Archive for the ‘Tohoku Earthquake’ Category

A year ago today, we got stuck in a train tunnel after an earthquake had triggered an emergency stop of our commuter train. We were completely unaware of the fact that while we were waiting in the dark train, the biggest natural disaster to strike Japan in recent history was unfolding: a huge tsunami triggered by the magnitude 9 earthquake off the coast of the Tohoku region was washing entire towns into the sea, deposing large ships several kilometers inland. Even today, it is hard to grasp the sheer extent of the disaster: 15 854 people have died that day, with another 3155 unaccounted for, the coastal regions still an unrecognizable wasteland.
Although this event has rocked our world, it seems almost impossible to match our own experience to the pictures of complete destruction that came from the North. Our reality is a mosaic of our own experiences mixed with those of our friends and acquaintances. The accounts of window panes bending during the earthquake at IPMU, of standing without a jacket for three hours on the lawn in the cold after having evacuated the building, of watching a little crack form on the facade of a university building at Komaba campus and watching it creep down the wall, or even of queuing for drinking water after the water lines had been cut off in Tsukuba, these little pieces fit the picture of the reality we lived through ourselves. Our reality was one of interrupted train services and no toilet paper in the supermarket, something incredibly far removed from what people have gone through on the Tohoku east coast.

There is another point that deserves to be made. What happened one year ago, was a huge earthquake and tsunami. It was not “Fukushima”. “Fukushima” has not killed close to 20’000 people. While I don’t want to minimize the nuclear accident, it is worth pointing out that so far, the released radioactivity has not claimed any lives. Thanks to the international media, the March 11 disaster has remained in the minds of people around the world as “Fukushima”. The nuclear accident has been only one of the many tragic consequences of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and just focusing on this is not doing justice to the tens of thousands of real victims of a natural disaster.


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Electricity usage on Aug. 24 (source: TEPCO)

Now that the worst of the summer heat is behind us, I guess I can safely venture to say that Japan has successfully taken on the challenge created by the power shortage created by the Tohoku Earthquake and its aftermath. With not only the nuclear power plants actually damaged by the earthquake offline, but many more which the worried population did not allow to come back online after regular inspections, the service capacities of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO in short, or in Japanese, Tokyo Denryoku) are below last summer’s peak demand. In anticipation of this situation, Japan has called on its citizens and businesses to make plans to use at least 15% less electricity than last summer. (more…)

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Almost three months have passed since Japan was struck by what is now known as the Great East Japan Offshore Earthquake and Tsunami. While the days following the earthquake will always remain in our memories with unusual vividness, things have since subsided back into normality around Tokyo. The aftershocks went from hourly down to daily, then to once every few days, and then to even more rarely. While two months after the quake, we would still receive our daily reminder, we are now allowed to go unperturbed for several days. (more…)

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Since the Great Tohoku Earthquake exactly one month ago, we have gone through an enormous amount of aftershocks. This website has a pretty neat interface for visualization. Unfortunately, the data stops on April 4, thus missing two of the largest aftershocks of magnitude more than 7 of last Thursday and today. Even so, it counts almost 900 individual aftershocks, more than 400 of which had a magnitude of higher than 5. These days, especially tonight, we are having what probably should be called aftershocks of aftershocks. (more…)

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There’s a lesson in everything, however small. Recent events have resulted in some additions to my Japanese vocabulary.
The word for earthquake – jishin (地震) is in the vocabulary of every resident of Japan. Of late, we have more specifically:

東北大震災 – Tohoku Daishinsai, literally: Tohoku (Northeast) big quake disaster.

This is short for the technical term, which is

東北地方太平洋沖地震 – Tōhoku Chihō Taiheiyō-oki Jishin, literally Northeast region Pacific Ocean offshore earthquake.

For obvious reasons, we have also a heightened interest in words such as

原子炉 – genshiro, nuclear reactor
原子力発電所 – genshiryoku-hatsudensho, nuclear power plant
which is often shortened to
原発 – genpatsu.

Daiichi (第一) btw, means simply “number one”. And since we’re at it, Fukushima (福島) translates as “island of good fortune”, not a case of “nomen est omen”, it seems.

As a consequence of the above, we also learn

節電 – setsuden, electricity saving.

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Japan is a country at high risk of major earthquakes. This is a fact of life that you have to accept when living there. The Tokyo region has been bracing for decades for the “Big One” (such as recurrences of the Kanto and Tokai earthquakes). After the Tohoku earthquake, which happened on a different (and maybe unexpected) fault line, these are not off the table. But if this teaches us anything, it is that we are still very poor at predicting such events. While it is useful to be prepared, it is pointless to live in fear.

The experience of the quake has of course some very practical consequences for me. It has changed how I stack stuff in a cupboard. It has changed how close to an edge I’ll be putting things. And it has changed how much I’ll be filling up the aquarium. (more…)

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After the devastating Tohoku earthquake, Japan is faced with enormous difficulties. But based on my general experience living in Japan and the exemplary response to the crisis of the Japanese people, I am confident that if any society in the world is equipped to overcome a disaster of this magnitude, it is Japan. The frequency of natural disasters throughout history has left Japan much more prepared than other countries. And being disciplined, hard-working and efficient, and being ready to work for the good of society are qualities which the Japanese have cultivated and which will be a great asset in the following days, weeks and months. The Japanese are not complainers, they will do whatever is needed to emerge from this crisis.

I would like to stress that despite some reports abroad, the reaction of the overwhelming majority of people to the earthquake and its aftermath has been extraordinarily calm. In most other places, complete chaos would have followed. Here, people have been doing their best to carry on and keep everything running as smoothly as possible.
I have witnessed all of this in person during and right after the quake and during the week that has passed since, and I am very impressed. All of this makes me very optimistic for Japan’s future.

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