Cherry Blossom Forecast 2024 (Japanese version only) (Japanese version only) (Japanese version only)

when and where to see cherry blossoms (Japanese version only):

Monday, March 28, 2011

Two weeks have passed

Two weeks have passed since the massive earthquake occurred in Tohoku and Kanto areas on March 11th. It is the greatest earthquake of the ten centuries and is the worst natural disaster in postwar Japanese history.

Many people are still searching for their family members, houses, family memorabilia and keepsakes. They look to me like rubbles, but they used to be their homes and belongings. Many people are stuck in the areas because their family members are still missing.

However, officials started to clear away a huge heap of rubbles as a stage of recovery. Discovered photographs and articles of value are stored in town halls.

Giant tsunami rushed toward the shores of Chiba, Ibaraki prefectures in Kanto Region and Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate and Aomori prefectures in Tohoku Region several times.

I've been to Tanohata Village in Iwate Prefecture. It was a pastoral and coastal village but had a monolithic coastal levee. Nonetheless, 14 people lost their lives, 30 are still missing and 600 have been evacuated due to tsunami.
Taro-cho(Taro Town) was equipped with double 10-meter-high coastal levees, but giant tsunami easily leaped over them.  Many designated evacuation centers were swept up by the tsunami. The nuclear power plant in Fukushima was attacked by 14-meter-high tsunami.

The height of tsunami was far and away beyond all expectations. It is said that it was very important to make decisions depending on the actual situation and take refuge in higher places.

We can get various kinds of information ncluding false rumors about the afflicted areas and the nuclear power plant on the Net.It is difficult to find out what is right.

We can also see the survivors' tragic experiences. The afflicted areas look like a battlefield. Some people care only about themselves, but many of the city officials and victims are working in shelters or town halls although their family members are still missing or staying in another shelters. The survivors said that the disaster revealed people's innermost natures.

The problematic nuclear power plant is in critical situation. It could take months before the issue is resolved.
We know the past concealment of nuclear plant faults by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). So it gives us a sense of distrust.

Most of the workers who are currently working in the nuclear power plant are local people. Some of them still don't know whether their families survived while working there and the families of some workers are staying in shelters. They are enduring a hard struggle without compassion.

The 83th Spring High School Baseball Tournament began on the 23rd. It will be held at Koshien Stadium to April 1st on the sidelines of spring vacation.

Tohoku High School is participating in the tournament as the representative of Miyagi Prefecture. The members of its baseball team helped the afflicted people with water supply as a volunteer in a shelter near their school after the quake.

There are arguments for and against their participation. They said they wondered whether or not they should participate in the tournament. Most events are postponed or cancelled in Tokyo.

Trains were so crowded during commuter rush hours due to partial suspension of train services that I was tired. Now my trains are less crowded than before.

I visited my family grave with my family on the 23rd. It seemed that many people visited their family graves because fresh flowers were placed on many graves. I noticed some trees such as Kobushi magnolia(辛夷, kobushi), Mulan magnolia(木蓮, mokuren) and Thunberg's meadowsweet(雪柳, yukiyanagi) blooming.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

concerns about harmful rumors

Two periods of seven days with the middle day falling on the spring or autumn equinox are called Higan(彼岸), which means "the other shore" or Buddhahood.
We visit our family graves during Higan, but I have yet to do it because of the current transportation condition. I'm just wondering whether to do it or not.

The rescued elderly woman and her grandson were in the dining room on the second floor and their house with them was swept up by the tsunami.
They were trapped under the debris but were able to get some food from the refrigerator. Their family was searching for them but was not able to find a clue because their house was moved quite a distance. Their family said, "We feel sorry that only our family can feel happy."
More than 27,000 people are left dead or missing by the quake and tsunami.

Kanto Region includes Tokyo, Kanagawa Prefecture and some tsunami-hit prefectures such as Chiba and Ibaraki. Tohoku Region includes most of the afflicted areas such as Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and Aomori prefectures.

It is a big problem that people buy up some kinds of goods such as gasoline, rice, toilet paper, milk products and water in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The government is calling on the people to halt buying up.

Oil was in limited supply in Kanto and Tohoku regions the because several oil factories in some areas shut down due to the earthquake. A large oil factory in Yokohama of Kanagawa Prefecture started operating again today.

Some food manufacturers have their production factories in the afflicted areas and the areas where the electricity supply was not restored.

Much water and dry-cell batteries were sent to the afflicted areas.

Many of the former earthquake victims encourage the current victims, and we can be future victims.

Cases of theft have been increasing in number in the afflicted areas because of supply shortage.

It's graduation season in Japan. Many school graduation ceremonies were held before and after the quake. Some elementary students were in the school when tsunami crashed ashore.
A representative of their parents said to their teachers in their graduation ceremony, "Thank you for protecting our children against the tsunami damage. We will protect and bring up them from now on."

It's criminal to think that whole of Japan is contaminated with radiation. Tohoku and Kanto regions have been influenced by the quake and tsunami, but most of them are safe from radioactive pollution.
Other regions including Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Kyushu area and Okinawa are completely safe from radioactive pollution.

WHO declared that there is no need to issue a travel warning for Japan and no need to measure radiation of travelers from Japan.
The International Civil Aviation Organization(ICAO) also announced that they impose no restrictions on traveling to Japan.

Many residents in Fukushima Prefecture have fled to other prefectures. Quantity of radioactive material in some foods exceeded limit imposed by regulation and the government appointed Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma porefectures to stop shipments of them.

Monday, March 21, 2011

the 10th day after the quake

Sixteen years have passed since the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack on March 20th in 1995. In the same year, the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake occurred on January 17th. People felt deeply insecure in the year.

A 80-year-old woman and her 16-year-old grandson were rescued on the 20th. They were trapped under the debris.

Quake-stricken prefectures began to build temporary housing on the 19th. Other prefectures are offering to absorb the sufferers.

Many people are still searching for their families. Some people are leaving the afflicted areas to head for their relatives' houses.

A temporary bridge was built in place of tsunami-driven one.

Post-office clerks began to deliver mail in an afflicted area. They thread their way through the debris by motorcycle, but many receivers are staying in shelters or at their relatives' houses. In some cases, there is no house at the shipping address.

It seems that the present situation of the nuclear power plants is in a state of being in control.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A week has passed

A week has passed since the earthquake hit the areas including Sanriku Coast, but many people in the afflicted areas are still facing a crisis of life. Never had it happened before. Larger shelters began to receive enough relief supplies, but small isolated shelters didn't. We can do nothing for them.

It seems that the present situation of the nuclear power plants is getting better.

In the morning on the 17th, I saw foreign people with their luggage in my train. I supposed that they returned home or moved to the western areas of Japan. Meanwhile, we commuted by train as usual.

I don't see what all the fuss is about. I'm sympathetic to feelings of people living in Fukushima Prefecture where the nuclear power plants are built. However, most people think it's impossible we could be exposed to a high level of radiation in Tokyo. Compared to it, having an X-ray is more dangerous. Many people were exposed to atomic-bomb radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so we have some knowledge of the effects of radiation.

In the evening on the 17th, train services were disrupted due to partial or full suspension of them. Because Japanese minister of economy, trade and industry announced that a massive blackout might occur in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
We formed a line and waited for our trains silently. I had been standing at Yokohama Station 50 minutes waiting my train to come.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's snowing in the afflicted area

The problematic nuclear power plants are in critical situation.

A 75-year-old woman and a man in his twenties were rescued on the 15th. Meanwhile, more than 1000 people were found dead. Many people are still searching for their families. More than 11,000 are still missing.

It's snowing in the afflicted area.
The shelters in the areas accommodate 400 thousand people.  Many shelters are isolated and scattered over a large area. So relief supplies don't go around to them. It is difficult to ensure gasoline, heating oil and transportation routes.

The earthquake with a seismic intensity of a upper 6 occurred in Shizuoka Prefecture around 10:30 p.m. on March 15th. Some people were slightly injured. No building collapsed.

We are getting used to temporary or full suspension of train service due to scheduled blackout.
Some poeple take a different route to work, some give up going to work and some get off work in the afternoon.

Somehow many people have stopcked up on water and food such as canned  food, bag of rice and hermetically-sealed buns at a grocery store.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

few good news

TV stations are still reporting on the present situation in the afflicted areas. They are delivering many bad news and few good news.  The full spectrum of the earthquake damage has yet to be revealed, but the situation is getting better.

I have received good news.
Although I didn't write about one of my cousins, his wife and son on my blog, they live in Tagajo City that is located about 3km from the Sanriku Coast.
His father could communicate with him, but we couldn't confirm his family's safety. We heard that the city was one of the tsunami-hit regions.
Today his father said on the phone that the safety of his wife and son was confirmed.

Compared to the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, it took us a long time to confirm afflicted people's safety. The stench of muddy water and piles of rubble are preventing rescuers from finding and rescuing  the victims.

The transportation was disrupted this morning, but nobody complained about it. Everyone says, "Considering the current situation of the victims, I can't complain."

The problematic nuclear power plants are in serious condition.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What is going to happen next?

Although most TV stations have been broadcasting news programs about the earthquake since the quake occurred, we still can't see the full spectrum of the earthquake damage.

Many aftershocks have followed and I often received warning e-mails.

I heard on the news that the 7.0-magnitude earthquake can occur with 70% of the time in afflicted areas within 3 days. Do I have to walk for three hours to return home again?

The situation about the safety of one of nuclear power plants is not good.

Power plants including thermal power plants and nuclear power plants in afflicted areas are not in operation and it is anticipated that there might be an electricity shortage in the Kanto area including Tokyo and Yokohama.

So all sections in Kanto area will be without electricity in sequence three hours a day starting tomorrow. Can I go to work?

What is going to happen next?  I'm feeling tremendous insecurity.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The earthquake off Sanriku Coast

The earthquake(M8.8) with a seismic intensity of 7 on the seven-point Japanese scale occurred off the Sanriku coast at 14:46 p.m.(Japan Time) on March 11th.

The quake(M7.4) with a seismic intensity of a lower 6 occurred off the coast of Ibaraki Prefecture at 15:15 p.m. on the same day and the quake(M6.7) with a seismic intensity of a upper 6 did at 03:59 a.m. on March 12th.

Sanriku Coast extending into Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi Prefecutures is a beautiful ria coast, but its terrains amplify the tsunami damage.
Areas including a 200-kilometer coastline were engulfed by 10-meter tsunamis. Only helicopters and boats can rescue the people left behind from flooded areas now, so it takes long.
It is very difficult to find the people that were swept up by the tsunami. 

The earthquake off Sanriku Coast hit vast area of the Pacific side.
When feeling the strongish earthquake(seismic intensity of a upper 5), I was working on the 10th floor of a 28-story building. The building swayed bigger and longer than ever before. It made thumping noises many times. Isaw a crack in the wall and small plaster cracks.

All of trains on subway lines, private railway and JR lines were suspended due to the quake yesterday. So we were not able to go home immediately.

I tried to get on a mobile to my family, but there had been no contact so far with them. I watched live One Seg broadcasts on cell-phone for information. I was speechless when I saw the situation in the disaster area.
I heard that a newspaper carried the headline "Japan Sinks." I'm not amused.

I waited for resumption of operation for a while, but I was reconciled to walk home. Although I came near to lose my way once or twice, I made it home around 11 p.m. after 3.5 hours.
Going home will take much longer if a quake occurs in my area. I had blisters on my feet.

However, the train line I've been riding was in operation then. Many people working in areas far from their homes were stuck at a station. They are provided with temporary sleeping places in Tokyo.
Convenience store privided people going home with water, toilet rooms and road information.
(Refer to Disaster Prevention Day)

Many aftershocks have followed also in Yokohama.
Emergency earthquake alert service is offered to us by cell-phone carriers, I received e-mails with warning tone.
We worry about the safety of one of nuclear power plants in Fukushima Prefecture, and we can't see the full spectrum of the earthquake damage yet.

We do appreciate the kind offers of many countries.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

faithful dog Hachi

Hachi was a Akita that is a Japanese dog breed native to Akita. He was born in Akita Prefecture around the end of 1923 and was sent to a university professor living in Shibuya on January 14th in 1924. He followed the professor to the door or Shibuya Station in the morning and went to meet the professor at the station in the evening every day.

On May 21st in 1925, the professor died suddenly in his university. Hachi ate nothing for three days.
Although the wake for the professor was held on May 25th, Hachi went to meet the professor at the station with the other professor's dogs.
Hachi was forced to move from home to home after his master's death and settled into a gardener's house near Shibuya Station.

People had often seen Hachi around the staion since then.  Station attendants and stallkeepers treated him like a nuisance and chidren took advantage of his docility to draw a mustache on his face.

The president of the Japanese dogs preservation society wrote a letter to the newspaper in mercy.  Because of the article on Hachi, he has become known all over Japan. People around the station came to give him better treatment. a stallkeeper gave him skewered char-broiled chicken. Hachi came to be called Hachi-ko.

Some people said Hachi went to the station for the chiken. However, The gardener fed him adequately. The article allowed him to eat the chiken.
In 1934, the statue of Hachi was built and Hachi himself attended the unveiling ceremony. The dog had continued on going to the station about for 10 years.

On March 8th in 1935, Hachi was found dead near the station. A lavish memorial service for him was held at Shibuya Staion.  He was buried in Aoyama Cemetery where his master was laid to rest.
Stuffed Hachi is kept at the National Science Museum in Tokyo.
His organs are on exhibit at the museum belonging to Faculty of Agriculture, The University of Tokyo.

The cause of his death was thought to be a filaria infection. In March 2011, the MRI scans of his lung and heart reveal that the dog had terminal cancer.

The statue of Hachi-ko is in the little square in front of Shibuya Station and is one of the most famous meeting places at the station. I often met some of my friends in front of Hachi-ko, but there are so many people in the square. I had trouble meeting them.

Hachiko: A Dog's Story (or Hachi: A Dog's Tale) is a remake of the 1987 Japanese film "Hachiko Monogatari." It was directed by Lasse Hallströmand and stars Richard Gere.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Kagamiyama Kokyo no Nishiki-e and Ooku

Maids of warrior families are allowed to return home during the Doll's Festival. "Meiboku Sendai Hagi(伽羅先代萩)" and "Kagamiyama Kokyo no Nishiki-e(加賀見山旧錦絵)" used to be performed for them in the 3rd month.

"Meiboku Sendai Hagi(伽羅先代萩)" is a kabuki or bunraku play based on the internal strife in the Sendai Domain between 1660 and 1671.  It was premiered as a kabuki play in 1777 and as a bunraku play in 1785.

The highlight of this play is the suffering of Masaoka(政岡) who is the wet nurse of her young lord.  She is torn between love for her child and loyalty to her lord.

"Kagamiyama Kokyo no Nishiki-e(加賀見山旧錦絵)" is a kabuki or bunraku play based on the internal strife in the Kaga Domain in 1748 and an actual incident occurred at a feudal lord's residence in Edo. It was premiered as a bunraku play in 1782 and as a kabuki play in 1783.

At the residence maintained by a feudal lord of the Hamada Domain in Edo in 1724, first lady-in-waiting Sawano gave second lady-in-waiting Michi a thrashing because Michi wore Sawano's zori(Japanese sandals) by mistake. Michi was shamed into committing suicide and Michi's waiting maid Satsu got revenge against Sawano to death.

Instead of being punished, Satsu won acclaim for her loyalty. She rose to the rank of second lady-in-waiting.
There is Satsu's grave in Hamada City of Shimane Prefecture.

The three women came from samurai family, but Onoe(Michi) is a commoner's daughter in the play.  This play received empathy from maids who were through the same kind of experience.

Ooku (大奥) refers to the shogun harem in Edo Castle. About 1000 women including the shogun's mother, wife, concubines and maids resided there. The maids were divided into 3 ranks in a broad way and more than 20 ranks for details.

The maids whose father was received in audience with the shogun and his wife had the potential to advance their career. However, they were not allowed to get a lover and marry during their lifetimes. They were scarcely able to go out of the castle.

The daughters of rich merchants or farmers were not able to move upward in Ooku, but they were allowed to make a home visit and were able to marry after coming back to their parents' home.  They tried to gain prestige by going into service in Ooku to make a good match.

Both of high-ranked and low-ranked maids had a chance to catch the shogun's attention and become the shogun's mother before age 30, but high-ranked ones had more opportunities than low-ranked ones.

A top-ranked maid got a salary of 25 million yen a year, but second-ranked maids were at the helm of Ooku.  They had jobs with prestige.
A second-ranked maid got a salary of 15 million yen a year and a house in Edo. They earned house rent income by letting their houses.
A bottom-ranked maid got a salary of less than a million yen a year, but the salary was equivalent to more than double a typical live-in maid's salary.

Maids who had worked for Ooku for over 30 consecutive years received pensions whole life long.

Successive financial reformers of the Edo Shogunate tried to reduce the costs of Ooku, but Ooku's annual budget went up to 24 billion yen around the end of the Edo Period.

The 8th Shogun Yoshimune underwent a major restructuring of Ooku. He retired young and beautiful maids on the assumption that they could find a new carrer.  Every furloughed maid didn't file a claim.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Today is the day called Keichitsu(啓蟄) on which hibernating insects are said to come out of the ground.

The Japanese rescue team in Christchurch desperately tried to search for survivors of the earthquake, but their rescue efforts ended with fruitless results on March 5th.

One of the students who was within a hair's breadth said that she was suddenly left all alone.  She was in a restaurant away from the collapsed building when the quake occurred. Most of her classmates were having lunch in the cafeteria of the collapsed building. She happened to head out for a meal on the day.

Another student had his leg amputated during a rescue operation. He reported on the present situation to his family in Japan through a cell-phone without losing his sense of composure.  
After being rescued, he was asked in a television interview how he felt when a rescuer told him the amputation of his foot. He declared flatly that he didn't worry about it. The rescuer also said he made a snap decision to have his leg amputated.

Recently temperatures fluctuate greatly from day to day.
Sankan Shion(三寒四温) means alternation of three cold and four warm days.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hina Matsuri

March 3rd is the Japanese Doll Festival for girls called Hina Matsuri.

On the top shelf are emperor and empress.
On the second shelf are three female attendants.
On the third shelf are five musicians.
On the fouth shelf are two ministers.
On the fifth shelf are attendants holding shoes, a shrouded parasol and hat.

Hina Gashi(雛菓子)

  • empress with a folded fan in her hands
  • paper lantern
  • emperor with shaku(笏)in his hand
Shaku is a wooden flat ritual scepter.

  • fruited tachibana(scientific name:Citrus tachibana)
  • diamond-shaped ricecakes called hishimochi(菱餅)
  • cherry
The green layer of hishimochi contains mugwort.

All of them are nerikiri.

Hina Arare(雛あられ)

puffed and sugarcoated rice, soy beans.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Omizutori and ume


An annual ritual commonly known as Omizutori started on March 1st. The 1260th Omizutori is being held at Nigatsu-do hall of Nara's Todaiji temple from March 1st to the 14th.

(Refer to Omizutori for more information about Omizutori)

Nigatsu-do in the night

Most petals have fallen off the ume tree in my garden.

Yushima Tenjin
Ume blossoms are past their peak in my area, but the ume festival at Yushima Tenman-gu Shrine(湯島天満宮) also known as Yushima Tenjin(湯島天神) in Tokyo is being held from February 8th to March 8th.

The ume festival at Kairaku-en (偕楽園) in Mito City in Ibaraki Prefecture is being held from February 20th to March 31rd. Kairaku-en is a Japanese garden.

The plum-blossom(ume) festival(梅花祭) was held at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto City on the anniversary of Sugawara Michizane's death, February 25th.


Yokan ume(羊羹梅)

Yoru no Ume(夜の梅) made by Toraya(虎屋)

Yokan at Toraya are considered among the country's best. Toraya's yokan Yoru no Ume(夜の梅, ume in the night) has only three ingredients; adzuki, sugar and kanten.
Yoru no Ume is a bar of yokan. It shows adzuki beans when cut in cross section. This confection got its name from its resemblance to dim ume blossoms in the dark of the night.

老梅図襖 (The Old Plum)was painted by Kano Sansetsu(狩野山雪, 1590-1651) in 1647 and is now housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Many painters drew a picture of old ume tree, but I've never seen such a extremely-deformed ume tree. This painting is close to contemporary art.