Thursday, October 13, 2011

Need to write to you about this place

Hey! It me, Neal. I need to tell my friends and readers sorry for the long delay in writing. Much has happened since my last post. Too much to get into. But this I know. I need to write tonight. I just spent the past 30 minutes reading some old posts. Drunken Kantor Man, The Day My Life Changed and a couple more. They get me thinking back to the times when it is less about work and more about play. So, it is time for some playin'. Let me see if I can take you back to a bar in
Tokyo about 6o years or so back. Back when times where better and cheaper.

In my neighborhood there is a little shop called Kayabara. It is just out of the exit at Kayabacho Eki on the Hibiya Line. My buddy AJ and I had walked around our neighborhood looking for a place to eat and drink. Then... we find this gem.

Well, AJ and I stroll up to this place that is conveniently located behind two parked cars in a driveway. The only way we found it was by the giant hanging red lantern. We walk in and grab a table. Instantly noticing there are only men in the place. Wait! There is one woman and she looks as she has never been here before. AJ grabs a bottle of Kirin Beer for 500 yen, which is pretty damn cheap for a liter of beer. Looking around the bar you can see why there are only men in the place. There is a thick cloud of cigarette smoke hovering above every table. Each table has about 5-8 guys crowed around a small table big enough to hold some small glasses, tiny portions of food and several ashtrays. Coupled with the small yakitori station in the corner where spewing out fumes from chicken fat dripping in the fire as the customers grill their own meat. This is my type of place.

The men are dressed in their standard black jackets, white shirts, black pants, black shoes and colored ties so to show some type of individuality. You know... normal Japanese Businessmen attire. Laughter fills the room as a new member joins the table. Everyone is letting off steam after a long 10 hour day of work. The men tip back the glasses of booze, beer, shochu and sake. Smoke a pack or two and tell lies, stories and jokes. It is a true happiness bar with everything you can want... except women. There is only one.

You see this type of place is not your typical Japanese Izakaya. It is special. It is a traditional Japanese place that has been off the map for decades. Only the good, the bad and the lucky find it. As I said no women are there. That is because they are not allowed. Yeah, that is right. Women can join men but the owner, an oba-chan (grandma), will not allow women groups. She told me 1. they talk too much, 2. complain about the state of the bathrooms, & 3. they do not drink enough. Those seem like good reasons. Right? Oh I failed to mention something very important. This bar is special, wait I said that. This bar is a traditional Japanese place. Oh, I said that too. Oh, I know. It is a coin bar. "Coin bar?", you ask. Yeah, a coin bar.

There is not a bartender, a waiter and for sure not a waitress. To get your drinks you walk up to a coin operated machine that dispenses your choice of three kinds of Shochu, Awamori, one Sake that you can get hot or cold, some Tory's a cheap Japanese whiskey and of course some beer. It cost you 100 Yen for a shot!!! That is basically ONE DOLLAR.

You grab a glass that is on the side of the machine, put it under the spout, drop in a coin and bingo; shochu, awamori, sake, whiskey or beer. Walk to the counter, where the oba-chan is selling food, and grab some ice cubes or water if you need then tilt back like the rest of the boys and enjoy the good times. AJ and I walked out of there filled up with bar food and booze and spent about 1600 yen together. About 16 dollars. We both had a liter of beer, tofo, veggies, meat sticks, 4 awamori and 2 beers. Yeah, 6 drinks each Anyone, want to come see this place? I think I am heading there now.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Purest Feeling

There has been a lot of discussion between friends of mine who are still in Tokyo and those who have decided to leave during this time of struggles that Japan is facing and will be facing for the next years to come. To get straight to the point of how I feel living in Tokyo it is merely one simple word, safe. I don’t feel any different when I wake up in the morning. Only difference is I feel less rested because I have been up late every night for the past week talking to many of my friends on Skype who are concerned. I keep reassuring them that we are in good shape in Tokyo and the rest of the people who are outside the 30km evacuation zone. We really are. I trust the information I have received and look at it with logical thinking and remain calm. That is my way of living. I just relax and let go. But not everyone thinks the same as I do.

There are those who don’t feel they are safe and that’s is okay. If you are scared then get away. There are many things in life that we need and safety is the purest of them all. If you don’t feel safe or you feel threatened, out of control and vulnerable then take control of that feeling. Do what makes you feel is best. For those who have a family and want to take care of their wife, husband or children you go and do what is best for them and you. It’s what I would do if I had a family…I think.
But, don’t try to convince me that I am not safe. Only I will make that decision.

There is a lot of information out there circling the planet in a variety of different media formats. There are the big foreign media organizations from the US and Europe. There are the masses of people posting their personal editorials on international sites. There are those telling their story on facebook and other social networks. And there are the personal blogs, like this one. You have to decide what is true and not true. You make the decisions for your life. You make the choice that will impact your living experience for the rest of your life and you need to live with that.
I am NOT going to quote any facts or non-factual material that I have read over the week on this post. That is not why I am writing. This is about my thoughts and my feelings and I want to record them and I don’t mind sharing them with you.

I feel that much of the information that has been released is scaring people. Fear is a powerful emotion and makes people do things they would never do. Think of the last time you were so scared and you did something that was out of your realm of thinking. That is how I feel some people have reacted to the situation. Fear has driven them to do things I feel they would have never done if that had the right information.

I want to know what people were feeling when they went to the airport. I would like to sit at the airport and interview the people returning to Tokyo after they realize life is safe here and find out why they left. It would be such a good study to look into and find out why they left. Was it their pure emotion and thoughts that said, “I am not safe?” Was it the foreign media and the shocking headlines that caused the fear? Was it the governments’ demand or recommendation for voluntary or involuntary evacuations that made them go? Was it the free ticket home? There are many.

I would also like to ask those people who have stayed Japan some questions too. Why didn’t you leave? What made you feel safe and secure? Was it the cost of a flight that kept you here? Was it your job? Was it your commitment to Japan? Or, was it that you just felt safe? These are some questions I may or may not ask. I don’t know.

I do think there is going to be a change in the way people look at each other at work and on the street. I feel there will be a strong distinction between those who stayed and those who left. And this saddens me. Why do you ask? There will be no medal given out to those who stayed and continued living. There will be no certificate given to people returning for taking care of their families and thinking about being safe. The government is not going to line people up and say, “I want to thank these people for staying behind and making the country continue to proceed and move forward”. On the other hand, no one will say the opposite and call them cowards for leaving. It won’t happen. And it shouldn't’t. But, I think people will talk amongst friends and say, “They left when Japan needed them”. And this saddens me.

I have gone through some roller coaster emotions over the past week. I think back to last Friday night on March 11 when I was sitting in this same chair shaking from the constant after shocks. I was scared and uncertain of what was happening. I had just experienced a new sensation that will forever change me. They don’t scare me anymore. I have become desensitized and don’t really notice them anymore like I had before the great quake. I have made the switch back to the habitual lifestyle I have grown accustomed to in Tokyo. I am spending time with those I care about. I am walking in the sun and getting outside and enjoying the little things like a good bowl of ramen. Today, I went out and had a great TexMex dinner with some new and old friends. It’s what makes life grand and what makes me continue to move forward. Tomorrow is a new day. I will continue to be safe and I will continue to live life to the fullest.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Out for a walk in Tokyo

I have been asked some questions throughout the past few days.

"And now a few days later? Where are you? What are you doing? What are you going to do? The news seems worse every day."

This was a comment from a reader. Well, to tell you the truth. I am still in Tokyo sitting at my apartment. My school was closed this week with power blackouts. When this was announced many families and teachers left to US and other countries. I am still here with a handful of other teachers. We are basically doing the same thing we have for the past years. Meet up with each other, have dinner and enjoy life. Today, my friend stayed downtown after a fun night out for St. Paddy's Day. We woke up this morning walked to Tsukiji Market and have sushi and sashimi. We are just doing what is normal.

As we walked around the neighborhood I felt like some people were looking at us with a bit of surprise, since all foreigners have left. I keep getting more and more requests to leave. But i am doing well. I have plan to leave on Sunday for a teaching conference that I planned in January. I am not leaving because I feel unsafe. I feel quite safe. If I were in Fukushima yes I would be worried but I am not. I am in Tokyo. We have water. We have food. We have gas. Life is continuing. I was stopped by a Japanese TV crew and was interviewed. They were asking me why I was in Tokyo and I told them I worked here and this is my neighborhood. We were in the area where they sell Monja and were happy to see us enjoying the Tsukishima neighborhood. I told them this area of Tokyo is great and I love living across the river in Hatchobori. Now that is not normal. I don't get interviewed everyday. However, I did get interviewed on Tuesday as well but with a Chinese crew while I was donating blood at one of the Japanese Red Cross Centers.

I am going back to the balcony and watch the boats go by on the Sumida River. I have many more thoughts and questions to consider and I will post more soon. I need to get them out head and onto paper.

I appreciate the concern from all of you. You really are true friends.
I will be back after a little break.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan's Earthquake upgraded to 9.0!!

It has been a while since I have written. So now is the best time to let you know what happening. All my thoughts go out to families and friend of people from Sendai and around Japan. I hope those who are lost will be found.

As the day as gone on I have found myself to slowly slip back in my world as it was before March 11, 2011. I am back in my house sitting alone watching television and thinking about my life and how it has changed. I remember the times when I would watch world news specials on television separated by oceans and landmasses imagining what is it like to be where those people are and to feel what is happening. That imagination is no longer there. Though I am not in any physical danger now, I do feel the need to be concerned for my safety. I don’t know what is happening. All I know is yesterday was the scariest thing I have dealt with as an adult. I have seen things and been through many tough times throughout my life. However, feeling so completely out of control yesterday was horrifying.

I was sitting alone in my classroom preparing to upload photos for my class blog. Thinking about the week and how amazing it was. Monday started out with an absolute brilliant snowfall that would make any child dream of being out of school and at home playing. Yet, we were at school and we were playing. It was the beginning of what I though was going to be a great week. As the week went on and the days became warmer and then cooler again the feel of spring was in the air. Birds were singing, flowers were beginning to bloom and the weather was seemingly letting go of its grasp on winter. New life was beginning and things were changing for this year and it felt good. Little did I know that in seconds my life and many others were about to change forever in a few seconds?

It started with a little movement in my body. Something inside said to stop what you are doing and focus. So I did just that. I tilted my head back and gazed toward the ceiling and windows and noticed the red Chinese New Year's lanterns the children made were gently swaying from side to side. I stood up from my chair and looked out the window to see people moving quickly across the bridge over the street that connects Mori Complex with Robot Park. Robot Park is an area where out children play during outside playtime during school hours and is frequented by local children daily. As I see parents begin to move more quickly and the jog turns into a run. I realize it is my turn to run. Not out but next door to the room where 10 children are practicing their weekly gymnastics. I rush to the room and see them sitting by the windows getting their shoes. I express deeply and calmly how important it is to listen to my voice at this time and follow me now. “Boys and girls leave your things and come with me now. Stay away from the windows.” By this time we are in a full on earthquake. Nothing like this has ever happened to me. I am having a hard time standing straight. I briefly hesitate and think about leaving the building but realize it is not stopping. It is rolling on and on. It is no at least a 40 seconds into the earthquake and it is not getting weaker. We can’t leave we need to stay inside and take cover.

The safety doors that block the stairwells slam shut with another big jolt. The shutters fall and cracked down tight. The children look to me and see that this is not a game. There is no fear in their eyes, just surprise. I remain calm and I immediately get them into my room and get them under the table with the assistance of the gymnastic team and Judy, the Director or the ELC. It is now past a minute of adrenaline. We get under the table and it is still rolling on and on. A minute has passed and it is getting stronger. Judy and I made contact with a look that said, “what is happening?” The walls were swaying creaking, the ceiling tiles were cracking, the blocks were falling from the shelves and my heart was racing like never before. But, staying calm and making sure the kids were safe was my main concern. As I look back I realize I had not climbed under the table at all. One there was no room and two I was too busy watching the children and keeping them safe. When the time came to leave we filed down the stairs to the playground. The young men who were in charge of the gymnastics went back to gather the coats, shoes and bags for the children. We reassembled and left the area to wait for parents. As we left I could hear phones ringing as parents were calling to find out about their children.

We waited for parents with the children in front of the building. As parents walked up we could see the fear in their eyes and the struggle to remain calm. The kids were not fazed by the incident. One child even said, “That was fun, let’s do it again.” When you are four your really can not grasp the idea of an earthquake. But they were such good listeners. While waiting for parents I could not holding the kids close to me. I felt I needed to have the close at all times. It was very hard for me to show the strength I displayed to in front of the kids. It was terrifying. But, it wasn’t over.

We began to walk to the evacuation meeting ground with only two children left. As were walked up the stair I began to have that feeling in my stomach again. We were moving. I looked up to see the three buildings of Mori Complex begin to move from side to side; the two residential buildings are 30+ floors and Mori Tower, which are 57 floors. What will happen if they fall? Where will I take these boys? What do I do? These are the thoughts that flipped through my head. What I did was just stop and cover their heads. As I looked up I just watched these massive towers move like they were reeds blowing in the wind. Never have I seen anything like that before. When it finally stopped we moved on and the boys were reunited with their parents.

My job was done. Now what? Can I get my coat? Can we go back in? Do we stay here? Why are we under power lines? Do I need water? Where was the epicenter? How big was that? Is there any damage? Are you ok? Am I ok? Are the trains running? How will I get home? Do you want a drink? Is AJ ok? How about Robert, Miya and Lilu? Why are the phones not working? What do we do now? I wonder if Skype works? Should I wake up my family?

My mind was everywhere. I was on alert mode looking around and preparing for anything. I knew I had to get back inside to get my things and prepare for the next step. Call friends in Tokyo using Skype and call my Mom, Dad and brothers to let them know I was fine before I began my 10km walk home.

The walk home

I had walked home from Roppongi, which is where my school is located. It is not far from, just 10km. It is an easy walk and I have done it a 1000 times on my bike and on foot. I knew my way home but as I was walking I could see there were hundreds and thousands of people who had no idea where there were going. I saw rows and rows of black suits walking towards me with solemn faces some stopping to look around and others trying to use their mobile phones with no luck of connection. I am sure they were all thinking the same thoughts I had. What’s next? The weather predicted for the day was to be warmer so I didn’t bring gloves or a scarf. Yet, that was not the case. It was cold and I needed gloves. I stopped in to get some at a Family Mart, which is a convenience store that sells everything, and there was no food left or water. I found gloves but no food. The people here were not panicking at all but just being prepared. All the people on the street most likely were going to have to walk for hours to get home. I talked with some friends later and they said it took them 9 hours to walk home.

As I was walking I could see that many were lost. I offered my assistance to a couple of German girls who were trying to head North to Toda-Koen. They were heading the wrong way and would for sure been lost but I got them on track. Also, I noticed that many people were carrying yellow bags with them. I am guessing they were earthquake safety bag issued from companies. I saw one man sitting with the item out on the ground. Inside the bag were bottles of water, some snack, towels, gloves, a helmet and a book that looked like a map of Tokyo. As I walked closer I could see the he was trying to find his way through the streets of Japan on the map.

The Japanese are so prepared for this emergency. I really am impressed. On Friday, the mobile phone system was down so the Japanese Telephone Company made all the public phones free of charge. The cues were so long and people were patiently waiting and limiting their calls to only a couple minutes. I found out later that many of the beverage companies made the vending machines free as well for people to get water and other drinks. I, of course, found this out later and did not benefit from the free drinks but I was fine and had plenty of water. But, it just proves to me how well prepared the country is. People located in many places to keep the flow of pedestrians moving. Police regulating the traffic and keep order. Yet, still no panic. Unbelievable!!!

I think about the US and other countries and I wonder if anything like that is set in place. Do they?

I made it home and all was fine at my place little damage to tile work I the kitchen but nothing really. As the night approached my good friend AJ visited me. He came by to check on me and ultimately ended up staying in the extra room because the trains were still down and he could not get home. We talked about the news on television and he filled me in on some information that I just could not understand in Japanese. 4 million homes in Machida city, Tokyo were reported to be out of electricity. One thing he really helped me with was getting the gas turned back on. I went to heat up water for some tea but no gas. The building was completely shut off. When he arrived he said, “Oh, let me show you. You see there is a mercury switch that automatically shuts off the gas to your home to prevent fires. Press he for 3 seconds and it is back on.” WOW! Now that is efficiency. I had never thought of that, mercury to shut off the gas. Brilliant!

Many aftershocks rolled through the night. It seemed like there was one every 10 or 15 minutes and they kept me up until 2am. Then another one woke me up at 4am. It was a 6.6 hit Nagano. It was a bad one. Everyone was in bed. The city is leveled in some places. It is so sad. Below is a video of how it looked before and after.
The aftershocks just wouldn’t stop. They kept coming and come. They are not bad at all just make you stop and think “here comes another one”.
I got about 4 hrs of sleep and calls kept coming in. I am glad many of you called. It helped to calm me down and feel better. Thanks

6:00pm Saturday, March 13, 2011
The phone just rang and I had to stop writing. It was my good friend AJ telling me that he had to bike home to Yokohama. Then he proceeded to tell me that the nuclear plant just exploded and the walls are gone at 4pm. A 20 Km evacuation zone has been set up. Man, I was just getting comfortable again and calming down. I am scared once again. There is so much uncertainty right now. I cant understand the television announcers because my Japanese terrible. But, AJ told me that they are planning to start shutting down the electricity to Tokyo to try and reserve power. The nuclear plant that exploded was the major supplier to this area. He said to take a shower now if you want to be clean. I just did. As well as put on layers to prepare for the cold tonight and get batteries for the phone charger and flashlights. I have battery-powered lights around the house to use because candles CAN'T be used in a time like this. SO we will see what is next. Right now all is well and I am safe. No radiation here and no damage in Tokyo. They talk more of blackouts but so far not yet. I will keep you informed.

All my best,

Before and After from Earthquakes

Another video of what has happened in Japan. It starts with Nagano and move to other parts of Japan. It is hard to watch but you should see it.

Video from Japan of Tsunami

This is my reaction from watching this video for what seems like the 100th time. So sad.