Monday, March 28, 2011

Brimful of gas-a

Or, 'She uses ga-a-a-soline'.

I know the blog has gone a bit quiet. The thing is, nothing has been happening. I don't even mean that things have got back to normal, but rather that the situation has just remained remarkably static. Seventeen days since the quake, fuel is still in short supply, and many foods are unavailable, but life goes on. Similarly, the Fukushima Daiichi situation doesn't appear to be getting any worse, but neither is it giving any strong indications of getting better. What has improved, however, is the transparency of the radiation monitoring. The Yamagata prefectural government is now giving us hourly readings of atmospheric radiation in Yamagata and Yonezawa (the closest city in the prefecture to ground zero), plus daily updates on the levels of radiactive iodine and caesium both in the water and in the environment, as well as information about local produce that's been found to be contaminated. You may want to lay off the spinach and milk from my 'hood.

I suppose I'll give you a quick run-down of what little I have been up to since my last post.

Friday 18th: I went round to Marie's for a temaki (hand-rolled) sushi night. Some of her possessions were broken in the quake, including most notably a plasma screen that had been toppled from its stand. Her shop had also lost a few bottles. I suppose there is something to be said for living a bungalow and not owning much stuff.

The atmosphere was a little odd. As we usually do, we had the TV (a different one) on in the background. So, one minute we would be laughing and joking as usual, and the next minute we would see something so heartbreaking that we would just fall silent. I actually wrote a post about the terrible things that we saw on the news, but I decided not to publish it because it was just too much of a downer.

Saturday 19th: This was the day of my school's rescheduled graduation ceremony. Graduation is always an emotional time, but there was an added poignancy to this one, for obvious reasons. When I got home afterwards, it all got the better of me: the tragic images on the news, the tension and uncertainty of the preceeding week, saying goodbye to my third-graders for the last time, the empty shelves in the supermarket on the way home. Before I knew it, I was sobbing uncontrollably. This is not normal behaviour for me. I was a bit tired and hungover too, which probably didn't help.

Sunday 20th: On friday I gave Marie the carrot cake I made, but we didn't get round to eating it on the night. So she invited me (and some other friends) around for afternoon tea and cake. I was really starting to worry that my cake had been built up too much, especially since it was quite an experimental recipe, using olive oil rather than the more conventional butter to provide the lipid content. But I'm pleased to say it turned out well; it was delicious and moist. In fact, one of Marie's friends requested the recipe, so I have since translated it into Japanese (badly) for her benefit.

Monday 21st: The community centre is closed because of earthquake damage - just a few broken windows, I think. So for the first time I had a Japanese lesson at my sensei's house, which just happened to also be a sake shop.

Friday 25th: I realised I hadn't left Nanyo in 13 days, and decided it was time to get out. The local trains are now operating again on the main line that runs north-south through the prefecture, so I hopped on a train to Yamagata City and met a bunch of ALTs for curry. Talking to them, it became clear that those of us who had stuck around were in the minority. I'm just stunned at the irrationality of this. We really aren't in any serious danger here, which people would understand if they just spent a few hours on Google and Wikipedia thinking clearly and critically. And how long are they going to stay away? It may well be months rather than weeks until Fukushima Daiichi is brought completely under control.

Saturday 26th: I met up with many of the same people for another meal, this time pizza in Kaminoyama. Generally, pizza standards in Japan are pretty woeful, but the ALT of this town had been raving about this place for months. It lived up to his hype. It was hands-down the best pizza I've eaten in Japan, and at a very reasonable price. The place is run by an old guy who apparently retired from his proper job, and then set up this place almost as a hobby. In the quintessentially Japanese manner, he is obsessive about his product. He once told my friend who's a regular there (in Japanese) "If I wasn't constantly improving my pizzas, I'd have no soul."

This morning I got two reminders in quick succession that we're not quite out of the woods yet. As I was having breakfast, I experienced the biggest aftershock we've had in several days, which made my flimsy little house creak worryingly. I dread to think what it must have sounded like during the big one. Minutes later, the green status LED on my heater turned to an angry blinking, beeping red. By turning the heater right down and wearing lots of clothes indoors, I had managed to stretch out my half-cannister of kerosene for an amazing length of time. But now the jig was up.

Just like this time last year, I'm currently 'working' at city hall, meaning that I have a lot of time on my hands. I've started taking every minute of my lunch hour and going cycling around town. This serves two purposes:
  • It's a good way to kill an hour, especially on a beautiful day like today.

  • It allows me to tour the petrol stations, keeping an eye out for precious fuel.
All last week, this petrol patrol (if only I had a pet seabird of the order Procellariiformes) was fruitless. But today, my wishes were granted. At my local Esso I was able to fill up on both petrol and kerosene, without even having to wait in a massive queue. The prices were a good 15% higher than they had been before the disaster, but as an ardent fan of capitalism, I can't complain. It's supply and demand, innit. To be honest, I think this modest hike actually represents impressive restraint on their part; I think they could probably double the price and people would still be falling over themselves to buy the stuff.


  1. I have a day off today. We have missed you! You are not living in normal times so if you have the occasional "wobble" I would say that is completely normal. Glad you are managing to catch up with friends and that you have found some petrol and kerosene - it all helps. I have not spoken to your Mum & Dad lately but hope they will get out for their visit as planned. As always take care. Katy & Allen. xxx

  2. Respect for keeping it real and not jumping on the first flight home!

  3. This has been some great reading as a distraction from dissertation work Finlay! Not sure if it's soon your Mum and Dad are heading out or when but hope they get out ok, maybe with some home comforts!
    Hope all is well, sounds like you're still having fun! Jane T xxx