Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Whole lotta shakin' goin' on

Or, "Fool's mould".

Things are pretty much back to normal now. All the shops and restaurants have reopened, the fuel is flowing, and as of yesterday, the final link on the shinkansen line from here to Tokyo (i.e. the part going through Fukushima prefecture) is back in action. Hats off to Japan Railways for getting it sorted out so quickly - immediately after the quake, everyone was predicting it would take about three months. The weekend before last I even managed to give my board one final outing for the season, as Yonezawa Ski-jou opened at limited capacity for a spot of melty spring riding.

There are still a few indications that we experienced a catastrophe barely a month ago. Certain things are still in weirdly short supply in the supermarkets: fruit juice and yoghurt remain hard to come by, for some reason. There is one girl at my school conspicuously wearing a different uniform to everyone else, indicating that she is an evacuee. And then there are the aftershocks.

Let me relate what happened last thursday night. One of my friends from Yonezawa had recently returned after fleeing to New Zealand, so we met up for dinner and watched a movie. One of our topics of conversation was futon upkeep, with her complaining about the hassle of having to air the things out regularly. Clearly, this is not something I bother doing. After she left, I decided it was time to have a butchers at the tatami (straw mat) upon which my futon had been all winter. Sure enough, there was a thriving colony of mould there.

So, I relocated my futon to the living room, and attempted to dry out the fungus with my kerosene heater. (Having bought a full canister when it was scarce, now that it's getting warmer I literally have kerosene to burn.) I had no sooner settled down to my new bed than I heard the now familiar sound of my flimsy house rattling, and felt the almost routine sensation of the room shaking. But within seconds it became clear that this wasn't just an everyday tremor; in fact, it was the biggest aftershock yet. As the intensity picked up, I darted under the table, and watched the lights flicker, willing them to stay on. They didn't. For the second time in a month, I found myself propping up candles in empty beer cans.

The power still wasn't on by the morning, so I was unable to shower before donning my suit for my school's ceremony to welcome the new first-graders. There are a whole lot of ceremonies in April, let me tell you. Thankfully, the power was restored that morning while I was at school. At the supermarket on the way home, I picked up some Kabi Kiraa (mould killer). Also available was Kabi Haitaa (mould fighter), but I figured I'd have to be some kind of chump to buy that when the killer was available.

I had just got home from school on monday and was chilling out when yet another aftershock hit. This time I decided to mix things up a bit and stand in a doorway, which is the other approved method of riding out a quake. Perhaps it was because I was standing, but this one seemed more violent than the one of the previous week. My lights were swinging wildly, and from the kitchen I heard something smash - it turned out that a wineglass had fallen from a high cupboard. But the power stayed on this time, meaning that for the first time I got to watch the TV following a major tremor. NHK just rotates through Japanese, English, Mandarin, Korean and Portuguese (there are a surprising number of Brazilians in Japan) repeatedly warning people in coastal regions to get to higher ground. Thankfully, no significant tsunami occurred.

The aftershocks (or is that afteraftershocks?) kept coming through the evening, during which I had a Japanese lesson in a none-too-sturdy-looking post-war concrete monstrosity of a community centre. As it turned out, we were studying a reading passage all about the benefits of tatami, including that they promote a hygienic lifestyle. With twenty minutes of the class left, we were hit by a moderately big tremor, and at that the sensei decided to call it a day and get the hell out of there. I think maybe she'd just run out of ideas for the lesson.

Just as I was writing this in the staffroom at school (though term has started, there are no proper lessons yet), everyone's mobile phone earthquake alerts went off simultaneously. There is something particularly chilling about this five-second warning of an impending quake. But as it turned out, the tremor was barely even perceptible - just a 5.3 over in Fukushima. I literally don't get out of bed for less than a 6.0 these days.

On friday my parents will arrive here, bucking the gaijin exodus. They will spend a week here in Nanyo (I will still be at school on the weekdays), and then we will fly down to Osaka for a long weekend. I suppose I should make some token effort to clean my house up a bit before they get here. But as my import copy of Rock Band 3 has just arrived, along with a 102-button 'pro' fake guitar, it seems doubtful that this will happen.


  1. Finlay, I strongly urge you to put the guitar down, do the decent thing and tidy up fully as an appropriate welcome for your parents. Dad

  2. Me too - no pressure!! Enjoy their visit. Katy

  3. Keep strummin'! Which will they be more impressed with, a tidy room or an awesome guitar solo on expert? I know which I would prefer to see.

  4. At the moment, it's more like 85%ing a 'warmup' song on easy. It turns out that playing the guitar is actually quite hard.

  5. I'm with Blair Finlay - hit the strings and forget about tidying up until tomorrow. I like the idea of abandoning a unprepared lesson due to an earthquake but doubt I'd be able to use it in Forres. Say Hi to your folks for me - will catch them for a curry when they come back ..

  6. Bad news all round - we arrived safe and sound, to find Finlay is crap at the Rock Band guitar and he still didn't tidy up!!! Finlay's Dad