Thursday, 24 March 2011

A devastated Japan

The Sendai earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear power station

Aftershocks in the wake of Sendai earthquake.
Image from the wikipedia Tohoku earthquake and tsunami entry.

It would seem bad luck comes in threes. It also comes in earthquakes, tidal waves and nuclear accidents. Even if you live under a rock you will have heard about the devastation Japan has experienced in the wake of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that occurred on Friday 11th March at about 14.46 local time. For donation information please see further below.

The earthquake happened about 45 miles east of the Tohoku peninsula, 20 miles beneath the pacific ocean. The quake was so violent it was felt for several hundred miles. I happened to be upstairs at school when the warning came in and everyone dove under desks as the building rocked for several seconds. The quake triggered a 10 metre-high tsunami that raced inland, wiping out entire towns, villages and communities [before and after photo here].

If that wasn't enough, the quake and tsunami cut off power to and severely damaged the number II nuclear power station in Fukushima, which workers are still trying to control. Thankfully, the situation looks a lot better than it did a few days ago, despite the leak of minute amounts of radiation.

Since the quake there have been hundreds of (after)quakes occurring all over Honshu, Japan's main island [see them all here]. Several have shaken my little wooden house, but thankfully not enough to do any damage at all. Touch wood. According to reports the air here in Nagano is showing traces of radioactive material from the plant, although it's so small it's not worth a second thought. Water supplies are also fine, and there is more than enough food and fuel for everyone, thankfully.

However, there are many, many people in and around the devastated areas who are not nearly so fortunate. If you've seen the news you can judge for yourself, but any donations of money or items would be greatly received and appreciated. Some people have lost their possessions, their houses, their business and their families... everything!


Please help Japan:
* Donations can be made via and iTunes.
* British Red Cross Tsunami Appeal:
* Save the Children:
* Global Giving:
* American Red Cross Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief:
* Australian Red Cross:

* Japan relief prints: buy here.

Further information

There is more than enough good information about the entire situation online, though unfortunately you will have to wade through some shockingly ridiculous media coverage.

*Before and after photos of a devastated community.

*Interactive map of earthquake origin and nuclear evacuation area.

*More than 700 more quakes have occurred since the Sendai M9.0. Interactive map here.

* British Embassy conference transcript from UK Chief Scientific Officer, 15th March.

* "Why a nuclear reactor will never become a bomb." Simple explanation for the uninformed.!5782349/why-a-nuclear-reactor-will-never-become-a-bomb

* "Japan proves the safety of nuclear power."

*This is not Chernobyl.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Moon

Apparently the moon is rather close to earth at the moment.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Okinomiyaki with my students


Given the ending of term with yesterday's graduation, I was surprised to see students up and around school early today. The baseball team were running laps around the field (don't these kids ever sleep?!) and some second years were cooking okinomiyaki for a couple of leaving third year students. I happened to be wandering past the home economics room when I smelled something rather delicious, and was invited in to have a look. I told them I wanted to come back when they were finished to take some pics, and when I went back I was heartily fed. Well worth me poking my nose in. And I took plenty of pics, though sadly not of my full plate.

Er... this is the "after" shot.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011


Today's graduation.

This year I am very sad to be saying goodbye to my third year students, who have been my favourite students since my arrival at the school. I started teaching them not long after they became second years, and we've had many laughs and good moments in class.

The school is also going to be saying goodbye to seven teachers this year. I was rather unhappy to find the art teacher is leaving. I've been in many of her classes, and we've shared many an interesting conversation about art and photography. I've discovered that she is going to Ben's school, where she was working before she came to mine. Darnit!

Yesterday's practice.

Anyway, yesterday was the thirds years practice graduation. That is, they line up, accept certificates etc etc, just to make sure everything will run as planned for the real thing the day after. They only get to do it once, after all, and the Japanese insist on everything running smoothly.

Today's graduation was a bit teary for many students and some staff. Saying goodbye to good students and good teachers every March seems a bit heavy for everyone in the school. Me included.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

A beautiful day

My favourite park in Iida...

The pillars of this sheltered area in the park are decorated by the students of a local school. I wonder how long this would last intact back home...?

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Video: Myoko ski lift

The lounge position.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Student light project

I really enjoy the projects my school's art teacher creates with the students, and so I always go to see the exhibitions the students hold. This month was a light project, and as always there was lots of really beautiful creations. Here are a couple...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Takamori decor

Bridge decor.

Graveyard decor.

Cafe decor.

Tasty decor.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A carpet of white

The drive/parking area outside my house.

View from my front room. There are rice fields under that snow.

Nothing escapes the snow.

Digging out my car in the morning.

On the way to work... notice the droopy trees. This road is lined with them, and after heavy snow they sag right down to the road. Some days it's like driving through a tunnel of leaves. When the snow melts they spring back up again.

Blind curve. Not the place to slide the car.

Orchards in my village.

Icy hands.

My tree at school.


Monday, 14 February 2011


Spider-Ben and Jake lead the way.

The best thing about winter in Japan is the snowboarding. Certainly, sitting at home slowly freezing to death isn't much of an option, making the choice rather easy. This weekend we headed up to my favourite Japanese resort, Myokokogen in Niigata, the prefecture to the north of Nagano. To say they get a lot of snow is an understatement. Most of the roads there are flanked with 12ft drifts of snow, shifted off the road every day by huge snow-eating machines.

Spider-Ben losing momentum.

My boot considers the ride down.

We headed up on Saturday for a two-day trip, staying in Landmark Onsen Cafe, the lovely place we stayed at last year. On our first day of snowboarding the visibility wasn't fantastic but ok to board in. Unfortunately we managed to miss our last shuttle bus back to the cafe. Cold, hungry, alone and scared (slight exaggeration), we sat huddled in a rental shop pondering an hour walk back in a heavy blizzard. Much to my delight and our saviour, my brain wasn't as cold as I thought and was working quite well. I spotted a staff shuttle bus in the carpark outside and went over to him to see where he was going - if we could reduce the distance to our lodgings from within the comfort of a bus it would have been preferable. I explained we missed our last bus and needed walking directions to the cafe and he looked at us if we were crazy. Then we experienced, yet again, the incredible kindness and helpfulness that I love Japan for most: he offered us a lift home with the staff. An hour later we were sat roasting in an onsen, then an hour after that we were filled with ramen and chilling out at our lodgings for the night.

Trees trees trees.

Snowboarder style.

The following day visibility was amazing and we had an amazing time. I managed to master toe-edge (it's been a long wait since last winter) finally, as did Ben, and we snow-surfed that mountain to our hearts content.

The icicle of Damocles: 6ft of impending doom.

I think this shrine is closed for, er, some time.

Digging the car out after a long day of boarding is what I really look forward to.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Winter cometh!

Well, winter has arrived with vengeance, and depending on who I speak to it could be colder or warmer than last year. Not that helpful, really. Regardless, it's damn cold. After three days in a row of finding my shower head cracked, it finally dawned on me to remove it at night and keep it in my bedroom. It quickly solved the problem (I had to repair it three times though), but not the one of the shower itself freezing, unfortunately. Every day I go to it and must "defrost" if carefully before I use it. A burst pipe in a wooden house would be quite inconvenient.

Ajimabashi across the Tenryu river.

My toilet freezes too. And the pipe to my washing machine. I couldn't quite believe it was that cold until I bought a thermometer and realised my bedroom was around -6 degrees every night. Lovely. I had to laugh one morning when I went to the bathroom and found a four-inch icicle hanging out of the tap.

Snow-covered rice fields in my village.

Nevertheless, when it snows it warms everything up, and the snow is, as always, very pretty.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Round 1

Round 1: Ding ding!

The end of January saw Molly's birthday being celebrated up north in Nagano city. After a delightful (tasty) party at a restaurant we continued our evening at Round 1, a large games area. You pay your flat fee at the door and continue through to more games than you can comfortably imagine: arcade games, shooting, archery, golf, tennis, batting cages, curling, bowling, mechanical bulls, rollerskating, mini-scooters, playparks (yes!)... I can't remember the rest! Great fun, and seeing as you've already paid your fee you feel obliged to act like a child for the night.

The Nagano Olympic Building (from Paddy's apartment).