onsdag 13 juli 2011

Goodbye Tokyo

So what did really happen before we left? Now it’s all a bit blurry, but I guess it started with us getting a final date and basically ordered tickets the following day for the 15th of June to Singapore. Overall, it was cheaper selling all the furniture in Japan, getting new ones in Singapore and fly over the personal effects, compared to shipping it all over by sea. However, it was a huge apparatus regarding finding a good moving company, packing (in Japan you have to list every single thing you put down in a moving box due to custom clearance) and then selling everything which we decided not to bring. It was also a bit tricky, since we needed to sell things like the bed and for instance refrigerator as close to the moving out date as possible, since it’s of course hard to practically stay without. In addition, if you leave something in Japan in the apartment itself you will be fined. Further, you cannot put any big items in the waste room or you will be fined. If you call a company to come get your washing machine or fridge or any other furniture, YOU have to pay, even if they then sell it on = basically, get rid of all your belongings or you’ll have to pay. A quite effective means of avoiding waste, but very stressful indeed.
Other than the move itself, I’m just going to say that as difficult it was getting into Japan (it took 6 weeks to get phones..), it was equally difficult getting out. In the end we just left things like bank accounts, since it was just too much of a hassle. Considering we spent over 5 hours at the bank to even get accounts the first time without getting any VISA/Mastercards (since you have to be a resident in Japan for 2 years before even thinking of getting an international debit card and 5 years to get a credit card) with multiple additional visits of equal length to sort out internet banking etc, we just didn’t have the energy. And then it was the phones… Actually, this was J’s department and I have never ever seen him that frustrated. In the end we just took everything with us, since it was too difficult for them to solve. Jesus.
Then it was of course all the fun/sad stuff including goodbye parties and saying goodbye to Tokyo itself. The city has amazing features and it was one of the coolest places I had ever been before the earthquake. Before the 11th of March I’d recommend everyone to go to Tokyo for a few months if they could and try it out. Had it not been so darn hard to live there considering mainly the language issues (if you’d stay there for some time though, you’d of course prioritize to learn Japanese fully, but it’s not possible if you also have a full time job), I’d say it’s an ideal city to live in.

Our neighbors’ daughter Tamaki, aka ‘Miss Sophie’ was still convinced when we left that we spoke Japanese and that she was fluent in English; here explaining her cartoon plaster to Jonas and what happened when she got it, including all appropriate sound effects

I was truly sad walking through Akihabara, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Ginza, Tsukiji, Todai, Korakuen, Ueno, Roppongi and Hiroo for the last time. I hope very much to go back one day, but considering the nuclear disaster I unfortunately doubt it. To be able to have one last blast of the past with the few people left in Tokyo that we hanged out with, we organized a big goodbye picnic by Tokyo Bay; we did it the old fashion ‘knytkalas’ style (everyone brings what they’d want to eat and drink and put it all together on a big buffet table to share) and then just mingled around from 13.00 until sundown. By then we’d had almost 30 people coming and going, and decided we needed to do Shibuya by night one last time. We made a quick pit stop by ours to get dressed for success, headed to the usual meeting point by Hatchiko in Shibuya with Hanzomon line, met up with more people and set out to find beer. A midnight snack was of course a must before forcing our way to one of the all night karaoke places. Then we sang until early morning, caught the train home and slept for almost 2 days. It was so much fun and everyone told us they had really enjoyed themselves. We were also both very much thanked by our groups with final presentations followed by dinners and drinks. Since my group was all Japanese, they of course also wanted to go for karaoke; it was a blast.

Grown up men doing things together: Jonas and his colleagues (no one’s 12 years old, but rather 30+) are watching one of the guy’s very advanced flying helicopter

The most difficult part was saying goodbye to all the wonderful people we’ve met in Tokyo during this time; however, we decided not to get too sentimental and actually not say goodbye either, since we are confident to see you all again soon. It’s easy to keep in touch with good friends and if you are close it feel like no time has passed at all when you meet again. Besides, keeping in touch nowadays is completely different from only 5 years ago. Now there’s Skype, Facebook, Viber, What’s App, so it doesn’t feel as distant at all. One of the last things we did was also to go to Izu Onsen (SPA) with our dear ex-neighbors Tamaki, Tomoko and Yumio; that was truly fantastic as well; thank you again so much!

Our private bath at Izu Onsen with a just amazing view

Then it was the ‘small’ matter of me sorting out what to do for a living. I tried to arrange a move of my project to National University of Singapore (NUS) but in the end it didn’t work out with the funding and since no one can work without a salary; I decided it was just easier to fully resign. I sent a few applications regarding both faculty positions and research institute jobs, but have not found anything yet which I think sound smashing. But, we’ll see. Currently, I just need some time off; I haven’t really had a vacation since 2008 and have been working 60-90 hours or more a week most of the time from 2005 until now, so I’m actually quite tired. When I’m bored to death about this ‘Household Manager’ position I currently hold [;]] where I basically cook, clean, wash clothes, assemble furniture, do all home shopping, iron, plan plants for the balcony, bake, sow and run errands for my husband, I will get my act together and start writing. I’ll of course also have a proper look at what jobs there are. Probably next week!

Cracks in the walls at Tokyo University from the big earthquake, just above my head in my office; hopefully I’ll find a work place here without!

The final few days in Tokyo went by in a wink. We bought the last things we wanted from Japan including good knives, yukattas and camel-toe-socks (now aka ‘mumbling-socks’ as my sister so delicately put it…).

Our lovely knives from Tamahagane for meat, vegetables and fruits (four in total); we also brought a Kyocera (ceramic knife) and a Sekimagoroku, so we’re basically set for life

The last days there was so much going on I had forgotten to eat at several occasions. As if my friend Tomoko knew, she insisted we’d go for lunch on the 15th to a beautiful Italian restaurant; I was also allowed to do the final laundry at their place and we got wonderful goodbye gifts which are now situated at an honor spot in our Singaporean kitchen! Then it was all the utilities stuff which needed to be sorted; I was very happily surprised when gas, electricity, water, apartment inspection etc was all done in an hour! Jonas had taken his luggage to work, so I packed myself, a suitcase, my fab handbag and Tokyo University rug sack on Hibiya line and jumped off at Roppongi station. A happy, but tired Jonas met me under the Spider, we dropped the bags in his office and headed for Fransiscaner for a nice beer to plan the next move. He had booked tickets for X-men at 18.30 as a surprise, so he took me to one his favorite sushi places in Mori Tower first for a lovely dinner. After the movie we got our bags, jumped into a taxi and headed for Haneda airport. The plane wasn’t leaving until 23.30, so we were in good time for check-in. All went according to plan and we slept like babies on the plane, before waking up to a really nice breakfast in the air.
Then we landed in Singapore for the first time as future residents; please follow us here on the new blog ‘Swedish in Singapore’!

söndag 8 maj 2011


It’s finally decided that we will be moving to Singapore, most probably already in the middle of June! Jonas has been offered to go with Goldman Sachs and I have just talked to my boss and will hopefully be able to continue on my current project at National University of Singapore (NUS).

One of the first views we saw in Singapore of the Marina Sands Hotel with its casino in the front.

It has actually been very calm the last weeks regarding earthquakes, so now everything feels almost back to normal. However, considering we have decided to sell all furniture (if we can, since the market for used things ais over-saturated due to so many leaving because of Fukushima etc) since it’s more expensive to ship them over than to buy a completely new home, terminate our apartment contract along with all utilities (electricity, water, gas, WiFi) and have had to do a major sorting and throwing out all the papers, clothes and other stuff we have accumulated, it’s been a lot to handle.

Tokyo Bay with Tokyo Sky Tree (new Tokyo Tower) in the background

An important aspect is actually all the autumn and winter clothes we have here, since we’ll be moving to a country which is constantly close to 100% humidity and around 35 degrees C. We’ve heard from friends who live there, that they actually experienced heavy jackets and knitted sweaters becoming moldy, so we have decided to bring everything to Singapore and then take it home to Sweden around Christmas.

Jonas in a very much summer outfit in Singapore.

On top of this I have applied for jobs at amongst others the NUS, Nanyang Technical University (NTU) and The Agency for Science Technology and Research (A*STAR) Institute of Materials Engineering (IMRE) and we have also had to look for apartments, so it’s been busy. For me it’s of course also important that I can reschedule my current work and that takes a lot of planning too.
Regarding the apartments, we have set sight on a few areas and consulted with friends who currently live in Singapore. They have been giving us very valuable advice and we will set up meetings with agents during our first week. It might then be possible to move in almost straight away, since when the apartments are advertised online in Singapore, they are almost always empty. It’s also a much more effective procedure compared to here, so we hope to only stay at a hotel for about two weeks in total. As soon as we have signed all papers, it’ll be a trip to IKEA to sort out furniture and home delivery; yay!

Our first picnic in Singapore consisting of all things delicious which are insanely expensive in Japan: wine, roasted chicken, feta cheese, olives, tomatoes, green beans, strawberries and cream..

All in all it’s coming together slowly but surely, so now we are just trying to make this last month and a half as best as possible.

View over our beloved Tokyo from Mori Tower (where Jonas works) on the 53rd floor

Magome, Tsumago and Narai

Even though it’s been more stressful the last two months compared to any other time in our lives, people still have birthdays and so does my husband. He was therefore treated with a little trip to the Japanese countryside, visiting a ryokan (Japanese style inn with meals and baths in natural hot springs) after a very interesting hike in the beautiful Kiso Valley.
We set off to Tokyo main station to take the shinkansen (Japanese speed train) to Nagoya. Once in Nagoya, we found another train and then a very small bus, via the really helpful staff at the tourist office at the main station, towards the old postal town Magome.

An interesting view from above parts of the hill (the walk was upwards in a close to 40 degrees angle), down the town of Magome.

The town itself is one of the old postal towns along a route from this part of the country to Tokyo (old name is Edo) and make the starting point of several walks along the Kiso valley. The route is through a landscape of slopes through the Magome pass. However, it’s a fantastic walk and a quite different sight from the Swedish view; instead of pine- and leafy trees, it’s bamboo and Christmas trees looking like bonsais from the Karate Kid. With the mountains being twice as high (at least) as in my home town Ulricehamn and flowers looking like roses in a mountain mist, it feels almost magical to travel back in time and walk through passes of wild sakura (Japanese cherry blossom) gardens. All the tress have blossomed a long while ago in Tokyo.

Fantastic cherry blossoms with the mountains in the background on the way to Tsumago.

After several hours we finally arrived in Tsumago and after some searching we found the Hanaya Ryokan. We had to rush in, since we were a bit late and at a Ryokan dinner is served 18.00 sharp for all guests. We didn’t have time to change before dinner, but the other guests seemed OK with the foreigners being confused.

Dinner was grilled fish, rice, miso soup, sashimi (raw fish), tea, pickles, dried fish parts, horse radish, mushrooms, buck wheat noodles, rice drum stick with peanut sauce, omelet, meat soup and sake.

After dinner, sitting on the floor, it was time to soak in the naturally hot springs of the hotel and then an early night on our futons (Japanese style foldable beds) on the soft tatami (hay/grass mat) floor, since all guests have a curfew at 21.00. Breakfast was then served the following morning at 07.00 and was comprised of more fish in various combinations, rice and green tea.
Unfortunately it was a bit rainy in the beginning, but we decided to continue walking towards Nagiso through several small villages with beautiful gardens and houses.

The scenery was truly breathtaking.

In Nagiso we stopped for picnic lunch and waited for the train to the old postal town Narai. It was quite crowded, since Narai is a very popular site, especially during Golden Week (Japanese holiday). We stayed and did some souvenir shopping, but mainly just walked around and looked in all the ancient shops. We learned that Narai is one of the villages from the Edo period, along with Magome and Tsumago, which has been preserved as much as possible to be similar to the way it was in the old days. After a meal with traditional soba (huge bowls with buck wheat noodles, fish stock and vegetables) we took another small train and then transferred to the big shinkansen towards Tokyo. Leaving the Kiso valley with its Nakasendo walk that we just had experienced, gave incredible views along the Kiso river. It was however kind of nice to return to civilization and not have to worry about being eaten by a black ‘moon-collar’ bear.

Kiso river along the rail road.

tisdag 26 april 2011

Nya uppdateringar fran Tokyo/New updates from Tokyo (English version further down)

Om man inte var har forra aret, sa tror jag inte man hade markt att det var nagot annorlunda alls, forutom att delar av strommen fortfarande ar kapad pa manga tunnelbanestationer. Men det ar mycket tyst jamfort med forra aret. Om det var fa vasterlanningar har normalt sett, ar det nastan tomt nu.

Atminstone bryr sig inte Hanami (korsbarsblomningen) om det skakar eller inte. At least Hanami (the cherry blossom) doesn't care about the shakes.

Pa ett satt vill man ju sa desperat att allt ska bli vanligt igen och blir rent ut sagt riktigt besvarad nar nagon papekar hur det egentligen star till med Fukushima eller att det ar vansinne att inte kanna sig saker nar man ater eller dricker. Det ska vara OK, men om nastan hundratrettio miljoner manniskor far panik och slutar ata, samt forsoker ta sig harifran, ar inte det varre da an om nagra blir sjuka? Arligt, hur skulle man resonera om man var i en beslutsfattande situation? Jag vet verkligen inte, men man maste tanka bort det och lita stenhart pa myndigheterna i detta laget och jag hoppas verkligen for mitt liv att de har ratt. Att lita blint pa ett privatforetag som skott en katastrof som denna med de resultat vi ser nu, kanns for mig totalt vansinnigt. Jag forstar ocksa att med min nationalitet, bakgrund, personlighet och alder, ar jag oerhort kritisk i detta laget. Inget har faktiskt hant mig rent fysiskt och vi lever valdigt bekvamt jamfort med de drabbade i norr. Man blir djupt bedrovad nar man tanker pa hur illa det faktiskt ar och kanner sig brutalt lojligt nar man gnaller over ovan- och nedanstaende, men jag tycker detta ar skitjobbigt.

Brandrok over staden 110311. Smoke from the fires at 110311.

Problemet sitter ju naturligtvis till stor del i ens huvud och det far man ju helt enkelt jobba aktivt med (motion, avslappningsovningar, lasa pa angaende stresssymptom) om man ska orka vara har. Man har borjat vanja sig vid att vakna flera ganger per natt, halla koll pa sin jordbavningsvaska och ga och lagga sig med foreberedda skor vid sangen. Det viktigaste ar nerpackat, inget star framme som kan ramla omkull och krossas och all dorrar star oppna sa vi kommer ut om huset satter sig.

Sprickor i marken fran alla skalv. Cracks in the ground from all the shakes.

Jordbavningsapp:arna pa telefonen star nu installda att varna for flera magnituder hogre skalv an forsta veckan, eftersom om man satter dem pa for laga varden, larmar det hela tiden. Det var ca 16 000 skalv under 20 dagar totalt och ca 900 av dem var storre an 3or pa JMA (ca 4.5 och uppat pa Richter); det brukar normalt sett vara ca 200 skalv totalt den har arstiden.

Jordbavningsalarmet i lagenheten ar var palm. Om den skakar ar det borjan till en jordbavning, eftersom det nu ar omojligt att avgora sjalv. The earthquake alarm in our apartment is the palm tree. If it shakes, it's the beginning of an earthquake, since it's impossible to determine this on your own at this point.

Samtidigt spelar allt det dar absolut ingen roll nar man kommer hem pa kvallen och ska laga mat och det borjar skaka sa man far halla i diskstallet samtidigt som man far lobba stekpannan in i hornet av spishallen for att den inte skulle aka i golvet. Ska man slanga sig under bordet igen? Funkar telefonen? Man blir livradd och vill bara att det ska sluta. Det ar alltsa precis som om det var sjogang pa en bat, men just nu hade det kannts tio resor battre att sitta pa ett skepp i en storm och iallafall se vagorna. Jordbavningsvagor ar totalt osynliga och man har ingen aning om nar de slar till eller hur stora de blir. Jag ar fullt medveten om att vart hus ar byggt sa att det just ska svaja med jordbavningar och vi bor pa 10e vaningen, sa alla har inte detta problemet, men inte fan visste jag att man kunde bli aksjuk av att laga mat.

Jag hoppas sa att detta fina folk far ordning pa allt sa snart som mojligt. I so hope this fantastic people can sort it all out as soon as possible.


If you weren’t here last year, I don’t think you’d noticed anything different at all, apart from some of the power being cut at many metro stations. But it’s very quiet compared to last year. If there were normally few westerners, it’s almost empty now.

In one way, I desperately wish for things to go back to normal again and become flat out very troubled when someone points out how things really are at Fukushima or that it’s crazy not to feel safe eating or drinking. It should be OK, but if more than one hundred and thirty million people are struck by panic and stop eating, at the same time as they try to leave, wouldn’t that be worse than if some got sick? Seriously, how would you reason if you were in a decision making situation? I really don’t know, but one has to trust the authorities in total now and I hope for my life that they’re right. To blindly trust a private company who has handled a disaster with the current result we are seeing, is for me insane. I also understand that with my nationality, background, personality and age, I’m immensely critical in this situation. Nothing has happened to me physically and we live in enormous comfort compare to the people in the north. One becomes deeply devastated thinking about how bad it actually is and feel brutally ridiculous when whining about the above and below, but I think this is bloody hard.

A huge part of the problem is of course mainly in one’s head and it’s just active work (physical exercise, relaxation practices, to read up on symptoms of stress) which will cut it if one is supposed to be able to be here. You also get used to waking up several times every night, have complete control over the earthquake kit and have prepared shoes by the bed. The most important items are all packed, nothing is out in open space which can fall over and be crushed and all the doors are open if the house would collapse. The earthquake app:s on the phones are now set to warn for several magnitudes higher shakes compared to the first week, since if they are set at too low values, there is a constant stream of alarms. There were ca 16 000 shakes during 20 days in total and ca 900 of them were larger than 3:s on JMA (ca 4.5 and up on Richter); normally there’s ca 200 shakes in total in the same amount of time, this time of the year.

In controversy, none of this matters when you try to make dinner after coming home in the evening and it starts to sway so that you have to hold the drying stand for the plates with one hand and at the same time try to shove the frying pan towards one of the corners of the stove with the other, just to avoid all of it ending up on the floor. Do I have to dive under the table again? Is the phone working? You become petrified and just want it all to stop. It’s like being at sea in bad weather, but right now it’d felt ten times better to actually sit on a ship in a full frontal storm, since then you can at least see the waves. The earthquake waves are completely invisible and you never know when they will hit or how big they are. I’m now fully aware that our house is build so that it’ll sway with the quake and we live on the 10th floor, so not everybody has this problem, but I didn’t bloody know one could be car sick from cooking.

torsdag 7 april 2011

This is not OK

OK, so now we've been in Tokyo for two weeks soon. The facts and reflections which are most apparent are:
Many of the Metro stations have no running escalators and operate with very limited light. The average stations in Tokyo are quite large and most have two to six long escalators to normally go up or down, so it takes a lot of time and is already now quite sweaty. It's of course good considering the exercise, and none of us have any problems getting around, like many of the older people. Hence it's nothing to wine about, but it'll be quite hard in the long run, considering grocery shopping etc.
Most work places try to save electricity, so the lights are off as much as possible and as is all AC. No lights mean that the working day starts from sunrise and ends at sunset and without AC in Japan, it'll be the same temperature inside as outside; right now it is OK to work in ca 15-17 degrees and you simply have to wear a couple of sweaters and sometimes a hat inside. During the summer it'll however be a nightmare. Tokyo University will close down during August; last year it was 35-40 degrees in Tokyo and above 90% relative humidity in August/September.
Nce the recommendations and reports vary, it's hard to feel safe about drinking and cooking in the tap water. It's normally not easy to shop for food in Japan if one isn't fluent in Katakana, Kanji eller Hiragana and it's of course even trickier now, since we want to avoid groceries from the regions close to Fukushima. It's something one never think would be anything to actually look out for, so it all just feels very scary and frightening. Even if the latest news about the water is that it's OK to drink in our region and it's said that no food from the affected regions are sold on, I understand that one of the main objectives is also to avoid creating panic.
We are attending several fund raising charity projects, amongst others a race around Yamanote line where the contestants pay a certain amount of money/ buy a station and the money go to the areas in the north. We're also helping out cleaning in Kamakura, Jonas is packing bags for children in the affected areas and our employers have donated a lot of money to aid the work around Fukushima. I'm also off to a meeting regarding where and when we can donate clothes and Jonas company has sent several trucks with baby necessities.
The work to clean up Fukushima have according to most reports (http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/) not improved at a steady rate and encountered several set backs, besides sorting out a leak (http://www.fluentnews.com/story/26631561?section_id=11&version=106321). The most upsetting fact is probably the dumping of radioactive water in the ocean (http://topstories.foxnews.mobi/quickPage.html?page=17224&external=834015.proteus.fma&pageNum=-1) where it later have been several reports about high levels of radioactive isotopes in fish (http://abcnews.go.com/m/story?id=13302515&sid=26). He whole situation is of course very hard to handle, but it has us becoming very worried about the fact that if there is a leak, how/when will we find out? It's of course a huge stress factor that we don't know the language perfectly, since most of the previous messages we have received have been in Japanese only.
Personally I'm highly concerned about the whole situation; of course this cannot begin to compare with how horribly the effects have been towards the people in Sendai/Fukushima areas, which I think about all the time. We are both physically OK, but I'm not used to natural disasters and I really do not like to be scared every time I to go outside to be hit by a cloud from Fukushima or to accidentally eat or drink something contagious. I find it very uncomfortable to go down to the metro if another large earthquake might hit us and it feel absolutely crazy to have my passport in my handbag, if we need to leave the country asap. It's hard to sleep when you wake up every other night by after chocks and further to concentrate at work, which in both our cases require a lot of focus and energy. I'm therefore working hard on a solution, because this is not OK.

Såhär vill vi inte ha det

OK, så nu har vi varit i Tokyo i snart två veckor. De fakta och reflektioner som är mest i ögonfallande är:
Flera av Metrostationerna har inga rulltrappor igång och är mycket nedsläckta. Det är i regel ganska stora stationer i Tokyo, och de flesta har mellan två och sex långa rulltrappor att normalt ta sig upp-/nerför, så det tar mycket tid och är redan nu ganska svettigt. Är så klart bra för motionen, och ingen av oss två har några rörelsehinder, som en hel del andra äldre människor. Det är därför inget att gnälla över, men det blir ganska kämpigt i längden med tex tunga matkassar.
På de flesta arbetsplatser sparas det el, så lysen hålls avstängda i största möjliga mån och all AC är nerlagd. Utan lampor betyder det att man får jobba medan det är ljust ute och utan AC blir det i Japan samma temperatur ute som inne; just nu går det att jobba i ca 15-17 grader och man får helt enkelt ha på sig extra tröjor och ibland mössa inomhus. Det kommer dock bli en mardröm till sommaren. Tokyos Universitet ska stänga helt under Augusti månad; förra året var det mellan 35-40 grader i Tokyo och över 90% luftfuktighet i Augusti/September.
Eftersom rekommendationerna och rapporter varierar från vecka till vecka är det svårt att känna sig säker på om man kan dricka eller laga mat i kranvattnet. Det är i normala fall inte lätt att handla matprodukter om man inte läser Katakana, Kanji eller Hiragana perfekt och blir såklart ännu knepigare nu, eftersom vi nu inte vill riskera att handla mat från regionerna nära Fukushima. Det är inte något man trodde man skulle behöva göra eller tänka på, så det hela känns väldigt otäckt och skrämmande. Även om det just nu ska vara OK att tex dricka vattnet enligt myndigheter och sägs att det inte säljs mat från norr, vet jag att ett huvudmål är att inte skapa panik.
Vi har anmält oss till olika välgörenhetsevenemang, bla ett lopp runt Yamanote line där deltagarna betalar en viss summa/köper en station och pengarna går till de drabbade områdena. Vi ska också hjälpa till att städa i Kamakura, Jonas ska packa ryggsäckar till barn i de drabbade områdena och våra arbetsplatser har skänkt stora summor för att underlätta uppbyggningsarbetet i norr. Jag ska vidare på information på universitet angående var och när man kan skänka använda kläder till städerna runt Fukushima och Jonas arbetsplats har redan sänt flera lastbilar med barnkläder.
Arbetet med att sannera Fukushima har enligt de flesta rapporter (http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/) inte gått framåt och kantas av flera bakslag förutom ett försök att stoppa en läcka (http://www.fluentnews.com/story/26631561?section_id=11&version=106321). Det som har upprört mest är troligen dumpningen av radioaktivt vatten i havet (http://topstories.foxnews.mobi/quickPage.html?page=17224&external=834015.proteus.fma&pageNum=-1) där det sedan rapporterats om höga nivåer av radioaktiva isotoper i fisk (http://abcnews.go.com/m/story?id=13302515&sid=26). Hela situationen är förstås väldigt svårhanterlig, men det har fått oss att bli väldigt oroliga över om det skulle ske en läcka, hur/när får man reda på det? Det blir naturligtvis ytterligare en stor stressfaktor att vi inte kan förstå språket till 100%, eftersom flera av de tidigare meddelandena vi fått har varit enbart på japanska.
Personligen är jag djupt oroad av hela situationen; naturligtvis går det inte att jämföra med hur de stackars människorna i norr har det och det tänker jag på hela tiden. Vi är båda fysiskt OK, men jag är inte van vid naturkatastrofer och gillar verkligen inte att vara rädd för att gå ut och få ett strålningsmoln i huvudet eller att äta eller dricka något olämpligt. Jag tycker det känns mycket obehagligt att vistas i tunnelbanan om ytterligare en större jordbävning skulle slå till och det känns vansinnigt att gå runt med bla mitt pass i handväskan, om vi skulle behöva lämna landet per omgående. Det är svårt att sova när man vaknar var annan natt av ett skalv och vidare att koncentrera sig på sitt jobb, som i båda våra fall kräver mycket fokus och energi. Jag arbetar därför hårt på en lösning för såhär vill vi inte ha det.

torsdag 31 mars 2011

Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant explosion

It all started the on the 11th of March. We got up really early and walked together to the metro, which we never do; I like to walk to uni, which is north from where we live and since Jonas works in a suite it tends to get way to hot, so he's always taking the underground. That Friday, it felt like we had to be together a bit extra, since we were expecting a visit from a good friend from Sweden in our tiny apartment and of course not a lot of one-on-one time would be possible.

I went to my boss straight away when I came to work, since he's normally the only one in early in the morning. I had received declaration papers which needed to be ready and signed by the 15th, so it was important to get it done asap, since papers + Japan always = a whole lot of hazzle and time. I was advised to go back down to my ward office where we live and sort it out directly, so I was contemplating taking my computer and work from home during the day. Due to prior plans I decided it'd be more practical to go back to uni and finally pick up our visitor from Ueno at the end of the day. That was frankly bloody lucky.

All went perfectly fine and I just said goodbye to my lunch date Margareta and made it around the corner, when the ground started shaking/rocking back and forth as if you are on a ferry when it's a storm. I was just underneath a set of electricity wires and the poles were moving almost 40cm from side to side. The cars looked like they were in an RnB video, where one lets pressurized air in and out, while this was swaying them from side to side. All of a sudden I was swiftly dragged into a small parking lot by an old couple, who of course had seen me standing there completely frozen under the wires and decided they'd better save the stupid foreigner, who didn't understand it wasn’t entirely brilliant to stand there. The lady quickly dragged me down on my knees and showed me I had to put my handbag on my head and hold on to her and her husband, who in their turn hold on to their neighbor. Alarms, which sounded like the flight alarms you'd hear in a movie, started to go off and many of us, still on our hands and knees lost balance. At that point I remembered that Jonas had read to me that if the quake was quite big, then it'd be hard to keep the balance if you were standing straight up and I became really scared. At the same time, I was thinking: 'OK, So I'm supposed to sit here on a parking lot, with a bunch of old people, in a country where it's impossible to understand what they are saying, with a handbag on my head, which by the way is my favorite handbag which I got from mum and haven't even had the time to tell her that + without Jonas, who's now on the 44th floor in Mori, which is probably swaying several meters in each direction, and he'll probably fall and hit his toe again; that's just brilliant'. Things started to fall from the balconies around us and I tried to get my phone out to call Jonas and tell him about this really absurd situation, when it hit me full frontal what was happening and I just became completely cold from the inside. Up until then it’d been as when you are diving or snorkeling the first time: you see the underwater world like it’s on TV or through very strange glasses. I remember starting to shake so much I couldn’t get any of the numbers right on my display and I felt like I couldn’t breathe at the same time as I was repeating to myself ‘Mori tower is one of the best built skyscrapers in the world, it’s designed to take a 9 on the Richter scale, there are stairs he can climb down if the elevators aren’t running, I have seen they have fire extinguishers everywhere, Japanese people are calm and methodical and have protocols for everything..’

It felt like an eternity sitting there, even if it was just a couple of minutes. When the ground finally was calmer, all kinds of sirens started going off and people were calling out loudly for eachother. I again tried my phone, but the phone net was completely dead and I started running towards my building on campus. Outside was out research group who had a list they were checking people off at who turned up. At first, no one was allowed inside since care was taken to the gas bottles in the lab; we were asked to terminate all experiments before the after chock. I think by then I was hit by a small panic attack and decided to go into my office and get my handbag with all my cards including alien registration card, driver license and my keys. I met people who had been stuck under their desks during the initial shake and they were running for the exits. I dived into my office, took my handbag, a pair of sneakers I had under my desk, before one of the language teachers came in after me and said 'Now, Colin-san, you out with me'.

The after chock, which came about 10 minutes later, was so strong that all the windows on the buildings around us were shaking and cracks started forming in the walls. Many people became afraid and started crying, but most of us were still silent and desperately tried calling for our families and friends. The phones were still dead. We were then asked to go home, since the university area was being evacuated; not once did any of this information come out in English, which I found very worrying and stressful.

Just when I started walking, my phone rang and it was Jonas who managed to get through via Viber, since the 3G net had just started working on and off. By that point I was so scared I couldn’t even cry; the line was bad and was soon gone, but we managed to get ‘am OK, walking home now, meet you there, yes, going now’ through. Then the strangest walk through the streets of Tokyo started, I have ever seen. Yes, it’s always a lot of people out in the city, but imagine all those people normally on the trains, metro, JR etc underground, EVERYONE had to walk home. Some people tried to get into the few taxis which were still available, but after I had been walking for about 10 minutes, the traffic had stopped moving completely. Everyone was calm, but it was disturbingly quiet. People were still trying to call their near and dear ones, but it was still impossible to get through.
It was when I passed a big screen in Akihabara, when it all became seriously scary. The pictures showed a approximately 10 m wave sweeping in over land, taking everything with it and the destruction was total. The news were of course in Japanese, but the map that followed was very clear on its message that it had gone out a national tsunami warning over all of the east, south and parts of the west coasts. Our apartment is just down by Tokyo Bay and the wave which had been cabled out in that TV program had reached more than a kilometer inland. I became extremely worried, since I know that against a tsunami there is no chance; I however decided to follow the stream of people south through the city, since a probable wave would likely pass over Chiba before reaching us and there would be some sort of warning. I hoped at least. Besides, it was my only chance to find Jonas at that point, since it was now completely impossible to reach each other.
When I finally reached our street I ran into Jonas and we hugged for a long time; around our house people had gathered in front of yet another big screen at our entrance and some were crying. The death tolls from Sendai and its vicinity had started coming up.

The elevator in our house was not working, so we had to take the fire escape to the 10th floor; until that point, none of us had given our apartment one thought. When we got in, we just stared for several minutes. Finally Jonas sighed: ‘But Jesus Christ, it looks like a group of crack heads have been partying here for two weeks’. We looked at each other and nervously started giggling and then we laughed until we were both in tears. We finally mumbled ‘it’s only things, we’re OK’ and started cleaning up. Our new, really nice iMac, which we had been saving a long time for, was on the floor, upside down in a pool of water, which came from the water boiler, which of course had smashed when it hit the floor; the bench oven was completely crushed, next to the rise cooker, which we had bought the day before, where it looked like someone had punched big holes in it. There were several marks in the wooden floor where furniture had fallen down. Everything which had been standing on the counters in the kitchen, a pot with stirrers and spatulas, oatmeal and O’Boy etc in nice cans and jars, glasses and so forth, were scattered across the floor. The lamps we had were on the floor, of course completely broken and half the larder was in the sink. Together with our dresser which had fallen over and tipped out all its content, our nice palm tree, my jewelry box and scarves, the clothes in our wardrobes in a soup of softner, washing powder, soil and spaghetti, it was the biggest mess I have seen. The only thing which was closed was the refrigerator and the cupboard with our china. However, both the refrigerator and also the bed had moved several decimeters from the walls.

We just couldn’t believe it, but started trying to get the computer working along with our network, so we could contact our families in Sweden. We found a bottle of Laphroaigh, which had been in its container and was whole (!), two glasses and took a proper whiskey before continuing. All of a sudden the whole apartment started swaying from side to side and our doors started banging into each other, which after that frequently happened every fifth minute. We cleaned up as much as possible and decided to go over to our friends’ house; they were just as freaked out as we were and none of us wanted to be alone throughout the night. In all this mess, we had of course not been able to track down our friend from Sweden but we just had to hope she was most probably stuck at the airport or on a train which had been stopped. The whole country was struck by electricity and gas cuts on and off, which meant there were no hot water and no public transport. My phone finally rang and it was my friend telling me they had not been able to land in Tokyo, but been directed to a military base near to Osaka. She would however probably be able to take a train to Tokyo the following day and stay inside for the night, which made us both very happy. We had then just seen on the news that one of the express trains leaving Narita had gone off its tracks into a field and two others were still not accounted for.

The night was very restless and just when we managed to go to sleep, the house’s earth quake alarm went off; our friends decided it was better to sleep in the lobby, so we ran down the stairs 12 floors and stayed there until the early morning together with other concerned people from the building. We then walked through a spookily empty city towards Tokyo main station and met up with a pretty tired, but otherwise alright Hallgerd. We walked to our house, had a talk with our neighbors about the latest news from the Japanese press and started yet another updating session online.

Since it was now ’only’ shaking every 30 minutes on average and they had lifted the tsunami warning in Tokyo + we were going nuts just sitting around waiting, we decided to take a walk through the city. It was nice, but only after a few hours vi had a phone call from Jonas, saying we had to come home immediately since there had been an explosion in a nuclear plant in the north. We ran up from the metro over to our house, up the fire escape to the 10th again and quite worried listened to the news. They told us it was a hydrogen explosion and we became a bit calmer, but wanted to be extra safe and decided to stay indoors. After a while we started receiving alarming news about the water and food were running scarce in Tokyo; we decided to at least go down to our little store on the corner to buy whatever they had, since we didn’t know if or when another explosion would occur and we’d had to get inside. When we came down, the shelves were half empty and I have never picked up such random foods in my life nor had such a strange welcome dinner in our house. We were supposed to go to our friend’s really fantastic restaurant, but this had of course been cancelled. During the night we felt several big shakes which wake us up and turned out to be 6:s on the Richter scale.

The following morning there were no further news about tsunamis or explosions. We decided to go for an outing in Harajuku/Yoyogi park/Meji/Shinjuku/Shibuya, since the metro had started running in that direction. It was hardly a soul in the tunnels and almost completely quiet; it was seriously freaky. When we arrived, there were very many westerners out, but still very empty compared how it usually is. In some parts it was like a strange ghost town. Everyone who knew Japanese were probably at home watching the news.

Just when we stepped off at our station on our way back, there was yet another alarm about an explosion at the Fujishima plant. Everyone were asked to go inside and wait for further instructions; we relaxed a bit when it was reported to be yet another hydrogen explosion, but we then started discussion what we should do, since the situation started to become extremely creepy. Having reactors blowing up for whatever reason did not seem reassuring and the epicentra of several of the shakes were now moving south towards us. So far the wind was blowing towards to the north, but what would happen if a there was a nuclear explosion and the wind turned? When would we find out in English? What if there was a release in the ground water? There were several warnings about heavy after chocks which were just as likely to hit Tokyo full frontal and even though no one can know, if they would occur, what would happen? Would we also be hit by a tsunami? And if yes, where? We became really worried when news from our French friends came, regarding their embassy telling the French citizens of Tokyo to leave the country immediately. At that point we started checking flight. However, we still had not been given any warnings from the Swedish embassy, so we decided to wait another day before making a decision. We called friends in Tokyo and by that point everyone we knew who had children, had already or were in the process of leaving. Jonas still decided to go to work on the Monday, while I decided it best to stay with my friend, since people were not advised at that point to enter the university area.

Hallgerd and I decided to go on a small outing close to home and took the monorail to Odaiba; we did not however dare to get off it if there’d be an alarm. We then went to Jonas’ job in Roppongi and walked home together, so that we’d all be at the same place if something happened. Again the night was filled with worry since there were several strong shakes and when we woke up we all felt almost sea sick, due to the house swaying back and forth.

When reports started coming in about a fire in the third reactor in combination with ambiguous news about a nuclear waste outburst, we packed our bags. We got in touch with our families and jobs and told them that we were leaving as soon as possible. The ticket prices were rising fast and within a few hours it was almost ten times the money to go from Japan to Europe. Hallgerd already has a return ticket to go back to the US, so we prioritized getting her to the airport asap; when we got to Ueno, no trains were leaving for Narita, so we rushed down to Ningyocho to the shuttle port and managed to get her on a bus. I then ran back, since I received a phone call from Jonas saying we had tickets for Singapore via Vietnam and had about 20 minutes to pack. Since several planes had been redirected to Osaka and they still seemed to hold their normal air schedule, we still did not know if we could leave from Narita. To stay overnight in any location without electricity would most likely be cold, at the same time as we knew that if we got away and could land in Ho Chi Minh as planned it’d be around 30 degrees and 80% humidity. On top of that, we were not sure when, or actually if, we could return, so all of both affectionate and money value needed to go with us. It was hence a suite case containing my grandmother’s medallion, a knitted hat, flipflops, my watch I got from my family when I got my title, my favorite white handbag I got from my mom, two woolen sweaters, a sarong, my computer.. I have never had such a crazy content in a luggage ever.

We however managed to get to a shuttle bus passing a long, but manageable line; when I had said goodbye to my friend, there had been three really big sumo wrestlers waiting there as well, so from now on we decided to call it ‘the sumo terminal’. Traffic was very calm on the highway and we could in good time sort out exit/entrance papers for me at the airport; on top of that I asked the flight company if we could possibly get on an earlier flight which was OK. We had to wait for 16 h in Vietnam, but it was worth it. We could also sort out some cash, which we had been a bit worried about, since we had read news about the Japanese stock market and the value of the YEN being unstable, which turned out fine though.

As if the computer and chemistry gods had understood that neither of us were especially tough landing in Singapore, we got the most amazing taxi driver who got us from door to door within half an hour at a price of about 14 EURO, including a smashing guiding as we were passing by all the important spots. The hotel manager welcomed us himself with fantastic and service minded manners and also upgraded our room. He looked very understanding when we said we came from Tokyo and almost straight away sent up room service. Then we slept for a very long time.
Now we have been here for about a week; it’s supposed to be a ‘vacation’, but it so far has been very strange and stressful, not knowing when or if we can come back. In one way we are grateful we had the opportunity to leave, while at the same time we have our lives in Tokyo. We are scheduled to go back on the 28th and are currently following the news several times every day.

We want to thank everyone who has written us or called; better families, friends or colleagues than you guys are hard to find and we have been so happy to receive word from all of you! We are now going to start the watching-all-the-news-channels-and-reading-all-the-latest-articles-regarding-if-we-are-safe-in-Japan-or-not for tonight. We will post further updates on Facebook and are also available via email or Skype; thank you all again for thinking of us, it has really warmed both our hearts!