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After  a long hiatus I’ve decided to do a bit of netcromancy and revive the blog. I’ve got a bit of time on my hands these days so I’ll be posting a bit more regularly. My post on dating and relationships has received some positive attention, so I’ll be doing a little more with that. I’m planning to mix it up a bit with some picture posts and story time. So, yeah, more to come.

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Kyoto

I love Kyoto because it reminds me of all of the best parts of home. Walking along this river back to my hotel reminds me of the nights I walked back to my apartment following the tracks of the B line, or the trees if Comm ave.

I sometimes worry that nostalgia is all I have left. Are my best times behind me? Dies the future have nothing to offer? Or am I living in the past and blinded by it?

I must seek the new and novel again. Where ever I am. No ruts. Less repetition.


You can never go back

I had an interesting night tonight to say the least. While overall it wasn’t a page turning story, I can say I networked with a well connected member of the ruling party in this country. Not something to smirk at.

We ended up going to AgeHa tonight. A place I haven’t been to in a year. Even then my experience pales to the first memory. It is a place that holds strong emotions and changed my view on clubs. Nothing of note happened tonight, but even that doesn’t matter.

Any one who is an avid reader of the blog knows this began as a travel journal during my initial return visit to Japan. I tried to keep up with all that happened but time and laziness overtook me and I left it lingering mid story. One crucial tale I left out was my trip to AgeHa, strongly pushed by Nick and one I would not have considered on my own. But it is one I am eternally grateful for.

At AgeHa, I let loose, had fun and flirted like it was going out of style. I got phone numbers and made friends. I even got a date out of it with a woman who sings like an angel. We wrote letters after I left and had another date when I returned but two years and a pile of distance made it more than doomed. She’s engaged now. Funny how life works out sometimes.

But I wouldn’t even give clubs a chance if it wasn’t for that night. So what if things don’t work out. They might next time.

But I can’t expect it to be like last time. I came to Japan this time around hoping it would be like the adventure I had with Nick. I hoped it would be the same thrill and excitement as that vacation where I had no expectations but to have fun. But I should have known better.

You can never go back. You can’t recapture the times you once had. You can only push forward and make new memories. We can look back and wish things were like back then, but that does no good.

I am older now. Perhaps wiser. Both of those change so much of my experience. But I am still having experiences. I am still living. Still exploring. One day I will settle down. My adventures will be at an end. And maybe, just maybe, I will write them all down. But until then I will venture forth.

Until my hands blister.
Until my heels bleed.
Until my tongue grows weary from telling my tales.


Now with 23 times the population density

I’ve bid farewell to Kansai and migrated north. I will miss living amidst Kobe, Osaka, Himeji and Kyoto along with all of my friends there. I will not, however, miss the countryside. You can take the boy out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the boy. Last year was proof of that.

Like most moves, I wish I could take certain places and people with me. If I could transplant b. polpo and everyone from there down the street from me, that would be awesome. Alas, I can no more do that than I can teleport Post and Camellia here on a whim. At least not until portal technology is invented / improved upon. Though that could lead to unforseen consequences. Probably best not to cause a resonance cascade and stick to appreciating what I have for now.

While most of Kansai was left behind in the move, I am fortunate to have my best friend from the area working in Kamakura this year. While Tara lived only one town over last year, I have seen her more this past week than I did the last four months. She lives four times farther away, yet with the miracle of public transportation I can see her much more easily and quickly than before. I really don’t miss the countryside.

The move to Tokyo is a positive and fortunate one. There wasn’t much choice in leaving Kansai, as I was not recontracting with my old position and I was unable to secure another one in the region. There was a period where I was greatly concerned where I would live and work in Japan. The possibility of being unemployed and homeless was very real. Thankfully, that did not come to pass. Maybe the Big Guy Upstairs likes me after all.

Finding a position in Tokyo was accomplished thanks to a little bit of proactive job hunting aggression on my part and a lot of luck or divine providence. Prior to the foreigner exodus, jobs in Tokyo were not easy to acquire. Even after, good jobs in Tokyo and the 23 wards are hard to get, and I secured mine before the flyjin phenomenon. I will be teaching in Ota-ku. For those of my friends who understand a little bit of Japanese, yuck it up. “Hahaha you’re teaching in geek! How appropriate! What, is it an extension of Akihabara?” Yes. Exactly. Hilarious. Ota-ku (大田区)is the southern most ward of Tokyo. Its kanji means big rice field ward, and is pronounced differently than otaku. Though it is similar enough that I must admit it is kind of funny.

The flyjin phenomenon left many apartments and guesthouses that were previously occupied vacant. An excellent situation for me as I needed to find a place in a very short amount of time. As I am yet to fully realize my budget, schedule, schools, or the neighboring areas there-in I have elected to stay in a guest house for the next three months. In that time I can find a suitable apartment to fit my needs. I am happy with my guest house so far, and will go into more detail about that in another post.

My time in Tokyo so far is brief, yet the consequences of the recent tragedies remain. Tokyo feels very un-Tokyo like. Normally quite decadent, bright and loud there is an air of solemnity and concern. Many of the neon lights, massive television screens and megaphones that would normally blare day and night are turned off to conserve energy. There are fewer people in a rush, and fewer people out in general. The normal intensity of Tokyo appears toned down.

I am often asked if I am afraid to be in Tokyo, both from people in Kansai and from people I meet in Tokyo. There are fewer foriegners and tourists. I’ve stayed in near empty hostels that are normally packed and rarely see other foreigners in Akihabara. There is much concern and worry over what may come, but that appears to be subsiding.

In time I expect everything will return to as it once was. In the meantime I get to observe a post disaster Japan recover from the inside. Despite media claims there is little to fear, but Japan does need support. The best way you can do so is come to Japan. Recovery comes quickest with the help of tourism dollars.


On Fukushima

As I’m sure anyone reading this aware, this past Friday northeastern Japan suffered from a 9.0 magnitude earth quake off the coast of Miyagi prefecture, and the tsunami that followed. There is mass devastation to the coastal city of Sendai. This is where most of the footage on the news you are viewing comes from.  My former residence of Yamagata is somewhat adjacent to Sendai. Thankfully, Yamagata is landlocked and was less effected by the earthquake and not effected by the tsunami. Areas further south such as Tokyo felt the earthquake but received little structural damage. Where I currently live is completely unaffected.

For handy reference

Aftershocks have continued, and another earthquake estimated at 7.0 is predicted. When and where is uncertain.

What is currently taking the forefront in the media is situation with the Fukushima nuclear power plants. These plants went into immediate shutdown during the quake, but the primary and secondary power sources for their cooling systems are offline. There is a great deal of panic, much of it unwarranted, over this situation. Yes, it is matter for concern but something that must be approached with a level head.

The worst of the western media is inflammatory and the best of it is misleading on this issue. In contrast the Japanese government  and media are under representing the issue. The result is a lot of misinformation being spread, which only increases worry and panic. I’ve spent the past three days fielding phone calls and e-mails from worried friends and watching as others flee south or out of the country. I am trying to disseminate accurate information and calm people down as best I can. The following are e-mails I have sent regarding the current situation, and why most of us don’t need to worry.

________________

Hello everyone,

I hope you’ll excuse the mass e-mail. There’s been a lot of talk about the Fukushima power plants recently, and even some panic. I would like to take a moment to help separate fact from fiction.

Concern over the nuclear power plants in Fukushima is warranted, and I can’t fault people for acting cautiously. The biggest issue right now is ignorance and misinformation. This shouldn’t be surprising as nuclear power and radiation are complex topics and the average person is not knowledgeable of these things. The result is panic and overreaction.

I benefit from having a friend who works as a nuclear safety engineer for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. As you can imagine Fukushima is our current hot topic of conversation. There are a couple important points to know.

The first is that even damaged the containment structures around the units greatly reduce the amount of radiation released.

The second is that the type of radiation being released are beta particles from iodine-131 and cesium-137. Beta particles are not far reaching and depend on winds to carry ash to spread the particles. Even with “favorable” winds the amount that would reach outside of Fukushima-ken is so minimal it’s negligible. Beta particles are unable to deeply penetrate tissue, so washing oneself removes radioactive particles. The biggest concern is ingesting something that contains beta particles, so I would avoid eating or drinking anything from Fukushima for a while.

The third is that no X-ray or gamma radiation is emitting from the plant. These forms radiation are electromagnetic, travel far and deeply penetrate tissue. X-ray and gamma radiation are what caused the majority of the initial deaths after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

The fourth and final point is that while the radiation emitted outside of the plant is above industry accepted standards, it is still well below the amount that will cause illness, tissue damage or lasting medical issues. Industry standards are exceptionally low specifically for this reason. According to Merck Medical Manuals, the human body can absorb 1000000 microsieverts of radiation before the onset of illness such as vomiting and headache. The highest recorded release of radiation at Fukushima was a 400000 microsieverts spike within the plant (meaning inside the containment structure) that quickly declined. The highest recorded release outside of the plant was 8217 microsieverts per hour. And that was directly outside the plant. Levels have since reduced to well below that. The amount reaching Tokyo is less than a tenth of what Fukushima is exposed to.

It makes sense for Fukushima people to put some distance from the power plants, as long term exposure to even low levels of radiation is probably not the best of things. People in Tokyo and there abouts don’t need to be worried though. You’re not being exposed to much more radiation than normal, and even then the exposure is for brief periods when the wind changes.

These links are good references for what’s going on and what it all means. They’ve been vetted by my nuclear engineer friend as factual and accurate.

http://www.sunny1015.com/sunny1015/features/health/la-he-japan-quake-radiation-20110316,0,567890.story
A well written lamens summary of radiation, exposure and Fukushima in contrast to Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the Hiroshima bombing.

http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/
Accurate reporting on current events in Fukushima by experts in the industry

http://www.bt.cdc.gov/radiation/pdf/measurement.pdf
An explanation of radiation measurement

http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/sec21/ch317/ch317a.html
An explanation of the effects of radiation exposure, and how much does what.

tl;dr
People outside of Fukushima don’t need to worry about radiation exposure. The kind of radiation coming from Fukushima will only effect the surrounding area. Even then, the amount coming from there is very low. Keep a level head, don’t eat food from Fukushima for a while and you will be fine.

____________

One acquaintance in Tokyo replied with this Reuters article.

http://af.reuters.com/article/energ…0110317?sp=true
_____________

I read the recommendation from the US Embassy and the Reuters article and I will agree that the Japanese government is under representing the situation. However, this article is also an example of misinformation coming from the US media. It uses vagueness and misleading language and provides little fact.

First things first, it is recommended by the US government to evacuate to 50 miles outside of the reactors. These reactors are in Okuma, Fukushima and approximately 150 miles north of Tokyo. Tokyo is three times the recommended safe distance.

The emergency workers in question- the ones that could be hit with lethal doses- are emergency workers at the nuclear plant and not emergency or relief workers for the earthquake. Beta particle radiation is more dangerous in proximity, so of course being right at the power plant and even inside the containment structure is going to prove risky.

The section on the UN plume report is worded in a misleading manner. All the report says is that the plume would reach the Aleutian Islands and the US on a certain date, and that radiation from the plume decreases as it travels. This is true. It’s exclusion of radiation levels implies that they will begin very high, which is false.

The warning of wide spread contamination comes from a member of an anti-nuclear group who has obvious bias and no counter statement by a pro-nuclear or nuclear industry member is provided. It is an inflammatory, unbalanced statement with no empirical basis.

______________

Another acquaintance expressed concern of what potentially could happen.

________________

The absolute worst case scenario is the entire containment blows in reactor 2, the wind changes direction and that irradiated steam travels to Tokyo. Even then the individual dose to a person in Tokyo would be 2 mSv. That is nothing. You are exposed to more than that each year simply by being alive.

For reference, a chest X-ray is 0.1 mSv, a mammogram is 0.7 mSv, and a full body scan is 20 mSv. The amount of radiation a person can absorb before physical illness is 1 Sv, or 1000 mSv. Even at 1 Sv of exposure you can recover, meaning non-permanent damage. Increased risk of cancer? Yes, very slightly at about 5%. Guarantee of cancer? No. After exposure to 2 mSv of radiation there are no ill effects and no increased risk of cancer.

The evacuation zone exists in the eventuality that the worst case scenario occurs. They are keeping people as far away as possible in case containment fails, not because of the current situation. If you outside of the evacuation zone, you are safe. If you are in Fukushima, of course you should get out of there. But there is no reason to leave Tokyo save to stop greater panic from spreading and leading to hysteria and rioting.

_________

Hopefully this will help some people understand the situation better. Education is the best weapon against ignorance, and ignorance is our greatest foe right now. There’s a lot of work to be done to recover from the earthquake and this panic is detracting from recovery.


Sometimes Japan Makes Me Angry

I live in the Japanese countryside. By all accounts, I should have a car and my placement should be a driving one. Everyone of my teachers, and all other persons I know out here, have some mode of motorized transport. It is a necessity not just for the job, but for one’s livelihood. The nearest convenience store, where one pays their bills in Japan, is fifteen minutes away by bicycle. The nearest supermarket twenty-five minutes away by bicycle. The nearest train station,whose trains comes only once every hour, is forthy-five minutes away. Two of my schools are thirty minutes away by bicycle, and one school is an hour away by bicycle, way up in the mountains. All of these rides include large hills that make traveling quite diifficult. Nothing is in walking distance. I have done my best, but with the intensifying summer heat it is obvious I will not be able to continue like this forever. To my teachers, the fact I ride a bicycle everywhere is a joke and a fool’s errand. Which is why they have pushed me (not that I have resisted) to buy a motor scooter.

Motor scooters are very common where I live. They economic, small, and useful. A scooter is exactly what I need, the only issue being I need a license to drive in Japan. As last time I lived in Japan I had no need to drive (and was misled to believe that would be the case once again) I did not acquire and bring with me an international permit. Since I plan to live here for two years or so in any case, having a license couldn’t hurt. However, I have no desire to own a car in Japan. They are with gas, parking, maintence, and insurance, not to mention the actual purchase, case are quite expensive. I have no desire to live somewhere that I need a car, and were I to move somewhere less remote I would have no use for it. I scooter, however, fits all me needs, is cheaper and much more convenient. So I set out to get one, with the help of some friends and personal research.

I went to Akashi today- taking unpaid leave from work to do so- in an attempt to get a motor scooter only license. In Japan, a car license will also cover a motor scooter. However, as an American I am required to take a simple written questionnare test (available in English) and a rather stringent driving test to convert my American license to a Japanese one. Since I have no desire to drive a car, it’s difficult to justify taking a stressful test that I may need to retake and repay for multiple times. The motor scooter only license, on the other hand, only requires you take the written portion to convert it. Something that should have be quite easy. Should be.

I arrived at the the Akashi Drivers License Testing Center today quite early. An hour before they open. I should note this is the only driving center available to me, and it takes over two hours to get here from my apartment. The center is only open Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm. To have an international license converted you have to register at gate seven between 9:30am and 10:30am. And only at those times. I was the first person there, and the first to go in. I spent a fruitless hour there,and waste of a day.

My biggest regret is not bringing someone native in Japanese with capable English language abilities. Given the time table and distance of this place how could I? Every one of my Japanese friends works from nine to five. Actually, many of them work from eight to eight. While certainly not fluent my Japanese is quite managable. I imagined some difficulty but that I would be able to muster through it. When I entered the building, I explained what I wanted to do in Japanese to the front desk and they guided me along in the right direction, no problems. It was at the foriegn license conversion room that I ran into trouble.

The first thing I did after sitting down was tell the clerk that I wished to get a motor scooter license. I gave him all of my paper work: passport, license, gaijin card, and license translation. The clerk asked my nationality and where I lived, and then proceeded to speak Japanese faster than my English and used a great deal of vocabulary I had never heard before. I asked him several times to slow down and repeat himself, and when he occassionally I did I realized he was explaining what I already knew. The car test was two parts, written and driving, and included scooter licensing; and the scooter test was only one part. After ten minutes of him trying to push me to convert to a car license, which I explained to him I did not want, he said it was very suspicious. I brokenly explained to him other that I didn’t want to have to take an extra driving test that doesn’t apply to a vehicle I don’t intend to use and doesn’t apply to the one I will use, and probably will fail because my Japanese isn’t strong enough. He in turn told me it was suspicious and that I didn’t want a car license, said that many people go to China or the Philipines to get licenses there and convert them in to Japanese ones, or get imitation ones. He then questioned the validity of my license, saying that he wasn’t sure whether it was real or not. My response to his outrageous doubt was I have driven for ten years, hold valid legal licenses in the United States, have never been to any of those countries, and I would never in my right mind go to such trouble for a lesser license. He wanted to see my expired passport to prove I hadn’t been there. I of course didn’t have it. When I showed him my old Massachusetts license to prove how long I had driven, he was a bit more agreeable. This whole exchange took half an hour.

He then proceeded to check where I was currently living, and grill me on why I wanted a scooter and not a car (expense), why I needed one (distance,) and why I didn’t take public transportation (don’t have any.) When I explained where I lived as over an hour north of Akashi, just south Nishiwaki, and the nearest train station about forty-five minutes away, he stopped being quite as antagonistic.

We proceeded with the eye test, filled out the forms, and then he sent me to pay for my stamp so I could proceed with the examinations. When I returned, he was looking over my license translation, and told me that the C class license was a car only license. He said Japanese and American license are different, and mine didn’t include motor scooters. I then explained to him that in America scooters under 50ccs do not require license. He then referred to a section at the bottom for M1 and M2 licenses. M2 licenses are for motorcycles over 400ccs. M1 licenses are for motorcycles and scooters between 150ccs and 400ccs. Because the M1 license uses the word scooter, and the C class license doesn’t, he decided it does not cover motor scooters. I again explained to him that in America scooters under 50ccs do not require license, and the details of M1 and M2 licenses. He stated he couldn’t (more likely wouldn’t) convert my car license to a scooter one. Even though it’s a lesser license. I could still get a conversion to a Japanese car license and that would cover a motor scooter, but because I didn’t schedule for a driving test I would have to come back another day. Oh, and my stamp was no longer valid. And non-refundable.

He took me to another clerk, who then explained to me that if I wanted to get a motor scooter only license I would need to get it from scratch. That means going to a lecture at a traffic school, taking a scooter lesson and then coming in for a fifty question test in English. Oh, but the lecture and the lesson will both be in Japanese. He then sent me off and apologized for the trouble. That pissed me off. Do not say you are sorry. You are very much not sorry.

Afterwards I reached out to my friends for assistance (and to bitch more than I have here.) Kana has truly come to my rescue. She actually seemed a little annoyed I didn’t call her for help during this debaucle. She has since checked the details of what I need to do, confirming and correcting what I understood from the earlier Japanese explanation. She’s already found several driving schools I might attend, and is going to reserve a lesson for me. While this probably won’t make sense to anyone but me, today saw some role reversal. Today, Kana became my angel.


What comes and goes

Things are finally starting to slow down. My classes aren’t as busy as they once were, though I sometimes get stuck with a class of sixty students (my home room teachers like to combine them sometimes.) I still have five or six classes a day, with the occasional slow day of four classes. It’s like a mini-holiday. Busy as it is, I guess I’m just getting used to it. Perhaps I’m getting better organized and more prepared ahead of time.

While my school life is balancing out my social life is still as fervent as Cerberus.. While I shouldn’t complain ,this is something I find a mixed blessing. I enjoy having a day or two to myself on occasion. I need it to decompress.

June in particular is rather packed. This past weekend I went to Kyoto for Taku’s barbecue. This Friday I will go to Akashi for my motor scooter test, and on the 26th I’m going to Tokyo for the friend of a friend’s welcome back to Japan party. No shortage of activity, though I do suppose I could squeeze something into the weekend of the 19th.

Taku’s barbecue was a nice throw back. I ate a a whole lot of meat with the nonbei guys. Shogo and Kana were there, as was Etsuko and one of her friends. It takes me back, and makes Japan feel more like home. I wish Junichi and Yasu could have made it, though Tokyo is quite a ways away. I’m looking forward to Masayuki, Hisashi and Tadao returning as well. I hadn’t seen my Berkeley Japanese friends in quite some time, Kana included. I’m very happy I went, especially for being able to see Kana after so long. She’s talking of moving to Kansai, either Sannomiya or Osaka. Most of her friends live out here, though her family would prefer she move to Nagoya if at all. I’ve put my vote is in for Sannomiya.That would be a much closer than Gifu, and I approve of that.

The trip to Tokyo promises to be an entertaining one. This party is for someone my Kiwi friend James in San Francisco put me in touch with. They met during James’ five years in Tokyo, and while they both left a year ago James’ friend is now returning on a fairly permanent basis. From what James tells me this guy puts on parties that are epic. Not a word James uses often. I’m looking forward to it.

The motor scooter test in two days is something I’m not terribly worried about. Since I’m going for a 50cc license I simply need to submit some forms and pass a written test (in English) about the rules for the road. Stop at red lights, don’t cross yellow lines, that kind of stuff. From the practice tests I took online and the comments from my friends who have taken it, the written test is incredibly easy. My main concern is getting there on time, filling out any necessary forms and figuring things out with my limited Japanese. I should be fine though.

Here’s to hoping next week I’ll be putting down the roads of Kato on my new scooter.