Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Post-Disaster - Dawn of the bottom feeders

Our resident Badboy mentioned it earlier in his blog as well (see here), but it is something that I feel is important to bring up as well. Foreign media is very keen on simplifying things and make it black and white; still talking about the "doomed Fukushima 50 trying to keep the Fukushima plant under control even though they know they will die" because of the great dramatic setting that this scenario sets even though the connection with the reality is very fleeting.

Also, racism is something that is bound to annoy me. Positive racism is no exception. The foreign media loves to focus on how everyone is behaving calm and orderly with no looting or exploitation of the survivors of the disaster in the worst affected regions. Ok, in terms of magnitude, I think that the Japanese situation has been very mild, partly due to cultural reasons, but also due to the situation. However, stories of looting are now becoming more frequent with people returning to half wrecked homes to watch over their belongings due to a rash of looting in the partially ruined towns.

Something that I consider as bad are the other type of bottom feeders that are now coming the surface now preying on people's fears. Promoting Potassium Iodide as a miracle radiation vaccine for outrageous prices, people collecting money for "charity" (with the concept of "charity begins at my own home") and chain e-mails created just for the purpose of promoting fear with false information.

I think that the people in Japan (foreigners and Japanese alike) can and should take some pride in how calmly this crisis has been met, but to completely portray the situation as "no looting or exploitation at all" is wrong to begin with and in the longer run, does more harm than good to the image of Japan and the Japanese. When there is disasters like this, there will always be scavengers and bottom feeders around to try to take what they can get from people that have already lost almost everything and Japan is no exception.

(this week, baby Sunshine has savagely looted and extorted almost all of my precious sleeping time so I have not been completely shielded either!)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Disasters outside, disasters inside

Little Baby Sunshine has recently started to be able to move on her own accord, granted it doesn't seem like she's in much control of the direction where she ends up, but somehow she can move really quickly now twisting and turning on her butt.

After Mrs. Sunshine left her unsupervised for one minute to go to the bathroom (don't worry, we've removed most of the poisonous stuff we keep on the floor), this is the sight that met her when she came back... No point in worrying too much about the disasters outside since we seem to have a little 10kg disaster inside the house.

(ok, everyone, feel free to go wild with "oh, so cute" and "she's adorable" in the comments section!)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Whatever you do, don't panic! DON'T PANIC!!!

With things as stable as they are now in the Tokyo area, I think you all are getting bored with these earthquake related posts, but there are so many bizarre events and stories that came out of this whole event that deserve to be told...

The last two weeks, quite a few foreign companies temporarily evacuated some functions to the West Japan area out of nuclear fear (there is something about the words "nuclear meltdown" that seem to trigger panic and prevents some normal sensible people to actually check on facts before they act). While the Japanese companies soldiered on as close to normal as was possible, with the main difficulty being the "planned" rolling blackouts.

In my little company as well, emergency evacuation plans were drafted out and for reasons I'm not quite sure of, I saw the "evacuate Tokyo now" message that had been drafted out by the people in charge of the employees safety, to be distributed immediately in case of a perceived need for everyone to run away. The message looked something like below (although in Japanese):


Please remember to act in a calm and orderly manner

As you might understand, I am particularly fond of the "calm and orderly manner" part which was added as an afterthought in considerably smaller letters compared to the panic inducing evacuation message. It's during situations like this you can see who you can really rely on during an emergency...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Ok, I accept your excuse"

Yesterday, an e-mail was sent out to representatives of several countries at once from one of my colleagues in head office, a guy I get along very well with and have known for many years now, asking for a certain data to be submitted as the deadline now was drawing close.

Obviously, due the recent disasters in Japan I have not had the chance to even start thinking about it and sent back a reply that went something like this:
"Hey there, considering that Japan has just suffered a horrible earthquake, followed by a devastating tsunami and a nuclear meltdown, I think that we need another week of extension to the deadline at least?".

The answer came quickly "Well, that is about as good as an excuse can ever get, you guys get another month to submit the data, but don't fret it, if you need more time just let me know".

I might have come across the ultimate excuse here to, now I just have to figure out how to best keep milking it!

(Disclaimer: This post is made with black humor and doesn't mean that I will actually mean to exploit the horrible disaster just to be lazy)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Earthquake Helmets (Pro-tek yo Head!)

As most salarymen and office ladies in Tokyo, we have our own little earthquake helmets that we only used for the emergency drills and were perceived as a bit of a joke. Up until, of course, Friday two weeks ago when I put it on in earnest while grabbing my can of biscuits and bottle of water, huddling under the table with Cpt. Awkward fearing for the safety of myself and my family back at the Salaryman base of operations.

I actually also brought out the instructions for use pamphlet at one point and flipped through it just in case there was something I needed to know about how to wear a helmet. In the IFU were some great illustrations on how the helmet should look like (see the picture, click to enlarge). The text is basically talking about a number of checks you should do; one I particularly like is "check to make sure that there are no holes in it other than made by the manufacturer" and "check that there are no cracks in the helmet".
But what really caught my attention in this is the expression on the faces of the people wearing these defect helmets. I particularly like how they went through the effort of making individual expressions for each case and I also wonder if I need to take the facial expressions into account when trying to find out the severity of the defects. For instance, guy number 3 "check that there are no scratches on the the helmet" looks a bit sleepy while guy number 10 "check that the helmet is not shaped oddly" looks closer to panic, guy number 4 with the "check that there is no dirt on the helmet" mostly looks pissed off.

I also wonder if the facial expression illustrate how one should feel about each particular problem? Well, in any case, I hope I can put away the helmet again for quite some time. As far as my check went, it looked fine, but not sure which facial expression would be suitable for this?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Preparing for the Apocalypse - Toilet Warrior

The earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima pland disaster and the consequences they have had to the Tokyo region has brought many important lessons. One scary thing to consider is that this quake is not the long overdue Kanto area earthquake, that one is also bound to come sooner or later. I think it's important to keep in mind that Tokyo actually wasn't hit particularly hard by the quake, sure, it was scary and confusing for a while, but there only were a handful of unlucky victims here (I think the death count ended up at 5 in Tokyo, nothing compared to the thousands in the prefectures hit worst).

As a Westerner, I have grown up picturing the post-apocalyptic world as something from Mad Max, where gasoline would be the most valuable resources and trading chip. However, it has become clear that this would not be the case for Japan, the most sought after resource would be toilet paper (and tissue paper to a lesser extent). Sure, gasoline was hard to come by and bottled water was also sold out (the ongoing "low levels of radioactive iodine found in Tokyo water" doesn't really help either) but plenty of other bottled drinks were available all the time during the aftermath. In the post-apocalyptic world of Japan, the person with the most toilet paper will be calling the shots. I can see a scenario where people are divided into classes depending on how dirty their assholes are; perhaps people would greet each other through sniffing butts to quickly identify their respective social statuses?

So now I'm considering to start hoarding toilet paper in huge amounts to be able to come out as the Mr. Big in my local area after the apocalypse and have people bring me food, drinks and serve my family for some filthy used strips of toilet paper. You have to think ahead!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I was wrong! JRC not in Mori Tower

Ooops! Sometimes I get a bit confused, actually I must have mixed some stuff up earlier, the Japanese Red Cross are not located in the Mori Tower!

I apologize for the mistake! Please forget all about it and move on with our lives and keep donating to them!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 anyone left in Tokyo?

Last Sunday, Mrs. Sunshine got a mail from her friend who had been "forced" by her French husband to leave everything behind and run away to france (read here) asking her "have you guys also gone to Osaka now, is there any people left in Tokyo?". Just as things were really starting to go back to almost normal life here in the Tokyo area. Mrs. Sunshine quickly replied back "Yes, we're all here and it's calmed down a lot now on the quakes, supply of stuff and the Fukushima is scary, but it doesn't seem like it will affect Tokyo in any case, we're not going anywhere".

A few minutes later a reply came again "Really? Crap, I'll call my boss, maybe I can make it back to Japan and come into the office on Tuesday if they haven't fired me!". Maybe she explained that her husband is French and that was the reason they ran away in the night or they just really liked her, because they apparently had not yet fired her in the absence and welcomed her back and even gave her an extra day off since she had problems finding a flight on so short notice.
I guess there's a lesson in here; even if a French guy tricks you into running away with him, you can still run away back to where you came from!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Earthquake Press Conferences - The truth told in the margins?

The whole earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima power plant disaster here in Japan have been accompanied by a parade of press conferences and I must admit that I have had problems following exactly who is what and from what perspective that they're talking all the time as it's been from various government functions, Tepco, Tokyo Power etc.

One of my "favorites" in the press marathon press conferences have been Nishiyama-san, a bureaucrat from the Ministry of Finance. That his understanding of the nuclear crisis was limited was clearly visible in his hesitation to answer questions, frequent pauses and then leaning to the side so one of his peons could whisper to him what to say. He has also gotten the nickname "Nobita-kun" due to a perceived likeness to the boy in the Doraemon comics.

I was watching one of the press conferences on the Fukushima struggle to cool down the reactors last Friday, streaming on the computer. On the right hand side of the tv window a chat/message board was available with a constant stream of comments from the Japanese audience watching it online. Most of them were not particularly interesting or amusing, but one nugget came from someone watching just as the press conference started:

"How can you trust someone who hides his own baldness to be open about a nuclear disaster!?"

A very insightful analysis indeed. However, I'm not sure that the fundamental analysis is correct, since it looks to me like Nobita-kun have a very rich hair and doesn't do a comb over? Something to ponder indeed.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Earthquake Tales: Cpt. Awkward and the Biscuits

Things are now almost back to normal here in Chiba, gasoline is available and the supermarket was well stocked and people were no longer panic buying like they had done earlier in the week. The local Aeon department store was still not operating 100% but I assume that they will be fully up and running early next week. The whole nuclear plant situation is still hovering in the background and still in crisis, but I do not fear for mine or my family's safety anymore. For the first time in several days there came one of those "earthquake imminent" emergency mails, but it too, ended up as a minor fart that we didn't even feel. The risk for a major aftershock according to the news has now also been downgraded to 30% until tomorrow where it used to be 50%.

With that situation report out of the way, I think I could delve a little deeper into the events of the earthquake day of Friday the 11th. The whole story of that day you can read here, but the little tale I'm about to tell you takes place at 10PM when me and the finance guy just came back to the office after our futile excursion to find a way home to the outback of Chiba.

As we come back, Cpt. Awkward and one other guy are still in the office, Cpt. Awkwards is working on some documentation like nothing irregular had happened and seemed quite comfortable in the office (it's more like a second home to him than an "office" in any case and he is known to stay the night quite frequently for no apparent reason). I sat down at my desk again and tried to get more info on the trains and the quake on the Internet and as I happen to glance over to my right where Cpt. Awkward is sitting, I see him open the box of biscuits we had in our individual emergency kits. It should be noted that there was no lack of food in the office as someone in the administration had shown a bit of initiative and procured quite significant amounts of food for those who would not be able to get home and would need to stay in the office.

Cpt. Awkward notices me looking at him as he's merrily throwing biscuit after biscuits in his mouth, chewing with an open mouth and staring out in the distance.

Cpt. Awkward: What?
Salaryman: (puzzled)'s just... why are you eating those biscuits?
Cpt. Awkward: Oh, I just got a bit curious on how they tasted and thought I might as well eat them?
Salaryman: (feeling like I have to ask) Well, ok, how are they...?
Cpt. Awkward: (still eating them) They're ok I guess, a bit dry though

As went back into the night to hunt for a taxi, he was still eating the biscuits and humming to himself...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Earthquake and the French

One of the sources that I have been following post the earthquake has been information from the British embassy and the British governments Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir John Beddington (very British name indeed). They have kept up providing calm and levelheaded updates on the situation and what should be done. Yesterday another very informative summary was released via the British Chamber of Commerce (read it here).

One thing I found amusing in particular is how he can't avoid kicking a little on the French and their more drastic recommendations to leave Tokyo and shipping French nationals out of Japan. I quote from the transcription:

"Q: Why is the French giving different advice?

Sir John: Their advice is not based on science."

Nice one indeed Sir Beddington!

A Japanese friend of Mrs. Sunshine married to a Frenchman saw her husband going into panic and literally made his wife and kid run away in the night with him to the first flight out of Tokyo last Tuesday, with no intention of ever coming back, leaving everything behind as it was and stopping the wife from notifying her company that she wouldn't be back to work, ever.

Seems like the French government did a great job fueling the panic while the Brits maintained a stiff upper lip! I'll keep listening to Sir Beddington, thank you very much.

Friday, March 18, 2011

One Week Post-Earthquake - Illusion of Normality

Again, not a particularly fun post perhaps, but more of a status report for those of you who for some reason check in to get a glimpse of how people in the Tokyo area are coping.

Today was a sunny great day, albeit a bit chilly, spring is supposed to return in force from tomorrow and get the Tokyo temperatures up to almost 20 degrees Celsius. As the Salaryman family headed out on foot today to get some groceries in the local supermarket (just to be safe, we try to save the gasoline we have in the car since it's still difficult to get) things almost seemed back to normal. All the small shops close to our house was open for business and to our great joy the fantastic (but expensive!) local bakery was open for business allowing us to get hold of some good bread for the first time in a week. The supermarket was reasonably well stocked and we managed to get hold of some diapers and the other stuff we needed (toilet paper, tissue paper and rice was still sold out, but we had secured some at least earlier).
The situation in the Fukushima plant is still worrisome, but the worst doomsday advocates seem to have calmed down a little bit; perhaps because the reality is bad enough and some foreign media was playing up the "the situation is beyond critical" angle so hard yesterday that instead of trying to trump it, they went with Libya instead and other news that had more drama in them.

Minor aftershocks keep on coming, but my impression is that the frequency and intensity is calming down a little bit and at this stage, a 3 or 4 on the Japanese scale from 1-7 hardly grabs my attention anymore as long as I know that the Baby and Mrs. Sunshine are with me. Planned power outages are announced and said to be rolling in the greater Tokyo region, but either they have forgotten our little hidden valley or we have something very important that we don't know about next doors, because power has not been interrupted in the Salaryman base of operations.

The Japanese media is not as extremely focused on the Fukushima situation as overseas and a lot of tragedy and desperation is coming to the surface with stories of survivors who have lost everything and people who are desperately waiting for help and supplies in isolated "safe zones". The total death toll has now surpassed the Hanshin earthquake and is sure to rise further as "missing persons" will need to be added to the death roll. But in all this, there is also a sense of returning "normality" and as I'm writing this, I'm drinking a beer and finally relaxing after a week of constantly trying to learn more about the situation, about earthquakes, about tsunami, about radiation and about the extent of death in this tragedy.

I know that strong aftershocks might follow, but I'm ok with that and realize that it doesn't mean that the whole thing will repeat itself again. For now, I feel like I can relax a bit for the first time in what feels like an eternity and after finishing this, I will enjoy a big whiskey.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Earthquake - Worst Case Scenario

Things have started to settle down a bit now and I feel safe as I've been working from home this week to not risk getting stuck somewhere away from the family again and I feel safe in our newly built house and neighborhood without nuclear plants and dangerous factories in the immediate vicinity. We do have a "plan B" of relocating temporarily to Grandmother Sunshine if things get really bad, but at this point, I feel that home is the safest place to be.

We're of course concerened for our own safety with the situation with the Fukushima plant, but we're still over 200kms away from it here in the Salaryman base of operations with enough supplies to last us quite long (that huge shipment of Swedish hard bread came timely a few days before the quake!) and even the toilet paper crisis seem to have been resolved as the in-laws managed to scavenge up one package for us and the diaper situation is still manageable. Now also, the real tragedy is coming up as lone survivors of whole families wiped out are shown on TV (making me a bit worried about the mentailty of our Baby Sunshine as I came down stairs to find Mrs. Sunshine in tears while Baby Sunshine was happily laughing at her).

The situation in the most affected areas isn't made better by winter coming back to northern Japan with temperatures below freezing and snowfall. The big challenge now is to get the infrastructure up again so supplies (including toilet paper) can reach those in need, for those wanting to help out a bit more directly, the Red Cross should be a reliable organization and the Salary family have donated through the Japanese organization and web-page which accepts credit cards making it a little easier.

Well, with that little more serious status update out of the way, one thing that has made me quite annoyed is the news reports, particularly in some foreign media, discussing the "WORST CASE SCENARIO". First of all, I find the whole concept of "worst case scenario" disturbing to say the least, since you could put anything in there unless you put up some probability check.

A WORST CASE SCENARIO for the Salaryman family could look something like this;

I wake up with a hangover and itchy body only to find that baby Sunshine has pooed out her entrails due to a new and extremely infectious virus while Mrs. Sunshine has gone mentally insane and tries to kill me, meanwhile another huge quake has cracked Japan in two and all nuclear power plants in Japan has exploded while my mom back in Sweden has fallen down and broker her leg and my brother's car has run out of gasoline, and at the same time, one of my closest oldest friends tells me that he never really liked me to begin with, toilet paper has of course run out.

But that all of this would happen is probably not very likely, but I can not completely rule it out in a worst case scenario. And if I still find a roll of toilet paper, at least I will have avoided the WORST case scenario.

So, no, I'm not preparing for a worst case scenario, but I am following the news closely and trying to get an understanding for what a reasonable worst case scenario is.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Earthquake Aftermath - Hoarding, Salaryman family in deep shit, real fast

First I can just start off with saying that if you're looking for real helpful advice on the situation currently in Japan, this is probably not the best place to go. Instead, I would recommend you to head over to some of my links on the blogroll on the left side, personally I've found quite a few helpful tips in there, primarily Japanprobe, but also fellow Swede Martin and his blog Kurashi as well as Japan Now&Then. Not that I have any aversion to spreading information, but these guys and gals are doing quite a good job of it (and probably many more that I just haven't come across).

The Salaryman family are now entering the 5th day post the earthquake and things are quite calm apart from some minor (and slightly bigger) aftershocks and the hovering nuclear power plant issue in Fukushima (but still, after reading up on above sources and their links, I feel quite calm of the situation since we're 300kms away from plants).

One thing that has been quite the annoyance in recent days is the hoarding that people are setting out on. On our excursion to the supermarket the other day, they were very well stocked in most areas, plenty of food to go around, fresh vegetables and fruit, bottled water, canned foods and most importantly, the My Boom Chili oil mix. However, the most aggressive target of hoarding showed to be toilet papers and diapers... Even though we hit the supermarket at opening hours, the shelves were completely cleaned out and the supplies at home running dangerously low...

It seems like the Japanese people prioritize their toilet habits first, but leaving us who had other priorities in the shitter, so to speak. This is no joke anymore, toilet paper is now being used carefully and in moderation (no more binges!) and if we can't scavenge or loot any soon, things will get really shitty really soon... Earthquakes are no joke...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Earthquake foodstuff - Hey Lawson marketer, think about this!

These last days there have been difficulties getting some basic foodstuff, bread in particular, but due to people hoarding up and supply difficulties for the companies, some shelves have been quite empty.

During the night of the quake last Friday, trying to get any food in any convenience store was basically an impossible mission as basically everything edible apart from candy and snacks had been completely sold out. As I was wandering around in the Tokyo night together with my fellow traveller in the finance guy, we at one point went into a Lawson to use the bathroom.

This is a picture of one of the shelves, normally stocked with salads and other "fresh" foods. At 9 PM Friday night though it looked like this. What I do find very interesting though is that apart from the salad dressing on the top, one poor little salad didn't seem to be able to find any customer, and it was also a new great product from the Lawson food R&D and Marketing. Now, I don't know about you, but if you come into a convenience store where basically everything edible is sold out and people scavenge for food wherever they can, but still one little salad (and a new innovative product as well!) is not touched; I think it's fair to say that it's a big failure.

The guy/gal leading the development of this product probably should be back to stocking the shelves. And no, we didn't buy it either.

Earthquake Impact on Daily Life

Seriously, I don't know what's going on now, but this extremely boring commercial is now running 50% of the time in between the news updates... Does anyone know what's up with that? I can only speculate that normal sponsors have not been able to respond properly to the changing tv schedule due to the earthquake. This "AC Japan" seem to be some association for advertising...

Well, just so you can all get a flavour for the hardship that we have to endure here in Japan now!

Monday, March 14, 2011

"Major earthquake Imminent" Alarms...

The Japanese mobile phones have a quite good emergency warning service for impending quakes, sending out a loud alarm siren like signal and e-mail warning when a new strong quake has been predicted. The purpose is obviously to make sure that people can put themselves in safety before the quake hits, the problem is that the advance warning is so incredibly short, between 5-30 seconds that you have no time whatsoever to make funeral arrangements or say good bye to the loved ones.

If you happen to be in a reasonably safe place, you can get time to dive under a desk, grab some necessities and head outside or under a doorway or so, but my big issue is when the alarm comes when you are in a location you *REALLY* don't want to be in, such as in the subway with nowhere to escape within half a minute...

That most of the quakes that has come after these alarms have turned out to be quite minor ones is also a bit frustrating since the alarms induce cold sweat and mild panic in me in case in it would be another BIG one but then just ending up as minor farts giving it a bit of an anti-climax (in a good way though, but some decent panic build up completely for nothing).

Otherwise, not much to report other than can be seen on the news. The "rolling planned black-outs" that were supposed to start from this morning have not materilized for some reason, keeping us in the dark as to why they're not keeping us in the dark (witty, huh?).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Earthquake - The Day after

So now it's almost two days since the big quake and all the important stuff like catching up on sleep, contacting everyone back home and in Japan to confirm that we and they are safe and sound has been taken care of. For some reason I don't really have any friends (or close friends with family) in the most affected areas so the personal impact of the quake is thankfully low.

The "what now?" feeling is starting to come. The Salaryman family have stayed at home last night and we have so much foodstuff at home that we don't really need to venture out to scavenge and hunt for food, and in worst case me and Baby Sunshine could live off Mrs. Sunshine's boobies for a day or two.

On the "to do" list now is;

1. Put all the stuff back in order - mostly books and small stuff that has fallen off shelves that should be put back

2. Take out the "quake safe" stuff to help secure shelves and cabinets that we have bought earlier but never really gotten around to put to use

3. Have a serious discussion with Mrs. Sunshine about the "escape bag" that she has packed and put by the door "just in case, might come useful in other situations than a quake too" to find out more exactly what "other situations" she is planning to run away with the baby in

4. Be confused as to how to deal with tomorrow and whether I should pack myself on the train or huddle at home under a table

5. Rewatch Mad Max for inspiration on how to deal with a worst case scenario and consider getting a dog since that is a staple companion for any post-apocalyptic scenario

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Earthquake story

This post might be a bit lighter on the fun side, but to try and give you all a picture of how it all went down for me during this turbulent and shaky days (pun intended).

Just before the quake at 14:45 something, I was over on the other side of the office, talking to one of the sales promotion people, a girl/lady I have a friendly relationship with since many years back, borrowing the seat next to her chatting a little about an upcoming event and how to deal with it. As we were talking she got interrupted by a phone call from a rep, so I sat and chilled out while she talked to the guy on the phone. Then it started shaking, first the shaking was quite mild and we looked at each other and around the office as people started to stand up, look around and do the "do you feel it? Is it an earthquake?". The initial shaking wasn't that big, it gradually increased and after a few seconds I realized that this is a big one and the biggest one I had experienced (on the Japan 1-7 scale, I've been in the middle of a "strong 5" so anything below that doesn't really scare me much). People in the office also started to realize this and me and some other people started getting under the desks and I told her to "hang up now and get under your desk, this could be serious".

Some thoughts and observations that I remember was that I was thankful when I noticed that the sales manager's desk (which I was under since he was out of the office) had the "earthquake kit" (rations, blankets, flashlight etc.) under it where I was huddling but I also realized that I did not have my mobile phone with me so would have problems contacting anyone if I would get stuck, the third thought was that at least I would be stuck close to a friendly person I know. Me and the sales promotion lady looked at each other during the quake and the exchange was limited to "これはやばいでしょう” and "ええ、やばいね" (roughly translated to "this is serious stuff" and "yeah, really scary").

It's hard to say now in hindsight how long the big quake actually lasted, but I would guess that the big shakes went on for 30-60 seconds and when it started to calm down people started to come up from under their desks, look around and some people were laughing nervously on how stuff and the building kept shaking. The building we are in is one of the newer buildings that adsorbs the shock through moving with the shaking, so it keeps swaying for quite a long time after the real shake has subsided, giving a feeling of sea-sickness.

First, people were a little at loss as to what to do, I quickly went back to my desk and immediately tried to call Mrs. Sunshine to check that they were ok, but when there was no reception I realized immediately that this was a really serious quake; considering how much it was shaking in Tokyo I realized that it must be much much worse at the epicenter. The office Internet was working, so I went on to yahoo to check out their earthquake info page which is usually updated extremely quickly. For a moment I went a bit cold when I saw that it was a "7" at the epicenter on the Japanese 1-7 scale of severity since that would mean on par or worse than the Hanshin earthquake in 1995 and claimed over 5,000 lives.

Some people in the office still were laughing and didn't seem to understand the seriousness, joking casually "Salaryman, you look a bit white in the face". Ignoring the comments, I finally managed to get an e-mail from the mobile phone off to Mrs. Sunshine to tell her that I'm ok, asking about her and the baby. Since I knew that they very likely were at home and our house would be comparatively safe, I wasn't extremely worried, but in a situation like this you still want confirmation.

Then another big quake came and this time people reacted a lot more focused, putting on the helmets and reacting more seriously (this is the time I had the exchange with Cpt. Awkward in the previous post). People now started to get a bit more worried, trying to call and mail family, friends and colleagues to check that everyone was safe and the general affairs manager responsible for disaster control started to give some directions on putting on helmets, repeating the safety routine and evacuation spots close to the office.

During the time 14:45 - 16:00, my main focus was trying to get an understanding of the situation and getting in touch with the family. After about an hour, a mail from Mrs. Sunshine finally came through that they were fine but some stuff in the house had fallen down. She attached this picture from the computer room (amazingly the computer seems to be working fine). The TV in the office also got started and the Tsunami information started to come in and people were discussing on how to possibly get home as all the train lines were completely shut down with no news on when they could get up running again. During this time there also was a constant stream of smaller aftershocks keeping up the direness of the situation.

After the worst Tsunami had hit most areas and the situation was a bit clearer, most people started making plans on how to possibly try to get home. The people living in central Tokyo mostly were determined to walk home, but the Salaryman household is too far off to try and do a hike so me and one of the Finance guys who lives quite close to my area decided to try and get a cab together to get home. A few people (among them, of course, Cpt. Awkward) had already decided to stay the night in the office, and although that would have been a safe option, I wanted to get home to the family.

As me and the colleague were walking out in the Tokyo night we quickly realized that getting a cab would be next to impossible. Walking the streets of Tokyo we could also very quickly see that there was basically no real damages in inner city Tokyo and most restaurants and shops were business as usual. Huge amounts of people were walking (probably trying to walk home, find a taxi, bus or hoping that the trains would start) but the atmosphere wasn't nervous and people seemed in good spirits. Realizing that catching a cab might not be completely realistic, we decided to walk to the Tokyo station in the hope that the trains would get up and running since the shaking was subsiding and getting to a big hub would be the best chance with all the available lines (some would inevitably start running faster than others).

After walking for an hour we reached the station and with no news on when and if the trains would get up and running, we went to a small restaurant in the area to get some food and beer while we waited. Basically all the food had been sold out, but beer was thankfully available and sitting down chatting having a beer basically made the whole situation feel a lot less surreal. After an hour (around 8PM now) there was an announcement that the JR lines likely would not get up and running during the night and that the subway was unsure but not likely to resume operations for several hours. With the train option out of the question, low likelihood of catching a cab and all hotels being booked to the brim, we decided that the most comfortable way would be to get back to the office and camp there during the night.

The streets were still bustling with people and by chance we ran into Mr. Pot-Belly who had been hiking his way into Tokyo with a peon to get to their homes in central Tokyo, so we shared some stories and then continued our separate ways. At around 10 PM we arrived back at the office where things were calm with only 2 other people left (incl. of course Cpt. Awkward), working as if nothing had happened. We shared out stories, checked up on the latest info online and tried to relax a bit.

Around 11PM things had calmed down a bit outside with less people moving about and me still not wanting to give up on possibly sleeping at home with the family, I decided to venture out for a bit again to see if I could catch a cab for me and the Finance guy. Now the crowds were considerably less and the people out on the streets were those who were a bit drunk and not wanting a small thing such as an earthquake to ruin their Friday night drinking sessions. For almost an hour I tried to get a cab but with no luck, again resigning to the idea of staying in the office I started to head back and by chance I ran into an available cab willing to drive way out to Chiba.

After some quick SMSs (the phones still didn't work properly) I converged with the finance guy and got in the cab. I realized that it would take longer than usually since the highways were closed and a lot of people were trying to find their way out of Tokyo, but the traffic jams were horrific. We probably could have walked half the distance faster as we crawled forward with a taxi driver who needed to pee every 30 min (running out to pee during the congestion). After 4 hours we were finally out of the Tokyo area and with slightly less heavy traffic, dropping of my colleague first and then driving for an additional two hours to get to the Salaryman HQ. (the taxi driver and our conversations is a completely different post since that was also quite surreal and funny in hindsight).

At 7 AM I finally found myself safely at home checking on the family and house.

That was the basic story of the big earthquake. As I write this the shaking comes and goes a bit, but so small compared to the ones yesterday that I hardly even pay attention. There are many surreal/funny stories hidden in this whole event and I will probably dive into those little by little, but to give you a feeling how this event happened. On the whole, it was a quite good "wake up call" for me to start stocking up on supplies and get some safety plans in order for the family in case the next time, the epicenter is closer to Tokyo.
Latest news are 1,600 dead or missing and I fear that most people missing will end up in the casuality section since they very likely were swept away by the Tsunami. The final count will also increase with the less direct victims. Really scary stuff.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Earthquake countermeasure: Own or trade?

Exchange from an hour ago, huddling under the desk with Cpt. Awkward as the huge quake hit Tokyo...

Salaryman: If we get stuck here for a few days, do you want to drink your own pee or trade with me?
Cpt. Awkward: (without any hestitation) I think I'll drink my own, thanks.

Scary stuff, but the Salaryman household seems to be ok with no bones or babies broken, only stuff!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"The performance is inferior and the product is really useless"

Recently our regulatory affairs division just finished the long and arduous task of getting the license and permission for us to sell a new surgical device. This has been in the works for many years and has taken a lot of time and effort all over the place.

Generally the strict regulations in Japan almost always ensure a quite significant lag in the time it takes to market compared to the countries in Europe or the USA. Of course, it doesn't help that most European companies almost always first prioritize the core EU markets, secondly the US and thirdly "the rest of the world" and add to that the complex bureaucracy in Japan that is required for healthcare products and you easily end up with a lag of 5+ years from the time a product was launched in Europe until it can be launched in Japan...

In the past, I have heard quite a few stories on how products have gone out of manufacturing just by the time Japan has gotten ready to launch ending up with a lot of work resulting in nothing. So now, we've finally getting to the point that the launch of the product is getting relatively close and some of the more hands-on marketing preparation is getting ready to start and sales projections put in order. So I got in touch with the global marketing VP in Germany to get some help in start crafting the story and supporting materials that we will need. After being ignored for a month, I get a reply back with a technical comparison between the product in question and the "new-and-improved" version that was launched recently in Europe and some of the competitors with the conclusive punchline "the version that you are about to launch is inferior in all aspects to the offering of our competitors and if anyone would open up the machine and examine the specs it would be clear that the competition is far better, why don't you go for the new product instead?".

There are the type of things that can make a grown man cry in my business here in Japan, not only is the VP suggesting that we do something that would result in us having to start all over with the work (and take another 3-5 years and countless work hours) but also pissing all over the current product (which, by the way, is the opposite of what marketing is supposed to do).

Sometimes I think that the key to surviving working in business here in Japan is to have a short memory and little attachment to the business, otherwise it would be way too easy to be pissed off most of the time.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

So, what exactly was it you did for a living again?

Ok, it's no secret that Baby Sunshine is quite the little cry-baby, or 泣き虫 ("naki mushi" literally "crying insect") as they call them here in Japan. As Baby Sunshine is our first baby, we didn't really have much to compare to, but when Mrs. Sunshine meets up with some of her "mommy-friends" and a host of babies, it's painfully obvious that Baby Sunshine is the only baby without the ability to shut up and relax for a bit even if there are new faces and a different environment.

In fact, her crying can be so intense, that I expect her to make her Japanese grandpa cry as well at one point or another since he always looks so sad when he wants to say hi to his granddaughter, but the moment she sees his face she bursts out into tears and won't let up until he's left the immediate area.

But in any case, I tell myself that this is only a temporary phase and by the time she's around 25 years old or so it should be a little better, but one thing that I've never understood here in Japan is that, when I complain (in a jokingly way) about the cry-baby at home, the friendly comment that I often get back is "well, she's a baby, crying is her job" (泣くのは仕事だから). I haven't really exactly understood how this can be her job and if it is, how come we're not seeing any of the money? Wouldn't it be better to have her work in a sweatshop or doing something more meaningful?
Related Posts with Thumbnails