Friday, March 25, 2011

Good/Bad Day

So our 16 pieces of luggage was turned into 10 and then 12 by airlines. I hear they've managed to find 2 more so we're back up to 14 now but there is no word yet on the final two pieces. Because all the luggage went through with Ian and it's currently stored in the back of Dad's truck, I don't even know which pieces are missing.

My flight from Vancouver yesterday was delayed by over an hour and I wasn't able to sleep on the plane so by the time I got to mum's I was more than a little exhausted. We had a wonderful family dinner with Wyatt and Danielle and the kids and Mum and Dad. I got to meet Griffin for the first time and hug Phoebe. It was a good day!

It wasn't a good day back in Japan though. I've now heard that they are suspecting from the extremely high radiation levels in the water at the number 3 reactor that the core is cracked. I have also heard that there are two Japanese tourists who have arrived in China with very high radiation levels. Since they were supposedly not withing 280km of Fukushima there is some concern for how they were exposed. It's good that they are testing people who arrive in China from Japan but I'm wondering why they're not testing people who arrive in Canada. We were not scanned or even asked whether we were within the exclusion zone.

I'm very worried for my friends in Japan.

Love to all.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

we have arrived!

Well, 14 checked bags turned into 16 checked bags and we ended up paying about $300 to get the extras through. There was one noticible earthquake while we were at Narita - a 6.1 - but it was centred fairly far from Tokyo so we just felt a little rumble. Still, everything went smoothly and we are back in BC.

Ian and the kids have gone ahead because they had seats on the noon connector. I am booked on the 2pm flight and was told I had a shot at standby but it turned out that I would have to pay $75 for the privilage of putting my name on the list and then I may still not get a seat.

So, here I sit - at YVR with it's fantastic free WiFi. As if I needed any more confirmation that we made the right decision, there was an email from the government of Canada talking about radiation in the food and water. Aparently it's fairly far spread now although Hokkaido is still pretty self sufficient in it's food supply. Still, the crisis is clearly not over yet.

Anyway, it's been a very emotional day... I cried on both planes so far as well as at the airport and as we were driving out of Otaki. I am a mess. Please give me a hug when you see me - I need it! (and don't mind the tears - I can't help it!!)

Love to all.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday very late = Thursday very early!

So, we've said our goodbyes, packed all our stuff (all 14 bags and boxes - hope they're in a generous mood when we check in!) and tidied up. The cleaning will happen in the morning and we'll be off to the airport by 11:30. Many tears were shed and many gifts exchanged. We almost had to add another box just for the gifts!

I'm still really stressed and distressed and I'm really hoping that a lot of it dissipates when the flight leaves Narita tomorrow evening.

There have been some reports on dangerous radiation levels found in water, in soil and in food today - but no aftershocks higher than 5.5. Hopefully our two hours in Narita will be in a low-incidence window and we'll get out without any shaking.

It's now 12:45am here - time to head to bed.

Love to all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wednesday morning

I have flights! I will be flying from Sapporo through Narita to Vancouver with everyone else. I have a two hour delay in Vancouver but I think I can live with that!

The news this morning from Fukushima is mixed... power has been restored to the control room of the number 3 reactor but high levels of radiation have been detected in the soil about 40km from the plant.

The big aftershocks are still happening - one more over 6.1 early this morning and still many in the high 5's.

More later,
Love to all

Tuesday night (late) - 11 days and still shaking...

So there were several very strong aftershocks this evening. Two of them were 6.6 one was 6.4 and the rest were in the high 5's. Good thing we're getting out! (I have to keep reminding myself that there are important reasons why we're fleeing... I feel so much guilt over this.)

I will go into Date tomorrow and sign some papers and then I am apparently free to leave on Thursday with Ian and the kids! I hope there's still a seat for me on their flights! I'll hopefully have heard back from the travel agent by the time I get up in the morning.

We spent the evening packing and packing and creating boxes and getting organized. I'm more than a little exhausted so it's off to bed now. I know all my stress indicators will start to leave me as soon as we take off from Narita on Thursday. I just have to keep it together until then!

Love to all...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday night - 10 days after

So, despite much optimism and assurances by the Japanese authorities that things are coming under control, today there was mysterious white and grey smoke coming from two of the reactors.

We had some special friends over for dinner this evening. It was very nice to spend some time with them but it was also difficult to know that we are so close to saying goodbye.

I'm very tired and off to bed now. I will find out tomorrow whether or not I can get home with Ian and the kids on Thursday. Here's hoping...

Love to all

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday night

So - it's not looking good for me to go back with Ian and the kids. My friend Mayu spoke with the superintendent today and it's looking like there is too much to do for me to get out on Thursday. It sounds like I can go - just maybe not for another few days. Ugh. This is getting harder and harder.

There is less clarity to the whole reactor issue now. BBC has switched their live coverage to the difficulties in Libya which seems to leave only the Japanese station offering "up-to-date" information about what's in Fukushima.

Radiation has been found in the water in Tokyo in trace amounts and also in larger amounts in some spinach and milk in the area. The power is not yet restored to any of the reactors - though they keep promising it's happening any time now. The wind was apparently blowing in this direction today so we focused on all the things we need to do at home and avoided going out wherever possible.

We're very glad to have made the decision to head home. I wish we had come to the decision a few hours earlier so I could have started the process with the board of education on Friday instead of Tuesday (it's a long weekend). Although I feel terrible about letting people down and running out on them, I know that we've made the right decision.

Love to all

Friday, March 18, 2011

Saturday morning

Ian and Taran will be flying home on Thursday with Joisan and Tiffany. I am just trying to connect with my bosses and then I will be booking myself on the same flight if possible.
We are still not in imminent danger here, and in fact I've recently heard from someone in Tokyo that things are under control (not sure I'm buying that though!) It's really about the long term stress and risk at this point so no worries about us - we're heading home!

PS. Thanks everyone for your supportive emails and blog comments. You've kept me going. Love to all...

PPS. Please do send socks - this is meaningful!

Friday - and what a week it's been... :(

So, although things haven't gotten remarkably worse (no fires, no explosions) in the last day and a bit, they also haven't improved enough that we are bursting with confidence either.
We're still fine here in central Hokkaido. I'll update again tomorrow.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thursday - 6 days after

Sorry for the silence... I was really trying to have a more normal day. Not a lot has changed here - they are still struggling to contain and cool the reactors in Fukushima. The smart people who should know what they're talking about are still saying that anyone who stays outside of the exclusion zone (evacuation zone) around the plant is safe.

There have been no explosions or fires in the last 24 hours but the radiation near the plant has been high enough that they've had to stop the cooling efforts a couple of times. One of the biggest concerns right now is the spent fuel rods in reactor 4 because they are relatively fresh (just came out of service in the fall) and they are not encased in a protective housing like the active reactors are. They need to be kept under water for safety, and the water keeps boiling off.

We are safe here. We have had an email from the Canadian consulate in response to a question from Ian. They have stated clearly that they are not recommending that we leave immediately. Nor are there any concerns about us travelling through Tokyo when we do leave. They say very clearly that at this stage there is no radiation health risk for us - particularly because we are in Hokkaido.

Love to all

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday evening...

It's late and I'm tired. Physically tired and mentally and emotionally tired. The radiation level eventually dropped enough that those 50 dedicated workers could go back to the Fukushima plant. Of course one of the news feeds this evening said that Japan has now raised the maximum radiation dose allowed for nuclear workers, to 250 millisieverts from 100 millisieverts. So - those workers can now legally continue to give their lives for their country.

I still am not hearing anything about any of the other power plants that were said to be at risk. I really hope that's because they are no longer considered at risk but I'm afraid that it's because the media is getting distracted by the big show at the Fukushima plant. And it is a big show for sure... fires, explosions, now they are pumping sea water into numbers 5 and 6 in an attempt to prevent them from melting down too.

The emperor gave an unprecedented video speech to the country this evening. Some of the people interviewed found that to be almost more concerning than everything else that's going on.

Anyway... I'm off to a relaxing bath and then to bed - for as much sleep as I can get.

Love to all

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wednesday afternoon

So things are a-shaking in Tokyo... they've just had another 6.0 on top of the two that they had yesterday. Things at the Furushima plant have deteriorated. The 50 workers that were left behind to manage things when the evacuation was mandated have now been pulled out because the radiation levels are too high.

Not sure where else this day can go...

Wednesday morning - 5 days after

Morning brings light and clarity - or perhaps it only brings more bad news... The number 4 reactor is on fire now. They had it out at one point and it sprang up again. We haven't heard much about the number 4 reactor until now because it was not an active reactor but only being used to store spent fuel rods. There has also been mention of two more reactors (#5 and #6) on the same site in Fukushima that are at risk - although I can't find where I heard about them now. The report this morning said that they were heating up - but I'm not sure where I saw it. I was under the impression that there were only four reactors there so I don't know which part of my information is faulty. The most recent update says that the radiation near the reactors is too high for anyone to go near them to check the damage or service them.

It's only 9:25am now. I have no doubt that this day will bring more surprises. In the meantime though - life goes on. I will teach English and update again later.

Love to all.

Tuesday evening

I think everyone in Canada and Australia seems to know as much or more than I do most of the time. This morning when I posted about the number 2 reactor being in imminent danger of meltdown it had already happened. I think there are some deliberate media delays happening - likely in an effort to calm and prepare people before the announcements are made.

While I was at Date Chu today the number 4 (as yet unheard about) reactor at the Fukushima plant melted down. The radiation levels around the plant are now being classified as dangerous to human health and the evacuation radius has been increased to 30km. They have also instituted a "no-fly zone" over the evacuation area. The weather will now play a big part in how far the radiation spreads and it seems to be constantly changing.

I appreciate everyones suggestions that we get out - now! The reality of our position here though is that anywhere we go we'd have to go through Tokyo. I'm really not inclined to voluntarily take myself or anyone else anywhere near there. I'm not even sure that I'll be sending Tiffany and Joisan next week and they've got confirmed tickets! We will get home. For now we will donate blood and what cash we can spare and we'll do what we can to keep our spirits up.

Love to all

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tuesday morning...

I wish I felt like I could trust the stuff that's being put out on the news. I'm very dubious of the reports because I think they're downplaying the reactor issue. On the other hand - I don't necessarily believe that the doomsayers are entirely accurate either. I have been trying to take a middle of the road approach - it's worse than this but not yet at that point either - and I'm in Hokkaido.

Being a gaijin (foreigner) makes it challenging too - I can't understand what's said on the news. One of the teachers had to inform me about the explosion yesterday - he'd heard about it on the radio at lunch time. Unfortunately he told me in the middle of class - it took me a minute to regain my composure.

The news that I have is the same as what you have - the number 2 reactor at Fukushima has some kind of leak that won't allow it to hold the seawater that they're pumping in to cool it. It has or will meltdown and the only thing we're waiting to find out is the extent of the damage it will cause.

Joisan and Tiffany are leaving in 9 days and I'm wondering about whether or not it will be safe for them to go through Tokyo. We are so isolated here that we really are safe.

The information that's getting out to the world is definitely being controlled though - there was an earthquake this morning that was big enough to warrant an alarm on the cell phones and the US Geological Survey site has not updated it - and it was more than an hour ago... usually they update within 5-10 minutes.

And life here in Otaki continues as usual... I'm off to work at Date Chu and the girls are coming in to have some more shopping time.
More as it comes...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Monday's update

I heard from Hiro!!! She is safe and well and has power and water - although the she will be having rolling blackouts starting today. The idea is to make sure that everyone can have power for at least part of the day. The supply of power (along with many other things) is limited right now because of all the reactors being shut down.

The quakes just keep coming and it seems that the threat of nuclear meltdown is quite real. Let me just state again that we are far far away from where all these things are happening. Today around noon there was a very big explosion at the number 3 reactor at Fukushima power complex. There was a smaller explosion at the number 1 reactor there on Saturday and the latest updates say that the cooling functions have stopped and water levels are falling in reactor 2. There are other power complexes that are also at risk, although we're not hearing much about them - everything has been focused on the Fukushima plant.

There are so many inconsistencies and contradictions in the reports we're getting that it's difficult to know what is true and what is not. One thing that the experts are saying is that there is another strong earthquake likely to come in the next few days. It's a bit of a challenge to live in constant awareness of the strong likelihood of more and bigger, meanwhile I'm supposed to carry on with business as usual - which takes me far away from my family!

Joisan and Tiffany have been trying to keep things as much on "the plan" as possible. Joisan's chafing at the new restrictions (I wouldn't let them hang in Date until dance time while I came home) but I just don't think it's okay to be that far apart when they are calling for another big earthquake in the next few days. My friend Deb is not coming (not that I blame her) though she may end up coming in July. I'm not sure yet whether or not Ian's family will still come in May or not.

I'll keep updating as things come along.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

the nightmare continues...

I heard late last night from a friend who was able to report on the status of her son in Tokyo and our mutual friends who were in Hiroshima dealing with the death of a family member. I was much relieved to hear of all of their safety - though sad for Natsumi and the loss of her father earlier in the week.

We have still not heard anything from Hiro. She is in one of the areas that has been the hardest hit by the continuing barrage of earthquakes. Thankfully she's located inland rather than near the coast so she's likely been unaffected by the water, but the quakes just keep coming. It makes me wonder... even the strongest and most well-built structures are likely to collapse eventually with the never-ending shaking.

The grand total for yesterdays earthquakes was about 135 over 4.5 and only 8 of them were over 6.0! The new threats are coming from the many nuclear reactors that have been damaged and reports are suggesting that there is risk of rupture at many of them. My concerns here come from the mixed messages that are being put out... on one hand the government is saying that there is very little risk, and then they are ordering mass evacuations around the power plants. Japan has a history of downplaying risky situations to avoid panicking the people. From what I've seen, the people are pulling together very well and barring any other major seismic events or nuclear catastrophes it should begin to improve in the near future. Again, we are lucky enough to be far far away from all of the worst of this experience. Please don't worry for us - our biggest concern is going to be from the possible interruptions to food supplies. We, being good Costco members, are always well stocked and if push comes to shove, I'm sure the kids would enjoy a few days without fresh veggies.

More news as it comes...

Friday, March 11, 2011

or NOT! (in reference to the previous title)

I can't believe how not-right everything is. I was half-way through the next post, about graduation and the arrival of our friends, when I had to abandon my efforts to write about the devastation that I'm seeing from all over Japan.
Yesterday at 2:46pm Joisan and I were in the conference room at school - using the computer. Taran and Ian were at home - having a holiday.

The floor started to roll and the windows began to shake. I said to Joisan... oh! an earthquake! Joisan was happy that she was able to experience one before leaving in a couple of weeks. Strangely though, it didn't stop. We sat there waiting for everything to calm down and it just kept going and going. When it finally subsided it had lasted between 3 and 4 minutes. It felt like forever.

Early reports from the principals TV said it was a 6.9 and then a 7.9 and finally settled at an 8.9. It was centred in the ocean off the coast of Honshu and there was a great deal of damage done - though not too much up here in central Hokkaido. We were hit again within a few minutes and again after that one. They seemed to be coming right on top of each other and the difference in the location and depth of them meant that some were stronger than others. At one point Joisan and I were both under the table doing the "duck and cover" routine. I found it difficult to walk during them and after the third endless wave I started to feel a little stressed.

Eventually, many of the teachers gathered around the tv in the principals room and we watch the beginnings of the tsunami as the waves began to build and destroy. Joisan and I had watched the status changes as her friend Tiffany's plane had arrived at Narita about 2pm so we knew that she was there. We were a little worried about whether or not she would be able to get her connection to Sapporo but at 4pm when we left the school it seemed that everything would be okay.

When we got home I was able to get my friend Hiro on the phone (nothing short of a miracle!) She was safe, although not warm. She had no power and no water. She's in a city in central Iwate prefecture and many of the earthquakes were located quite close to her.

It was about 4:30pm when we began trying to phone the Narita airport to try to connect with Tiffany. I know she's a smart and resourceful and well-travelled girl but she's only 13 and she was travelling alone! I was a little worried! And she's only a loaner - I have to return her in less than two weeks!

Of course the phone lines were totally jammed and out of every twenty times I dialed I might have gotten a line through once - but only as far as a recorded message that said "we're really busy right now - please hold or call back later". It was very discouraging. I managed to connect with Shaun Iwasawa who had toured us around Tokyo when we were there in January. He and his wife and family are all safe and they tried to help us connect to Narita too. He had the added advantage of being able to understand the Japanese news updates - we were just waiting for the English version which was nowhere near as timely. It was from Shaun that we heard that Narita was closed for the rest of the day.

Unsure of what was up with Tiffany, Joisan and I redoubled our efforts to contact someone who could help us connect with her. It got discouraging pretty fast and around 8pm we tripped across some information that said that they had evacuated the Narita airport. I couldn't imagine what that would look like or what would happen to a 13 year old travelling alone! It was an incredibly stressful evening - eventually the Narita airport website was updated to include an advisory that stated that all passengers were being given food and water and blankets and they were being attended to by airport staff.

Around 10pm Shaun told us that they were beginning to allow planes to take off from Narita and Joisan and I discussed heading to Chitose to sleep at the airport in case Tiffany wound up coming in the night. After finally being able to talk to one of the information booth ladies at the Sapporo airport I was confident that Tiffany would not be coming in until the next day so, with my thousandth attempt at contacting Narita ending in that dreadful message again, and after sending off several emails and trying to call Tiffany's mother, we went to bed.

I was finding it very difficult to sleep and so I was incredibly grateful to receive a phone call at 12:45am from a Japan Airlines employee who had Tiffany with her and another stewardess in a hotel in Narita. I was able to talk with Tiffany and it was confirmed that she would be able to get an evening flight the next day. With that great news and a quick note to Tiffany's mother, I was finally able to sleep.

It was my intention to get up this morning and go for my weekly swim but I got a little distracted with the details of what had been happening through the night. I discovered that the aftershocks had continued with some real doozies around 4am. I am still a little worried because one of them in particular was very near the city where Hiro lives and it was at the shallowest depth of any of them.

At about 8:15am I received a call on my cellphone from the stewardesses and Tiffany. They were calling to say that she had been placed on the first flight Japan Airlines had leaving Narita this morning. Whew! We spent some of our morning reassuring our loved ones of our safety and then Joisan and I got ourselves off to the airport to get our girl. We were both surprised to see some damage on the road to the airport. Reports of issues in this area have been non-existent, and in fact the damage was fairly minor - some groupings of serious potholes and some trees and posts either down or leaning precariously. There was nothing dangerous and we made it to the airport safely. Tiffany landed safely and she has amazing stories to tell. Yes, the Narita airport was evacuated - and a good thing too as there was a ceiling of glass that came down. Yes, she was scared but she was also being very well taken care of! The Japan Airlines employees really went out of their way to be wonderful!

So, the latest news - although by the time I actually type it out and publish it - it will have changed again... the latest news is that since the 8.9 earthquake yesterday there have been 198 earthquakes greater than 4.5 and 24 of them were over 6.0. They keep referring to them as "aftershocks" and I suppose they are because they came after the initial incident, but when they are each strong enough to cause serious damage on their own I feel like they have earned the right to be referred to as earthquakes. The tsunamis continue to wreak havoc on coastal towns and every channel on the tv has an icon in the corner displaying the danger areas. Hokkaido has definitely seen some damage - but mostly in the southern area of Hakodate.

This evening we have had news of an explosion in a nuclear reactor about 200km north of Tokyo. They are currently evacuating people within a 20km radius of the reactor and I am so very grateful to be located in the backwoods of Hokkaido!

Love to all - I will eventually post the graduation stuff too but I wanted everyone to know what I know so it will have to wait until I can focus on something other than the ongoing quakes and tsunamis and reactor issues.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

and all is right with the world!

Whew! It was a difficult few days here. Mum's surgery really threw me for a loop. I have spoken with her though and she is home now and all is good again. Now I can focus on really enjoying the last few months here and experiencing all there is to do!
We are within one week of our world changing - first with visitors arriving and then with Joisan leaving. Wow! I'm struggling to connect with Kelsey right now and get everything organized for her to start right after spring break. I've been reminded that the secretaries at schools in the Cowichan Valley are the real movers and shakers and they are the unsung heroes! I finally managed to feel like we've got some forward momentum today and I'm much relieved!
This week - aside from worrying about Mum - has been mostly about dealing with details that I've let go to this point. The major detail being the amount of overtime I'm putting in. I have been coasting along, blissfully unaware of my actual, official working hours. Consequently, I have been putting in many many more hours than I am supposed to. It seems a bit of a conundrum though... with not enough work to do - how is it that I actually put in more hours than necessary?? Well, it's a challenge - but you know me - I'm always up for a challenge! It seems kind of strange to have all the extra time acknowledged let alone compensated... I'm going to end up with about 35 days off in lieu of payment. Now if only I could translate that into an early ticket home...
Anyway, at this point it looks like I'll be able to take some time off when the school breaks are happening this year. It will be much better than sitting around the office doing... nothing! Actually, I have a big project in mind right now. I'm planning to write a comprehensive manual for the future Otaki AET's. Everything from the house and social details to the structure of the job and ideas for lessons. At least it will give me something to do with my office time for the next little while. (I want to say for the next few months but I doubt it will take me that long!)
This end of the year time seems a lot different from last years wind down. I'm missing Hiro again and it seems like I'm forgotten in a lot of what's going on. Oh well, my eyes are on the prize now... a few distractions and then the big trip home! Oh what a party that will be!!!