The Witless Clunkery of a Third-Rate Mind

Sunday, April 10, 2011

One month on ...

One month has passed and we're finally starting to get a handle on the enormity of this disaster. About 27,000 people dead or missing; 150,000 people displaced. Before-and-after pictures, as well as videos of the tsunami itself, show the incredible power of nature.

Aftershocks have been continuing almost daily. Some of them are almost too weak to even notice; they feel as if the house shivered a little bit. Others last over a minute and are quite strong. The ones in the week or so following the quake were the scariest. These constant aftershocks, plus all the scary news out of Fukushima concerning the failing reactors, was making it a terrifying, nerve-racking situation.

One week after the quake, I decided to get out of Tokyo. In the wake of the disaster, it seemed as though foreigners were splitting into 2 camps: alarmists who eagerly reported every bit of bad news and every panicky rumor, and the pacifiers, who insisted that everything was going to be all right, without providing any evidence whatsoever. I went back and forth between these two extremes about 5 times a day, believing deep down that everything was going to be fine, but unable to stop thinking about how bad it could ultimately get.

At times, the alarmists seemed like they hoped the worst-case-scenario would come true, so they could say "I told you so!" Meanwhile, the pacifiers were turning it into a big show of their manhood - if you joined the other foreigners who were leaving Tokyo, you were a big pussy.
But more and more people - not just foreigners - were getting out of Tokyo while the getting was good, and the real criterion seemed to be that, if you could leave, you left. The people who stayed, despite all their claims of being unworried and unafraid, really stayed because they couldn't get the time off work, or their Japanese families would have looked down on them and been terribly disappointed, or they just had no place to go.

The pressure from both sides was really stressing me out, and ended up leaving me really disappointed in a lot of people who I had considered my friends. And in the end, March was supposed to be my vacation time. I had nowhere to be, no responsibilities ... so, as planned, I left Tokyo. As you can tell by my lengthy explanation, I felt guilty about going, and wanted to justify it to somebody ...

On Friday, one week after the intial quake, we got on a bullet train for Nagoya. As soon as I got on the train, I felt a lot of stress dissolving. I was happy to put distance between myself and the reactors, but also, I felt like I was beginning my holidays.

Japan has a lot of groovy, futuristic architecture.

Nagoya was nice, although I admit I spent a lot of time parked in front of the TV watching the news. We just sort of laid low and relaxed, but one day we went to the Automobile Museum in Toyota city. I'm not overly interested in cars, to be honest, but Toyota has spent a lot of money acquiring and restoring historically-important cars and displaying them in perfect condition. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this must be one of the best collections of old cars in the world. These photos are only a small fraction of what they had on display.

First ever automobile? By Karl Benz, 1885.

Most magnificent automobile ever? Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. The engine was so quiet it was said to pass by like a ghost.

The Stanley Steamer - an automobile powered by a steam boiler! The BetaMax of automobiles.

No idea what this is - except I seem to recall it's Italian - and it's super cool.

Is this Honda the smallest car ever? I dunno, but it's pretty damn small.
It seriously looks like a toy car that a rich kid would get on his birthday.

Most beautiful car ever? My vote might go for the simple, elegant but shark-like lines of this Jaguar E-type.

From Nagoya, I caught another bullet train to Okayama, and then a normal express train across the Seto Bridge to Shikoku, the smallest of the 4 main islands that comprise Japan. It was my first time in Shikoku. I went to Matsuyama city, in Ehime prefecture, and stayed with my friend Mike, who is a former co-worker. Mike is starting teaching at Ehime University, but he had a few weeks off before the semester started, so I stayed at his place for a few days.

Matsuyama is a really lovely, smallish city with a beautiful castle in the middle of town. The castle is one of only 12 original castles in Japan. The others were either torn down in the wave of modernization that swept Japan following the restoration of the Meiji Emperor, or were burned during the bombings in WW2. In fact, Matsuyama castle burned down after being hit by lightning in the late 1700's, I believe, but was rebuilt in the early 1800's, so it qualifies as being an "original" castle.

It was built by Kato Yoshiaki, whose statue stands on a side street near one of the castle entrances.

One of the nice things is that they have an interactive exhibit where you can try on some samurai armour. I've been to quite a few castles and this is the first time I've seen something like this. I wish more museums and historical sites would let you try things like this. I was at the castle by myself, so I had to snap this picture from the hip, reflected in a mirror. Oh, the helmet was WAY too small for me too. Very painful.

Speaking of samurai armour, I went to an annual demonstration of samurai fighting arts back in February. These guys demonstrate their sword skills in full armour. Very cool!

At some point prior to the earthquake, I went to an exhibition hall in Odaiba, Tokyo and saw some of Toyota's prototypes and concept vehicles incorporating their robotics technology. One is a mobile platform for people with disabilities, that can walk up stairs, etc. and across rough terrain.

Another area they are developing is the "personal urban vehicle" sector - something which the existence of the Segway scooter proves there is a real demand for. They had a number of small scooter-like devices, but they also had this cool chair-car-thing which was shown zipping along the road at about 50 km/h in an accompanying video. Cool!

Anyway, this was a super-random post, wasn't it? Earthquakes, nuclear reactors melting down (almost), samurai and castles, walking robots. Practically a typical month in Japan ...


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