Saturday, March 19, 2011


Just a week ago at 2:46pm local time, the worst natural disaster in postwar Japan occured. It has changed the lives of most, if not all, that live here much like 9/11 did in the United States. Although I'm 270 miles (435 km) from the epicenter in Sendai, the uneasiness, stress and worries of it all are still quite strong. This quake was like no other; it moved Honshu almost 8 feet (2.4 m) closer to North America. Our classroom shook violently for 6 full minutes! The first 20 seconds I was standing at the whiteboard thinking it was another one of the 1000 or so earthquakes Japan experiences each year, but then it not only didn't stop but it grew stronger. After a couple of minutes, a wise student said that we should go under the table which we all (5 adults) did. One gentleman ran outside. When the shaking did finally stop, we all walked outside. The streets were filled. Everyone was calling loved ones which jammed all the phone lines. Finally I got mail on my cell-phone from my wife saying they were OK. I had to teach a couple more kids' classes that afternoon. Suprisingly, about half the kids showed up. That evening's adult class no one came because the train lines had all stopped running. Many of our students work in Tokyo and had to stay the night in their Tokyo offices (about 50 miles/80 km east of Odawara).

Rolling blackouts started this past week. We lose power for about 3 hours a day. Fortunately, we haven't had to cancel any classes. We're having candle-light classes and students have been bringing their flashlights. These rolling blackouts will last until the end of April and could possibly continue for a full year.

Japan generates one-third of its electricity with nuclear power. The nuclear power plants that were hit by both the earthquake and then the tsunami in Fukushima provided a good chunk of power. Now there is quite a scare going around about the radiation leaking. It's a real and serious problem for those who live within 100 kms of the nuclear plant. Those people should definitely evacuate. As for the 20 million or so people living in the Tokyo area (roughly 170 miles/270 km away), I don't believe they are putting themselves at risk by staying put. Some foreign governments are urging their citizens to return home. This is causing people to panic as they think the Japanese government is being untruthful. Now I am not saying that the Japanese Governenment (or any government) is always truthful, but I ask: Why would they lie about this? If deaths occured now or in the future from the radiation leakage, how would they be able to hide from this? This type of scaremongering is not helping anyone.

Recently some friends and family members have told me to go home. I want them to know that we are completely safe from any radiation leaks where we are. I do appreciate that they are thinking of our safety and well-being but we are more than 225 miles (350 km) from the nuclear power plants in Fukushima. This is a good video explaining the nuclear reactor situation in a way that even I can understand. It's in Japanese with English sub-titles on the bottom.

We'll never be completely safe from earthquakes here but I face that same danger in my home-state of California. There have already been literally 100's of aftershocks and more than 10 earthquakes that registered higher than 6.0 magnitude after the "big" one that registered 9.0. Each one brings a sick feeling to my stomach and images of the destruction I've been watching on the news. After another month or two, things will calm down (earthquake-wise) and my body will stop feeling the movement that it does sometimes even when things aren't shaking.

To sum things up, things aren't rosy but they will get better. I have a lot of faith in the people here. There's a word in Japanese called "gaman" which loosely translates to mean "patience and perseverance". These qualities along with being a very orderly society will help to bring Japan back up on its feet. The people here in Japan feel the love and kindness that is being sent from all over the world. Personally, this gives me strength too. Again, thank you for your love and prayers.