Notes from Utsunomiya

Heather & I had planned to get together on the 15th well before the earthquake and with trains running again, I decided to keep our appointment. At the same time, I was able to do something helpful by taking her my old laptop as a substitute for the computer she lost in the quake.

So shortly after 11 am on Tuesday, I found myself in a oddly quiet Tokyo station. It wasn't deserted, but the number of people moving about was lower than I could ever remember seeing before. That's because they were all waiting in line to get Shinkansen tickets. Me, too! A twenty minute wait in line - everyone quiet and patient - got me a ticket on the next train north. I had an hour to wait, so I got a coffee and camped on the platform along with everyone else. The journey was standing room only from Ueno to Utsnomiya but otherwise normal.

Damage: I saw some damage to tiled roofs, old lathe-and-plaster buildings, and unsupported cement block walls. I didn't see any major collapses or cracks.

General Disruption: Lots of offices are closed. Both Heather and Kat have had most of their work hours cut 'til the end of the month. Schools seem to be open, though graduations are coming soon. Most stores are closed during blackouts and plenty are just shut for the duration. For example, all the shops in the station complex are shuttered except one kiosk and a gift shop.

Blackout & Energy Conservation: This morning I experienced a scheduled blackout, the first one the Heather's area has gone through. "Did the power just go out?" she called to me from the other room as I sat at the computer. "Um, yes. I guess that means you are in group 5!"  After breakfast, which had just finished baking before the power cut, we went out for a drive and it was interesting to see the irregular edges of the Group 5 area by observing if the traffic lights were working or not. I think drivers in Japan need a refresher on how to drive when there are no signals or cops directing traffic.

Aftershocks: Felt at least 8 in the 24 hours I visited. Heather's house creaks a lot as it has an old tin roof, but it doesn't shake much more than my apartment in Tokyo. The last quake I felt was on the platform at Utsunomiya station just before 1 this afternoon. I've never seen Japanese react to an earthquake, but several people around me sought shelter or looked frightened. The quake was a Shindo 3 - enough to rattle everything in the station for about 20 seconds before settling down.

Radiation: Utsunomiya is about halfway between Tokyo and the Fukushima nuclear plant, so closer, but still well outside the danger zones. On Tuesday after another incident that leaked some radiation unexpectedly, there were elevated radiation readings "33 x normal" in Utsunomiya.  I never heard what normal was but let's say it's the worldwide average of .00027 millisieverts/hour (average background radiation dose is 2.4 millisieverts/year). That means the radiation level in Utsy yesterday hit .009 milliseiverts/hour. That means the 10 minutes I spent in transit outdoors yesterday was equal to one long 4th Sunday Spin on a normal radiation day. Looking at it another way, you could be outside in Utsunomiya for over 11 hours yesterday or get one chest xray - it's about the same radiation dosage. Not many people panic about an xray, but everyone in Utsy was staying inside or getting out of town. 

Food & Other Supplies: As in Tokyo, no bread nor milk is available, but plenty of vegetables are since Utsunomiya is a farming area. Kat discovered a cache of orange-scented toilet paper in one store and bought a pack as that is another commodity in short supply, along with menstrual pads and diapers. Plenty of alcohol remains but chocolate supplies are thinning out.

Gasoline: Petrol and deisel shortages are a problem. Rescue workers don't have enough fuel to run their operations. The Minowas have two cars and one tank was full, the other was not. Kat waited in a relatively short line to refill his tank late last night. This morning as Heather and I drove past a gas station, there was a traffic jam for several kilometers because people at the head of the jam were waiting to turn to join the line at the gas station to get fuel. I am sure most people stuck there did not realise they were waiting in line for gas!

I'm glad I went up to see Heather; we had a good time despite the challenges and uncertainties. We nibbled and noshed and laughed lots. I gave dramatic readings of the news, told bedtime stories, played with Nina and got to sleep with Shaft curled up on the bed keeping me warm.


Okay this may sound strange, since I realize you don't know me, but I want to just say that I am grateful you are well. I have, as most of us here have been doing, been listening and watching the news from Japan with great emotion. This is heightened by the fact the we in Southern California are also in the line of fire, so to speak, of the Pacific Ring Of Fire. We all know that the possibility exists that we could be next.
Working after-hours at my office, I often take my mind off the world by listening to audio books, and I thought it interesting, what with the tragic events coming out of Japan, that I should be listening to A Journey To The Interior Of The Earth, the current chapters being read by yourself, in Japan. I don't have a rational explanation, but listening to your readings at this particular time, well I felt a kind of kinship, over the thousands of miles and the six years since you recorded these.
I just wanted to wish you well.


Hi Kristen, re Fukushima, you may be interested in this blog:
The writer is a geologist and is interviewing her father who is a nuclear engineer who has worked in US plants with the same reactor design as Fukushima. His early comments about everyone he has seen on TV having a pro or anti nuclear agenda to push tally with what we are hearing in Australia.
Cheers, and stay safe.
Steve Gunnell

Hey Kristen,

it's Karen from Duquesne. Wanted to say that I'm happy I found your blog and that I've been sharing it with my neighbors here in Pittsburgh! Glad you and Tod are OK and very interested in your daily observations from the inside! This is an incredible event and so many people have the entire nation of Japan in their thoughts! Take care. Karen

You don't know me either, but I'm also glad you're ok.

Thanks for reporting on the condition of Utsunomiya. I have a relative who lives there with her family. I worry about how they're doing, and I haven't heard much from her. All I got was a strange message on my Facebook that didn't give me any information on how they're doing. But at least I know she's alive.

Stay safe!


Leave a comment

Recent Comments

  • Mel: You don't know me either, but I'm also glad you're read more
  • Kristen: Hi, Karen. So nice to hear from you. Thanks for read more
  • karen: Hey Kristen, it's Karen from Duquesne. Wanted to say that read more
  • Steve Gunnell: Hi Kristen, re Fukushima, you may be interested in this read more
  • Kristen: Thanks for your thoughts, Ed. I'm glad we connected through read more
  • Ed Sanchez: Okay this may sound strange, since I realize you don't read more