It’s been almost a year since the Great East Japan Earthquake and almost six months since I returned to Fukushima and this will be the first thing I have posted about it since my week long adventure into the place I called home for so long.

I have agonized over the writing of this for months now.  While in Fukushima, I learned, saw and felt so many new things.  The main feeling I came away with after having been there was one of inspiration.  The people in Fukushima, foreigners and Japanese, were all so very inspirational.  The vigor that they put into the community there and how they defend and care for Fukushima and it’s reputation was nothing short of remarkable.

I’ll be honest, while I did go back to Fukushima on the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ dime, my main motivation for going back wasn’t to spread the word that Fukushima or Japan was safe, as I’m sure those at the MOFA building who met with me on my first night in Tokyo would have loved for me to do.  After everything I had read in the news or on blogs around the world that gave a range of views on the situation in Fukushima, I needed to see it with my own eyes so that I could put my mind at ease as to the safety of my friends, former co-workers and students.

I had planned to write pages and pages about Fukushima, what had happened, what I had been through, what the people there had been through and what it had all meant for the world at large.  Even after my trip out to the coast of Fukushima to see Soma and what had become of it, I wasn’t deterred.  But that changed on my last day in Fukushima while teaching at my favourite school in Nihonmatsu.  I had brought a few bilingual copies of Quakebook with me as a gift to the school and throughout the entire class, two girls continually poured over the stories in it.  As they silently wept in the back of the classroom, but refused to stop reading the stories that brought them so much pain, I felt the division between those who had experienced the earthquake and those who had not grow even further apart.  Until that point, I felt that I could potentially pull off an accurate representation of how Fukushima felt and how it was.  But in that moment, watching two of my former students cry openly, but quietly in the back of the room while refusing to stop reading, I knew that nothing I ever wrote would be good enough.  I can tell you now, that this post is not good enough.


Through all of the drinking, smoking, dancing and general reminiscing that I took part in while back in Fukushima I sensed quite a few changes, not in the landscape or in buildings that had closed because of earthquake damage, but in the people there.  The foreign community has maintained the ex-pat lifestyle that I lived while stepping up their community involvement.  Every ALT I encountered was like a reverse Batman of sorts, dancing, drinking and socializing late into the night, and up at the crack of dawn to fund-raise and volunteer by day.  All of them are superheroes.

Hearts for Haragama Volunteer Event

While there is no all encompassing viewpoint that can be assigned to the people living in Fukushima, one overarching sentiment that seemed to come from everyone I spoke to was that, they’re all happy to be there and wouldn’t be anywhere else, no matter what.  The one thing that I think people looking in from the outside fail to see about those still living in Fukushima, is that they’ve gone through this disaster together and through it they’ve become closer.  If it hadn’t been for those around them and the general attitude of the people in Fukushima at a time of crisis, who knows where they would be now.

There’s a real sense that life is finite for the people there.  When I asked a group of friends why they had stayed despite the radiation, one remarked, “I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, what do I care if I get cancer in 40 years, I have to die of something.”  While to most this may seem a bit over the top, it made sense.  The people who were in Fukushima a year ago went through something that most people will never go through and from that they’ve gained a new perspective on life.  The main goal of those there is not to restore Fukushima, but to continue living as they were so that a semblance of normality will remain and continue into the future.

Radiation does play a part in everyday life there, but it’s something that everyone has come to accept.  One ALT said, “We talk about radiation like we talk about the weather.” And responses to combat its effects were very different and personal.  A Japanese Teacher of English told me that she uses food from different prefectures, along with a different set of pots and pans to cook for her children, while she uses Fukushima produce to cook for herself and her husband.  When I asked if she would consider leaving Fukushima, she vehemently answered, no, going on to say that her family was there and she would never abandon the place that was her home.

Everyone in Fukushima is making due with the changes that come from living in an area where radiation is an issue, but it didn’t seem to stop anyone from doing all of the things that they had done before the earthquake.  I attended the Annual Autumn Festival in Aizu Wakamatsu on my first night back in Fukushima and even visited temples that were as breathtaking as they had been a year ago, where tourists, while sparse, also took in the beauty that Fukushima prefecture has to offer.

At Fukushima Senior High School more than half of the school had been condemned due to earthquake damage and temporary buildings have been erected.  When heading into my first class there, with Jason Ishida, the current Fukushima SHS ALT, he said, “I’m interested to see how winter goes, it’ll probably be warmer in these buildings than the classrooms in the school normally are.”  This positive spin was everywhere, and while to some it may seem like the people there are viewing the glass as half full on every issue, it’s more of a coping mechanism.  The people there have decided to stay, and instead of living in fear of what could happen or what might be around the corner, they’ve moved on, accepting what their current situation is and dealing with it as they see fit.

The temporary building at Fukushima SHS

At Adachi Senior High School in Nihonmatsu city, I was amazed to see that a Senior High School from Namie had been transplanted into the school and was running it’s own curriculum.  While the Adachi students were partaking in their Sports Day, the staff from Namie SHS were in teaching classes as their school’s Sports Day wouldn’t be for another week.  Two principals, two vice-principals and the staff from both schools had merged together and accommodated each other.  Adachi’s Sports Day, while normally held outside, had been moved to a nearby community center.  When I arrived it looked like any other sports day with augmented events to deal with the space and everyone I talked to seemed to take it all in stride.

Adachi SHS Sports Day

The people of Fukushima have taken everything that’s been thrown at them and when I asked why they had all stayed, foreigners and Japanese people alike answered that Fukushima was their home and if they weren’t there to continue on, who would do it.  The fundamental change in the ex-pat community as well as the Japanese community was palpable.  While wearing my “I Akabeko Fukushima” t-shirt outside of Koriyama station, I was met with bows, smiles and thank you’s from the locals, something in all my time as an ALT in Fukushima I had never experienced to such a degree.  On the flip side of it all, the ex-pat community is now, more than ever tied to Fukushima.  And both groups have the same goal in mind to continue to live, work and play in Fukushima in order to put the disaster behind them and move on into a brighter future.

In the end, I think Japan is safe, but more than that, Japan and the people in it are inspiring, now more than ever.  As for Fukushima, my trip back showed me that the ex-pat and Japanese community have everything there under control.  And while they may not be able to control every aspect of life in Fukushima, those aspects that they cannot control will not bring them down.  The people in Fukushima have a sense for how precious life really is, more so than anyone else that I’ve met and despite all of the fear that they face on a daily basis, they continue to live their lives as they always have, inspiring those around them to do the same.  I am proud to have lived and worked with these people and to have called Fukushima my home.

If you’re interested in reading more about Fukushima, please check out James Foley’s infinitely better written piece Fear & Traveling in Fukushima


The value of the JET programme to Japan

Earlier tonight I was bouncing around JETwit.com as I do from time to time and came across this post that features a blog post from the Center for Public Diplomacy by a former JET and current professor of Journalism at Indiana University, Emily Metzgar.  It’s a good little read on the true value of the JET programme and what current and former JETs have done in the wake of the disaster.  Even a little Quakebook mention in there.  The link to the actual post titled, This is what public diplomacy looks like is here.  Following is a small excerpt.

But in the aftermath of Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, the value of having a large, worldwide network of college-educated foreigners who understand, respect and appreciate Japanese society and culture continues to emerge. A look at a JET alumni networking website, JETwit.com, provides ample evidence of the many ways in which current and former JETs are responding in whatever ways they can to the disaster hitting a country that all of them, at one time or another, have called home.

Having friends in Japan who are not JETs, I know they’re just as valuable.  So, when you do read the article, keep in mind that there are those not in the JET programme who have done the same if not more.  I like to think that anyone who’s ever lived there would do what I know so many have.  That being said, it’s a nice little bump for the JET programme when there’s talk of it struggling to stay afloat.

Check it out, this blog was re-purposed for JETAA Ottawa

Digital copy of Quakebook now free

You save 100% Click the image to go to the U.S Amazon page

That was something I definitely didn’t see coming.  The digital copy of Quakebook available on Amazon US, UK, DE and the Sony Reader is now free.  With over 3,000 downloads from Amazon in the 2 months since it was published, the Quakebook team has decided to make the ebook free.  In 12 hours after doing so, over 3000 more people downloaded the book.

The plan was laid out in a recent blog post on Quakebook.org.  Here’s the section that outlines why this decision was made.

Continue reading

Fukushima/Japan Update 05/11

When this started I never thought I’d write 05 (May) in the subject line.  But here we are.  A couple things I’ve seen over the last few days are as follows.


First up, OurManInAbiko (editor of Quakebook) has teamed up with his wife OurWomanInAbiko, yet another silhouetted Twitterer, to create the Free Tohoku blog and the #freeTohoku hashtag on Twitter.  A Japanese and English language blog about the efforts of OurWomanInAbiko to help those in Ishinomaki, Miyagi.  She’s recently made a trip up to Ishinomaki from Abiko, Chiba to bring the people there goods that she had accumulated through fundraising and donations.  The blog has been set up so that OurWomanInAbiko can tell the world about what is really going on in Ishinomaki.  So far there are only two posts, but looking at OurMan’s twitter feed over the last few days, it’s clear to see that it will eventually outline the issues volunteers and people who wish to donate are having with the bureaucracy in Japan. Continue reading

Quakebook available on Sony Reader

If you’re a Sony die-hard and you’re into everything Sony, first and foremost, sorry about that whole, hacked Playstation Network thing.  In better news, Quakebook is now available for purchase on the Sony Reader.  So if you’ve been waiting to get your hands on it now’s the time.  Sony has set it up so that there isn’t a set price like on Amazon.  Instead you can pay as much as you want or as little as you want to obtain it, just like the Radiohead In Rainbows album.  100% of the money donated will go directly to the Japanese Red Cross, in keeping with the Quakebook theme.

If you’re interested in Quakebook and you don’t have a Kindle or Sony Reader, have no fear, you can download the Kindle software to pretty much anything that connects to the internet and read it there.  Check out my earlier post on how to get the Kindle software and how to download the book or watch the video on how to do it.  You can use the link on the right to get there as well.

For the traditionalists, Quakebook will exist as a “real” book in the near future.  There’s a quakebook post about it from OurManInAbiko here.

Get the Sony Reader edition of Quakebook here.


To Japan With Love: Artists Fundraising for Japan in Toronto

Linda Nakanishi's Lotus Poster

There have been quite a few ways to help Japan and it seems that more and more ways to help spring up everyday.  For the artistically inclined in Toronto, To Japan With Love is an upcoming gallery show at which you can purchase artwork with all net proceeds going to the Canadian Red Cross.  The event has been set up by Linda Nakanishi who is a graphic designer in Toronto.  She is a featured artist in Quakebook as well.

The Quakebook cover artist James White has also offered his work for this show among other artists.  If you remember, I actually ordered Mr. White’s Help Japan poster a little while ago and I’m very pleased with it.  Art prints and postcards of the artwork featured on the website will be available for purchase.  The show will run from Tuesday May 3rd to Saturday May 7th at Function 13 Gallery at 156 Augusta Ave. (in Kensington Market)
Toronto. Function 13 Gallery is open from 11am to 7pm.   An opening night celebration will run on May 4th from 7pm to 10pm.  The entrance fee is whatever you want it to be with all money being donated directly to the Canadian Red Cross.  You can RSVP to the opening night at the Facebook event page that has been set up.

Most of the artists have their own websites for those not in the Toronto area who would like some to support Japan and get their hands on some of these beautiful pieces.  The National Post also ran a story about the event, in which Linda Nakanishi is definitely correct when she says, “What happened in Japan isn’t necessarily going to stop once the media stops reporting about it,” she is later quoted in the article saying, “People might need a bit more re-awareness, especially since there’ve been multiple earthquakes since then -aftershocks -and it’s still very scary.”

Check out the website and if you’re in the Toronto area, I’d definitely recommend checking it out.


Just call me Kanata Man

About a week ago, there was a second article about me in a local paper here in Kanata. Both articles refer to me as “Kanata man” which is a bit strange seeing as I’m from Hamilton, but hey, it’s where I live, so I guess it makes sense.

My short brush with the media while attempting to shed more light on Quakebook in Canada has been an interesting one and the learning curve for dealing with reporters is pretty steep. The first article printed on me in the Ottawa Citizen was less than stellar, if I do say so myself.  Granted, I didn’t give the reporter much to go with and was angry with Western media at that point, so I it only makes sense that my quotes make me sound like a Neanderthal.  Given all of this, I was a bit nervous when I saw a comment on my About page asking me to get in contact with the poster.  I was even more nervous when I first looked at the article and noticed how much quoting there was.  My written thoughts are much better than the incoherent garbage that normally flows freely from my mouth.  As anyone reading this, who knows me personally can attest to.  But I’m relatively pleased with this latest article.  While I think it puts me in a spotlight that is a bit too bright for what my actions.  I’m happy that I didn’t come across like a complete idiot in my second go around with the media.

Through all of this, I have a new found respect for the people in Fukushima that did interviews live, with everything that was going on around them.  I just stood outside, smoked cigarettes and drank coffee while ranting into the phone about Japan and Quakebook.  With print media, they can take your quotes out of context and that’s a scary thing, but at least you know that for the most part, they won’t make you sound like a complete tool.  With all this being said, here’s the second article.  It’s been about a week since it came out, as I’m not the hugest fan of posting things that contain me as the focus, especially the day after they come out.  The last thing I want is for someone to read the article, then follow to my blog and see a post about the article they just read.  Feel free to offer feedback in the comments below.

Kanata man contributes to book on Japanese earthquake

Oh and I really really wish he had actually referred to OurManInAbiko, as OurManInAbiko not “he.”