Saturday, 23 April 2011

Oh No!

Changing the subject; Ono (小野) is a pretty common Japanese surname, it means small field.
Dr "Oh-No" is the dentist across the road from my work. He probably doesn't get too many native-English-speaking customers.

Sunday, 17 April 2011


Iwaki City, Fukushima is a three-hour drive NNE of Tokyo and about 50kms south of the reactor, well outside the 20km and 30km exclusion zones. These days Fukushima is only mentioned on the news when they're talking about the nuclear situation so it’s easy to forget the hundreds of coastal communities there that were also washed away by the tsunami.

Radiation readings around Iwaki have been back to normal since late March so last week was an interesting time for our illustrious leaders, who increasingly look like they’d struggle to organize a piss-up in a brewery, to announce the jump up to Level 7. Dodgy? Yes, but Fukushima does not equal Chernobyl.

In Iwaki on the day of the earthquake, more than 1,500 people crammed into the evacuation centre, a local elementary school. A lot of those have since got out of town but it still houses about 150 people and there are many more in surrounding houses who either have nowhere else to go, or have no way to get there.

Living in an evacuation centre obviously has its own problems, but people in the centres are now mostly able to get basic food, water, and nourishment. If you lived just beyond reach of the tsunami though and your house is still standing, you can’t register at your local evacuation centre and just have to go back and live in your home with basically no food, water or other services.

Yesterday I hired a van to take food and supplies from Second Harvest Japan up to Iwaki. The four people I delivered to were lucky enough to live in a house that was only built 6 months ago and wasn’t damaged much by the earthquake but still has no tap water and very intermittent power. Their house was far enough inland not to be affected by the tsunami and has now become a makeshift warehouse and distribution point for them to deliver to those who weren’t so lucky.

For the first week or two they’d be lining up for six or seven hours to get water from one central point in town a few kilometers away, but as people left it’s now dropped to about two, or one hour if you’re lucky. Some shops are just starting to re-open again as supply chains start to get reconnected, but its very slow going.

I asked them what they thought about leaving. It seemed an obvious question and they said they had thought a lot about getting out, but felt that since they were old folks anyway, they’d be more help if they stayed put to provide food and support for those who couldn’t leave.

A lot of their friends would also leave if they could, they just don’t have the money or the connections to make it happen. They seemed to have a faint hope that this far outside the exclusion zone things might soon start getting better, but once you leave the larger towns with manufacturing jobs there is a heavy reliance on farming and fishing, so the outlook doesn’t seem too good.

The government and Tepco currently have no responsibility for the costs of moving, housing and feeding anyone outside the 20km and 30km evacuation zones but have recently added five more municipalities NW of the rector outside 30km. Tepco announced on Friday a one-off compensation payment of 1M Yen per family (no matter how many kids) which has been roundly criticized as too little, too late and nowhere near wide-ranging enough for the full effect on Fukushima prefecture. A bit of quick hush money.

About 8km toward the coast from where I dropped the supplies off was the coastal town of Toyoma. When I used to come here surfing I remember thinking the huge sea-walls just looked ugly, spoilt the view and were a pain in the arse to drag your gear over. I say “was”, because there’s very little of it left now.

Five weeks on and there are still months or even years of clean-up work ahead. Seeing all the stock TV images from Miyagi and Iwate concentrated in this area of Fukushima was sobering to say the least. A car bent in half, a single house left standing while all around was wiped out, a cuddly toy on top of a pile of rubble, a kid’s school painting that should have been stuck on a fridge somewhere, some Buddha statues retrieved by rescue workers lined up waiting to be claimed.

This  house was tucked up against the south-facing side of the headland (the ocean is on the right) which despite the front windows being smashed in and one end of the balcony being ripped off somehow managed to protect the two perfectly manicured trees in front of the porch.

This beachside road heading south just collapsed almost exactly where a really cool little surf shop used to be.

On the other side of the headland at Numanouchi looking north, those “ugly” sea-wall defences held firm and the town is still basically intact.

Fukushima is Japanese for “fortunate island”.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Art for Japan

Striking image from Chris Mackenzie.

This Japan Times article explains that the proceeds will go to the Japanese Red Cross Society, Second Harvest Japan and the Japan Emergency Team, operated by

This poster is only on sale to folks in Japan but don't let that put you off. Donate the 5,000 yen anyway to any one of the three above, then instead of waiting a few weeks to receive a bulky 50x70cm poster, simply print out this minimalist 8x11cm happy-snap and frame it with a near foot-thick border.

Or maybe just splash the cash anyway in appreciation of a job well done.

Sunday, 10 April 2011


If the image below isn't moving, click here to see the full animated version of this incredible tsunami simulation from Prof. Takashi Furumura and Project Researcher Takuto Maeda of the Earthquake Research Institute, University of Tokyo.
The blue areas show areas where the ocean drew back to below the normal level before the red tsunami hit.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Miki Endo

This website has a bunch 360º panorama photos of various locations up North and puts you uncomfortably close to the disaster sites. Click here  

The red frame above is all that's left of the crisis management centre in Minamisanriku's town hall. It took me a while to realize that this was the same building where immediately after the earthquake, 24-year old Miki Endo stuck to her post on the second floor shouting out tsunami warnings over the town's loudspeaker system telling people to run for higher ground.

She played a huge part in saving the majority of the town's survivors, and remained in the building shouting out warnings until the tsunami struck. One of her colleagues saw her swept away and her body has not yet been found. 

A 60-year old survivor who heard her warnings and headed for higher ground told her mother: "I heard the voice of your daughter behind me the whole way."

 This is her story from NHK World.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Fisherman

My first green wave was when I was 12 years old. I’d tagged along again with my older brother and his mates down to Rest Bay. He came in early and offered me a go on his 6’ Bilbo single-fin before his mates also came in. The sun was just going down, the water was freezing, but that didn’t matter. That first experience of catching a wave, standing up, leaning over and have the board turn vaguely in the direction you wanted to go, and actually staying ahead of the whitewater was a feeling I’ve been trying to recapture ever since.

It changes your view of the ocean, or the sea as we called it then. Even on the very many blown-out days of onshore slop, your eyes would skip across the sections looking for that fleeting bit of clean face or a glimmer of a lip you could mentally smack. It changes your view of everything, you start seeing waves everywhere.

Surf mags were full of images of perfect waves so you start traveling looking for what you could never get at home. Overseas where people just didn’t surf, if the local fishermen thought you were crazy for paddling out you’d just smugly chuckle to yourself thinking they just didn’t understand.

Most surfers know a bit about tsunamis. A building, unstoppable surge of water pushing far inland as opposed to your classic surfable big wave. Before a tsunami hits the tide starts dropping rapidly and possibly further than normal, then when the tsunami arrives it would be visible across the whole bay but with a height much less than you’d expect from something that could cause so much destruction. It was always the surge that would cause all the damage.

I’d heard second-hand stories about a friend of a friend who was surfing in Sri Lanka when the tsunami hit in 2004. He had no choice but to catch it and ride it in, managing somehow to direct himself over to some beach-front lodgings and scramble up to the safety of the second floor balcony.

Then came this:

And then this shaky hand-held clip.

 I’m not sure how well known this clip is. It was taken by a local fisherman at Nodamura, Iwate and despite the dodgy-looking last few seconds, he and his family all survived and managed to get to one of the evacuation shelters. He lost his home along with his fishing boat but is amazingly lucky to be alive.

Big waves are life-threatening, no doubt about it. There are countless surf stories of big-wave heroes battling monster waves and surviving wipeouts from hell but with a few notable exceptions, these stories usually end up with the ocean “just letting go”. A lucky escape and a ritual good kicking. But what if the wipeout was just the start? What if the ocean just didn’t "let go"?

As of April 2: 11,800 confirmed dead and another 15,540 still missing… 

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Second Harvest Japan

My first job after leaving school at 16 was an apprenticehsip with Sony. Part of it was a Radio and  TV repair course in Cardiff Skill Centre where we used to repair TVs for £1 and videos for £2. Cheap as chips but hey, we were learners and the trade-off was we might just blow your gear up beyond repair.

It was 1985 and I remember one woman who brought in a remote control car, not our regular gig but we said we'd give it a go. It got passed around everyone and no-one could do anything with it and ended up with our instructor, the illustrious Bob Russ who also couldn't fix it. 

Bob wasn't known for suffering fools gladly and knew a thing or two about customer service. When the woman came in to pick it up, he told her it was beyond economical repair as it needed an expensive chip that was only made in Japan. She told him her husband often went on business trips to Japan and asked for the part number of the chip so he could pick it up next time he was over there.

He looked at her, threw her busted toy car in the bin and said, "Well, if he goes to Japan on business he's probably got enough money to buy a bloody new one!" and walked off.

That was in 1985, the height of the bubble era in Japan and to us in Wales, all Japanese were mega-rich. It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately after reading a discussion about the validity of donations to Japan. Despite the devastation, for many, and probably quite rightly, charity begins at home. Although Japan is nowhere near as rich as it was back in the 80s, the government will everntually be able to rebuild (again) at the staggering estimated cost of 25 trillion yen ($309bn; £189bn). The problem is it's going to take a long time for the frighteningly beauracratic government to reach the people where help is needed quickly. 

 I've been helping out where I can with an NPO called Second Harvest Japan who are building close relationships with other NPOs and NGOs up in the affected areas. Needs vary wildly between locations and acting on up to date information is vitally important. Some places need canned food, other places need water, other places blankets, other places dried milk for babies... other places just need everything!

Today I met Yoshida-san from East Wind Ministries in Sendai. He's the guy in the white jacket above outside the 2HJ Tokyo office, going through a pretty detailed list of stuff they needed. We loaded it onto his open-top truck within about 20 minutes of his arrival and off he went on the 6-hour+ trip back up there to drop it off tonight.

He said that needs change daily but in the rural communities around his area, since the government are focusing only on people in the official evacuation centres, relief supplies there are for the most part sufficient. He was however very concerned about the people who were living in the same rural communities, but who have not lost their houses. These people are still living in their homes but have no heating, are unable to buy food, and since they still have a standing house, cannot register with the evacuation centres. These "home refugees" get no official aid that's delivered so he and his team are basically going door-to-door dropping off supplies.

This is why I think a donation to Second Harvest Japan, for those who have a bit to spare, is a worthwhile excercise. These guys can make sure exactly what's needed, gets exactly where it needs to go, very quickly.

To give you some background on Ishinomaki and Minamisanriku, read this poweful piece by Rob Gilhooly for The Japan Times.