Friday, April 15, 2011

Towada is all right

Life is pretty much back to usual here in Towada.

Of course there are still aftershocks, but thanks to a luck of geography, Towada hasn't been hit very hard. The worst aftershock we've felt was last Thursday, April 7 around 11:30pm. Power was out (and some parts of Towada--closer to the lake area--had the water cut off) until around 5:00pm the next day but that was it.

There are minor inconveniences--many stores are closing earlier; low-fat milk and yogurt are hard to come by; and I have yet to see size C or D batteries in stores... But for the most part, work, school, and community/extra-curricular activities are going on as normal.

If I didn't read the Japan Times news every day, it'd almost be easy to forget that we're still living with the effects of the March 11th disaster.

Well, the email I got the other day from the Embassy of Canada was also a pretty big reminder. In light of all the panic and media "fear mongering" about the nuclear situation in Fukushima, I'm glad that the email's content and tone is basically one of "keep calm and carry on." You can read the message in full below (emphases are mine):

Dear Canadian,

We all recognize the enormous impact the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and corresponding dangerous situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant has had on Japan and the Canadian citizens residing in Japan. The Embassy of Canada in Tokyo is working to provide the best possible guidance to Canadian citizens in Japan. To this end, we are updating Canadian citizens in Japan on current advice and information.

The travel warnings for Japan were updated on April 8, 2011:

Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and surrounding areas:
The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) advises against all travel within 80 km of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.
Following damage to the Fukushima nuclear power station in Okumacho, Canadians are strongly advised to follow the advice issued by the Japanese authorities. An evacuation order is in effect for the zone within 20 km of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Japanese authorities recommend that people between 20 km and 30 km from the plant remain indoors with windows and doors closed and refrain from using ventilation systems.
Given the evolving situation, Canadians located within 80 km of the plant are advised that they should, as a further precautionary measure, evacuate this area. The directions of the Japanese government and local emergency response personnel should also be followed by all Canadians in Japan.

Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures:
DFAIT advises against non-essential travel to Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.
The earthquake and tsunami caused extensive damage to infrastructure in these prefectures. Ongoing reconstruction efforts are affecting telecommunications, transportation routes, emergency and medical care, as well as power, water, food and fuel supplies. Canadians in these prefectures should exercise caution, monitor local news and weather reports, and follow the advice of local authorities.

Northern Honshu:
Canadians should exercise a high degree of caution in northern Honshu.
In areas of northern Honshu less affected by the earthquake and tsunami, commercial means of transportation are available for travel. Canadians are advised to verify the availability of transport and other services, and confirm their reservations prior to departure, as there may be limitations in some regions. Water, food, and fuel supplies may be disrupted in some areas.

Canadians are urged to monitor our travel report for Japan for travel advice and advisories:

Information on radiation levels in Japan:

Following consultations with Government of Canada experts, and based on information available from the Government of Japan and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Government of Canada has assessed that at this stage there is no indication that there is a radiation health risk to Canadian citizens in Japan (outside the evacuation zone) and in other countries in Asia.

Based on current information, areas outside the Japanese evacuation zone are not subject to radiation levels associated with a health risk. Health risks still exist within the Japanese evacuation zone; therefore, Canadians should not enter this area and should continue to follow the instructions of local authorities.

On April 12, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of Japan raised the alert level of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from a 5 to a 7, according to the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. While there has been some media comparison to the Chernobyl event, which had been put at the same level, this comparison should be viewed with extreme caution. Japanese authorities confirmed that this is a backward-looking assessment based on better estimates of the amount of radioactive contamination released in the early days of the crisis. It is not meant to imply that there has been a sudden change to the levels of radioactive contamination. Environmental radioactivity levels continue to remain very low outside the immediate vicinity of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Information on the status of nuclear facilities in Japan can also be obtained on the websites of the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Potassium iodide (KI) is only needed in a worst case situation where there is a large amount of radiactive iodine in the environment. At this time, only people in the immediate areas of the Fukushima Power Plant might need this medication. The Government of Canada does not advise anyone to take KI. KI will be available from local health authorities in Japan if the need arises and should only be taken on instruction from the Japanese authorities.

Please visit DFAIT's information fact sheet on Japan's radiation levels for further information on health, potassium iodide and food safety:

Get prepared:

Are you and your family prepared? Learn more about emergency preparedness and how to create an emergency plan and kit at

Connect with us:

Follow us on Twitter for up-to-date information on the evolving situation in Japan at:!/DFAIT_MAECI

If your contact information has changed, or if your location has changed, please update your profile in the Registration of Canadians Abroad service on or send an email to the Consular Section of the Embassy at

Please direct any questions you may have to the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo:

7-3-38 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Tokyo 107-8503, Japan
Tel: (011-81-3) 5412-6200

or to the 24 hour Emergency Operations Office in Ottawa at:

(613) 996-8885 (collect calls accepted)

Take care and stay safe,

Consular Section
Embassy of Canada
Tokyo, Japan

I am particularly pleased that they mention specific prefectures heavily affected by the earthquake/tsunami rather than generalizing to Tohoku. Eastern coastal cities in Aomori Prefecture (like Hachinohe) were hit pretty hard by the disasters, but even then the damage here wasn't as severe as in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. (Although Aomori is also part of the Tohoku region, we're the northernmost prefecture and thus a lot closer to Hokkaido than Fukushima.)

So yes, we're all doing our best to carry on as usual. As such, my thoughts are mostly occupied with the recently started school year:
  • What can I do to encourage my students to use more English when speaking with me? (They know I generally understand what they're saying in Japanese, so they don't feel as compelled to make the effort to speak in English.)
  • How can I keep myself from (over)using Japanese at school?
  • How can I keep things fresh for the students (some of whom I've taught since they were in elementary school)?
These are the things within my control right now. Earthquakes, tsunamis, and the nuclear situation in Fukushima are not.

And while I'm doing my best to stay informed and my thoughts and prayers are certainly with those who have and are still suffering from the disaster, I feel like the best and most respectful thing I can do is to live my life to the fullest now--appreciating that things I once might have taken for granted (ready availability of electricity, running water, gas, etc.) or considered to be ordinary/routine (going to work, eating school lunch, etc.) are really all blessings.