his tune after the reagan report and just sent me a message saying "if the wind changes, and you can, you should try to get away."
  • Friend

    that sounds pretty dire
  • 9:40pm
    James Szypula

    Contamination in the air 60 miles away... wow. Either they were lying, underestimating how much radioactivity they were venting, or there's something else going on as well. That's incredibly bad.
    his words
  • Friend

    something else? like what?
    James Szypula

    incompetence? shenanigans?
  • March 15, 2011
  • 11:25am
    James Szypula

    We are trying to find airline tickets out. plus need re-entry permit and I heard lines at immigration are crazy.
  • Friend

    it looks like miho will be able to stay with a friend in kyoto. after that if things get worse we might be able to get tickets out of kansai.
    can you apply for re-entry outside the country?
  • 11:43am
    James Szypula

    not usually - but I think that`s what I will try. Immigration phone line is busy. Can`t get any flights now - worried I waited too long.
  • 11:44am

    try out of kansai and get a bus or a train down there
  • 12:02pm
    James Szypula

    March 15, 2011
  • 4:50pm
    James Szypula

    we have tix for a flight out of Narita 4PM tomorrow. Hope they don`t close the airport.

    you convinced your wife to go?
  • 7:05pm
    James Szypula

    flights at 6 actually not 4. she might come on the weekend if things get worse.

    so you're going with the kids? how much were tickets and how did you find them?
  • 7:16pm
    James Szypula

    went to the airline sites directly. it was 450,000 for 3 tickets. I could have saved about 90,000 if I jumped on tickets in the morning.
  • Friend

    wow! that's steep. how did you decide to go with them?
      James Szypula

      Panic move - it looked like the prices were going up the longer I waited.

      want to borrow a couple bikes?
      • Friend

        i dunno i'd have to get to them i guess
        • 7:55pm
          James Szypula

          hmm - yeah. can`t see a way unless you are coming to yokohama.

            yeah likely not. how long are you staying in the states? any idea yet?
            • 8:17pm
              James Szypula

              if things seem better here - we will come back in april.
              • Friend

                i think miho's going to split to kyoto and stay with a friend and then we might head to taiwan to stay with friends there.
                • 8:38pm
                  James Szypula

                  good. when?
                  James Szypula

                  good. when?
                  • March 17, 2011
                  • Friend

                    she's kyoto now. you got out safely?
                    • 8:36pm
                      James Szypula

                      That's good! Yeah we are at my Grandmother's house now on Long Island. I think my family thinks we escaped the apocalypse judging by the welcome we got. Weird to go from Japanese, like my wife, saying "relax the govt says there is no reason to worry.", to my family "on CNN, Anderson Cooper and and Dr. Sanjay Gupta say everyone is going to die!."
                      Still worried though about Junko and her sister's family in Fukushima. I know Junko won't/can't leave until she knows her family is all safe. Told her they all should come here.
                      Are you feeling better or worse today about the situation?
                    • Friend

                      better because miho's gone to kyoto. i also have a better ideas of the risks that is if the rates are what nhk reports them as. but it is clear that this thing is not stable at all. now they using firehoses and water canons on it. seems pretty desperate. there are big questions, too, about these spent fuel rods that are exposed and on fire at reactor four.
                      good to hear you made it out safely.
                      • 8:46pm
                        James Szypula

                        remember the good old days when we were thinking about opening up a place in Koganecho?
                        • Friend

                          seems so long ago...
                          really digging ulysses. thinking of writing a joycean disaster journal
                            James Szypula

                            you should keep a journal.
                            I was thinking I should write a "Kaidan" about that bloody torii I told you about. Must of been a portent.
                            before the quake, I was reading a book about the firebombings of Tokyo and Yokohama in March and May 1945 and I was looking at period photos and taking photos around town and wondering about the psychology of the people before and after. Really trying to imagine a form of "gambaremasu" mutiplied in a time of war and what must have been intense social pressure to keep people fighting and dying(often in mass) and never questioning (openly) the status quo.
                            The past week made it clear to me how ganbare can potentially lead to great tragedies.
                            in the second photo click on the link in the decription to see the same spot 65 years before.
                        • Friend

                          yeah that's pretty ominous. you know also,eh?, that the firebombing took place on march 10th 1945. also last year on march 10th, the big 1000 year old ginkgo tree in kamkura fell down, a year and a day before this big quake.
                          then there's this kurosawa film about the 6 exploding reactors of fukushima (actually he didn't mention fukushima!):
                        • Friend

                          i'm starting to think that all of japan is going to go like detroit. this could be hipster ground zero of the world. bar idea ON!
                        • March 26, 2011
                        • 1:45am
                          James Szypula

                          I guess you haven't had a chance to talk to the people at the Kogane X office? I'm really curious to see what space they have available and if that 20,000 yen/mo is true, also how much work would have to be put into them.
                          What would you like to see this place being?
                        • March 26, 2011
                        • Friend

                          Yeah, haven't had a chance or the inclination to think about that lately. I'm pretty preoccupied with monitoring this situation.

                        • You did the right thing to get out while you did. Boredom beats stress any day.
                          The good news is that the atmospheric radiation levels have not increased by any significant amount --although they have increased. The bad news is that radiation has entered into the food and water supply, though in small amounts, and the authorities still seem no where near getting this thing under control. Surprises are still possible.

                        • It appears that since the US hype machine has moved its attention on to Libya that many people here are growing complacent -- willing to accept the "new normal", for instance, that we should always buy bottled water for our kids. Some people become downright hostile at any suggestion of negative news, so because of this social pressure self-censorship is occurring as well.

                        • This is the psychology that's playing out on a social level and based on it we can imagine the psychology involved of those in the government. I don't think that there is a massive deception campaign, I think the radiation levels are accurate for example, but I think it's highly likely that they are withholding worst case scenario type analysis and negative trend analysis from the public.
                        • There is nothing conspiratorial in this -- it is their job to prevent raising alarm and to keep the economy functioning. Definitely, though, there is a degree of face and ass saving that's also occurring on government and corporate levels.
                          However, because of this we don't get a complete picture. We hear one day that miniscule levels of radiation have been detected in Fukushima spinach and milk, the day after that there is radiation detected in other vegetables as well and outside of Fukushima, the day after that there is radiation found in the Tokyo water supply. It is true that all of these rates are low. They all seem basically harmless at this point. But it is the incremental, boiling-frog, drip-drop, release of this information that bothers me. It begs the questions: What else don't we know about? and What other news is coming down the tubes?

                        • All of these things really have me considering my options. We don't want to leave Japan, but with a baby coming it is well worth thinking about. I'm not trying to be an alarmist here, but it is very difficult for me to put my blind faith in the capabilities and periodic pronouncements of the corporate and government "experts".
                          People, including me, really WANT things to be getting better, to be going back to normal. It is becoming, even for the most "scientific" thinkers that I know, a BELIEF that the situation will be OK. Let's hope this belief is correct. At this stage, though, it is just a belief and all beliefs can involve deception. Are we duping ourselves?
                          What are your current thoughts from the outside?
                        • 12:43pm
                          James Szypula

                          Totally with you D. Good analysis.
                          I suppose what we are witnessing is related to our recent discussion about faith and religion and science. It is sure easy to see how blind-faith, in anything, but in this case scientists and experts is alluring and comforting to people. Easy also to see how it allows people to be manipulated and duped.
                          For me, when experts and scientists use utterly meaningless words like, we don't "expect" blah blah to happen in the "immediate" future and so-and so is "unlikely", it becomes apparent that they really have no control of the situation.
                          I think if I have faith, it is only in the common goodness of the average individual. But man, how useless is the word of that individual captured within an organization (or system). Damn the system really needs to change!
                          • Friend

                            On the up side, I just got a note from one of my Bunkyo students asking me to come to an anti-nuclear march that he and other students are attending in Ginza tomorrow.
                            First time I've ever seen them interested in activism at all!

                          • Sunday, March 10, 2013

                            Yellow Sand over Yokohama- Ack!

                            yellow sand - ack! by owenfinn16
                            yellow sand - ack!, a photo by owenfinn16 on Flickr.

                            Nothing but blue skies in the morning

                            Friday, March 8, 2013

                            The Yuba Mundo - Breakin` the law

                            mundo by owenfinn16
                            mundo, a photo by owenfinn16 on Flickr.
                            Today, I picked up my youngest boy(7) at school as I usually do, and rode him and his equipment to Marinos Town for soccer practice. My oldest son (10) practiced a little later so he rode is own bike. After practice, we met up with their mom for dinner.  Afterwards, since she didn`t have a bike, my oldest hopped onto the back of the Mundo with his brother, and my wife followed us on his bike.    The weather was great and we were all enjoying the ride home until, while huffing slowly up the hill near my home, a scooter cop stopped us for carrying the 2 kids on the back. "Dame dayo!" 

                            I know technically, it`s illegal to have 3 on a bike but come on ... this is what this type of bike was meant to do!

                            Makes me wonder what would happen if I was riding something like a bakfiets - I think their heads would explode.

                            This was only the second time in 3 years but man - so irritating! Such a shame that these ridiculous laws (written with Mama Charis in mind), effectively serve to keep families in cars by preventing the introduction and ownership of more cargo bikes like these into the market. 

                            Wednesday, March 6, 2013

                            Cherry Blossom Viewing in Yokohama

                            "Bicycles reframe tourism. When traveling by bike the tourism experience occurs not only at the final destination, but encompasses the act of getting there."

                            Views along the Ookagawa

                            Love that quote from the people at The Path Less Pedaled!  Sinc that is what I feel Yokohama Rides and Rentals is all about , it inspired me, this morning, to get on the ball and announce that Yokohama Rides and Rentals will, once again, be holding Yokohama Cherry Blossom Viewing rides on fun-to-ride, high quality microbikes (bikes are Pacific Carrymes and Dahons - larger riders over 6'/183 cm can request from a very limited number of larger bikes) all along the length of the Ookagawa River Sakuragicho Station to Gumyoji Temple and back. 

                            The ride fee will ¥6000 per person(group discounts for up to 4 people available).   This includes rental bike and complimentary post-ride drink at one of the many great craft beer bars located near the river in Yokohama.  The ride itself should take about 2 to 3 hours with a few stops for photos, snacks at street stalls, etc. 
                            This year it looks like the trees will start blooming around March 23 and be at peak bloom April 1 and lasting for about a week after that.  Cherry Blossom schedule 

                            Rides can be arranged for individuals or groups at anytime during this period - night rides are fun too!

                            Contact me at james@yokohamabikerides to make a reservation for yourself or for a group. 

                            Monday, March 4, 2013

                            Yokohama`s new (and rather half-assed) attempt at a bike lane

                            This one spans almost the entire length of Yokohama, from Bay Quarter to Kannai - and it`s just like this the whole way. Thusfar, pedestrians (and cyclists) don`t seem to respect the boundaries very much - walkers still walk in the lane and cyclists weave to avoid them. In front of landmark tower, cyclists were using the lane as a big bike coral - seeing it more as a good place to park (an indicator of what is perhaps the best use of the space). In fact riding along here is just about as it always was, only now with a white line divider and some infrequent bike symbols every 200 meters or so to make it look legit.

                            All in all, we, of course, appreciate the effort and the need but how about setting the bar higher?  How about Yokohama as world class cycling city (or walkable city, or livable city, sustainable, green, etc.)  This path (this line) is a half-assed, attempt at solving a problem.   A far better solution would be to tackle the root cause of the problem and take one (or two!) of the 6 adjoining car lanes away from traffic in order to create a true dedicated cycling lane.

                            6 lanes of ugly, high-speed traffic - untouchable

                            Using the lane for parking