16 June 2008


A few people seem to have heard about the earthquake, and the resulting casualties, in Miyagi-ken*, and I've gotten a some expressions of concern from friends and family as to my safety. I blame a lot of this on the media, who say things like, "There was an earthquake in Japan" and do not go any further to define the location of the tremor.

To begin, Gunma-ken is one of the safer places in Japan as far as earthquakes are concerned. We have earthquakes around once a month, but they are rarely anything stronger than a 3. In short, it feels like the earth gets a sudden chill and shivers, or like a really large truck is driving by and shaking the house. Nothing falls, nothing breaks, and I don't even really react to them anymore. I've slept through earthquakes like this.

In regards to this most recent earthquake, I was on the phone (well, Skype) with my parents at the time. "Hold on just a sec; there's an earthquake" was my reaction. It was rather slow by the time it got to my area of Japan and felt rather sluggish.
I didn't know that there were casualties until the next day, when I got a couple of "hey, are you OK?" reactions from people who'd heard the bad news. Things have been rather bad up north in Miyagi-ken. There have been tremors every ten or twenty minutes and the quake registered as a 7.2. Nine people are confirmed as dead and another twelve or so are missing. It's a bad situation, and (unfortunately) one that will continue to occur again and again in Japan.

The interesting thing about this incident was the use of some new technology that predicted the oncoming quake before it arrived. An announcement was made on the NHK channels in the area some 3 minutes before the quake hit. It wasn't enough to save all of the lives, but hopefully the time between the predictions and the event will grow and incidents like this can become old-hat.

So...I'm safe, and am likely to be safe in the future. Thank you for your concern, and be sure to keep the citizens of Miyagi-ken in your thoughts.

*Note: "-ken" means "prefecture."

08 June 2008

Canyoning, Centipedes, and Other Things of Interest

AKA: A Weekend of Unexpected Things

I learned quickly to just say "I'm going to Minakami" when people asked about my plans for the weekend rather than telling the whole, more specific truth: "I'm going to be sliding down rivers in a wetsuit."

Well, there's a little more to it than just that.

At around 8:30 Saturday morning, I and five others (Amy, our hostess, Scott, Abel, Lisa, and Monica) waited to be picked up by someone from Canyons, an outdoor activities group in Minakami. We set off and quickly found ourselves doing battle with wetsuits and preparing to go out and about on the river for the day.

We spent the morning white water rafting in a very, very cold river. Our group was lead by Sean, a well-traveled Irishman with a good sense of humor. For example, one of the first things he did while we were in his boat was go to the front, on the pretense of checking some things around Scott, only to suddenly grab Scott by the back of his life jacket and flip him over the side of the raft. The river was icy, as Scott learned first and we all soon learned ourselves ... again, thanks to the help of our trusty guide.

As we were riding down the river, Sean pointed out the number of cops on one side of the river and a circling helicopter. "See that bridge? People like to bungee-jump off of it, but last night we had someone who decided to jump without a cord." Apparently, the Canyons employees had gotten a call at 5:30 that morning from the police, asking if they would patrol the river in search of the body. (The cops, Sean explained, had no river training.) The search had not yet been concluded, hence the remaining presence of the officers.

We continued a little further down the river, being flipped out at one point by our tricky guide and being tumbled out by the river on several other occasions. At one point, however, we slowed to a crawl, and Sean was distracted by a boat off to the side, manned by a few guides and entirely empty of tourists. These guides were leaning out of the boat, pointing into the river and drawing the attention of another boat, similarly lacking in tourists. One guide looked up, made eye contact with Sean and nodded. At that, Sean turned in the boat, said "forward, everyone," and powered us away. The dead body was missing no longer.

We finished the river course with little else of note occurring, though I did manage to lose a boot at one point in the rafting and only managed to reacquire it at the very end of the trip (another boat had picked it up). We piled into the busses and headed back to the Canyons headquarters, where ate a delicious lunch and grabbed even more gear in preparation for our canyoning experience.

Canyoning involved hiking some 30 minutes along the river which would soon be our way back down the river. Our guides, Dean (I think...) and Takeshi, did a wonderful job of keeping us entertained during this hike, mostly with their upbeat banter ("Don't go down this way, or you'll probably break several bones, ok? [all said with upbeat tone and wide smile]"). In short, the method was to lay oneself out as flat as possible and then let the water carry you lightly over the rocks and whatnot until you reached a calm pool. It was basically like a waterslide, but with more opportunities to run up against painful obstacles. Despite this danger potential, it was fun, though not something I would want to do on a regular basis.

With the day done, we made our way back to Amy's apartment. Once everyone was clean and well-fed, we settled down to watch Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, as Monica hadn't seen it before. I was making a comment to Scott at one point when one of these scurried across the floor next to Scott. I can easily say that this thing was at least 6 inches long and DISGUSTING. On top of that, mukade (as they are called) are POISONOUS. Ew ew ew ew ew.
Ew ew ew.
I'm not usually all that squeemish about bugs, but this thing just about had me running up the walls.
Scott grabbed the thing with a pair of chopsticks and disposed of it outside, but everyone was still a little too riled by it to stay downstairs. We relocated in the relative safety of the upstairs and shortly went to sleep.

The next day I made my way home, feet a little worse for the wear but otherwise intact. It was a fun experience overall, but I feel the only descriptor that truly fits the weekend is "unexpected."