Gaijin Housewife in Japan

Bringing you every day life in Japan to your part of the world.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Hello From NZ

Hi Everyone!

Well I am in New Zealand now, and having a very nice time. I am in Westport of all places. If you look on a map you will see it is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, on the West coast of the South Island. It is very rural here but beautiful and the weather is perfect for me. Not too hot, not too cold and sunny.

My sister has just finished building a really nice house in the bush away from town that is so peaceful and beautiful, it makes me want to cry sometimes. It certainly is a long long way from Japan and the aftershocks.
Every day I take our black labrador Sam for a stroll down the road and back. He is getting old and I am having trouble walking long distances now, so both of us enjoy the slow paced waddle. My mum arrives tomorrow night and can stay until I leave, so it will be really nice to have this time with my sister, me and my mum together for the first time in a year. My sister has also been enjoying feeling Maru chan's kicks. The flight here was long but made more comfortable by the kind staff on Air NZ, who made sure I had 3 seats to lie down across, a huge bottle of water to keep myself hydrated so I wouldn't have to wait until they came around offering it. Even so I felt that the 3 hour train ride, the flight, the stopover, the second flight and then finally the 3 hour drive to get here, was too much for Maru chan and a lot harder on me than usual. But we recovered well and the next day I felt fine and Maru chan seemed to be kicking and behaving as usual. The trip home, will be a lot less strenuous as it will be broken up over several days.

I talked to DH this morning on Skype. He looked fine, says that he goes and collects water on his way home every night and heats it up to wash with. Petrol is still scarce and food probably a bit too, but his company has a convenience store where he can buy lunch and at home he eats ready made meals so as not to create dishes that need to be washed. Our water might be restored earlier than the end of April which is great but still probably 2 weeks away.

DH's sister sent me a message to say that Sebastian is fine and eating well and sleeps with Grandpa N in the room we were sleeping in at night (a much better arrangement for him than when he was in Iwaki!), so I am not so worried about him anymore. Though I do miss his craziness and exhuberance, I catch myself worrying what our dog here in NZ,Sam, is doing - that he might be chewing something or peeing somewhere, which of course he isn't because he is a perfectly behaved dog. 

The Japan earthquake news has died down a lot here, so I have trouble keeping up with what is going on. The stories are also a lot of humanitarian ones that make me so sad, I can't watch them.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Tottori doesnt want us to leave.

We got up at 4:30am to get on the road to Osaka. Unfortunately luck was not on our side this morning. It snowed last night at DH's house at sea level. In order to get on the highway one has to drive over a pass called "doll pass". Sounds like a piece of cake but certainly isn't. We only had to drive past 2 signs saying "chains necessary"and then the road became frozen and snowy for DH to loose his nerve. So we turned around and went to the station and bought me a ticket on the express train to Osaka. DH will take a different route though the pass is probably going to clear soon. Thanks to my paranoidness we have a Plan B to get me to the airport on time. MEN! ;)
Now we are passing the time at McDs until its time for me to catch the train.
Fingers crossed the rest of my trip goes more smoothly!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Pleasantly Surprised

Today DH and I went to the baby dr appointment here in Tottori. DH's mother found me a clinic to go to recommended by DH's cousin who has just had a baby not long ago. 

I have mentioned the shortage of obstetricians in Japan and how terrible it is in my city. Last time 2 weeks ago we waited 3 hours to see the dr even with an "appointment". That shortage doesn't seem to be so bad here in Tottori, which I read somewhere has the best ratio of obstetricians to women in  Japan. Kind of surprising considering how out of the way we are here.

So today we went in and I just had a regular check up as you would expect. The clinic was fairly newly rennovated and had these wonderful comfy sofas to sit on whilst we waited. So much nicer than my usual hospital where I often spend several hours sitting on their not so comfy benches. The technology was first rate and we got a 3-D ultrasound, the first one I have seen so far. Was very excited about that. The dr took her time looking at everything and trying to get a good view for us. - also a nice change from waiting 3 hours for 5 minutes of the drs time. Maru chan was not so co-operative today unfortunately and we didn't get a great view. Oh well. DH got to hear the heartbeat for the first time too though, another bonus. 

My clinic in Iwaki is still closed and could be for a while given it's location and the fact that it is near my house which will be one of the very last areas to have water restored - at the moment they are saying end of April, it might not be open again for a while. After visiting the clinic here today I feel happy to have a nice clinic as a back up should it turn out that Maru chan is born here in Tottori. Another weight off my mind. DH's mother was happy to hear that, she is enthusiastic about me possibly being here for the birth. It's nice to be wanted.

When we got home, we were greeted by a very sleepy Sebastian. He and Grandpa N had been having a nap together in the living room apparently. : )

Am wondering how I will go leaving tomorrow. Will try not to cry too much at leaving Sebastian behind. Who knows, I might be back here sooner rather than later. At least that is what I will tell myself tomorrow morning.

Tottori and Water Panic

Yesterday DH and I set about finishing buying the things he will need to take back with him to Iwaki on Saturday. These included things like ready to eat meals, cup raamen, wet wipes etc, and of course bottled water. 

According to our local water board, there is still no water in our neighbourhood and it could be a few more weeks before there is. So DH needs to take enough drinking water back with him to last a couple of weeks. He will be able to use the water still in our hot water tank for flushing the toilet and washing but it will be difficult to wash clothes and have a decent shower or wash dishes. Somehow despite this he still has to go to work every day and there might not be any water at his office either. Gee I hope they have some chemical toilets there at least...

So over the last week or so we have been buying a couple of bottles of water each time we went to the supermarket. Yesterday, or was it the day before there was the announcement about levels of something or rather in the water in Tokyo and other areas and that people should not give tap water to children under 1 year old. Que panic as everyone goes out and tries to buy bottled water. On the TV they showed supermarkets requiring parents to produce their parent/child book as evidence before they will be sold one or two bottles of water. This panic seems to have stretched as far as Tottori as yesterday there was no bottled water in some of the shops here and a limit to 6 bottles per person in one shop we went to where we bought some imported water that might be as dodgy as the stuff coming out of the tap or worse. I looked around the supermarket and noticed a lot more people buying water than 2-3 days ago when we were pretty much the only ones. 
They were also people who had children with them so I guess they weren't buying it to send to people in Tokyo but "just in case". 

All well and good to have water on hand for drinking should a natural disaster occur. But I feel that the motivation here was just a bit too much lets all panic along with people in areas where there is actually a problem. A phenomenon I'm sure not restricted to Japan but I wonder if it isn't something that people here excel at. 

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Update from Tottori

We found out that DH is expected to start work again on Monday. This seems to be the case for other companies in Iwaki too. We were a little surprised as there still doesn't seem to be any water on in our neighbourhood and probably not around DH's work either so it could be a difficult situation for a while. I still don't feel happy about going back there, not only because the power station is not completely under control, but because they are still having huge aftershocks there. Yesterday they had 3 level 5 ones that I know of. I really don't need that kind of stress along with there being no water in our house. 

So the other option was to stay here in Tottori, or go to NZ for a trip to see my family and calm their nerves a bit. So I decided to go to NZ. So I am off there on Sat for about 2 weeks where I will see my mother and sister and some friends too. (I do realise the amount of radiation one is exposed to by travelling by plane, thanks). I was a little unimpressed with the NZ Air NZ call centre as they could only offer crazily priced airfares, even though their website says to call the NZ office for NZers wanting to leave Japan after the quake. So I called the Japan one and was able to book a really cheap flight all the way to Nelson from Kansai and then back to Narita, something I thought would be impossible. 

Last night we told DH's family what we planned to do and that DH was planning to take Sebastian with him back to Iwaki where he would have to stay home alone all day from 7am to 8 or 9pm by himself until I get back (theoretically in 2 weeks). Grandpa N, who thinks Basti is the bees knees, was more concerned about that than me taking Maru chan all the way to NZ and back (thankfully). So he and the rest of DH's family protested long and loud until I knew they really wanted to have him stay and we decided to leave him here for a few months. I was thinking this was the best answer as he loves it here, there are people coming and going all day and plenty of chances for walks and outings and maybe even a spot of digging for potatoes. For the me the thought of him being home alone in Iwaki was bad enough but with all the aftershocks going on and things it made me more worried. Now I know he will be spoiled rotten by Granpa N and I like that he seems to make Grandpa N so happy. Sebastian also seems to understand this and has made a big effort to get cozy with him. Smart boy.

So poor DH will drive all the way back to Iwaki alone but with a car full of food and water to last him until things get back to normal. We found a website which lists all the shops that are now operating. Things seem to be slowly getting better in that respect.

Tomorrow I have a baby dr appointment here in Tottori. We were supposed to have one in Iwaki tomorrow anyway and I thought it best since there will be a lot of disruptions in that area and given all that we have been through in the last 2 weeks. So I asked DH to call my clinic in Iwaki and cancel my appointment, but it turns out the are closed as the Dr has evacuated what is happening to all his patients who are due to give birth any minute!?! It's not like there are a lot of other options in Iwaki at the best of times. I guess many of them are like me and gone to unaffected areas. Lucky I have somewhere to go in the future if this kind of situation happens again or continues.

So this might be the last post for a while. Am not going to have much internet access whilst I am in NZ. My own sister has been waiting for over a month and has to wait at least one more to get a phone and internet installed in her new house because of the Christchurch earthquake. Damn earthquakes.

Anyway, 行ってきます。 or See you when I get back. 

Monday, 21 March 2011

My first real Shunbun

Today is a public holiday in Japan. It is the day when people pay a visit to the family graves and give them a tidy up, offer incense and goodies to the spirits of their ancestors. I have never actually experienced it before as we are never anywhere near DH's parent's place at this time of year. So this morning I was confused as to what all the rushing around was for. DH was vacuuming and cleaning things. I was just sitting at the computer catching up on emails etc. I noticed that the altar in our room (we sleep with the spirits every night if they happen to be there) had been decorated for today with some fresh pieces of fruit and greenery. 

About 10am to my surprise the first relatives showed up. DH's grandfather and father and DH are the first sons so this household is responsible for taking care of the spirits of this family. So an aunty showed up with her husband, baring cookies and sake, prayed at the shrine or alter and then was given a cup of tea and some cake which they ate and 20-30 minutes later they were off again. 
About half an hour later the same thing was repeated when another aunty arrived with her husband this time baring a case of alcohol free beer and some really yummy looking strawberries. 

I took a photo but can't upload it yet, sorry.
Through all of this I had not gotten round to do my hair or making myself look presentable. I suppose this didn't really matter as they were more interested in looking at my belly that looks rather like a basketball these days.

In the afternoon we had a nap. This is becoming rather a habit. We turn on the electric carpet grab a pillow and lie on the floor with a blanket on top. Today was very funny as Sebastian decided he would take a nap too but that he would like to lie right between us and under the blanket with his head on my arm. It was very cute and I wish somehow I could have gotten a photo of it. Unfortunately Sebastian is becoming a real snorer so between DH and Sebastian it was hard for me to go to sleep. But don't worry I did get a good 30 minutes or so. 

Tomorrow DH will be put to work in the melon fields again. Not sure what I'm going to do. 

The latest news we have from Iwaki is that some gasoline and food has started to make it through to Iwaki and that the highway to Iwaki is now open to regular traffic so hopefully from now things will slowly start to go back to normal, but it will take a long time before everyone can replenish their food and gasoline stores, so I see a lot of shortages going on for a while yet. But something is better than nothing. 

Sunday, 20 March 2011

No Good News for Iwaki

Today, my friends Lars and Heidi who used to live in Iwaki, updated their website, which they use for their Kendo Club in Australia. There are some emails on there from their friends who live in Iwaki on the situation there. The most recent one from the 18th of March made me very sad as there seems to be no progress being made in Iwaki. See their site here and go to the Iwaki tab. They are trying to repay the kindness that was shown to them when they lived in Iwaki for 5 years by helping to spread the word about a way to donate money directly to the people in Iwaki. 

Iwaki as you know is not that far from the power plant. Although the radiation levels there have so far not been anything to cause health problems, in fact radiation levels in cities north of the power station have been recorded as higher due to the prevailing winds. But unfortunately when you look on the map, there is Iwaki city, right near the power station. 
So, there has been a mass exodus from the city. When we left almost a week ago, everyone else was still there, going about their business as best they could. Today I saw the main street of the city on the news. There was one person walking down the street and no cars at all. It was a ghost town. Sure, the pavement is a bit broken up in some places but other than that there is little damage to the centre of town. Finally there are buses leaving from the main station and people queing for hours to get on so they can get to Tokyo where there is food and water.

The restoration of water and the clean up of badly affected areas, such as parts of Iwaki on the coast that were hit by the tsunami, is not proceeding since there is no-one there to do the work. We were listening the local radio station online yesterday and heard them asking for volunteers to help restore the water supply...

Why are other places getting back to normal so quickly and Iwaki not. Well its the threat from the power station. Nobody wants to go there as a contractor or to drive goods there. The banks are all closed and the phone lines also apparently not working so no way to get money out to buy the non existent food. 

One of the emails mentions that it might be a month before the water is reconnected to parts of the city. And as long as the power station remains an issue, things are probably not going to get better soon. 

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Earthquake Experience Part 3

So we set off on our trip. Some newspapers have reported it as "evacuating" or "fleeing". At the time we tried to think of it as a road trip so as to try and enjoy ourselves. 

We drove out of our neighbourhood and down into town. We drove back along the route we drove home on just after the earthquake hit. At one point we had to go around a man hole that had raised itself almost half a metre out of the ground. After 3 days, pretty much all the hazards and damage to the roads were clearly marked with road cones so we felt a bit better even if the route was rather a lot more bumpier than it used to be. We got to route 49 that takes you through Yoshima (sorry more boring details for my readers who used to live in Iwaki) and quickly ran into a huge traffic jam. I started to get panicky again as I was worried about our petrol with being caught in traffic jams when we still didn't know when we would be able to fill up again. So I told DH to turn around and to take a route that avoided as many supermarkets and petrol stations as possible. So we took the route that goes through the Yoshima Industrial Area where DH's work is. We came across a few big holes in the road there too. DH's company looked mostly ok but there were a few broken windows. We were certainly the only people who looked like we might be "fleeing" since we had so much stuff in our car. Everyone else looked like they were out for a Sunday drive. 

When we got back onto route 49 heading for Koriyama the road was smoother, there was little traffic and we cruised along easily as there are no petrol stations or supermarkets there to attract traffic. We stopped at Hirata rest area about 40 minutes into our trip and found they had running water. I guiltily flushed after one use! Lots of other people appeared to be enjoying the flush toilets too. We reached Koriyama after what would have to be the smoothest and quickest trip there ever. The further away we got from the coast, the smoother the roads became. We started to relax. But there was still one hurdle which was to get through Koriyama city and the traffic jams there with enough petrol to get far enough to where the petrol supply was still ok. 

We got as far as the big Nitori/Yamada Denki intersection when we got caught up in one. That was when we ran into CBS reporters who got out of a taxi just in front of us and were trying to film something - probably about the lines for petrol as there was no damage to be seen on that road. So I said hello to them as we were just sitting there in the car and they did an interview with us. Not too much longer after that the traffic started to move again as the petrol station had obviously run out. Then we headed towards Inawashiro, a beautiful lake, and DH and I let ourselves start to relax a bit more. We were heading away from the power station and the prevailing wind was blowing in the opposite direction, out to sea, even though another explosion had just been reported and we hadn't traveled that far away from the power station yet. 

We stopped at 7-11 near Inawashiro and Sebastian played in the snow a bit. We were so lucky that the weather had been warm to that point as the roads were clear and dry. The western side of Japan gets a lot of snow in winter and could easily have been impassable. 

When we left Aizu, we encountered more and more petrol stations still selling petrol and waited only 5 minutes to fill up our car. Then I really started to relax and tried to think of our "escape" as more of a road trip. That night we made it all the way to Kanazawa city as you already know and then the next night we were in Tottori. It was such a relief to get here and rest. Sebastian was a model passenger the whole way. We were so proud of him. He didn't get sick once and spent most of the time snoring his head off. 

After 3 days here in Tottori we are feeling a lot more normal. The normality of life here helps with that. As far as we can tell, there is still no water in Iwaki, no supplies getting through. All of the people I have been worrying about there since we left have now also left town for the comfort of areas where gas, food and water are readily available. I don't blame them. Even without the threat of the power station, it is not a nice situation to be in.

DH's company extended the "holiday" to the end of next week. It is going to take a long time get back to normal. With half of the city dispersed, it could be weeks until things become normal again - also not thinking about stupid power station. At oresent the radiation levels reported there are 1/600th of an xray if you spend one hour outside. The wind is blowing north so any radiation is being blown away from the city at this point. I have just seen on the TV that they have got power back and one of the reactors pumps is now working again. Finally a piece of good news. 

Friday, 18 March 2011

Earthquake Experience Part 2

So our first night after the earthquake was really rough in more ways than one. Not only was our house continually shaking, the phones were jammed so we couldn't get in touch with anyone and even texting - which I knew from the Christchurch quake was the better way to get in touch with people, was taking a long time. Unfortunately the quake happened when people in NZ were up and about and heard about it not long after it happened so there was an agonising wait for them too until my emails got through that we were ok. 

That night we slept in our own beds. I watched as people in Tokyo tried to find some place to spend the night because they couldn't get home. I felt very lucky to have my house which was warm because the power was still on and my bed, even though it shook rather violently every half an hour or so. 

The next day we woke up - not that I really slept - to find that the water was not on anymore. I wished I had taken a shower the night before but the thought of being naked for that time was just too frightening. The after shocks were still going on but at somewhat less frequent intervals. So we spent the day in front of the TV and on the internet contacting people and trying to get information. DH went for a walk to the local convenience store just to see what was still for sale. We didn't need anything as I had been to the supermarket the day before and luckily bought 24L of water. Why? It was cheap and my emergency kit was not complete without it. He came back with a box of ice creams for me and Maruchan. Nothing like a hit of sugar at a time like this. The only other things in the store were soy sauce and alcohol. I would have thought there would be a few people who needed a stiff drink. We resisted the urge to go out and join the panic buying at the supermarkets and petrol stations as we had enough for ourselves and there would be more people who were not as well organised as we were. DH was/is full of admiration for me for getting organised and putting together our emergency kit. My own aunt and uncle were without water and power for two weeks I think after the Christchurch earthquake so that was a big wakeup call for me to go and do it. My students at school scoffed at me a bit for it as they all said that Iwaki would never be affected by a big earthquake - or why would they build a nuclear power station near here...
That day was Saturday and would supposedly be a work day for me. I texted my boss and asked what she planned to do and said that I would rather not got to work. She said school was off and that it would be until at least Wednesday. DH thought he would have to go to work on Monday and rang his company on Sunday night to hear that there was a one week emergency holiday. At this point we still thought things would get sorted out reasonably quickly, that the water would come back on, trains would start working etc. But no. 

On Sunday we started to get increasingly worried about what was going on at the power station. We didn't have internet, just my cell phone and the TV to try and figure out what was really going on. We felt terribly confused watching the official reports on TV and then getting frantic messages from overseas saying other things. So we decided to take the middle ground as best we could. DH watched the reports constantly. When they first reported that it would be a good idea to stay inside if you were in the evacuation area, we stayed inside even though we were still 30kms away from the outside of that area. We watched our neighbours going about their day as usual, walking their dogs, having a smoke outside etc. 
My own mother had grown so concerned about the situation she managed to get through to me via satelite phone from her work which is in the bush/forrest in NZ where they only have radio contact. She begged me to leave and go towards my in-laws house. I promised her I would as soon as I knew we could get somewhere. We had visions of coming up to dead end roads, downed bridges and having to turn back. That afternoon a fellow NZ contacted me and said they were thinking of leaving. I was concerned for them but wished them luck and asked them to please let me know if they got to Tokyo safely via the back roads. I really was not sure about leaving the relative safety of my house which had stood up so well to the initial quake and all the aftershocks, where we had a good supply of water, food and power and heading into the unknown of driving along damaged roads, over bridges and not knowing how far we could get on the petrol we had, especially if we were caught up in a mass exodus. 

On Monday morning I got another email from my mother telling me not to be scared but to do what I had to do to protect Maru chan from what looked like a seriously deteriorating situation. By this point I was getting really stressed out as we still weren't seeing anything on the TV like what my family was reporting to me. Nobody else in our neighbourhood appeared to be leaving. Were we mad to be contemplating leaving? Then a text came from my NZ friend saying they had made it to Tokyo. Then we knew we would be able to get somewhere and so we decided to leave. We grabbed everything we would need to sleep in our car if necessary, packed up food, water, Sebastian some clothes that were still clean. DH packed the car as best he could. We couldn't fit much else in there and I have no idea how we would have managed to sleep in it if we needed to but we set off prepared for the worst. First we stopped at my Ikebana teachers house and gave her a key for the house. She was so shocked that we would leave and go out into the unknown instead of staying in the safety of our house. She and I cried when I left as I was scared too. So we set off on our journey filled with anxiety about what we would come across.

Part 3 coming soon.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Earthquake Experience

I thought I should get this down whilst it is all still reasonably fresh in my mind. Now that we have internet I can finally write a full account of what happened when the earthquake hit. Mostly it is for posterity and to tell Maru chan about later on.

So Friday the 11th of March started off well actually. DH and I went to the obstetrician together for  my check up. Maruchan was fine. We waited 3 hours to see the Dr. When it was finally our turn, the Dr spent a good 5 minutes discussing the Christchurch Earthquake and saying how terrible it was and what great people New Zealanders were...

After that we went home and had lunch. DH headed into town to file our taxes. Not much later, I got a phone call from him saying he had forgotten some important documents and could I bring them to him. So I got in the car and drove to town and met DH at the tax return centre. He told me the good news that he already finished doing my tax return and that we could expect a really nice rebate. So I happily headed off to Toys R Us, just to have a look at stuff. I only spent 10 minutes or so there as Maruchan was in a strange position and walking around felt really uncomfortable. So I got in the car was heading home, driving along a small road to exit the car park between the old Super centre supermarket and what used to Tsutaya (for those who used to live in Iwaki) when my car started shaking. I then noticed that the power poles were waving back and forth. I stopped my car as best I could without parking too near anything that might fall on it. We have lots of earthquakes here so I thought it would pass quickly...not so. It just got worse and worse and kept going. People were running out of shops, some crouching on the ground or holding on to each other to stay upright. There was a lot of screaming. Buildings were groaning and rattling and the road seemed to be moving in waves. I stupidly got out of the car as it was rocking so much. That wasn't much good as it was hard to stay upright and I had to hold onto the side mirror of the car. 
At this time about 100 metres away DH was crouched under a desk at the tax return centre. Later he said he never imagined it would turn out to be such a destructive earthquake, even though it was a big one. 

After the shaking stopped I drove closer to the tax centre and ran and found DH standing in the carpark. He was surprised to see me as he thought I had just gone straight back home. So we got in our cars and drove home together. Already lots of people were driving around. We had to drive over quite a big crack in the road at one point. Thankfully it wasn't a problem. On the way home we never saw a single building that had fallen down. Just the odd crack in the road or slump here and there or a block fence toppled over. It took about 20 minutes to drive home during which time there were several strong aftershocks. I was seriously panicky but so glad that DH and I could drive home together which made it just that little bit less terrifying.

When we got to our neighbourhood there was no sign that there had been a huge earthquake. I rushed inside to find Sebastian fine. On the way home I had imagined all kinds of things tipped over, tv smashed etc. We found a few picture frames tipped over and few things had slid off shelves. I shocked, we didn't find one broken glass or plate. Even upstairs which rocks a lot more than the bottom floor, there was nothing much fallen down. We checked the water which was still working, then we found out we had no phone or internet but the power was still on. Not once did we lose power the whole time, which I was very grateful for. We turned on our TV which was very precariously balanced but had not slid off it's stand to find out what had happened. At the tax office there had been speculation about it being a 7 in Miyagi. We just couldn't believe what we were seeing. Water washing away cars and houses. Even then we still couldn't fathom how bad things really were, but what we were seeing looked like some kind of hollywood movie.

We started running around getting important documents together in one place, passports that kind of thing. DH cleaned out the bath and put some water in it. I did the dishes and turned on the dishwasher of all things. Then we sat in front of the TV and tried to get the internet to work.
All the while our house shook every 10 -20 minutes from the aftershocks.

Part 2 tomorrow.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011


Well today was our first day to relax a little after all our travelling. We went into town and bought some things that we forgot. We needed winter clothing and bits and pieces and luckily those things are all on sale now so we don't have to break the bank to buy the things we need that got left behind. 

Honestly I feel like I have a fairy godmother following me around these last few days. Today, she manifested herself in cheap petrol at the petrol station - DH knows better than to let it get too low now, a bra that fits - previously unheard of in Japan for me. Shoes that fit my giant (in Japan) feet that I didn't buy but if I do need something I know where I can get some. 
DH and I have decided to stay here for at least 2 weeks. I think it would take at least that long for things to get back to normal if the power plant problem resolves itself quickly.... I won't be going back until I know it is safe for me and my baby, so please don't worry about that. 

I called my Ikebana teacher today to make sure she was ok and to tell her to go to our house and take what they need if they are running out of food as there are still no supplies reaching Iwaki and the water still off. Whilst I was talking to her, she said there was another big aftershock. My teacher cried when I left, she was so scared for me. Today she said she is so glad we made the decision to leave. 

Basti has settled into his life here in Tottori so well. We left him behind today when we went out and he spent the day getting under DH's mother and sister's feet in the kitchen - his favourite place already. He has also discovered the electric carpet. Since DH's family sit on the floor, in winter they put out a special carpet that is like an electric blanket for the floor. We don't have one as our house is western style, so he loves lying on it. 

So that is all to report from Tottori today. We are thinking of our friends still in Tohoku constantly and are grateful for every blessing we have had. 

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

We made it

We arrived safely at DH's parent's house in Tottori this evening. It was long trip, but we feel so grateful to be here. The route here took us through Kyoto. I have a special temple there, called Heianjingu,  that has proved powerful for me in the past so we took the time to stop off there and say prayers for all our friends who are still in Iwaki and the people we are waiting to hear from.

Not long after we got here, we had the good news that our friend, Hiroshi san, who was in Ishinomaki, which almost doesn't exist anymore, is safe along with his family, though their house was washed away.

Sebastian has endeared himself to his Tottori family and they didn't mind that he has peed on one of their zabutons (cushion for sitting on the floor) already. They are playing with him now while I write this to you. He might not want to ever leave!

Last night I only slept about 4-5 hours, so tonight I feel I will be doing my own impression of a log very soon though its only 8pm.

On the way here I took note of the atmosphere at each place we stopped at. The further away from Fukushima we got, the more normal everything and everyone seemed. The more heated toilet seats I found
in rest areas still switched on, even though the whole country is supposed to be saving power. So I did my bit and turned off several each time I got a chance.

Thank you for the messages of support and for your prayers. We are safe now. Please say some for all my friends who are still in Fukushima and want to leave but can't because there is not a drop of gasoline to be found.

On the road part 2

Last night after a long drive of over 400 km we arrived in Kanazawa City for the night. We found a cheap love hotel for only 4800 yen for an overnight stay that was huge and looked rather Austin Powers' bedroom. Or very hotel California - mirrors on the ceiling I mean. In our 3 day unwashed hair/ exhausted state it seemed even more bizarre than it normally would.
Love hotels are set up so you can come and go with whoever you like and noone will see you. We walked in the entrance looked at pics of the different rooms and pushed the button for the one we wanted. The elevator door then magically opens and lets you out at the right floor where a light flashes above your room. You walk in and when you close the door you cant go out again until you leave. When you leave you pay at a kind of machine inside your room door. I am explaining this so you can understand how we smuggled Basti into the room easily. The walls are also sound proof for obvious reasons, so nobody heard Basti bark a couple of times. He slept in his crate anyway so it was fine though Im sure Not Allowed.

Anyway yesterday I got a phone call from Yu Narasaki, for those who know her who was in Miyagi where the quake was worst saying that she was fine but they have no power so she had gone to Yamagata. Her school is in the mountains which is a good thing but it is a boarding school so she has students to take care of as well as herself.She asked me specifically to spread the word to people who know her.

Last night we stopped on the the highway to have dinner, our first real post quake meal. I felt sick trying to eat it. A small kind of survivors guilt I supose. I guess I am still kind of in shock about it all.

Now we are not far from Kyoto and hope to reach DHs family tonight.


Monday, 14 March 2011

On the road

This morning we decided to leave our house. A fellow Nzer left the nightbefore for Tokyo via some non highway roads and reported that he made it so we decided to leave too.
We packed up our car with camping type stuff, food water and of course Basti and headed out of town.
That was not as easy as expected as we kept running into traffic jams around gasoline stands and supermarkets. I was seriously doubting our decision at that point. I stopped at my Ikebana teachers house before we left and she was so frightened for me we both cried.

Luckily the damage to the roads had been clearly marked with cones.We drove past DHs work and saw the smashed windows. I wonder if he really will go back to work next week.

Once we got out of town and on the road to Koriyama there was little traffic and little damage to the road. We made it to Koriyama easily but got caught up in traffic jams of people trying to buy gas. Thats where we were when we heard of the second explosion.
But we seemed to be the only ones evacuating.

We ran into some reporters from cbs so we obliged them with an interview since we were stuck in traffic anyway.

Once out of that city we passed through some beautiful countryside and so we felt a little more relaxed. The further to the west we went the more normal things got. We could use flushing toilets and topped up the car easily.
Right now we are on the Hokuriku highway on the west coast side of Japan heading south towards tottori. Thank you for all your prayers. We feel safe now.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

So here we head towards another night with possible black outs. Officials are asking everyone to conserve power, throughout Japan.

There is no gasoline left at any petrol stations in the city as the highways remain closed to traffic which includes the trucks and tankers that bring those things to us. DH and I have nowhere to go to so we are not concerned about lack of gasoline for now.
However a lot of households rely on kerosene to run heaters to keep warmat night. That has also sold out.
My house is completely reliant on electricity so it is so important to me personally to have power.
Shops also seem to be empty of everything except alcohol and ice cream.
We are observing the stay inside recommendation from the authorities. However quite a few people are out walking their dogs etc. It is a beautiful day but we cant go out and enjoy it.

In Hisanohama a small fishing village not so far from here they are reporting 53 people dead. I am very worried for the people I know who live there.

1187 people from Fukushima prefecture alone are missing and over 200 are dead. I write this depressing news for those of you who will be wanting info on Iwaki and Fukushima.

Some comments may have appeared on my blog. We still dont have internet so a friend is managing this for me. Thank you so much P. I am eternally grateful for your support!

Latest from Fukushima

Hi again, we still have no internet so if you have commented and it hasnt appeared its because I cant get online to publish them. Sorry.

So the latest info we have from officials is that the situation is stable and no extra evacuation is necessary at present. DH thinks that we need to wait and see.

And in other news Basti is back to his usual self after being very quiet and nervous yesterday. He has cabin fever since we are not going outside, just in case.

Maru chan is kicking as usual, sometimes I dont know if its an after shock or the baby.

The Nz media is very interested in me and apparently my face was on the front pg of the website.

Tv one news has done an interview over the phone which is supposed to be on tv tonight for those in nz.

The after shocks have died down a lot but still the odd big one.


Update from Fukushima after quake

Hi everyone.
We are without internet again, so I am posting from my phone at 5am as I have been up talking to people in NZ who are understandably worried about the nuclear power station 50 kms from here.

At this point we have been instructed to stay indoors. For us this seems like the best plan as the other is to sit in our car and not be able to get anywhere because all the major highways are closed still.

The people who are being evacuated are still 40 kms away from where we live and I think I saw they are evacuating them here to Iwaki.

I have had info from Nz that media are reporting various things like this will/could be the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Of course the Japanese media are restraining themselves but we are getting info direct from the people who are in charge of the situation, so for now I feel ok about the situation.
Last night due to lack of sleep and having run out of adrenalin I cried for the first time watching the Tv footage of the tsunami which I am sure you are familiar with now too. For a few minutes I seriously wished to be far away from here. But I know and only need to look at the Tv to be reminded that we have so much and are comfortable if a bit smellier than 2 days ago.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Our own giant quake

Today about 2pm the biggest quake I have ever felt happend as I was driving along the road.

DH had gone to file our taxes and had forgotten some documents so I drove into town to drop them off.

I was just leaving the car park to go home when my car started shaking and rocking from side to side. I stopped and put the car in park. At one point I thought it would tip over. All around me people were screaming and racing out of buildings.
When the shaking finally stopped I drove to where DH was. Then we drove home in convoy. The car was shaking pretty much the whole way home. Luckily the road was ok and when we got home poor Sebastian seemed fine.
Our house is fine and we have water and power but the phone and internet are down. I am sending this from my cell phone.
Luckily we live on a hill safe from tsunamis.

The after shocks keep coming. Its going to be a very long night.

Stay safe everyone.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

A funny sign

The other day we had the annoying cartoon, today I give you the funny sign

Ta daa!

Yesterday I was using the toilets at the library. When I put my bag down at the mirror they have for checking your makeup I saw this little notice.


It roughly translates to: Those who are not yet high school students are forbidden from using this mirror to put on make up.


At first I thought I might be the only one who found this funny so I took a picture and showed DH who thought it was hilarious. Why on earth would they bother to put this kind of sign up in the ladies toilets....

Then I realised what might have happend. A bunch elementary or junior high girls probably went in there and put on makeup. One of them went home where her mother had a fit and wanted to know where they put it on and was told by daughter it was The Library, so mother immediately complains to the library that they are providing a place for illegal underage make up activities, so Library responds by putting up this sign.

I'd like to hear your ideas of why this sign was there, if you have any different ones : ) 

Monday, 7 March 2011

What is an Entrance Ceremony?

Update: This post was written 5 years ago, you can read about my more recent experience here.

One of my readers outside Japan has asked me, what an Entrance Ceremony is. So I thought this deserved a whole post to itself. I have only personally experienced Junior High School Entrance Ceremonies, so anyone with expertise on Kindy or Primary School ones that might be different, please comment.

Coming from NZ where we don't have entrance ceremonies for anything that I can think of, at first I found it a rather odd idea. But actually I kind of like it now, in that it makes a scary event like starting a new school or your first job, a lot less scary and for someone like me, who hates not knowing what's going on, or what comes next, if I was starting a new school it would make the first day a lot more enjoyable.

So on the day of the Entrance Ceremony, students arrive at school with a parent or parents and even some grandparents, who are decked out for the occasion in a suit or nice dress or even a kimono if they feel so inclined. There is a special reception area set up, where older students take the new student's name and tell them which class they will be in. Students then go to the class and meet their classmates and their homeroom teacher. The parents go to the gym which has been decorated for the occasion. I'm not sure what goes on in the class but then the homeroom teacher brings their students to the gym where the students take their seats. Then there is synchronised standing, bowing and then the national anthem, various speeches welcoming students to the school by the principal etc. Then there is a role call. Students say "Yes!" and stand up when they hear their name. Usually there is some form of entertainment as a welcome. Our choir performed a rousing rendition of "Oh Happy Day" one time, I remember. Then the students are taken back to their classroom and they get all kinds of information and whatnot. Then it's time for the parents to be accostered to join the PTA. This can be quite a long drawn out affair. Nobody wants to join, let alone be made to be one of the big roles. Once the parents just would/could not decide so the teacher incharge made them all do rock paper scissors....
Don't get me started on the PTA.

Anyway, then the parents and students all go home. Not sure what they do, but there may be some kind of party at home to celebrate their entrance to school.

These ceremonies happen around the start of April. Everything new starts on or after the 1st of April in Japan. If you are lucky, you might live in an area that has cheery blossoms blooming at the time of the entrance ceremony so that there can be a family picture taken in front of the cherry trees. Unfortunately the cherry trees bloom a little too late here for entrance ceremonies.

If you google these characters 入学式 and select photos, you will be able to get an idea of what it all looks like.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

A very annoying cartoon

I found this little cartoon in a free paper that was delievered to our house this morning. I am adding it to my list of things that make me want to scream - along with those horrible pajamas.

This pretty much sums up the pressure on mothers to be slim and trim. If you are fat, your children will be unhappy because they will be teased at school. So it's all your fault and you should loose weight so they can be happy and not ashamed of their mother at the age of 4 or 5 years old, which is how old kids start Kindergarten here.....Oh yeah and to achieve this weight loss you should go to this particular shop that specialises in pressure points in your ears, and you will magically loose weight. Many women want to have nice figures (back), especially after having children but I feel that the motivation here is somewhat different from wanting to be healthy, active and be able to keep up with your kids/chase after them. While I totally agree that we should all try to be healthy and look our best, I find this little cartoon extremely annoying. The mother is dressed up for the Kindergarten Entrance Ceremony. The little boy is easy to spot as a kindergarten student or first grader. Entrance Ceremonies are held in April. Not long to go it you wanna drop more than 10 kilos like the cartoon mother did and therefore "fit in" - the most important thing of all.

I figure I will have my work cut out for me when Maru chan gets to school. Not only battling to not look like a complete whale in Japan and being a foreigner. We just won't be able to win, although I'm sure all mothers here, Japanese or not, secretly feel like they don't fit in.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Am I growing a giant baby?

Yesterday was a not the best day for me. I felt like I just had no energy. Even at Ikebana class and afterwards when my teacher gave me a lovely refreshing (and sugary) morning tea after we finished our arrangements, I still didn't feel my usual self.

So I came home and pretty much spent the afternoon snoozing on the couch. I thought maybe "Maru chan" - (baby's nickname) is going through a growth spurt as I hadn't been feeling as many kicks as usual. Then last night I noticed my fleece jacket that I wear around the house was noticeably tighter. So I showed DH when he got home. He has been working harder than usual this week so hasn't had much belly examining time. He declared that yes, it was certainly bigger than last time he checked which was the weekend. Then he proceeded to tell me about his co-worker who is going on maternity leave this week at about 35 or 6 weeks who looks like she has had too much lunch. *sigh* I look like I am carrying a full term Japanese baby and today is only week 26. I'm sure I am a perfectly normal size outside of Japan. But unfortunately, I live in Japan and have to go to maternity classes here with my fellow small bellied pregnant women.

Another thing I would like to complain about, so bare with me, is Japanese Maternity Pajamas.
Every time I go to my Obstertrician, there are a couple of women there who have be brought down from upstairs where you have the baby to be checked by the dr. They are all wearing the special maternity pajamas. It's kind of like a uniform for pregnant women when they are in hospital.
They look like this

I don't know what it is about these pajamas but just looking at them makes me want to scream. It will be summer when it's my turn to be the one in the hospital giving birth. I plan on wearing as little as possible whilst maintaining as much dignity as possible which is almost impossible really, given the circumstances.  So far I have sussed out a pair of summer pajamas that I already have that are bright green with raspberries all over them. I won't look as stunning as the model wearing them I know.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

This week's Ikebana

Today is the Doll's Festival or Girls' Day here in Japan.

Lots of pink things everywhere. My Ikebana teacher had set up her 7 level doll set again this year. So I took a photo again and will post it here again. It looks like a terrible lot of effort to set up and pack away. The frame is really heavy, my teacher's husband has to help carry it in.

So here is what I did this time:
Here is what my classmate did:
Here is what my teacher did, she was practicing for her own test that is this weekend.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

I feel very humbled

 I said how lucky I was that my relatives in Christchurch are all fine after the big earthquake there a week ago.

Today I finally heard their experiences of trying to get home after the quake, having to ditch cars, walk through a forest in high-heels because roads were impassable and bridges damaged. My aunt's work at a hotel will disappear when they demolish it because the building is now unsafe. My cousin's children can't go to school because of the potential for landslides. Oh and they still don't have power or water on in their houses, one week after the quake hit. But they consider themselves lucky. They are alive and uninjured and have a roof over their heads and somewhere comfortable to sleep.
I feel very humbled.