Thursday 31 March 2011

Day Twenty

Dear Friends
The schools in this area were supposed to go back on Monday but it's been postponed until the 11th. Some people are saying if there's no improvement at the reactor, schools might not go back until after the Golden Week holiday in May. It must be boring for the kids, cooped up inside, away from their friends, with the telly showing either scenes of devastation or updates from the nuclear power plant. Several mothers have told me they're worried that their kids aren't getting enough exercise and even if schools do resume next week the kids won't be able to play outside.

The academic year starts in April and graduation ceremonies and opening ceremonies are impotant milestones here. Most graduation ceremonies were cancelled and many pupils didn't finish the syllabus for the year so they're in limbo. The TV showed one headteacher taking the certificates to each pupil and doing a little presentation ceremony at home. I was impressed by the way the children (12 or 13 years old) responded. They sounded very grown up. Like the rest of us they must have learnt a lot in the past three weeks.

I'm going to tell you a true story that was told to me by my sister-in-law last weekend. It's not my usual style and I hope you don't find it mawkish. She told me that in the Niigata earthquake four or five years ago a young mother ran out of her apartment block carrying a young child who she bent over to protect. Then an elderly couple ran out of the same block and put their arms around and over the mother and child to protect them, another layer of safety. My sister-in-law, who is 78,  said that she had heard this story before but here in this disaster for the first time she really understood the feelings of the old couple. (She added impishly that when people get older - her own mother is 99 - they can get selfish!) 

An old lady round here is still eating the vegetables she grows in defiance of the government ban. As she says, in the local accent, she'll be dead (shinderu bai) before she gets ill. I  know what she means. I've spent a lifetime travelling between Japan and Europe so must have had more than my share of radiation. It's the young who are so vulnerable to radiation that we need to protect.

Politicians talk blithely of doing things for our children and grandchildren, platitudes that fall easily off the lips. But a disaster sharpens the senses, focuses the mind and allows no arbitrary thinking. The French, the Americans are here to help us. Please get that reactor under control and make our children safe.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Day Nineteen

Dear Friends
Today was a day of firsts. I had to go and see a client so it was the first time to wear a suit and nice shoes, the first time to carry a handbag (though I'm still  reluctant to be separated from my rucksack and valuables), and the first time to sit in a coffee shop. I felt so sophisticated!

Nearly three weeks after the disaster and things seem to be moving from emergency mode to recovery. The road along the Miyagi coast reopened today, the police have gone to the evacuation centres and set up offices so people can get new driving licences (ID), there's a system in place for getting rid of abandoned cars, and people are starting to clean up. At the office we're inundated with informaton about grants and financing. I found out today that national insurance direct debits have been cancelled in the five affected prefectures (Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and Ibaragi), the deadline extended, and that we have to pay over the counter. It's a goodwill gesture to avoid putting extra strains on businesses at this time and perhaps a way of finding out which businesses are still in operation. But what a mammoth task! Somebody's been busy.

The president, of Tokyo Electric came on TV and apologised profusely for the mess. (The CEO is in hospital. Ill? Got the sack?) He said reactors 1 to 4 would have to be closed down. So that's good to know. But Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano said in the morning that it would take a long time to cool them down. The governor of Fukushima attended a press conference, said he wanted to see an end to the problems at the reactor, and walked off. He had nothing else to say.

He's not the only one who's mad. Earlier I talked about 'fuhyo higai' (風評被害)the damage caused by rumours. First it was Fukushima spinach, then any spinach. And I said then that the Fukushima brand was in tatters. Now it's anything and everything made in Japan. It's ridiculous. Exports of fibres made in Osaka, industrial products in Yamaguchi, tea from Kyoto are all being cancelled because of the Fukushima reactor, hundreds and hundreds of miles away. Manufacturers are having to make little certificates with maps of Japan on them to show they're nowhere near us and the Osaka Chamber of Commerce is issuing certificates to show that products were made where they said they were made. Geiger counters are the new 'must have'. Up to now, the Japanese government and NHK have been doing their best to counter the rumour mongering by giving out information and appealing for calm but how do you combat this on a global scale?

Another first today was buying a loaf of bread (as opposed to sticky sweet rolls) in the Seven Eleven so I'm going to treat myself to some beans on toast. But the shelves are still empty and there are no cigarettes. Smokers are getting desperate. It's going to take a while yet to get back to normal.
Bye for now

Day Eighteen

Only one aftershock today, at about 8 pm. And the risk of a force 5 aftershock in the next few days down to 10%. Things are definitely improving.

Most of today was taken up with the internal audit for our ISO quality system. We'd considered postponing it because none of us were ready - we've a tendency to  leave preparations until the last minute anyway and examining systems was the last thing on our mind as we picked up the pieces  in the aftermath of the earthquake. But it's reassuring to get back to normal routines. And did I detect a new urgency? A new will to get things done and see results?

I talked on the phone to a member of staff in our Sendai office. We hadn't been able to get in touch with him for a week after the quake. He lives in Tagajo where a petroleum conbinaat caught fire the night of the earthquake. His house was about 2 km  from the tsunami. He spent the first night in an evacuation centre but is now back home although they don't have running water yet. He's cycling 20 km into work. The trains are due to resume on 5 April.

Two and a half weeks on and the full extent of the disaster is unfolding. So far 28,000 people are dead or reported missing. (The quake struck at 2:46 in the afternoon: if it had been at night the toll would have been even higher.) A primary school in Miyagi reconvened today (at a different site). Only 56 pupils left out of 108. In one town (Ofuna, Miyagi), which is at the head of a funnel-shaped bay, the tsunami was 23 metres high.  But it was the huge area affected that caused the paralysis of the first couple of days. Disaster systems were in place but they were based at the prefecture level which just couldn't cope.  Now there are 12,000 local government people in from all over Japan. And help from all over the world.

It's amazing to see these people. They look so organised, so strong. 20,000 US troops in 'Operation Tomodachi' operating from the ship the 'Ronald Reagan'; a plane chartered by the UK government to bring in 100 tons of water (that's a lot of bottles of water); and a whole hospital from Israel. The latter has 60 staff and can do blood tests and X-rays on the spot. This is the first time ever the government has granted foreign doctors licences to practise in Japan.

A programme tonight on NHK highlighted the role of Twitter and Facebook in searching for people in the first week when mobile phones were down. One guy got volunteers from all over Japan to record the tweets so he could set up a system for searching for people. Lots of people are helping in lots of different ways. We really do seem to be more interconnected.

My daughter Reiko sent me a goody bag through a friend who is visiting Tokyo. Tea, nice biscuits and a copy of The Independent with different news in another continent. For a short time I was away from here.

Back at the reactor electricity has been restored to all 6 units. All they need to do now is connect the pumps. Unfortunately the turbine rooms are flooded with highly radioactive water. There seems to be a vicious circle developing: the core in Unit 3 in particular needs hosing with water to prevent overheating but the tanks are getting full and they're running out of places to put the stuff. Meanwhile we are informed that levels of radiation are safe and no 'immediate' danger to health. Excuse me? I live here. Does this mean that there are risks in the long term? The information is confusing.

It's still cold.  No sign of spring. But then, unlike the gradual awakening of a European spring, spring always arrives very quickly here, all at once.
Good night, from a less shaky Koriyama

Monday 28 March 2011

Day Seventeen

Hi folks
Back to work today. Very busy. Lost two weeks because of the earthquake so there's lots of catching up to do. I wish I could say things were back to normal. They are, kind of. But along with the worry of nuclear fallout, the aftershocks are unsettling. I looked on the Meteorological Agency's website and saw that between midnight and 8pm today there had been 20 shocks. Not all of them you can feel but there was a big one about 10 o'clock last night and two big ones this morning. The TV showed them as only force 3 in Koriyama but they felt stronger. As I say, unsettling.

Our salesman who lives in Iwaki and evacuated with his family to stay with relatives 350 miles away came in today. I heard his story. It took him four hours to get home on the day of the quake, driving along all the back roads trying to find a way in. No one at home so he searched the evacuation centres and finally got reunited with all the members of his family about 10 pm. His house is 500 metres outside the 30 km exclusion zone so they decided to stay in the evacuation centres but they were moved twice in three days and the only water they were given in two days was one 500 ml bottle each. Soup was made once a day but it wasn't regular, sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the evening. He decided to leave and go and stay with relatives in Sakai city, Fukui prefecture. The city seems to have acted swiftly and generously. They have been allocated an apartment and moved in a couple of days ago. There are 240 'refugees' from Fukushima in the city. He has no idea yet what will happen to his house and land. It all depends on what happens at the reactor.

He was phoning his customers on the coast. More stories; the tsunami came right up to the front of the shop, etc. When will they be back in business? Not till the water's reconnected. Which will be when? Not till the end of April!

The post and delivery services are back to normal but we are a bit worried about whether we will get all our payments in at the end of the month. We know of two companies that have upped and left the disaster area. The bigger companies will honour their debts but there's uncertainty about some of the smaller ones, especially those that we go to collect from personally. Will they still be there? With other, more pressing, claims on funds, will we get paid? There are already finance schemes in place and no doubt there will be government grants and aid, but these will take time.

On the bright side, Fukushima shiitake have been tested and declared free of radiation, so the mushrooms we pack will go to market. But what price will they fetch? Heard one story of Fukushima cucumbers usually selling for 2,600 yen per box going for 700 yen! Zenno (the agricultural cooperative) will do all they can to test the produce and reassure the public but emotional factors are at work here. The nuclear plant needs to be made safe as soon as possible.

That's all we want, here in Fukushima.
Love to you all

Sunday 27 March 2011

Day Sixteen

Dear Friends
On Sunday morning the airwaves in Japan are dedicated to current affairs programmes and it was back to normal today after two weeks of live reporting of the disaster. Politicians, government ministers and academics are quizzed by journalists and televison personalities who posed just the kind of questions I wanted answers to two weeks ago. On the whole the debate was measured, informative and useful. Worst case scenario likely to be leakage of radioactive material from pipes etc.

There was a piece on Miyako, a town in a bay north of Sendai which has a 10 metre high 2.4 kilometer long tsunami wall and has done lots of disaster prevention exercises. This tsunami was so large and magnified by swirling around the many bays on the coast that predictions became meaningless and the wall was swept away.

In the evening the news took a turn for the worse. We were told that radiation levels in the water in the turbine hall of Unit 2 were 10 million times normal and extremely dangerous. Is this worse case scenario? None of us said anything; maybe we've got number fatigue. I was wondering how I could get hold of some iodine tablets - suddenly the 'konbu' seaweed I've been putting in my food sounded no match for a dose of radiation that size. A few minutes ago I checked the news and it seems this information was mistaken. What the hell is going on?

Re-read the  new item on the British Embassy Tokyo's website which is advice from the UK Scientific Advisor - clear, lucid and reassuring.

The afternoon telly was given over to a scaled-down version of the high school baseball tournament which opened at Koshien Stadium in Osaka a couple of days ago.This is a national institution and will be a welcome distraction for many. Tohoku High School from Miyagi are playing tomorrow and everyone will be rooting for them.

It's Sunday evening and late. If you'll excuse me I'm off to bed; need to get ready for another busy week.
Love to you all

Day Fifteen

Dear Friends
There was a covering of snow this morning but it soon cleared giving way to a sunny, but cold, day. The local Seven Eleven, my barometer for the distribution system, had more on the shelves this morning: o-nigiri (rice balls), curry rice meals, even some sandwiches. Still rationed, still lots of empty shelves but things are definitely picking up.

Now we have petrol there are cars on the roads again. But very few pedestrians. Some of them are dressed like me: hood, mask, gloves; others just wear a mask though that's not unusual here. Usui, the local department store, is open and had a reassuring range of food. I bought a cabbage from Aichi prefecture (Nagoya). Very sad that there are no Fukushima veggies on sale. The Louis Vuitton and Tiffany outlets in the store are closed, as was the upmarket yoghurt shop (no milk). The clock at the station, which stopped ten minutes after the earthquake,  has been reset. Yes, life is getting back to normal. Some of those who fled last week when there were explosions at the reactors are trickling back. Life goes on, people have things to do. The radioactive fallout is a worry, but you try not to watch the TV too much, and carry on as best you can.

Meanwhile the governor of Fukushima prefecture has refused to meet the boss of Tokyo Electric who wants to apologise. Quite right too. The people of Fukushima are very angry. For forty years the Fukushima Nuclear Plant has supplied Tokyo with electricity; none has been used here for we are supplied by a different company. But after this, is any community going to be prepared to have a nuclear power plant on their doorstep? This is NIMBYism writ large.

With the Fukushima plant out of action, Tokyo Electric has been rolling out power cuts. Thanks to people cutting back and a reduction in commercial activity as a result of the quake, many of these planned power cuts have not taken place. The mood here is one of restraint, they call it 'jishuku mudo' (自粛ムード)and people have rallied round, trying to save power so that it can go where it's needed. So we can cut back if we have to. Naochika (my late husband) was a nuclear chemist and he said 30 years ago that without nuclear power people would have to take a cut in their standard of living and people weren't prepared to do that. We made that choice then. Perhaps we need to make a different choice now: until alternative energy really gets going to cut our consumption drastically. It would combat global warming too.

Or maybe nuclear can be safe? I'll be looking at that another time.

On a lighter note, let me answer some of your questions. Am I taking iodine tablets? No, because I haven't seen any chemist shops open. However in the early days, right after the quake, I did spot a big packet of 'konbu' (kelp) in a local store and I've been eating lots, in my brown rice and soups so I should have some natural protection.

And another question, from my mother (who else), how do you manage sanitation when the water was cut off? Well, we were caught out on this one. The evening after the quake the apartment had running water. What we didn't realise was that it was from a tank so the next morning we woke up to no water. If we'd realised we would have filled up the bath and any other containers. I had drinking water. I've been in this country long enough to heed government warnings to stock up. But I have to admit I peed into a bucket that first morning. Thankfully the water board soon got a pump working in the nearby park and we assembled with motley containers to collect water (no shops were open to buy proper water carriers). A trick I learnt here was to line your container (bucket, rubbish bin, anything) with a large plastic bag which you tie up. This way you can carry the water without it slopping everywhere. Another standby was cling-film. If you line your plates with cling-film you don't have to use precious water to wash them up. So plastic bags and cling film - add to your list of survival items! The other item I've used constantly is a primitive AM radio (with extra batteries - you can't get them for love or money in an emergency). Information is the thing you want most in a crisis. My godson Martin told me of friends who were stuck in Egypt with mobile communication down and they relied on landline phones and regular TV (not computer). We had the same experience here with mobile phones and routers down.

So things are getting back to normal. Don't worry about me. I'm fine.
We stay calm, reassured as the old routines return, and supported by each other.
Love to you all

Friday 25 March 2011

Day Fourteen

Dear Friends - in England and around the world,
No blog yesterday. I worked late and, to tell you the truth, I was tired. But here we are today, two weeks to the day after the quake hit. It's been the longest two weeks in my life, but at the same time, it seems to have gone very quickly, especially this last week. Time plays funny tricks on the mind and with the adrenalin running high, my sense of time is all askew.

The news from the reactor is mixed. On the good side, they are now cooling Unit 1 with freshwater rather than seawater and they've got the electric lights on in Units 1 and 3 so now they can see what they're doing. This didn't prevent three operators in Unit 3 getting water in their wellies and suffering large doses of radiation. They've been sent to a specialist hospital in Tokyo. I hope they're going to be alright. Unit 3 is emitting large amounts of radiation. Government spokesman Edano announced that they were  'recommending voluntary evacuation' for people in  the 20-30 km zone (at the moment people there are supposed to stay indoors).  I think the gist of it is that the reactor is not going to be fixed soon and they're looking at the long term dangers to health.

In addition, life is becoming unsustainable within that area. Most of the 10,000 people who remain are elderly and carers don't have the petrol to make visits. Supplies are still not getting in because of the dangers, inherent or perceived. Shops and businesses are closed so it's a no-man's land. They are evacuating whole communities further afield (experience in other disasters has shown that it's better to keep communities together). But one wonders whether  the 150 people bussed out to Gunma today will ever come back?

People have stories to tell. Our accountant had gone out to Soma on the coast. He said recovery hasn't started yet. The Self Defence Forces are still looking for bodies. He found the scale of the destruction mind-boggling. Even when they start to clear up, how would you dispose of all the debris, the concrete, the steel, he wondered? And visitors from Rengo told us about their factory in Sendai. After the earthquake and tsunami warning the staff all went upstairs. After the first wave, some people took refuge in a taller building nearby while the rest stayed put. Then it came, the 10 metre wave, washing away everything in its path. The structure held but all the walls and everything in the factory were washed away. The computers and phones were on the ground floor so they were stranded and it was two days before they were rescued.

Life is more mundane in Koriyama. The petrol station phoned again and let us have special access to petrol so all our staff are now mobile. There are queues at other stations so not everyone has been so lucky but slowly petrol seems to becoming available.  The level of radiation in the city is 3.09 down from the 4.0 recorded a couple of days ago after it rained. The water in the city resevoir is down to 75 bq/litre and safe.
(I know this as it was in the Mayor's new blog of which I am a follower! This disaster has certainly converted us oldies to this new medium.)

The Tohoku Expressway reopened to ordinary traffic yesterday although they say the shinkansen (bullet train) will not re-open until the end of April.

At the factory it was a normal day. The yard full of trucks, the fork-lifts peep peeping away, everyone busy getting on with the job. A joy to see. But orders are down and we've changed working practices: those who've finished their work are to move down the line to help the others. Get the job done, all go home together as soon as possible. They'll be paid for an 8 hour day but these are difficult times - better they're at home than polishing the machinery.

It's snowing right now. Thick flakes. I hope it doesn't settle. Wierd weather.
Love to you all

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Day Thirteen

Hi Folks
The call came just after four. Petrol was available. About ten of us dashed to the carpark. We got to the designated garage just as the tanker lorry was leaving. Queued up. Emergency vehicles only, I was told but when I mentioned the name of the company I was waved in. 3,000 yen, 19.93 litres. That was it. My allocation. I feel relieved, human again - headed straight for the supermarket to buy fresh food, the first time in thirteen days. Photos below. 

The company was not so lucky. Our planned deliveries of heavy oil hit problems. Both companies delivered this morning but in small lorries and the hoses wouldn't fit. One company came back with an adaptor so by noon we had 2,000 litres. The other company has decided to deliver instead with the usual 10,000 litre lorry but it will be tomorrow. To make up for the delay they will bring 4,000 litres. With another 2,000 litres due tomorrow from a third company we will have a full tank. A miracle.

Had a brief conversation with the boss of our haulage company this morning. He says the truck companies have diesel and are ready to travel. The relief goods are in distribution centres in Koriyama. But there is confusion as there are no instructions coming in as to where the stuff is to go. Commercial goods and relief goods are all mixed up, he added. Sounds chaotic. The key to the relief effort is distribution and it's not working properly yet.

At 11 am Edano, the government spokesman, announced that in addition to spinach and milk, there was to be a ban on eating cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips and all leafy greens grown in Fukushima. Oh, and parsley grown in neigbouring Ibaragi which apparently supplies 19% of the nation's parsley. At that point this threat to the nation's parsley supplies seemed to be the main concern. But soon there was a much more serious turn of events. Radioactive iodine was found in water in Tokyo and instructions issued that infants should not drink tap water or have it made up into bottled milk. The same warning has been issued in Ibaragi and in Koriyama too. The safe limit for adults is 300 bq/litre, and for infants 100 bq/litre. In Tokyo the level was 210 and in one Koriyama resevoir 150. Sakuragaoka where I'm staying is not supplied by that resevoir so I'm taking water in from here tomorrow. I left a note on the coffee machine telling Toshiaki to wait for his coffee. 

Supplying cardboard boxes to the agricultural sector is an important part of our business and sales will be down. We have just about written off meeting sales targets for March and April and are praying that the situation will have improved by June when the season gets into full swing. In addition we have a shiitake mushroom packing business at another site (when things have settled down I'll tell you how to choose the perfect shiitake ...). At the moment our 26 part time ladies are packing the mushrooms that are coming in from the producers but who knows how long this will go on? I spent part of the day trawling through employment law literature to see how we deal with prolonged loss of business. Impossible to lay anyone off in this country, anyway I don't want to: they're skilled. There are grants available. So many new situations to deal with.

All of us here just want one thing: for the reactor to be made safe as soon as possible. Covered up in concrete and forgotten. And our lives back. But things are not looking good today. Black smoke this time. And we have had two force 5 aftershocks today.

But at least I've got petrol now and can escape if I need to.
Love to you all

The local supermarket. Peppers from Korea, tomatoes from Kyushu. Looks good.

But further in ... empty shelves


Sign:  'Next Delivery of Water Unknown'

Cleaning the milk shelf - no milk available

Convenience store. One bottle of water per person. Four, no, two canned drinks.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Day Twelve

Dear Friends
First day back at work after the holiday. Office staff and production managers only. All eight salesmen on the phones at once trying to find out what's going on. Never seen the office so busy. Then the guy in accounts announces he's negotiated for some petrol. Five salesmen can go and get 20 litres each. Company cars only and they have to take their business cards.  It's quiet for a while but they're back soon: the petrol stand is closed for business, roped off, but they were let in specially. Essential staff (nurses and police officers, for example) are getting petrol in the same way. They've been issued with big cards to put in their windscreens but rumour has it these cards are doing the rounds.

Rumour is rife. It was the rumour of 'black rain' last Wednesday that prompted a major exodus. 'Black rain' is etched in the Japanese psyche. It fell in Hiroshima shortly after the bomb. There's a word for this rumour-mongering. It's 'fuhyo' in Japanese (風評). Not a word I'd come across before but now we hear it all the time. The phrase of the moment is 'fuhyo higai', damage caused by rumour. The government retaliates by giving us lots of statistics and telling us that levels are not harmful at all but spinach is now a dirty word and no spinach is selling wherever it comes from. Poor farmers. The Fukushima farmers are throwing away all their milk and the latest is caesium in the sea. Poor fishing industry. The bill for this is growing daily. Tokyo Electric is  going to have to compensate all these people, or the government (us, the taxpayer).

The results of the phone survey reach me in the evening. Out of 170 customers over 100 are unaffected with business as normal. We have been unable to contact 7 companies with addresses in Minami Soma, Namie on the coast here in Fukushima, and Miyako in Miyagi prefecture, all places that have been in the news,  hit by the tsunami. Heavy damage in many big companies: damage to buildings and machinery, damage to a furnace producing glass fibre. In many cases head office will decide to concentrate resources elsewhere rather than rebuild damaged factories. There will be closures. For many smaller companies this is the final straw after decades of struggling with recession and deflation. The worry is that we could lose quite a few of our bigger customers.

The girl who does the payroll did all the calculations and got the data off to the bank in one day. It must be a record. But as she said, if there's an evacuation order tonight, no one will get paid. The post is back to normal so cheques are coming in. And we have oil. Two deliveries of 2,000 litres each from two companies tomorrow and another 2,000 litres on Friday from another company. (One of these companies was only taken on recently. It certainly pays to diversify.) We have paper.  Cornstarch arriving tomorrow. Ink procured today. And all the staff are able to come in; either they have petrol or they're coming in by bus. So we're all set.

At the reactor, the white smoke cleared (still not sure what caused it) and work has resumed. A new machine, a giant bird-like structure used to shoot concrete into high rise construction sites, sent seawater into Unit 4 and electric cables have been laid to all six units although they are not connected yet.

Petrol in my car is getting uncomfortably low. Two strips on the fuel guage. The car is a hybrid, Prius, so probably enough for 150 kms. Enough for limping between home and office but not enough to make my escape in worst case scenario.

Other news is that the door to my apartment has been adjusted and now shuts. So I was able to lock the door. My belongings are now safe. Not that I was ever worried about them. I haven't heard of any looting and people should be proud of that.

In Koriyama rubbish collections resumed today and some nurseries re-opened although all the schools are still closed.

What with the lack of petrol, the aftershocks and the worry over the reactor, life is pretty nerve-wracking. But we have electricity, hot water, and a focus, unlike the many thousands of displaced people who face much more uncertain futures.
Love to you all
Good night

Monday 21 March 2011

Day Eleven

Dear Friends
This rolling stone gathers moss, in fact I hear I've 'gone viral', a phrase that threw me into a panic. I've been away from God's own country so long I thought I must be infecting you all with some nasty electronic bug but son Tom assures me it's a good thing. So I will press on.

Rain today. Not good. The TV tells those in the 30 km zone to wear raincoats and use an umberalla to protect against the rain. You then put them into a plastic bag which you leave outside. Apparently you can use them again. And if you get rain on your skin, you're to wash it off.  Of course we're all following this advice even though we're 56 kms away.

Things were looking up at the reactor but about 5 pm they announced 'white smoke' at Unit 3. Still no details.

All shipments of milk from the prefecture have been suspended and spinach banned from four prefectures. Water just outside the 30 km zone has been found to have traces of radiation (not in dangerous amounts) so I'm back on bottled water. Only 6 two litre bottles left so that's going to be a challenge.

I took a little walk today. Over to the station. Yodobashi Camera open but the station and all its shops closed (including the Koriyama branch of Lush). Then took a bus to the City Gymnasium. The buses are running as are the taxis (taxis run on LPG). Hamatsu Hotel coffee shop was open and Otomo Bakery but the Seibu Mall was closed. I went to the Gym to have a radiation test. There were about 30 officials dressed from head to toe in white, and only a trickle of customers. I had a geiger counter passed all over me (a bit like an airport security check) and both myself and the bottle of water from the company tap I'd taken with me were deemed safe. And I've got a piece of paper to prove it!

Back to the company and a phone call from the 'shacho' (CEO) of the construction company that built our offices 40 years ago. He'd just got my e-mail and came right over. He's going to send experts over tomorrow but his initial verdict is that the building is reasonably safe: it will not collapse in the event of another force 6. But there are cracks on the outside of the building and a major aftershock might make plaster on internal walls crumble and light fittings  fall to the ground. He said staff should evacuate the building when there are aftershocks. Today, for the first time, we've had no strong aftershocks.

An old friend, former boss from Tokyo Embassy days, tells me he supports a Cornish based charity Shelterbox. If you want an outlet at this time, it seems a good cause. This is what he says, 'Shelterbox provides brilliant 10 person emergency boxes which contain all-weather tents, thermal blankets, wood burning stoves and water-purifying kit. They had a team on the ground within 24 hrs and 600 boxes are on their way. They have a link with the Rotary Club of Japan which must be a great help. It occurred to me that those of us in the UK who have been reading Anne's emails from Koriyama and now her blog might want to visit the ShelterBox website at  With the help of the embassy they seem to be doing a very effective job in Tohoku and working with the system rather than against it. They are based at Helston in Cornwall and are thus a UK entity. If you want to donate there is a button on the website. They rely entirely on public donations.'  Thank you, Tony.

Office staff back tomorrow so should have more information about what's going on further afield.
Love to you all
Koriyama, music capital (of the north)

Clock at the station, stopped 10 mins after the quake

Queue for the bus to Aizu Wakamatsu. Funny, no one's going to the coast (left)

Radiation test

Convenience store

Sunday 20 March 2011

Day Ten

Hi Folks
More people following me. More friends from my past. And friends of friends too. Good to see your names up there. Thank you.

Though there is still concern with a build up of pressure in Unit 3, the news from the reactor is generally good. Units 5 and 6 which store spent-fuel rods are safely cooled to almost normal temperature. The core in Unit 3 which was hosed with seawater by the Self Defence Forces for an hour  and then by the Tokyo Fire Brigade for 13 hours is now covered and they are to work on Unit 4 next. An electric power line has been laid to Unit 2 (the only one with the building still intact) but has not been connected yet.

The Mayor of Koriyama is calling for all the reactors to be closed down for good. Someone told me that the injection of  seawater meant that they would never go back to active service and  that was the reason for the delay. Tokyo Electric were dragging their feet and that is why Prime Minister Kan spent 3 hours shouting at them on the first day. I hasten to add that I have no idea if this information is correct. It was then Kan who contacted the Governor of Tokyo to get their state of the art fire engines in. These machines are remarkable and can hose the water by remote control so there is no danger of radiation to personnel. They were scheduled to hose for 7 hours yesterday but carried on into the night for 13 hours.

I'm not a great one for the military but I have to say the sight of personnel in lead-lined jackets and gas masks going into the reactors, tanks made to operate in chemical warfare, is reassuring. It's not something you think about normally but it's good to know that someone is preparing for the unthinkable and ready to protect us. And suddenly we have bridges appearing all over the place. Temporary bridges rolled out by the Self Defence Force. So even in all the panic when it seemed nothing was happening, things were being done. It's probably a good idea for the military to get some practice at hotspots around the world. Whether they should be in Libya is another thing altogether. After so much human misery here caused by a natural disaster it seems wrong to go in with guns blazing. Is there no way to solve this diplomatically?

I was interviewed twice yesterday by the BBC. One question stumped me. I was asked how the Japanese people were reacting. I wanted to say 'gamanzuyoi' but I didn't know how to say it in English! Resilient? Uncomplaining? Mary Helen, an American friend of mine and long term resident here, said she thought Americans would be more noisy, there would be more complaining, perhaps more swearing. Yes, the people, especially here in the north, don't make a fuss although if they do have something to say they say it clearly as we have seen with those stranded in the 30 km zone. And they will rebuild the country - with everyone's help. Traditionally obligations in Japanese society were very clearly defined. Even when I first came here you would hear stories of no one helping someone in a road accident because they were a stranger. That all changed with the Kobe earthquake when people started to volunteer to help people they didn't know. Now, according to what I hear on the radio and TV,  the whole country is wanting to help. The most common way of helping right now is by economising on electricity and not buying up precious supplies of petrol and food, but people are offering the use of their houses, toilets, baths and many more have plans for helping people in all manner of ways when things have settled down a bit more.

The radio was reading out messages of support from people all over the world and it brought tears to my eyes and must have been incredibly moving for those suffering in the north.

We battle on. The aftershocks continue. Two about six this morning, and two bad ones in the day. By bad, I mean 4 on the Richter scale. Bad enough for you to grab your helmet and head for the exit, although they have been short.  I stopped in at the Seven Eleven this morning. They had a some rice balls (o-nigiri) rationed to two per person, a few lunchboxes (one per person) and a few sweet bread rolls (two per person). Nothing else on the shelves. Still no petrol.

Thanks for your support.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Day Nine

Hi Everybody
Welcome to my blog! Tom made it for me (what a wonderful present). I know it's not as personal as receiving an e-mail but this way all the stuff is in one place, you can post your comments, and we can share the information. Of course, I'll be very happy to have personal messages too.

It's been a slow day, Japan is probably off the radar now, slowly returning to normal. The army and Tokyo's unmanned fire engines have been inundating the reactors with seawater and the situation is stabilising (although still grave). There is a new danger: radiation above normal levels has been found in Fukushima milk and Ibaragi spinach. Samples were sent off last night. This is probably not the result they were hoping for.

The levels at the city office were 2.6 this evening which is up from the 2.1 this morning. It had been falling steadily so this is a setback but still not a level to worry about. For more information on this see the piece  I posted entitled Takeshi's Technical Assistance which was a real help to me on Tuesday when I was in a panic.

Spent the day at the office. Toshiaki is beavering away with the figures for the split of the company. I do hope this goes ahead as planned. Who can tell in this new situation? I've been tidying up and began to do a bit of my own work. Yes, life is beginning to return to normal.

What's it like out in Koriyama? To tell you the truth I know very little as I'm being cautious and staying inside.Most people passing by in the street are wearing the 'uniform' - hooded jacket, peak cap, mask and gloves, but some people, especially young people are dressed as normal. The queue of cars for petrol wound past the office again with the police telling those without tickets to leave the queue. So a system is in place.

My good friend Mr Kishimoto in Tokyo is trying to get us some oil for the factory boiler but he tells me that there is none available for civilian use. Supplies are all under government control and it is going to the disaster areas and for emergency use. Which is as it should be. Poor people in the 30 km zone are still without petrol and oil for heating. They were supposed to be supplied yesterday but it's going to be a few more days.

The Mayor of Koriyama is calling for the reactors to be closed down for good.

My old friend Kazuko found out last night that her mother and sister are safe and sound in Miyagi. What an ordeal to go through! Apparently, all the phones were dead and they eventually got through by walking along an old disused road to an area where their mobile phones connected. The worst thing about  this disaster has been the difficulties with communication. From the moment the earthquake struck mobile phones were useless. In the disaster areas, where Shimizu-san's mother was, the network was destroyed but for the rest of the country it was the overload of calls that jammed the networks. The first call I got was from Lydia in England about three hours after the quake. She said she was ringing from a satellite phone and indeed it is these phones that have been set up in the evacuation centres for people to contact their families and let them know they are safe. Scenes on TV of people queuing up and being given 1 minute to make the call.

Although things seem to be returning to normal the shocks continue. Just had a big one (although only 4 here). I got half way down the stairs (I'm at work) before it stopped. I've got my cycle helmet on and I noticed Toshiaki had donned a helmet when he came in just now.

Anyway, I hope you like the new system. When I've found out how to do it, I'll put some pictures up too. (If you scroll down these posts you'll find a picture of my apartment and see why I was anxious to leave.)

I'll drive home now. Only a third of a tank. Last night I drove back at about 20 mph, there were very few cars on the road and those that were were going as slowly as I was. Surreal.
Take care

Takeshi's technical assistance

On Tuesday when everyone was in a panic, when we heard that some of our biggest customers were evacuating staff, I asked Takeshi to do some research on the dangers of radiation and give me some information that I could make sense of. This is what he sent and it helped me stay cool under very trying circumstances.
Over to you, Takeshi.

What's a Micro Sievert?
The micro Sievert is an attempt to quantify the effect of radiation on living organisms. So the same radio active particle will do more damage if it's inhaled than if it was on the hand. In micro Sievert, the inhaled particle will be higher than the particle on the hand. A chest X-ray has a higher micro Sievert value than an X-ray of the hand.
The news are reporting the measurement in micro Sievert but the actual measurements are made in micro Gray and it's assumed to be a one-to-one conversion. It's a bit like, when you measure wind speed, you measure it in knots (or metres per second) with your wind meter. This is like your micro Gray. 35 knots is a storm for a yacht but it's just a gale for a big tanker. So how much the wind affects your ship is like the micro Sievert.
The Sievert value also depends on what kind of radiation it is. So alpha particles have higher micro Sieverts (of a given micro Gray) but can be blocked by a sheet of paper. Gamma rays have lower micro Sieverts but you need lead to block it.

What the readings mean
Fukushima prefecture with useful data and advice:   県内各地方 環境放射能測定値(第31報)について
Typical normal background level for Koriyama is 0.04-0.06 micro Sv/hr. The highest level in Koriyama over the last few days was 2.8 micro Sv/hr. It was even higher in Fukushima, reaching 24 micro Sv/hr.
Radiation occurs naturally so in Koriyama, you would typically receive 0.04-0.06 micro Sv/hr from cosmic rays coming from space, from the rocks but the largest component comes from breathing in naturally occurring radon gas that comes out of the earth. Let's say the average background radiation you receive in Koriyama is 0.05 micro Sv/hr. The news is quoting the values in Sv/hr so let's use that.
The average normal background radiation in Koriyama of 0.05 micro Sv/h. This is a typical figure for Japan [1] but it's low compared to the rest of the world. For comparison, the average for the UK is 0.3 micro Sv/h and 0.9 micro Sv/h in Cornwall [3]. So the highest level registered in Koriyama in recent days of 2.8 micro Sv/hr seems high but if you went to Cornwall for 3 days, you'll get the same amount you're getting in Koriyama in a day if this level continues. You probably wouldn't be worrying about radiation when you visit Cornwall.
If you fly from Narita to Heathrow, every hour, you get 6 micro Sv/h [4]. That's double what you're getting in Koriyama at the moment but you probably worry more about an aviation accident than radiation.
If you smoke a cigarette, you're exposed to 1 micro Sv per cigarette [5]. Again, you will probably worry more about the tar than radiation.

What's the risk?
Let's say the radiation level reaches double what's been recorded in Fukushima and goes to 50 micro Sv/hr and stays there. If you stay indoors, it'll be less. Over one day, this adds up to 1,200 micro Sv/day. Increased risk of cancer becomes more clear for doses above 100,000 micro Sv/yr. Which means you'd have to be in an area of 50 micro Sv/day for over 80 days. Let's say that if it gets to that point, the people of Koriyama evacuate within 10 days. They recieve 12,000 micro Sv. By the way, that's only 30% more than the annual dose that the cabin crew flying Tokyo-New York receive [6].
The increased risk of cancer death due to 10,000 micro Sv exposure is thought to be about 0.08% [7]. That's if the radiation is received in one go. It'll be less if it's over days. We'll be cautious and use the higher 0.08% value for 12,000 micro Sv so the risk of cancer is about 0.1%. Given that about 25% of the deaths in UK are from cancer, that's just 0.1% on top of 25% [8]. Other things that have a 0.1% risk of death [9]:
Driving 40 miles each day , 5 days per week for 4 years
Smoking 10 cigarettes per day for 5 months
Living in New York City for 5.5 years (air pollution)
Apart from the smoking, you probably wouldn't worry much about the risk from these other things that raises your mortality by 0.1%.

首相官邸 日常生活と放射線
Radiation Exposure: The Facts vs. Fiction:

Informative links:
Good overview of the Fukushima 1 Nuclear Accidents (much better than the Japanese version)
What to do in the event of a nuclear emergency - they probably never thought it'll be needed

Radiation monitoring links:
Fukushima prefecture with useful data and advice:
Useful article on radiation monitoring and what the units mean:
Long-term monitoring in Kanagawa-ken. You can see a big spike in the 1-year graph from the recent accident
My notes

科学文化省 都道府県別環境放射能水準調査結果
In Futaba Mura, near the power stations, the normal radiation is 0.037-0.071 micro Sv/hr. This pretty similar to the level in Tokyo (0.028-0.079) and it's about the national average.

The statements here are the opinion of the opinions of the author and should not in any circumstances be taken as advice or recommendations. While the best efforts have been made to check the facts and calculations, not all the figures have been verified with reliable sources. The calculations and interpretations have not been checked with an expert.

Friday 18 March 2011

Day Eight

Dear Friends
This round robin has snowballed. I started it as a way to let close friends and family know that I was OK but it's taken on a life of its own. As well as receiving very welcome messages of support, I have become re-acquainted with old friends I had lost contact with and even discovered relatives I didn't know I had in South Africa. Thank you to you all.

But a word of warning.  If my mail doesn't come in it's not because I've succumbed to radiation sickness. More likely to be something mundane, for example, that I haven't been able to start Senzaki-san's computer. Keep calm, don't panic.

One week on. Looking back, the time of the quake seems like a film. We're used to earthquakes here, just shrug them off. But this was like nothing I've experienced before. It was truly frightening. And the chain of events it unleashed have been of biblical proportions. But in spite of the tension over the reactors, things do seem a bit easier today. Yesterday was very tense, but today the Self Defence Forces and Tokyo's fire-fighters seem to be getting water into the reactors. No reports yet on how successful it has been but things seem to be under control more than they have been, and perhaps stabilising.

I hear the workers in the plant who stayed are being dubbed the 'Fukushima Fifty'. As I said a few days ago, this has really sorted the sheep from the goats. To go or to stay? It's a decision we're all facing. Yes, I would love to be on the bus that the British Embassy is organising tomorrow from Sendai to Tokyo. But I can't walk out on 100 employees. One of our staff phoned in today for advice. His wife's family are urging them (him included) to leave the area and stay with them. It's his decision but we did make it clear that he is a valuable member of the team. In the end I think he made the right decision, he took his wife and small kids to the station and put them on a bus, then he came in and he'll be here next Tuesday when we go back to work after the holiday. Don't get me wrong, I'm no martyr, and if radiation levels got really high, then I would close the factory and leave. The hard thing now is to try and be level headed and not be affected by the many people who are in a panic and leaving. 'If you can keep your head, when all about are losing theirs ...'

As things settle, we are beginning to think about the long-term effects. Business goes on as usual with our customers in the west, but we still haven't been able to contact over half our customers. We know that many on the coast have suffered severe damage and their owners will be weighing up what to do: to rebuild or give up. There will be lots of unemployment. Fukushima is an important agricultural area. Will the 30 km zone be out of bounds, like at Chernobyl? And as I said before the Fukushima brand for safe food is in tatters. Our salesman who lives in the 30 km zone has moved his family to relatives 350 miles away. It's uncertain what will happen to his house. Will he get compensation?

Yes, things are getting  better. The supermarkets (York Benimaru) opened for business today (the first day since the quake) and was apparently crowded with people buying food. And the NHK Radio had some music on today. For the first time. The wall to wall reporting has been harrowing. But still no petrol.

This weekend is the spring equinox, a holiday when people visit the family graves although I doubt many people will be going to the cemetaries this year (no petrol). In this area, there were no flowers at this time of year so they used to make them, out of wood shavings, dyed bright red, purple, yellow and green. I shall find a little place to put my flowers (the local shop still had some) and remember all the people who have died in this terrible disaster.
Love to you all - and keep calm!

Thursday 17 March 2011

Day Seven

Dear Friends

It's cold. Woke up to snow which didn't settle much but the day remained cold and very windy.
I went to the flat and picked up a few more things. I went for two things in particular:  some gold coins I had stashed away and toilet paper! Just about sums up life here. Right from the start I've always carried a rucksack with the absolute essentials: money, passport, toothbrush, some favourite pieces of jewellery. And I like to know I have a supply of food, water, and yes, toilet paper (currently unavailable in the shops), 
Another busy day at the coalface, 100,000 cases made for the noodle manufacturer. Straight from the line to the waiting trucks (supplied by the buyer), 10 trucks, big ones. One presenter on televison was extolling the virtues of cardboard cases for people in the evacuation centres: you can wrap yourself in them, use them as a mat for extra warmth or prop them up to make partitions to give some privacy, Makes yer feel reet proud!  Our time has come!
Toshiaki (my nephew) came back from Tokyo. He came into Fukushima airport (thronged with people trying to go the other way). We all opposed him coming back but he wouldn't listen. He's determined to get the sale through. So it looks as if it's going to be a working weekend. 
The word went round in the morning that there was kerosene for sale, But there was a long queue and the police got there, rationed the fuel, issued tickets and sent the rest away. Then I spotted another queue of cars in the road outside the office leading  to an Eneos garage. I was told that people had seen an Eneos tank lorry and followed it! Fuel is our main problem, I have three strips on my fuel guage and I'm watching it like a hawk. Saw on the televison that hundreds of tanker lorries are heading this way but I think they're going to the disaster areas and might not stop here.
The factory is closed tomorrow (Friday) and on Tuesday the sales people and a few skeleten staff are to come in to get in touch with customers and sort out the orders for production on Wednesday. We have oil for one and a half days production. We are getting deliveries of paper tomorrow and Tuesday. After oil, the main problem is petrol for the staff.
But the day has been dominated by the attempts to cool the reactors. Helicopter drops, water canons. Heard on the evening news that some water had got in so that is encouraging after a day when nothing seemed to be going right. One tries to be calm - in spite of the French ordering their citizens to leave and the Americans proclaiming a 50 km radius, (My son tells me this refers to the area for contaminated food and water, I have a store of vegetables bought before the quake, Alas the spinach is gone but I still have half a cabbage.) The reading for Koriyama this evening was 2.9 micro Sv/h down from 3.18 yesterday. In Cornwall it's 0.9 and on a flight from Narita to Heathrow every hour you'd get 6 micro Sv/h, One tries to be rational and not panic. We take precautions. Everyone is wearing masks, gloves and hats. Toshiaki has appeared in an amazing red waterproof poncho with big hood. In any other situation he would look ridiculous but it's just the job. I wear my ski clothes outside then put them into a plastic bag when I get inside.  
The aftershocks continue. On TV they said there had been 240 shocks over 5 magnitude since the big one. Still some strong ones but I think less frequent. Was it 2 days ago? I realised I didn't have sealegs anymore. You know when you get off a boat and you still feel as if you're at sea. Well, it was like that for many days at first, the ground seemed to sway all the time even when there wasn't an earthquake. But better now.
We pray that efforts to cool the reactors and contain the radiation are successful.
Thanks for all your good wishes and support. 

Day Six

Dear Friends
Thank you for all your messages. They remind me at the end of the day that there is a world out there.

Water back on at Sakuragaoka so I had my first bath for a week, The hot water was delicious,  Sublime.

I had a funny e-mail from Takeshi. What's the 'lifeline' they're all talking about? Some kind of expressway? No, this is another made up word that the Japanese think is English. It refers to essential services; gas, water, electricity. Rather a good word really. Also, why is the prime minister wearing overalls? Are you? The answer is yes, although the uniform has changed today. We're now going round like hoodies: mask, peak cap, hood, glasses. The situation at the reactor is not good, the evening TV shows us how to dress to go out and avoid breathing the stuff in. I wonder how many people will turn up for work tomorrow?

The staff have divided into two camps: those who came in today and those who took the day off or even scarpered altogether. We were a good team today, true grit. All of production came in. Plain boxes being made and stacked all day. No printing, not even a recycle mark. The noodle manufacturer came in having organised trucks to take the boxes away. His factory is in an industrial estate for food producers and they have oil, back up oil and the necessary permissions to be supplied in an emergency. We are low on oil and have decided that tomorrow will be our last day. Friday everyone is to stay home. We'll phone everyone on Monday night (it's a bank holiday) and let them know the plans for next week.

The main problem here is fuel. The petrol stations are all shut and cars are running low. There is no heavy fuel for the boiler nor kerosene for home heaters. I can't understand why they can't bring more from other parts of the country. There doesn't seem to be fuel for emergency vehicles and on top of that one hears shocking stories of drivers bringing emergency supplies refusing to drive north, refusing to enter even safe areas.

Toshiaki (my nephew and the brain behind the ongoing sale of the company) who went back to Tokyo on Monday to check on his family tried to get back here today. He got the shinkansen to Nasu (south of the prefecture) but  couldn't find any way to get to Koriyama so returned to Tokyo to try and get a plane. Things were not looking good with the reactor and for I think the first time ever he did as I said. I told him to stay in Tokyo and do what he does best: think. It's impossible to think up here. We are due to split the box-making side of the business to a subsidiary on 1 April. The contract with Rengo is supposed to be signed on 31 March and the sale of the shares in the subsidiary sold mid-April. But we now live in a different world. Will Rengo cough up the money when they have suffered such damage?

We watch the television with trepidation, It's too technical. It's like an outsider talking. We're not hearing what we want to hear. Are we safe? What should we do? People are leaving. Factories are evacuating staff. But if you leave you're a burden on someone else.The scenes in the evacuation centres are awful.  It's hard to know what's for the best.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?
Love to you all

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Day Five

Dear Friends
It's been a difficult day.

At 11 am the prime minister announced that in additon to the20 km evacuation area,  people inside a 30km limit had to stay indoors.(Koriyama is 56 kms away ) We had a meeting at noon and decided to keep going.I was very unsure. Rumours were flying thick and fast. Companiesclosing and staff being sent home. We obviously needed a policy and I wasn'tsure what it was. I phoned my friend Sakai-san. I couldn't getthrough but he kindly rang me straight back. He put me right.Don't panic, Follow overnment instructions. Koriyama is not yetaffected. All his staff were working (system engineers). At times likethis you have to see what you can do to help, not run away.

So we had a policy. We made a flyer saying that we were supplyingessential goods and would keep going as long as we could but thatanyone was free to take paid leave if they wanted. We made up agoody bag of masks, sticky tape and drinks for everyone. Inessentialstaff were sent home. It seemed to do the trick and things really startedto happen from then. We had a visit from Rengo, the company that is buyingus out very soon. Their state of the art factory is damaged and closed.Could we make 50,000 cases for a noodle maker in Koriyama? I looked atthe order and it's for yakisoba and udon, all the stuff that's needed right now.Then Oji want us to make sheet for them. These are the two biggest companiesin the country and we're helping them out! So we have a full day's work  tomorrow,and I think enough staff. (We lent a car to one guy to share with the guy who didn'tknow how to catch a bus.)

But it's a fine line I'm treading. The government reassures us that the doses of radiationare minimal but traces have been found as far away as Tokyo.. It's one thing to begung ho and think you are helping the relief effort but the stakes are high in terms ofhuman health. TV footage of people panicking and driving out of the prefecturedon't help.

In the morning I went over to my apartment and removed the rest of my food store.As some of you will know for the past couple of years I have spent very happy timeswith a wonderful group of people planting and harvesting rice. Last October I bought30 kg of brown rice and there is still about 20 kg left. So I'm not short of food! I'd alsostockpiled bottled water so I am well prepared. Half the rice is at the company andhalf here so I will not starve howver long the duration. There's nothing much in the shops,the shelves are empty, All I could see were sweets, some biscuits and  ice cream! Too cold I guess for ice cream.

After the scare about radiation and the rain that started to fall in the afternoon, I decidedto drive home. We've had more minor tremours but no big ones today.Sorry, I take that back. We've just had a big one, Force 4.

BTW the radiation checks you are seeing in Koriyama and Nihonmatsu are for people who have been evacuated. Koriyama is one of the reception centres.

There isn't much time to think of the wider effects of all this but my heart goes out tothe farmers. Fukushima was just getting going in selling it's rice to China. Did you knowthere are 100 million Chinese with an income of more than 300,000 GBP/year? And even though it'sfour times the price of Chinese rice these people were prepared to buy Japanese rice as ittastes good and is safe. After years of paying farmers not to grow rice at last it seemed likethey might get a decent price and a decent living. But what of the Fukushima brand now? In tatters,

I feel very lucky to be in this solid, comfortable house (even though there's no running water )and I feel safe. I'll rest now for another tough day tomorrow.
Good night

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Day Four

Dear dear friends
Thank you for all your messages of support. It's at times like this that I wish I had a blog or even Twitter to pass on the news, as things are happening  so fast.  Excuse the round robin. It's the best I can do at the moment.

I have evacuated the apartment block I was in.  We have had many aftershocks, nothing was being done about reassuring us that the building was safe so Toshiaki (my nephew who lodges with his parents in the same building)   independently came to the conclusion to leave. He has taken his parents to his younger brother and I have moved back to our old house in Sakuragaoka which I have been renting out to a friend.  It is the house Naochika and I built in 1981, not a crack in the structure and safe as - well  houses (or as houses should be). I am very happy to be here. Reiko got a hint of what it was like as she Skyped me and witnessed me diving under the table when the TV announced a new shock. I am safe here and my nerves are in a better state. In fact it seems like paradise.

Today was the first day back in the office. All our staff are safe. One guy came in but left straightaway: his house is in a bad state. I have frequently lamented the state of our buildings and machinery as being old and in need of investment, one of the reasons for the sale of the business currently in progress, but I have to say the facilities have stood up well. Out of 6 corrugating plants in the prefecture we are one of the three working today. We have paper, glue and heavy oil  for one week.

The sales team began ringing round the customers. Yesterday the phones (optic fibre phones) were dead but thank god they were working today. Gradually we worked out which customers were in business and needed our boxes. No point in making stuff we can't deliver. The main problem is petrol. Meeting with the transport company in the afternoon, they said they could deliver on Tuesday and Wednesday and within a 20km radius on Thursday and Friday. So our priority is to deliver within the local area and especially to food producers. Having determined that we can keep production going this week the next thing was the staff. Do they have enough petrol to get in? Those who can't are to come in by bus (the trains are down) except for one cheeky bugger who said he wasn't coming in after Wednesday as he'd never ridden on a bus! (I think he'll be getting some inhouse training on that topic soon!) 

Telephone call from a customer: they can't send us the note for payment tomorrow, the 15th. We had to tell them to hang on until the post and distribution services get going again but as we are heavily dependent on invoice factoring, this is a blow. Ordered a review of cash flow. Seasonally this is a difficult period for us cash-wise and if the payments are not coming in and sales are down we're going to be short.

News in the afternoon that after the second explosion at No 3 nuclear plant, our salesman who lives out that way and is in charge of sales in that area has been ordered to evacuate.

Toshiaki has got the plane to Tokyo today from Fukushima to Haneda. He wants to see his family (they are worried sick about him) and also make sure they are set up for whatever may happen next.

The weather was milder today for which I was grateful as I cycled back to Sakuragaoka. It took me 45 minutes. Maybe as I get fitter I can cut this time!

The aftershocks continue. We evacuated the building twice today and there were many other milder shocks.  Back at Sakuragaoka and watching TV our worries pale in insignificance compared to what others are suffering.  On the way home I stopped at the wysteria shrine, where Basho wrote a poem, and offered up a prayer.  I'm not religious but these are trying times. It's survival, back to basics, food, water, even prayer.

Incidentally, the sight of the international relief teams on TV is wonderfully reasuring. They seem so organised in all this chaos. Very grateful.

Love to you all

Saturday 12 March 2011

I'm OK

Thank you all for all your messages.
My internet is working at last so I can reply. I am alright but it has been a scary day.

I was just leaving a conference when it happened. The building roared and the cars were bouncing around in the carpark. I crouched on the ground. It went on for a very long time. Very scary. And it was snowing hard and windy too. I drove like mad back to work (about 15 mins), along the way car showrooms with the glass windows smashed, walls collapsed. Everyone was out in the yard. No one hurt, thank god. We stopped production and sent everyone home. The main machine not working. Needs welding tomorrow - if we can get someone to do it. Had to wait till we could account for all the salesmen. Three out in Iwaki, two had to abandon their cars and head for higher ground. They saw the tsunami. They're back now though safe and sound.

I walked home. The stone lanterns at the shrine smashed to the ground, a parked car hit by debris. The pavement ominously cracked and raised as I approached my apartment. Our ancient office building had stood up quite welll and I really wasn't prepared for the damage in my upmarket apartment. The residents had organised a 'welcoming party' and a young man went with me up the the stairs to the 7th floor. Debris everywhere. My door opened but won't shut. I grabbed my valuables and went down to join some of the other residents to watch telly in the caretaker's office but eventually decided to come back up to the apartment. I have electricity, TV, heating and I've cleaned up the worst of the mess. Half my crockery is smashed. So I'm OK. But the shocks continue and I won't be sleeping tonight.  The scariest thing was the lack of information and phone communication. I still can't use my mobile. I was getting calls from England but none from Japan and unable to make any. I still don't know how things are in our Sendai office.

Also, the TV is full of reporters telling us what's happening but there's a distinct lack of experts telling us what to do. I guess they're busy.The news is horrific, hundreds dead in the tsunami, Kasen-numa (where we holidayed once when Takeshi was small) ablaze.

The economic toll will be huge. For starters, how are we going to get the 120 doors in this apartment alone fixed? And what do I do until it is fixed?

Watch this space.
Thanks for your concern