January 2012 Archives

Potential Catastrophes

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Frequency of quakes around Tokyo, before and after the Tohoku quake. Data from Todai report.

Last week, the University of Tokyo Earthquake Research Institute published a new report on "The Big One" that is overdue to hit Tokyo. After studying the frequency of quakes in the Kanto region since 3/11, they say there is a 70% chance that a magnitude 7 or higher quake will happen in the next 4 years. From the English summary of their research:

Small earthquakes occur more frequent[ly] than large ones. Smaller the earthquake is, the more likely [it is] to occur. This is called the "Gutenberg-Richter's low".  For example, in Japan it is known that magnitude (M) 3 earthquake occurs 10,000 times per year (i.e. once in an hour); M4 earthquake, 1000 times per year (i.e. 3times in a day); M5, 100 times per year (i.e. once in 3days); M6, 10 times per year (i.e. once a month).

The government's official prediction, which uses a different basis for calculation, is that The Big One will hit with a 70% chance in the next 30 years. That is easy enough to ignore - 30 years is a long time, after all. But this new prediction from the university scientists make it sound like as likely as a weather forecast. 70% chance of rain? You'd carry an umbrella.

Friends I've surveyed about this admit their concern, but aren't planning to leave or do much at all. I think my main action will be to update my emergency kit with some items we learned were in short supply after March, and to keep to a schedule of restocking it so that food stores are always fresh.

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Good morning, Japan. Mt Fuji area quake shakes us all awake.

So with all this on my mind, a series of earthquakes this weekend were more jarring than usual. We felt three moderately rattlers on Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon. None bigger than M 5.5, but all with an epicenter near Mt. Fuji. There were quite a few we didn't feel originating form there, too, and some along the coast in Kyushu and Okinawa.

This concerns me in two ways. First of all, this weekend's Fuji quakes were just about at the epicenter of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake - the previous Big One - that destroyed a lot of Tokyo in collapses and fire. But more important than a historical tie, Mt Fuji isn't on the Pacific Plate, where the March 11 earthquake happened. It's at the boundary of two plates: the Philippine and Eurasian. I'm not a geologist, but it seems logical that when one area slips violently, as the Pacific Plate did last year, adjacent plates are going to build up stress until they shift, too. Until recently, most of the quakes have been on the Pacific Plate with some along the Eurasian Plate (up in Niigata, for example) and just a rare few on the Philippine Plate. Looks like things may be changing now.

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Beautiful portrait of Fuji-san this morning. Thanks to a livecam at http://www.fujigoko.tv/

Which brings me to my second concern, Mt Fuji itself. She's due for an eruption. The last time was December 1707, a few months after a huge earthquake and tsunami. She has erupted in concert with other large earthquakes, including once in 870, after a really huge quake in northern Japan in 869. So could we be lining up for a volcanic eruption along with the Big One?

I'd better include some dust masks in the emergency kit.


Comic Hooping

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Wednesday night at Hoop Lounge I did a first run of a new act that I plan to take up to Tohoku next month to entertain kids who were affected by last year's earthquake and tsunami. I'll be going up with Guy Totaro and the Smile Ambassador program, a part of the Tyler Foundation's children's charities.

I have been wanting to bring more character into my hooping, and this is a great chance. In some of the Tohoku shows, I'll be the "lovely assistant" and this routine will be my "solo" in the larger comedy show. This act is more physical theatre than hooping, though it requires the hoop to work. 

I have no training in physical theatre so I struggled to figure out how to work emotion and a storyline into my hooping. I watched a lot of videos, pulled faces in the mirror to discover my range of expressions, and every time I practiced the routine, I found a new way to refine the storyline. I know I will be performing this routine many times and learning more about it each time I do.

The performance on Wednesday wasn't perfect but it was fun. The audience laughed and that was encouraging. I got positive and helpful feedback from friends; thank you all so much for boosting my confidence and also giving me some things to work on. 

And most helpful of all, I can see the act myself. Trine captured video of both Hoop Lounge performances that night - first mine, then a gorgeous LED choreography from Kana, who always wows the audience with her grace. We made a good show of opposites. 

Mystery Weasel = Masked Civet

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Masked Civets

My neighborhood wildlife spottings started in December 2002 and it has always been a mystery to me what this long tailed grey critter was. Tanuki? Badger? I called it the Mystery Weasel in my first post and wrote about another sighting of the same animal on July 2006. After seeing four of them together two nights ago as I walked home with Tod & Heather at about 10pm - and taking a photo - I was able to track down an identification. 

They are masked palm civets, hakubishin in Japanese. Probably not native to Japan, they were likely brought here from Taiwan in the Meiji era as fur animals. These days they live in the wild and according to urban wildlife tracking website Tokyo Tanuki there are many sightings in the city, quite a few of them in my part of town. Based on eyewitness reports, they estimate a population of 315 wild civets in Tokyo. 

Who knew?

Good Luck in the New Year

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Yesterday I went to Yoyogi Park to work on a new comic hooping act but got distracted as I entered the gates, Healthy Matsuda, one of Tokyo's licensed buskers (Heaven Artists, dont' get me started) was setting up do a comic mime performance. I grabbed a hot tea from the vending machine nearby and plonked myself in front of his hat as he warmed up.

I was the only person waiting and watching, and I was surprised when he addressed me - in English - saying that he'd seen me hooping on Sundays. It was nifty to be recognised; there are lots of regulars at the park and it's good that we get to know one another. I should make a point to greet the people I see frequently.

His act was charming - impressions of flowers and fruit (the banana cracked me up completely), a very clever series with invisible masks, and "how people laugh around the world." It was a good performance and with my own comic show in mind, I paid close attention to his manner, timing and showmanship. 

By the middle of the show he'd attracted a moderate crowd. When it was over, I dug some money out of my wallet and tossed it in his hat. Offering paper money in the US might mean a dollar, right? Here the smallest denomination is worth about $12, so it's a leap up. I certainly laughed and learned 1000 yen's worth.

Matsuda-san told me I was his first audience of 2012 and thanks to me he was sure that it was going to be a lucky year. Maybe it's sort of like the first tuna auction at Tsukiji, where prices are bid way up to ensure a good season of fishing and business. If you get some decent cash in your first street show in January, the rest will be good, too. I hope it is a great year for him.

Happy New Year

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Best wishes from me and Tod for a bright Year of the Dragon.

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