Japan and a parent’s nightmare

narita airport

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My brother who works in Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city after the capital Tokyo is back in the Philippines temporarily with his wife and 5 month old baby. He and his small family are among the thousands of foreigners who left Japan after a radiation scare (and most recently, water scare) that gripped the north eastern part of the country and the capital following an earthquake and tsunami that happened last March 11.

His wife is not working so she will be staying in the Philippines with the baby indefinitely however, my brother is flying back to Tokyo to go back to work  among the legions of  Japanese colleagues often called ‘salarymen‘ – loyal Japanese employees whose lives revolve around the office, who regularly work overtime and who have strong, emotional ties to their corporations and their colleagues.

A society he feels he is now part of.

Upon his return, I am sure he will be coping a pinch of ostracism from his colleagues for flying out and leaving them to work during the crisis. But that he can handle.

Another challenge my brother would face is the constant prodding of my mother to NOT go back to Tokyo at all, to leave everything behind – their property, lifestyle, his career (that has finally taken off after being accepted in a huge multinational company in Yokohama). My mom says it’s not worth risking his life. Quakes can be tolerable although not less scary but radiation? Vegetables, milk and other produce found with traces of radiation? And the news that tap water is contaminated with radioactive substances now?

I personally thought my mom was over-reacting because I believe the government of Japan is doing everything to contain the situation and I am sure everything will settle in a few days. The over hyped foreign media is only making it worse. It’s not apocalyptic in Japan at all, not right now at least.

While exchanging words with her, I find myself defending my brother’s decision to go back to Japan as I know him well. My mother thought I was too insensitive to not convince him to not go back. But what can I really do? My brother at 32 has a mind of his own and he decides for himself. And he loves and believes in Japan like I do.

But radiation is something you can’t see! my mother screams. “You should forget everything in Japan and find work somewhere else!” She definitely has the Chernobyl disaster in her mind.

We ended our conversation hanging – my mom was in bed with exasperated breaths , I was upset when I reached my room. When I finally went to bed, I stared at the ceiling and thought, there was no need to argue with my mother. She was just a mom, feeling worried for one of her children. I am a mom too, I should have understood, I should have known better.

Tomorrow I’ll have her call my brother so they can talk. I really don’t need to be in the middle.

How to Donate to Japan from the UAE

The Consulate General of Japan in Dubai has released an official statement as to how to donate to the 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami Relief.

Here is the contest of the statement in case the link above is broken or does not work:

Donations for 2011 Tohoku district off the Pacific Ocean Earthquake

The Consulate-General of Japan in Dubai has been receiving a lot of offers and inquiries about the donations for the earthquake in Japan. Now we confirm that Japanese Red Cross is ready to accept the donations from overseas. The details of which are as follow:

Donations for the Victims
The Japanese Red Cross will send your donations to the victims through the local governments. If you need a receipt, please so specify in payment form.

Name of Bank: Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation
Name of Branch: Ginza
Account No.: 8047670 (Ordinary Account)
Payee Name: The Japanese Red Cross Society
Payee Address: 1-1-3 Shiba-Daimon Minato-ku, Tokyo JAPAN

Donations for the Rescue Operations by the Japanese Red Cross
If you need a receipt, please so specify in payment form.

Name of Bank: Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation
Name of Branch: Ginza
Account No.: 8047705 (Ordinary Account)
Payee Name: The Japanese Red Cross Society
Payee Address: 1-1-3 Shiba-Daimon Minato-ku, Tokyo JAPAN


The devastation of the double catastrophe that hit Japan on 11th March 2011 is undeniable. It’s so painful to see and hear the news reporting so much damage to properties and loss of lives, survivors coping with scarcity of food and supplies (like heaters). I cannot begin to imagine how it must be for the Japanese people right now.

Japan had been one of the most generous benefactors during Hurricane Katrina, Earthquake in Haiti and Indonesia, among others. They deserve and need our support. Any small amount will go a long way for the people of Japan.

* We can save up on overseas money transfer fees by collecting in groups.

Tweets from Japan in the midst of catastrophic quake

I found this viral post in Facebook and I am reposting this in the wake of the earthquake catastrophe in Japan. Here are tweets from people in Japan, real life eyewitness accounts on how the country with people who are sometimes seen as ‘cold’ on the outside, emotionless, mechanical like robots acted in times of adversity. Those same people had hearts warmer than the average unshaken individuals among us.

Here are series of screen shots of the original tweets in Japanese for all you who can read Nihongo; English translation follows.


Reminded of the goodness of the Japanese people: http://twitter.com/VietL/status/46376383592677376

This earthquake has reminded me that Japanese goodness that had recently become harder and harder to see still exists.  Today I see no crime or looting; I am reminded once again of the good Japanese spirit of helping one another, of propriety, and of gentleness.  I had recently begun to regard my modern countrymen as cold people … but this earthquake has revived and given back to all of us the spirit of “kizuna” (bond, trust, sharing, the human connection).  I am very touched.  I am brought to tears.


In the middle of all the shaking and swaying: http://twitter.com/gj_neko26/statuses/46394706481004544

We’ve all been trained to immediately open the doors and establish an escape route when there is an earthquake.  In the middle of the quake while the building was shaking crazily and things falling everywhere, a man made his way to the entrance and held it open.  Honestly, the chandelier could have crashed down any minute … that was a brave man!


At a congested downtown intersection: http://twitter.com/micakom/status/46264887281848320

Cars were moving at the rate of maybe one every green light, but everyone was letting each other go first with a warm look and a smile.  At a complicated intersection, the traffic was at a complete standstill for 5 minutes, but I listened for 10 minutes and didn’t hear a single beep or honk except for an occasional one thanking someone for giving way.  It was a terrifying day, but scenes like this warmed me and made me love my country even more.


Message from the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon: http://twitter.com/akitosk/status/46302222346223616

“Japan is one of (the UN’s) most generous and strongest benefactors, coming to the assistance of those in need the world over.  In that spirit, the United Nations stands by the people of Japan and we will do anything and everything we can at this very difficult time.”  I was moved at his words.  What better example that good things happen to those who do good.”


How foreigners saw the reaction of the Japanese people: http://twitter.com/kiritansu/status/46335057689980928

At a supermarket where everything was scattered everywhere over the floors, shoppers were helping pick them up and putting them back neatly on the shelves before quietly moving into line to wait to pay for them.  On the totally jam-packed first train after the quake, an elderly man gave up his seat for a pregnant woman.  Foreigners have told me they are amazed witnessing sights like these.  I do believe they actually saw what they said they saw.  Japan is truly amazing.


BBC Reports:  http://twitter.com/bozzo1985/status/46228470614855681

The words of BBC’s reports are so moving they make me cry.  They were praising us with words of admiration!  “One of the worst earthquakes in recorded history has hit the world’s most well-prepared, well-trained nations.  The strength of its government and its people are put to the test.  While there have been casualties, in no other country could the government and the people have worked together in such an accurate and coordinated way in the face of such tragedy.  The Japanese people have shown their cultural ability to remain calm in the face of adversity.”


The Japanese people are amazing! http://twitter.com/HASUNA_Natsuko/status/46331839136276480

Japanese people don’t shove I’m looking at Yurakucho station from above.  I see people standing in line, not pushing or shoving to get onto the Yamanote Line (probably the busiest line in central Tokyo), even at a time like this!


~ tired and shaken commuters neatly lined up when the trains reopened ~


At the train platform: http://twitter.com/masa_kisshie/statuses/46323838316843008

The Oedo Subway Line for Hikarigaoka is very congested.  On the platform and at the gate there are just crowds and crowds of people waiting for the train.  But in all the confusion, every last person is neatly lined up waiting his or her turn while managing to keep a passage of space open for staff and people going the other way.  Everyone is listening to the instructions from the staff and everyone acts accordingly.  And amazingly … there isn’t even a rope or anything in sight to keep people in queue or open space for staff to pass, they just do!  I am so impressed at this almost unnatural orderliness!  I have nothing but praise for these people!


Unbelievable people: http://twitter.com/tksksks/statuses/46403815397801984

Japan is a wonderful nation!  Both the government and the people, everyone is helping one another today.  There are truck drivers helping evacuees move.  I even heard that the “yakuza” (gangsters, organized crime groups) are helping to direct traffic in the Tohoku region!  There have been many recent developments that have made me lose my sense of pride in my country, but not anymore.  Japan is an amazing place!  I’m just simply touched.  Go Japan!


German friend gets help from stranger: http://twitter.com/sikkoku_otsuyu/status/46392832893796352

A German friend of mine was in Shibuya (downtown Tokyo shopping district) when the earthquake hit.  He was panicking when a Japanese passerby saved him, taking him into a building.  My friend was blown away at how calm and disciplined this Japanese man was.  He went out of the building with firm, unfaltering steps, did everything he was trained to do and came back.  My German friend was deeply impressed by the Japanese people’s actions during the earthquake, saying they looked like a trained army.


In Gotenba: http://twitter.com/Raaaaayuu/statuses/46392890313801728

Yesterday, not a single traffic light was functioning in Gotenba City.  But drivers knew to take turns at intersections and give way to others when needed.  Local people were using flags to direct traffic at intersections.  I drove for 9 hours but never saw a single car trying to get in front of another.  Every single driver on the road contributed to the traffic situation and as a result there was no confusion at all.

The best description and summary of what customer service in Japan:


Morning at the supermarket: http://twitter.com/kyoheimai/status/46374747755388928

At the shopping center I work at, every morning we have a morning ritual (common in Japan) where we stand and recite, “No matter what the situation, I will never show anxiety before my customer; in all customer-facing situations I will treat my customers with respect and do everything I can to make them feel comfortable and at ease”.  Today, these words were all actually kind of touching.  Well, so the day begins!  Here we go people, open shop!


Spirit of unity: http://twitter.com/n_yum/statuses/46388003706380288

I spoke with an old taxi driver and some elderly staff at the train stations.  All of them had been working non-stop and had not been able to go home for a long time.  They were visibly very tired, but never once did they show any sign of impatience; they were gentle and very caring.  They told me “… because all of us are in this together.”  I was touched at what the notion of “all of us” meant to these elderly people.  It is a value I will treasure and carry on to my generation.


The kindness of strangers: http://twitter.com/hikaru_star/statuses/46332900928532480

My colleague at my part time job, wanting to help even just one extra person, wrote a sign saying “I just have a bike, but if you don’t mind hop on!”, rode out on his motorbike, picked up a stranded construction worker and took him all the way to Tokorozawa!  Respect!  I have never felt so strongly that I want to do something helpful for others.


Seeing these tweets, I am suddenly proud of the people from the country I call my second home. I can’t wait to read these to my daughter to show her that kindness, humility and helpful strangers still exist in this world.

Earthquake in Japan

As you might already heard by now or seen in television, a massive earthquake measuring at an intensity of 8.9 on the Richter scale hit the northeastern part of Japan (red circle on the map below) triggering a 10 meter high tsunami that literally swept the coastal towns.

japan map

It was unbelievable to see the devastation on TV. It felt like watching an ‘end of the world’ themed movie. I wish it was fiction but it was real and it was raw. I could not imagine the effect of the quake and the waves to the people living in the affected town. It is hard to imagine. I immediately thought of family and friends back home and called them.

All the phone lines are dead.

M’s family, my in-laws are living on the other side of the country, in Niigata Prefecture (in pink arrow) so they are safe. My brother, however, was on the Pacific side (in blue arrow) – he was in his office in Yokohama when the quake struck at 2:46 pm Friday, March 11, 2011. I learned later once I got in contact with him was that although he was about 300 kilometers away, south of the epicenter, the buildings shook and panic enveloped the city. All train operations stopped so everyone was forced to take shelter and wait out. He couldn’t call his wife or check on his baby at home. All the phones were dead.

People started going out on foot, hoping to get home but most of the city workers live in the suburbs and a 4 hour walk wouldn’t be enough! My brother finally got on the train at dawn when the public transport system resumed.


I’ve lived in Japan for more than 10 years and pretty used to quakes occurring every now and then. I remember the first earthquake I felt in 1996, just weeks after I got there. It was 4 am and the dormitory shook. It was as if I was sleeping in a hammock and being rocked to sleep – only, it wasn’t a hammock but a sturdy bed, shaking. I ran outside only to find out I was ALONE. No one bothered to go out as the quake stopped in only after a few seconds. I asked around when morning came and everybody just shrugged their shoulders.

Everyone is so used to quakes that they sleep through it!

Since then, I’ve become used to it that mild quakes don’t scare me anymore. And they do come very frequently in seismically active Japan.

But this recent earthquake is different. The magnitude is so great that it’s impossible to ignore it. And I am glad people chose to act – evacuate and seek shelter or the death toll could’ve been worse.

Lastly, there’s no country in the world like Japan that could be more prepared in natural calamities like this. I know they will be bouncing back like how the city of Kobe did. But the emotional scars of people who lost their loved ones and friends will take a longer time to heal.

Back in Dubai and shaken!

We just came back from vacation, arrived last night from a 14 hour flight Japan-Dubai via Hong Kong. I’m still at home and will only be back to work next week. Nice. I just spent the whole day in my pj’s. Everyone needs a vacation after a vacation, right?

After a very satisfying nap and gathering my thoughts what to write, our whole apartment shook.

Am I still in earthquake-prone Japan? This could not be! Dubai has built lots of high rise buildings thinking the area is safe! I felt the first tremble (sideways) and ignored it for about 10 seconds. Pristine was watching an MTV on YouTube and dancing while sitting on a chair beside me. I thought it must have caused the shaking but only after I sensed that it (the shaking) lasted even after the dancing has stopped that it was an earthquake. Moments later I heared people in the corridor so I grabbed Pristine and the keys and went out. Then went back again to get my cellphone and ran to the stairs. We are on the 7th floor. The lifts had stopped operating. Running down the stairs while the earth is shaking and while carrying an 18-kilo load was so nauseating.

It was smoldering hot outside but better sweat than be squashed so we waited. No aftershocks came (none as of this writing). Me and the others have returned to our temperature controlled abodes. I called my husband who is still in Japan and he was shocked.

An earthquake, in Dubai!

He asked me to take out the car from the basement in case something happens, we can escape by car. I told him I’ll do that when I feel the basement is safe. I don’t want to be trapped in the basement or inside the car! Anyway, I have done the task and now our very dusty car (more than a month of sleeping in the garage parking area) is parked outside our building.

I have readied the keys, a bag containing clothes, food and water and my wallet. One resolution I have to make henceforth – the need to wear a bra all the freaking time!

Update: The earthquake felt in the UAE was because of a 7.5 magnitude quake that occurred in nearby Iran.

Earthquake in Niigata Prefecture, again

By now you must have heard already.

An earthquake measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale struck the northwestern province of Niigata, Japan collapsing houses and halting train operations. Casualties are said to increase as people searched through the rubble. A fire broke out in the nuclear reactor site in Kashiwazaki City. A tsunami warning was issued off the coastal area but was lifted after a few hours.

Earthquake of almost the SAME intensity struck the SAME area last October 23, 2004.

Japan sits precariously on 4 tectonic plates. Two major earthquake in three years!! After the main quake this morning, several aftershocks came including one strong one with a magnitude of 5.8.

Pictures on top of a mountain; it’s already almost June when this was taken but there are still traces of snow

Niigata Prefecture is very close to my heart – it is M’s hometown. His family, my in-laws are all there.

Summer in Kawanishi-machi, 20 kms. from Kashiwazaki

Niigata winters aren’t appealing at all so we try to visit them during spring or summer.

Does this justify why I don’t like Niigata Prefecture in winter?

My brother and M’s brother at the peak of winter. My brother wants to see ‘some’ snow so I sent him there 😉

My mother in-law called me a few minutes ago saying their house is still standing (as it is built on a very big rock!).

Niigata Prefecture is an agricultural area with most of the houses being built on top of rice paddies which is soft and very vulnerable to jolts.

Thinking of all of you and praying for safety.