Tag Archives: 2011 Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

Back from Iwate

No fishing for me this time (only work) but lots of fish, including this Satanically delicious triumvirate (ohtoro, akami, chutoro) of Sanriku maguro, to be had at a local kaiten-sushi restaurant.

Iwate remains probably my favourite place to visit in all Japan (of course if you have been reading my blog for a while now you know what happened the last time I travelled to Iwate for a work trip).  By strange coincidence, I was taken to dinner to eat a nice meal of Maezawa-breed wagyu and other things at exactly the same hotel I stayed in on the night of March 11th/12th 2011.  The lobby looked a lot different this time round, including being turned into some kind of chapel (probably for weddings) – in the corner where I slept most of the night there is now a pipe organ.

It was also odd seeing so much other familiar stuff from that day again: the same gift shop at Morioka station where I was standing with the wind-chimes hanging from the ceiling (they gave the first inkling of the earthquake’s strength) and the beam that was bending inwards; the neon sign at the soba restaurant that was smashed, now replaced; the buses lined up outside the station, no longer swinging crazily on their suspension; the taxi company whose car took us to Akita; the professor’s old office and the restaurant we ate our first hot meal in.  I hadn’t been back to Iwate since 2011 but I remember most of it.


Personal Memories of March 11th 2011

Now for something completely different.  This narrative is a very long post (6,000 words) so you will have click through to read it.

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Hirame Fishing – Nakaminato January 15th

Well after last week’s fishing ended without hirame (but with a tasty fish anyway in the bag) I decided to call on Captain Yutaka of Nakaminato.  I always have a good time fishing on his boat, the 5-ton Yutaka-maru, and since now is the season for hirame I rang him to book myself in for Sunday. 

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Squid fishing in Ibaraki

Made the journey to Nakaminato for some unseasonal squid fishing.  Click through for the full story.

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Mean radiation in southern Saitama on Tuesday 22th March, measured hourly between 0900 and 1700 at my institute: 0.25 microSv/hr.  The radiation has  doubled since Sunday, increasing from Monday as would be expected with both the wind veering into the north (with touches of east) and the rain we have been experiencing.  For some perspective: you dose yourself with 30 – 40 microSv in cosmic radiation making one flight to the west US from Japan, even more to the eastern seaboard or to western Europe, which is about the same dose to which you would have been theoretically exposed to living in Tokyo since March 11th (the real exposure being much lower, as you are not outdoors 24 hours a day) and still less than 0.03% of the dose current medical wisdom considers to cause the onset of radiation sickness (250mSv).
Radioactivity has been detected in milk, vegetables and ground water in both Fukushima and its neighbouring prefectures, though again, whilst it sounds scary and makes quite excellent copy, cool-headed calculation and science must be used to calm the OMG-we-are-all-going-to-die brigade, not helped of course by the vulturine media (for some quite laudable exceptions, read these BBC articles).  For one thing, the most deleterious radioisotope detected, 131I, has a half-life of eight days.  Despite the worrying bursts of mysterious smoke or steam from two reactors, it appears progress is being made at the Fukushima site, with reactor temperatures decreasing and electricity soon to be reconnected to all six reactors.  Also the IAEA has made a very positive statement about how they see things developing.  As always, crowing or premature counting of chickens invites only disaster, but still the rumours of conspiracy and government cover-up persist.  The presence of numerous third parties measuring radiation – not just a mission from the US, but even amateurs using devices bought from Amazon – makes this very unlikely, although I think I mentioned earlier: if things really do go badly, it will be the Devil to pay and no pitch hot for absolutely everyone in the Kanto region, including the suits in Kasumigaseki, the TEPCO board and all the other supposed conspirators, and what they are doing is as much for their own necks/backsides as it is for enlightened public-spirited leadership.

On an unrelated note, the current situation rather precludes me fishing, but does not stop me thinking about fishing, nor readying my fishing gear.  I put the first ground layer of lacquer on my tanago rod:

I also bought a silk fly line, for fishing for native char (iwana) and the salmonid known here as yamame.  This needs some treatment before it can be used, but with most rivers in west Tokyo closed to fishing due to power cuts, there is no rush.

Whilst writing this post we have been rocked with another aftershock, the epicentre being offshore Fukushima this time.  There have been a couple today that were stronger than usual, but otherwise, smaller ones are continuous, almost every few hours, and the human body’s power of habituation is remarkable; they don’t even wake me up at night any more.  Whether the next quake will be the long-promised Tokyo ‘Big One’ as certain seismologists have predicted to be induced by the recent Tohoku magnitude 9.0 beast, bears not thinking about – you would not be able to function every day.

Sunday in Tokyo

Mean radiation in southern Saitama on Sunday 20th March, measured hourly between 0000 and 1200 at my institute: 0.11 microSv/hr.

NHK has stated that the fire service, using a form of remotely operated truck, have continuously poured water onto Reactor No.3 for 13 hours throughout the night, in total nearly twice the volume of the spent fuel rod pool.  How much of this actually got into the pool is another matter of course, but recent measurements taken from the air indicate the surface of the reactor housing at least is no more than 100°C.  However, slightly more disturbing is the news that pressure, most likely steam, inside the reactor is building up and must be released.  Usually this is done by passing it first through or over the so-called suppression pool, a reserve of water that chills the steam and dilutes the quantity of radioactive isotopes.  This seems to be only possible if power is restored and the pool is functional, otherwise the reactor will be vented directly.  The amount of radiation that would be released is not known.  Unfortunately the glass is falling as I write this and both rain and northerly winds are forecast for the next 36 hours; this is not a good combination.  The powers that be have stated that no further evacuation beyond the current 30km radius is needed and the Kanto region need not be duly worried.  However, tomorrow is a national holiday and I imagine I will spend much of it indoors.  I have cleaned up much of the mess in my room and my rod making is sadly lagging behind.

Sorry for the lack of update yesterday but I went out to my local izakaya bar and potent native distilled rice spirits do not form a solid basis for cogent or tranquil reflection.  Indeed, it was nice to see the place was full and to see the familiar faces safe and well, punishing the food and drinks with great gusto.  The tales of panic and abandoned streets in Tokyo you read about are wide of the mark.  In fact, in the early evening we were rocked with a hefty aftershock in the bar but were forewarned by the excellent earthquake early warning system, and after dowsing the gas fires and opening the front door, the owners and patrons took it in remarkably high spirits, and conversation was interrupted for only a moment. 

In other news, it appears that medicines are finally making their way to the stricken north, and now fixed-wing aircraft are landing at Sendai airport – the one which was almost totally levelled by the tsunami – helping the relief effort greatly.  Gasoline and fuel still remain in a state of critical shortage though.  Here in east Tokyo the passion for food-hoarding seems to have subsided a little, with my local Lawson 24-hour store stocking both sandwiches and onigiri, and yesterday I found eggs, rice, instant noodles, meat and fresh produce on sale at the supermarket.  No milk or bread yet though.   On Friday my local Indian restaurant was a beacon of constancy, and had no problems turning out for me saag gosht, chicken tikka and naan bread, so things are not that bad really.

Today’s reflexions

Mean radiation in southern Saitama on Friday 18th March, measured hourly between 0900 and 1700 at my institute: 0.12 microsieverts/hr.  For some idea of comparison, aside from the figures in my previous post, generally 250milliSv is considered the dose required for the onset of radiation sickness.  A microSv is a thousandth of a milliSv.  The current prevailing winds are north of west and the forecast is for them to back into the south-west tomorrow; it does not bode well for life in the Pacific Ocean, but it is favourable at the moment for the human inhabitants of Japan.

According to NHK, the Fukushima plant crisis has been officially raised to a Level 5 nuclear event.  However, there is reason for optimism after today’s operations.  Between the military, police, TEPCO and the fire service the plan to spray water onto the reactors from various water cannon-type vehicles came to fruition.  Also, new power lines are almost complete to hopefully reconnect and restart the cooling systems of the reactors, although to what extent they have been damaged by the earthquake, tsunami, intense heat and fires remains to be seen.  Things could still go either way at the moment, but we must keep our heads and above all, stay sensibly informed.

One thing that struck me over a glass of two-water grog, last night – and this is pure armchair, theoretical expertise – is that the main problem facing attempts to cool the reactors is the radiation, which prevents workers from spending enough time close enough to get water where it is needed.  Is there not a case for some kind of ROV – remotely operated vehicle – such as those that are used for bomb disposal and the like, to carry water lines into the affected areas?  If the radiation affects electronics, it need not be radio-controlled or possess sophisticated circuitry, but could be powered by petrol and controlled by compressed gas lines or even wire brake cables.  In theory we have JAXA (the Japanese space agency), the immense expertise in robotics in places like Tsukuba and Tokyo University, and more than anything, an immensely compelling motive to drop everything and work on it.   I do hope someone important has already thought of this and come up with a good reason why it won’t work.

Anyway, today I went into work and life seemed fairly normal out and about, apart from the slight inconvenience of fewer trains running.  There were a few couples and families on trains with luggage very obviously on their way out of Tokyo, but the ‘ghost town’ and ‘Tokyo residents fleeing in panic’ headlines in the various media are very wide of the mark.  Last night for the first time, I saw sandwiches and onigiri on sale at my local convenience store (these have been generally the first items to sell out).  Once darkness fell, it was quite pleasing to see so many neon lights and electric billboards switched off – a conscious effort on the part of companies to cut down on electricity use – yet I have not met anyone who feels this is a bad thing, and makes one wonder if it is really necessary in normal times.

Another piece of news from NHK: the approximate number of refugees currently in evacuation centres is 285,000, which is much less than the figure of 440,000 given two days ago (probably many people have finally managed to get in touch with family/relatives).  However, those remaining still need many basic necessities and the bitterly cold weather continues.  Problems such as spreading norovirus or influenza infections are exacerbated by the fact many of the refugees are elderly and infirm.  Many have died from a want of prescription medicine.  If you can, please consider making a donation to help the relief effort.