Saturday 9 April 2011

The Aftershock

Dear Friends
Sorry about the abrupt end to the post last night. I was sitting here in my apartment on the 7th floor trying to think of an upbeat way to end the message when the quake hit. It was a big one - strong force 5 here in Koriyama. I dived under the table and crouched there hanging onto the wall. It went on for about a minute, strong waves from side to side and up and down. I want to tell you what it was like but it's so hard to put into words. It's noisy: the building creaks and rattles. I really can't find the words to describe it. All I know is it is absolutely terrifying.

The tremors subside. I come out from under the table feeling a bit silly but then go straight into emergency mode: TV on, cycle helmet on, check front door (yes, it opens), switch off main gas tap, fill the bath and every available container with water (don't want to get caught out like last time), sign off the blog. And then I just sat, watching the TV in my cycle helmet. The lowest point was when they reported that three out of four of the electric pumps at Onnagawa nuclear power station in Miyagi (in  the heart of the tsunami disaster area) had stopped. I couldn't bear to think of the Fukushima nightmare spreading. But then the pumps were reconnected. After a couple of hours I went to bed (in my clothes) and slept soundly.

At the office next morning the cracks on the stairs are a bit wider but that's all. The factory is alright. Now I will own up to something. Our new practice of sending the factory staff home early was not entirely altruistic. There were problems with the oldest part of the factory and work was done this last Monday and Tuesday to add extra braces and supports to strengthen the structure. I am so grateful to the CEO of that company who came round one Sunday after the quake and got the work done before yesterday's big shock.

The sales forecasts for the year are in. Sales to just 8 customers should see an increase over last year but there's a pageful of customers whose sales will fall. Some factories are moving production overseas but the vast majority of cases are related to this disaster: four factories closed down, dealers who have lost their customers, factories damaged, production reduced. It makes dismal reading.  And then there are those marked 'depends on the outcome at the power station'.

We make corrugated cardboard boxes and about 15% of our sales go to the agricultural sector so we're following the radiation and soil contamination question closely. As I reported yesterday seven localities, including Koriyama, had high levels of caesium in the soil (2-3,000 bequerels per kilogram). Tests in these areas are to be repeated and they are to decide next Tuesday whether planting can go ahead. Farmers have been given the go ahead to start work in other areas. Nobody has any proper information - there are no Japanese standards or even international standards I was told, although the Japanese government seems to use the figure 5,000 bequerels as the upper limit. The attitude of the farmers and the big farming cooperative seems to be that they will plant the rice anyway and if they're not able to sell it they'll make sure they get compensation (the Prime Minister has pledged to compensate all affected).

The ban on spinach from Gunma and milk from Aizu, Kitakata and Inawasahiro in the west of the prefecture has been lifted. Levels of radiation in the Aizu area have never been raised and the ban was a knee jerk reaction implemented at the prefecture (administrative) level. But as one farmer said, 'once you've lost your reputation it's not easy to get it back'. The damage is done. These are sentiments all of us in Fukushima share. Do the people in Tokyo making these decisions realise the impact they are having? They don't seem to have our interests at heart. For example, I heard today that when they measure the spinach they take a plant from the field, roots and soil and all. Why don't they cut off the roots and wash it? That's how people will eat it.

The results of the survey of radiation levels at schools came out and the levels were in line with those taken at the city office several times a day which are shown on television. So I guess the schools will be going back as planned on Monday.

We have had many more aftershocks today (one just now) and I've got earthquake sickness again: the feeling that things are swaying even when they're not. To be frank, this last aftershock has got to me and suddenly I feel very tired. I'm going to take a day off tomorrow, the first since March 11, and try and get out into the countryside (west of course) so there will be no blog tomorrow. Please excuse.
Keep well


  1. Dear Anne, I too have been following your blog daily. Glad to know you are safe. You write really well and the human stories are so affecting. I looked at an old map of Japan I had. Remember that skiing trip to Mt Zao? Fond memories and happy days bubble up. Keep well and enjoy the moments when you can. love Sylvie from Bristol

  2. Have a nice holiday! I'm glad you're making the step out to the countryside. I hope you're going somewhere nice.

    At least Koriyama has access to the best countryside in Tohoku. Rest well.