Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tales from Japan: A Little Help Goes a Long Way

A clipping from the North County Times front page!

Stories are very powerful.  The words of real people living in real life situations have the power to touch our hearts and move our souls.  In the midst of such uncertainty and scarcity, the gifts and offerings of others bring a newness and warmth to the hearts of those in need.   

I was very blessed to receive a large and generous package of supplies from America the other day.  It could not have come at a better time, as I am preparing to go in for surgery and leave my family a week alone without daddy.  It will be some peace to my mind knowing they have lots of food and emergency tools and supplies with them, if something were to happen while I am in the hospital.

It felt like Christmas opening the package! The kids and we were so excited!!

This generous response was made possible by a collaboration of a number of people whom I am very grateful for.  An article was published in my hometown`s local area newspaper that brought public attention to what was specifically going on with us in Japan.  I have received numbers of emails, comments, and followers as a result of the article printed in the North County Times. And I am moved to tears.

It is an encouragement to hear from so many and to know there are many caring people that surround us.  I hope to do you all well and give you my appreciation, as I continue to tell you all that is happening and continues to happen where we are.  I hope that there will be a blessing born out of all this that we all can share in!

On a serious note, I will be going in for much needed hip surgery from tomorrow.  I have bone shards that need to be removed and I will be unable to post anything for about a week.  But I will be able to post thoughts and other information via TWITTER during my stay in the hospital. 

Please follow me here www.twitter.com/stevetsunami

God bless you all and hope to hear from you as well.  Thanks for the help, it really does go a long way!! All the way to Japan even!!

-I would especially like to thank Dan Armentrout and those who worked closely with him to coordinate the quick sending of these and many more supplies to come in the days ahead.
-Also I want to thank my father and mother who have been communicating with us and working together with those in the community and churches back home on our behalf. We love you and miss you very much!

Tales from Japan: Gas shortages and Economic Woes

Taken from streets of Funabashi, Chiba days after March 11 earthquake.
Only gas available at Idemitsu was high octane at 159 yen per liter. About $6 (US) a gallon!

It has been a long lasting two and half weeks since that fateful day of March 11.  Even now Japan is beginning to experience the economic backlash from the aftermath of that day. As you will see in the video below, there was a gasoline shock that occurred after the earthquake and lasted almost two weeks in some of the areas where I am located (the Chiba Prefecture).  This shortage of gasoline caused a chain reaction preventing the shipment of stock and supplies to stores around the eastern area of Japan.   It left millions impacted by the mere fact that they had to wait in line for hours in most cases to fill their tanks just a little. The  limit being about 2 to 5 gallons per car in some cases.

This video was taken 10 days after the earthquake.  And in fact the line actually went back about a mile from when I cut.

Looking at the even bigger picture it becomes apparent that Japan`s economy, which can only thrive on its domestic commericial cosumption, is slowing down rapidly.  The combination of gas shortages and blackouts have slowed the transfer of goods leaving retailers strained to supply with limited hours and resources and forced consumers into scarcity panic mode.  It seems every other day, a new item on the shelf becomes scarce and cannot be found anywhere until it shows up a week later like nothing ever happened.

There are many other negative impacts on the economy from March 11 to also be considered, but these two hit at the heart of the daily rhythm of life in Japan.  Power and gasoline are two things that are easily taken for granted and their convenience allows for a continuous flow for Japan`s economy.  Currently in designated blackout areas most shops, restuarants, and retailers, etc. cannot remain open 24 hours a day as many did before.  They have limited hours of business and limited supplies to work with.  It used to be in Japan that you could get anything you want whenever you wanted, but now that is not the case in the East.

It is still not clear how long power outages will continue or if gas shortages will continue.  At the moment, gasoline is available at a very high price, but threatens to become scarce again if the conditions do not significantly improve in Tohoku and also in Fukushima`s nuclear situation.

We can only hope for the best and see how things play out in the coming weeks and months as Japan tries to get on the road to recovery.  It could be that economic recovery could be a much longer and difficult road than can be imagined for Japan.  Time will tell...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tales from Japan: Tears and Songs from Japan

It has been over two weeks and life is starting to move forward in some ways in Japan.  The following is of the song that has been playing frequently in stores and on television as a reminder of the tragedy of March 11.

The title of the song is 上を向いて歩こう "Let`s walk with our Heads Held High" * my translation.  The words of the song are heartfully tragic and sad, but the melody is upbeat and urges the audience to be strong and almost cheerful.

The following is my translation

上を向いて 歩こう                                 
Walk with your held head high
涙が こぼれないように                         
So that the tears don`t stream down
思い出す春の日 一人ぽっちの夜      
The days of spring I remember, on the lonely nights

Walk with your head held high
にじんだ 星をかぞえて
Count the tear filled stars
思い出す夏の日 一人ぽっちの夜
The days of summer I remember, on the lonely nights

幸せは 雲の上に                                 
There is happiness beyond the clouds

幸せは 空の上に                                 
There is happiness beyond the sky

上を向いて 歩こう                                 
Walk with your head held high
涙が こぼれないように                          
So that the tears don`t stream down
泣きながら歩く 一人ぽっちの夜           
A lonely man, I cry while I walk on those nights


思い出す秋の日 一人ぽっちの夜        
The days of autumn I remember, on the lonely nights.

悲しみは 星のかげに
There is sadness in the shadow of the stars

悲しみは 月のかげに                                
There is sadness in the shadow of the moon

上を向いて 歩こう                                      
Walk with your head held high
涙が こぼれないように                              
So that the tears don`t stream down
泣きながら歩く 一人ぽっちの夜               
A lonely man, I cry while I walk on those nights.

The nights that I`m all alone.
The nights that I`m all alone.

I think of the many people who are still suffering from not only physical pain and tremendous stress but of lonliness.  So many have lost loved ones and must continue on.  I believe this song is meant for them. A reminder for them to look to their memories for strength.  The memories of the good times with those whom they must terribly miss.

I hope this song moves you (as it did me) and if you think of Japan I ask you to sincerely pray for those many lives who are hurting at this moment.

Please take the time to leave a comment,


Monday, March 21, 2011

Tales from Japan: Earthquakes Cause Liquification Nightmare in Chiba

Amidst all the news and busyness of recent events, I actually saw Chiba (my local prefecture) shown on the news for the first time last night, after a week of watching the aftermath in Tohoku and the nuclear crisis in Fukushima.

A manhole erupted from the ground during an earthquake in Chiba, photo from Sankei News, JAPAN

Chiba`s biggest problem at the moment is not damage from tsunamis, which pummeled towns in the east after the barrage of earthquakes along the pacific plate, but "land liquification."  A lot of land in Japan, particularly near Tokyo bay and other coastal areas is artificial.  And these areas of artificial land react to large earthquakes by turning to liquid and that as you can see by the pictures below causes a number of structural problems for those cities, as well as poses a very real danger to those living in affected areas.  The ground is literally sinking beneath their own feet, homes, roads, power lines are slowly sinking into the earth with each aftershock or subsequent earthquake.  The once prestine beautiful bay area has turned into a swamp overnight.


Liquified ground that has formed a quicksand type trap

A school in the city of Urayasu flooded from water seeping up through the ground.

A power pole sinks deeper into the weakening land as a result of continued aftershocks

A parked car sinks deeper into the ground in the city of Choshi as result of liquification

A diagram explaining liquification from the Asahi Newspaper
A short translation: Normal land has air bubbles that act as a cushion and protect from rising water pressure.  Liquified land has only sand and not enough air in it to maintain its integrity.

This liquification phenomenon is the great risk of building on artificial land.  Many of course who chose to live in these areas understood the risks, but it is difficult to watch as entire communities sink slowly into what used to be ocean over 30 years ago.  In contrast to these cities along Tokyo Bay, the inland areas of Chiba have sustained little infrastructural damage.  Prominenet cities like Urayasu and Ichikawa that boast high populations are struggling to deal with these problems at the moment.  Most of the extremely liquified areas are nearly inaccessible to the public at the moment, while some areas are now beginnning to allow traffic and people back in.

This certainly brings to mind the parable of the man who built his house on the sand and the other one who built upon the rock. Matthew 7:24-27

Will be posting more information as I am able, the aftershocks have died down quite a bit the last few days, but I just felt one as I typed this sentence.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tales from Japan: Real stories from the Japanese

At the moment I am only able to post from my iPhone. That leaves me quite limited at the moment. I hope to have Internet access in the next couple weeks, but it is hard to say when things will be up and running. There is a lot to share about what is happening in Japan through all this. The other day I stumbled upon another blog with transcripts of actual tweets from Japanese telling there moving stories. Please read them by clicking the link below, some will bring you to tears. Even in the midst of suffering such goodness can be borne.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tales from Japan: Real Live Video of Blackout area

Yesterday I was back at work after missing a few days earlier this week.  I was back in Yachiyo city, Chiba, an area about 50 km away from the large earthquake that hit off the coast of Ibaraki.  When I arrived in Yachiyo via train, the area was completely without electricity except for the train station.

This photo was taken outside Yachiyo Chuo station, people pateintly wait to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from local farmers during the blackout Thursday March 17.

I took these videos with my iPhone in an attempt to show many the actual atmosphere and conditions where I am in Japan.  I apologize for the crudeness of these videos, and the audio may be difficult to hear.  My appearance is quite haggard and my voice is not all that well from being sick, but I hope that it gives you a CLEAR idea of what it is like in Chiba at the moment.

 The sky is clear and the sun is out but the temperature is still very cold about 36 degrees when I took this video, and the wind blows quite hard at times.

This one shows more clearly how vacant the area is and how the shops around the station are blacked out, according to schedule.  Most of these shops opened in a few hours after taking these videos once power was restored.  Some even operated in the dark for a short time as well!

Again the areas that were hit the hardest in Chiba are the coastal areas(which are almost inaccessible at the moment) , Yachiyo is inland and though it shook like crazy at the time of the earthquake all the buildings are in tact, although I have been told that older wooden homes in some areas have collapsed.

As I am able I hope to bring more real time, real life videos and photos from Japan.  Thank you for your prayers and comments in such a difficult and uncertain time.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tales from Japan: Some basic information on Japan and its Earthquakes

I am sure many of you reading this are concerned about the current condition and crisis in Japan.  The eyes of the world are watching, as the tragedy and drama of real lives unfolds.  Often in my explanations of places and happenings I discuss Japan`s geography and reference certain areas and fault lines.

In many of the news stories you may read, you see a lot of various cities, towns, prefectures, and region names but it may be difficult for you to differ between them.  So below is a map as a reference

We live in Chiba (4) close to Tokyo.  This area is considered to be east Japan, and also is referred to as Kanto. The area north is called Tohoku. (North eastern Japan) It includes the heavily damaged areas of 16, 24, 8.  Also 3 and 14 experienced major earthquakes.  However, other earthquakes have been originating in both Chiba (4) and Shizuoka (38) Also Niigata (29)has had some major earthquakes since March 12.

The best way to put it, is like popcorn in the popper, when the large Pacific plate moved it sparked activity in multiple areas.  These are not aftershocks but additional earthquakes resulting from the heat and pressure of that movement.  It`s almost random and very hard to predict for the Japanese experts at the moment.

The earthquake that would cause the most damage and loss of human life would be a large earthquake along the Toukai (east ocean) plate which is an extension of the Nankai (southern ocean).  As you can see Chiba is directly above the Sagami trench, the trigger point for an earthquake that would hit Tokyo bay directly, potentially causing the eruption of Mt. Fuji.

For more, go here!

These are just the basics, but I think it will help ground some of the information that many of you are getting as well as any information I am giving to you.  Historically Japan has been hit with disastrous earthquakes many times, each time causing the people to once again restart and rebuild their civilization.  Thus you can see the effect such an environment has on the people, traditions, and language, I mean TSUNAMI is their word!  That just shows you how ingrained the situation is to them.

Once again Japan may have to rebuild itself as a nation, it`s population at great risk as the days and weeks unfold, but in a way the catastrophe is inspiring many, perhaps changing a lost generation to find its path.  The young adult to mid 30 age generation in Japan has been given the label the "Lost Generation" by media and popular culture.  Let us pray that they become "found" or find themselves in the midst of all this chaos.  And that Japan emerges stronger and better than ever.

Please continue to pray for the comfort and healing of many and the strength for those fighting for lives daily!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tales from Japan: Still a Rough Road Ahead after the Earthquake

Sidewalk split on the way to the neighborhood park.

Today we went back to the park, it is almost therapeutic for us.  We met with other families to have a small picnic and talk about things that happened and the potential things that could happen.  Most of the time we just chased after our kids though.  In fact while we were there a magnitude 6.2 aftershock struck just off the coast of Ibaraki again.  It was good to know we were in the safest place possible at the time.

A sinkhole at the park.  It actually goes about 5 feet deep. Don`t want to be standing there when the next aftershock hits!

So as the week unfolds we see a lot of trouble brewing.  In light of the damage and need for power in the north, Japan will be systematically blacking out areas according to its energy needs.  This means we could go without power for the maximum of 8 hours or nothing at all, depending on the need at the time.

There is an arbitrary time schedule but it is no guarantee of a blackout.

Along with candle light dinners and freezing cold mornings, supply lines are blocked due to closed freeways, gasoline shortages, and destroyed roads.  This means we may have to live off what we have for now which is not much for a family of five. 

All this with the potential for more major earthquakes in the next three days makes for a lot of anxiety.  But we are taking one day at a time and giving thanks for all we have.  We need strength to get through, and not only us but all of Japan does too.  It is very easy to lose heart in all of this, yet, I am confident that I am here for a reason.  I live and breathe with a purpose and though it is not fully realized, I understand that faithfulness in the little things is all He asks, and He will take care of the big things.

Thank you for reading, and for those who pray, know that you are giving us strength.  Raising my children is hard enough on a normal day, in a normal situation, now we are being squeezed like never before, let it bring forth something of value, precious in its way.  Let the result of our labors to survive be a testament to the grace and glory of God.

That is all for now, I have to try and go to work tomorrow. We will see how that goes!

Once again for "live" updates
follow me on TWITTER      http://twitter.com/stevetsunami

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tales from Japan: A Day after the Biggest Earthquake

Well, there is not a whole much to stay that hasn`t already been said, not a lot to see that hasn`t already been seen.  I keep replaying the horrific experience over in my mind every night before going to sleep.  I huddle together with my children thinking of what I need to do if another earthquake like that happens right where we are.  I script my action and am eventually rocked to sleep by continuous aftershocks that almost are like practice for the next potential BIG one that could hit Chiba along the Toukai plate causing mass devastation beyond what has been experienced in Miyagi and Fukushima.

Taken at the park down the street from our house.

That being said, what else can I do?  The sun began to shine again this morning, and the fresh air beckoned.  My children being stir crazy took us to the park so they could run and play and forget their troubles.  And who am I to blame them?  Life must go on, and in all situations enjoyment must be afforded, for if we are to lose the simple pleasure of living out our days, let us not hope to live long.

As we were out, I made it a plan to get some food and other supplies we might need, especially in light of the news of blackouts to come.  And of course scarcity was before me; from convenient stores to grocery and even gasoline stands, there was little to nothing left of useful items nor gasoline.  A sign of more difficulty to come.
The ceiling fell and the emergency exit sign still hangs at the electronics store a couple blocks away (Yamada Denki)

Taken at the 7/11 by home. There is no food and probably none will arrive soon 

Empty convenient store shelves

So we returned home to our mess and tried to prepare what we could, as the day soon slipped away to night.  So we finished our day thankful that we still have power, heat, light, water, food and gas available to us.

There are so many, not far from us some even in the same city, who are without these.  Though Chiba has reported many injuries and death, those who are suffering greatly are those to the north of us.

Today I prayed with all my heart for those who are crying out in need and desperation.  May their cries be heard and may aid swiftly come and may they know of His kindness and genuine love for them.  It is better to enter into the Kingdom maimed then to lose oneself completely.  If we are to suffer let it not be meaningless but bring forth good of every kind.

I am amazed at the goodness of heart that can be borne of great tragedy, yet, it is sad that it takes such disaster to move the human heart to such kindness.  It seems though without great catastrophe humanity would easily lose itself to apathy and indifference.

So what is next?  What is in store for tomorrow and the days to come?  I do not know, but I must entrust myself to Him that makes all things to work towards His ultimate "good" purpose.  If He holds the words of life, (as the apostle Peter said) where else can we go?

Locally we know very little compared to the round the clock news of national events and earthquake movements near the epicenter of the major earthquakes.  The last two days we have spent a good part of the day out and about, seeing some of the minimal damage around us.  The coastal areas have had problems with flooding and with utilities, but we know this only because we know people who live there and are able post via social media etc.

So as it passes midnight I feel exhaustion typing these last couple words.  I hope the quick photos I took give you a real idea of our condition.  We experienced the horror, but with Japanese earthquake proof buildings, little or no major building damage.

I will try to follow up with more postings as able.  If you want to keep up "live" Follow me on my TWITTER here: http://twitter.com/stevetsunami

Good night from Japan!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Connecting Life with Faith: Living in Wonder

We all enjoy a good story, one that makes us think, one that stimulates our minds, one that makes us wonder.  We all enjoy people, places, machines, pictures, art, and other images that give us a sense of wonder to our world.  When we look at our world and experience our lives unfolding what is it that captures our imagination?  What makes us stand in awe and wonder? 

We all have our own unique sense of what is amazing and wonderful.  We all have disdain for the mundane.  So what is that makes us seek out the wonder in our world?  There are endless hours of television, countless books and magazines devoted to making us wonder about something.  For these writers, the key is "not knowing" or the element of mystery that makes us keep coming back again and again for more stories, more knowledge, more images, more and more to satisfy our craving for "wonder."

Mystery and wonder are synonymous.  When we know how the magician does the magic trick the sense of wonder is gone, isn`t it?  Our lives need a hint of mystery to them don`t they? If not, we soon begin to feel bored and discontent.  And that leads to a lot of problems doesn`t it?

Wonder drives our desire to discover.  It is the force behind the person climbing the highest mountain, or searching the seas for new life, it is the divine gift, intended to motivate humanity towards self discovery.  Without this desire, humanity would not be interested in seeking after God or the answers to life`s many mysteries.  It is a core part of our humanity.

So why am I talking about this?

The times in my life when I have felt an overwhelming sense of "wonder" have motivated me and influenced me greatly.  At other times I have lost hope and become weary when I have nothing to inspire me, nothing to create a sense of "awe" or amazement.  When life becomes mundane and normal is when I experience "meaninglessness" or "disenchantment" and this leads in a direction of self-satisfying, pleasure seeking behavior.

Without "wonder", I forget to look to God, who is always doing the "amazing."  He is weaving all our lives together, simultaneously creating something wonderful and amazing whether we are aware of it or not.  God is always creating.  As the universe is continually expanding, we gaze at the stars and we see the reflections of His works (considered by many to be billions of light years ago).

However, we do not have to look far to be caught in a moment of wonder.  The very things we use and see everyday, natural or man made, have a source, have a uniqueness, have intelligent design behind them.  The big question is "what is our mindset?" as we wake to each day.  Are we living lives in wonder of all that has happened to us and continues to happen in our world.  Have we forsaken the heart of the "seeker"?  Have we forgotten the feeling of wonder and imagination from our youth? Has life become too regular, smothered in ritual and habit that we have no desire to discover our world, no thought to know Him more?

Truly, with God we have no excuse for boredom.  We can never exhaust Him, and we can never completely understand Him.  He reveals himself to us in nature, in the beauty of fractal design.  What looks like randomness shows itself to be coded and ordered patterns rooted in mathematical formula.  And when it comes to our lives, what appears to be chaos can suddenly come together for an amazing purpose at a sudden moment in time.  His fingerprints are all over our lives, whether we choose to see them is a matter of "faith."

The thought I leave you with is that without WONDER in our lives we need only eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.  And as for me, I desire more than mere existence.

So what do you want to know?  What makes you think?  What do you want to discover today?  Now is our time to live, let`s live in "wonder" of all He has done and continues to do.
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