Monday, September 12, 2011

After Three Months in Tokyo (Part II)

Here's the second part to my three-month Tokyo recap. You can read Part I directly below or follow the link here.

On my first day at work, among other things like instructions on how to access my email etc, I found this sitting on my desk.

For a second I wondered if we were going on a build somewhere. But no, as it turned out this was for earthquake safety. Everybody keeps one of these hardhats under their desks. In the event of a major earthquake you're supposed to put this on and hide under your desk. So far we've had numerous tremors though luckily none that have required us to put our hats on. Still it's a constant reminder of the everpresent danger.

To get a sense of the size and number of earthquakes that happen in this part of the world, here's a time lapse map of every earthquake greater than 4.0M that's occurred since March 11. As of today, there have been over 1500 of these. Pay close attention at around 14.45 JST on March 11, that's when the big 9.0M quake struck.

Today (yesterday, technically) Japan marks the six-month anniversary of this earthquake - one of the five most powerful ever recorded, which lowered the coastline by a meter and pushed the island two meters closer to the US. The resulting tsunami - with waves in some areas reaching as high as 40m - was what caused most of the damage and loss of life. You can see some pictures of the devastation here and here.

Cleanup and rebuilding efforts are well underway and the speed at which things are progressing is quite impressive.

Fukushima and Radiation
Of course the third disaster after the earthquake and tsunami was the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The situation in the area immediately surrounding the plant is not so great. Tens of thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes and it is feared the area will be uninhabitable for decades to come. The plant itself is scheduled for a complete shutdown by January.

Outside of a 15-20 mile radius of the plant, things while not completely normal are relatively under control. Tokyo for example is far enough away that there is no direct threat from radiation. The problem arises due to secondary causes, however. Fukushima is an agricultural area so a lot of produce comes from there, as well as dairy products and seafood. There have been cases of radiation being detected in Fukushima produce, enough to deter people - foreigners especially - from buying anything from that area. (Some are avoiding Japanese produce altogether, and instead only buying imported goods.) Another example of this secondary effect is that beef produced from cows outside Fukushima was found to be contaminated, because the feed they were given was from Fukushima. This led to a brief cattle shipment ban last month in the areas where this beef was found, though this has now been lifted.

This is not to scare any of you away from visiting. As I said there is no direct threat from radiation in Tokyo. One can take simple precautions when it comes to things like food. Water levels in the city are regularly monitored and so far there has been nothing to worry about.

The best time to bring up public safety is probably not immediately after talking about earthquakes and nuclear fallout. But anyway, in general Japan is very safe. There is virtually no petty crime. If you ever lose your wallet, for example, chances are pretty much 100% that it will be returned with everything intact. The perfect example of this comes from this recent report about how close to $50 million lost during the tsunami was recovered and returned. (The only thing I've heard is considered acceptable to 'borrow without permission' is umbrellas. It's raining constantly in Tokyo, and every establishment has an umbrella stand outside usually with a bunch of spares that you can use if you forgot to carry your own.)

On the subway every day I'll see little kids on their way to or returning from school completely unattended. Nobody bothers anybody, they're all extremely well-mannered and polite. This is something that matters a lot to some of the expats I've spoken to that have kids, because there are very few places where they can raise their children in such an environment.

The Japanese love rice, or gohan. So much so that the words in Japanese for breakfast, lunch and dinner literally mean morning-rice (asagohan), noon-rice (hirugohan) and evening-rice (bangohan), respectively.

While I can't say I have rice three times a day, it is definitely one of my favorite things to eat. I particularly enjoy going to this sushi-go-round restaurant near the office. You sit at a bar and either pick stuff directly off of a conveyor belt doing the rounds, or call out to the chef what you'd like to eat, which he'll make fresh, usually two rolls at a time.

Other food I enjoy is donburi, which is a bowl of rice served with food on top. 'Food' in my case means either seafood or vegetables. You can see pictures here, I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post them directly on the blog. I will try and do a better job of taking pictures as I go along.

On the desi food front I lucked out with having this place be directly in front of my office building:

While the sign says "Indo Restaurant" in Japanese, the place is actually run and owned by Pakistanis. You'll find me here every Friday tucking into the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet.

The best part though was being able to go for iftar during Ramzan.

The pakoray, dahi phulki, and fruit chaat were enough to make me feel right at home.

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