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the second week

March 27, 2011

One of the strange upsides of the whole situation with the blackouts and disruptions to our lives here in Tokyo is that my gym decided to relax its policies somewhat. On this past Monday they announced that all members would be allowed to use the facilities during operating hours regardless of membership type until the end of the month to make up for any terrible inconvenience that the closings and shortened hours might be causing. Since my gym is in Shinjuku, which is unaffected by the power outages, and my weekday morning membership type falls outside of the early closing zone, this works out highly in my favor.

Basically, even though I have not been inconvenienced by the schedule disruptions at all, I get to reap the benefits and enjoy two solid weeks of full membership.

On Monday I stayed just a little bit late, until 12:30 pm, since I was meeting Keiko for lunch afterward, but for most of the rest of the week I took advantage of the change. I stayed a few few hours past my normal time, until about 1-1:30 pm, most days doing some interval incline walking on the treadmill, taking my time in the sauna, and even fitting in an extra section of Group Kick that I usually can’t make it to after a bit of prodding from other gym goers. All that was in addition to starting Phase 2 of the Rachel Cosgrove strength plan I’ve been doing, of course.

The conversation at the gym the whole week centered around the earthquake, tsunami, and radiation. I was also asked almost everyday if I would be remaining or leaving for America. The hot topic in the sauna, though, was retelling the tale of the unlucky few who had been in there when the quake hit and had to spend 2 hours across the street in the park in the cold wearing nothing but gym bath towels and/or the rental wear the staff grabbed for them.

The extended gym hours couldn’t have come at a better time, considering that I did not actually work this week. I’m not going to go into details as it’s a little on the complicated side, but as an indirect result of the earthquake and current state of things here, I’ve been moved down to the ‘on-call’ status for the time being.

Not working meant that I got to have lunch at home everday. Say hello to my pesto chicken sammich.

My first instinct last Friday, when I realized I wouldn’t be going in to the office for a while, was to try to find an organization in Tokyo with which I could volunteer my suddenly abundant free time sorting donations and helping to get supplies to the victims and evacuees in the shelters up in Tohoku. I emailed the Japanese Red Cross, Second Harvest of Japan, and a few other organizations, but sadly nothing actually panned out. I’m not sure if there are just too many people willing to devote their time, or if the organizations themselves are too overwhelmed to deal with new volunteers, but it’s been very slow getting replies and so far I haven’t been given the go ahead to come in.

More home lunches from throughout to week.. notice a pattern?

I wasn’t exactly sure what do do with my extra time when volunteering didn’t pan out, but oddly between extended gym time and the fact that Eric ended up working from home for most of the week again, I did not find myself too bored. Life is definitely moving on from the quake, but it has been hard to gauge if things are really getting back to normal around us while mostly holed up at home for a second straight week, and very hard to feel normal when my routine is so disrupted.

Some basic updates on the overall situation:

Panic buying: I mentioned in my last update that the reports of panic buying were grossly exaggerated from what I was seeing myself in Shinjuku. Shortly after that more reports began coming in over twitter and from reliable sources echoing the shortages. I went back out to Shinjuku after this to check for myself again. While I still did not see any lines or rationing, and most shelves are stocked with everything up to and including milk and bread, it sadly seems that the reports of a toilet paper rush are true. The stores I checked were entirely cleaned out of toilet paper, as well as 2L bottles of water.

Mango kefir I had thanks to the reappearance of milk at the stores near here.

Blackouts: The rolling blackouts are still occurring, from what I’ve heard. Eric and I live within the 23 wards and have not been affected by this so far. There have been reports coming out lately saying that the blackouts may have to be widened in the summer to deal with the heat. I’ve also heard of likely price hikes, and even the possibility of Japan implementing daylight savings time and lengthening holidays this summer to deal with the power shortages.

Radiation: This seems to be moving along at the same rate it has been moving on for the last several weeks. Nothing is improving, but it’s not getting too bad either. We go through cycles of feeling fairly confident in our knowledge and judgements, and periods of uncertainty.

Wednesday evening into Thursday was probably the low point of this week, with discussions among those of us who have remained here through everything veering off into “how bad does it have to be for us to pick up and leave?”. This was triggered by the reports of contaminated water and spinach. The levels of radiation in the water were alarming for a day or two, but quickly returned back to safe and normal levels again.

Seasonal Sakura mochi daifuku from Takashimaya department store.

The general sentiment that came from various discussions was that ‘wait and see’ is still the best approach for us. While we absolutely do not think we are risking our health any more than usual by remaining here at the moment, we know that there is a definite possibility that we would be if we were to stay in the event that contamination spread into the distributed food supply and we consumed it over an extended period of time.

I’ve heard from several friends who recently returned from elsewhere in Japan or who stayed behind that they seem to think things are improving. I’m not entirely convinced myself, but I do know that if things continue at the same level we will be fine for quite a while. It would be nice to see some actual improvement, though.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2011 10:40 pm

    Yeah, seems like some US news stations are sensationalizing the reports from Japan. Thanks for your perspective – definitely sheds some light on what is really happening. I’ve heard from a cousin there that told me the people of Japan are staying extremely positive, and it’s never a bad thing when there are too many wanting to volunteer.

    Glad to hear you’re safe Maya, and it looks like you are still enjoying lots of delicious fresh eats. I want that pesto sandwich!

    Take care and enjoy those extended hours at the gym. I’m still shivering thinking about those poor souls who got stuck outside in nothing by towels. That would have been awful. Also, read the Badass of the Week link you sent me. Put a big smile on my face – thank you. :)

    • March 29, 2011 5:30 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment! I’m very pleased to say that even through all the panic buying and shortages, I’ve never once had to compromise my normal food standards. I think access and availability of my usual foods is probably a good way to judge the livability of the situation, though. :D

      The foreign media really has been going over the top to add extra drama to stories related to this whole situation. Meanwhile, the Japanese media is being very cautious and trying to avoid too much speculation, as usual. It has made it a bit hard to sort out what is really going on at times. Thankfully, there is a great network of news watchers and fellow expats on Twitter, who have been doing a great job keeping us pointed towards the good and seemingly unbiased news sources!

      Here’s hoping things sort themselves out sooner rather than later, though..

  2. March 28, 2011 1:38 am

    Standing in a park with nothing but a gym towel? You make me scared to ever take a shower at the gym again! X_X;

    • March 29, 2011 5:23 pm

      Well, that possibility is always there.. it’s just going to be a little fresher in your mind now because you know people who had to actually do it. Many of the women at the gym have started keeping t-shirts and such in their cubbyholes when they are in the bath, and last week I even saw two older women wear swimsuits into the sauna, which is usually not allowed. Personally, I’ve started keeping my gym clothes in my cubby right next to the sauna/bath area instead of upstairs in my locker as I used to. I figure in the event of another quake I’d rather grab and change into my sweaty gym clothes than brave the outdoors naked..

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