Tag Archives: Tokyo

Motor Crazycycle

Mille Bornes

One more workweek over. Several milestones were achieved, out of which none at the workplace. I managed to save more money on travel costs than ever before by cycling to work for five days in a row. The end result was 170 pedaled kilometers and ¥3300 less to pay to the private railways. After now having zigzagged between cars for over a thousand kilometers during my first three months here, I’ve thoroughly began to enjoy the peculiarities and advantages of cycling in Tokyo. Five days straight really took a toll on my leg muscles, though, so I most likely will not repeat the feat very soon. But I need to do something to keep myself in shape and that is one of the simpler, cheaper options.

After a long week of sitting in front of a screen for no purpose, I awarded myself with finally deciding to try the services of Domino’s Nakamurabashi. Upon entering the place, it looked eerily vacated, but a quick yelp of “sumimasen” solved the service problem and an incredibly apologetic pizzaiolo dashed to the counter confirming that the place was open. I had already set my eyes on the Italian Traditional pizza after weeks of looking at the flyers they keep stuffing in my postbox (Yes, spammarketing works). It was only traditional in a Japanese sense, though, as the fillings lay on a millefeuille-crust which was further cut in squares, something they specified in the booklet, as thought anyone gave two shits. Maybe someone does. But I don’t have much respect for people who judge take-out pizzas based on how they are cut.

À emporter

Take away (or one of the other options) cost 20% less than the listed price, which was ¥1700 (->¥1360), affordable but not exactly cheap. I also have concerns over the marketing aspect of listing your prices at their peak and lowering them on not-so-special occasions. Online orders get -5%, take home gets -20%. Considering there are no seats or tables in the restaurant which is more reminiscent of, or veritably is just an ordering counter, one would suspect that most people go for the take-out option. Instead, while being pleasantly surprised on the spot, the list price almost acted as a deterrent and made me avoid going to Domino’s altogether. They could revise those flyers.

It's dangerous to go alone, take this.

Once I had received my dinner, I cycled to the small park next to my apartment, sat down and dug in, returning the occasional baseball to the neighborhood kids playing nearby. The Italian Traditional was a very pleasant surprise. Unlike all other pizzas in Japanese restaurants till the end of time, this one managed to both look and taste like a pizza, never mind the millefeuille crust. It was so appetizing, actually, that as I let my vigilance level drop for only a few seconds, a huge crow appeared to claim a stake in my cheesy goodness. That came out wrong. As did the crow. We quickly exchanged a couple of Finnish curses and the crow was on his way again. I did most of the talking.

Gym? What’s a Gym?

The real challenge of the day was still looming ahead. Following a quick pit stop at home, I headed to the Nakamuraminami gym, finally carrying the only proof I had for living in Nerima, my new and shiny Alien card. The lady at the first counter taught me how to use the ticket dispenser, after which I was able to go down the stairs to the training room area. I was instructed to fill in some sheets about general contact information and how susceptible I was to injuries. Then, the gym guide guy (GGG) proceeded to present me each and every machine in the room. To my great disappointment, there was no standard bench press. In fact, there were no barbells altogether, no pull-up bar, and the heaviest dumbbells weighed a measly five kilograms each.

Thus, every exercising opportunity was based on those boring machines where you have to sit down and lock yourself up as to prevent people from pulling off any stunts where they could drop a heavy barbell on themselves AND DIE! That meant that there were going to be no squats, no deadlifts, no lunges, no pull-ups and no bench presses, ergo no possibility of doing anything I would’ve wanted to. What they did have was a free blood pressure measurement with the GGG offering to keep statistics of the results, so that was a positive surprise. They also had two of those Japanese… rodeo… machines that make you look mental when you ride them. They may or may not be of any use. The gym costs ¥200 a pop and for a reason nobody explained to me, shampoo and soap are not allowed to be used in the showers. Obviously. Despite its self-explanatory shortcomings as a gym, it’s either this or paying ¥13,900/month for a private gym in Hiroo, so I guess I’ll just adapt and force myself to enjoy machines that aren’t exactly ideal for people of my height.



One more workweek is now happily over. Several milestones were achieved, out of which none at work. I managed to save more money than ever before on travel costs by cycling to work every weekday. The end result was 170 pedaled kilometers and 3300 yen more in my pocket instead of the railway system. After having zigzagged between cars for over 1000 kilometers during my first three months I’ve now thoroughly beginning to enjoy all the peculiarities of and advantages of cycling in Tokyo. 5 days straight really took a toll on my leg muscles though so I most likely will not repeat the feat very soon. But I need to do something to keep myself in shape and that is one of the simpler, cheaper options.

After the hard week of sitting in front of a screen I awarded myself by finally going to try the services of Domino’s Nakamurabashi. Upon entering the place, it looked eerily vacated, but a quick “sumimasen” solved the service problem and an incredibly apologetic pizzaiolo ran from the backroom confirming that the place was open. I had already set my eyes on the Italian traditional pizza after weeks of looking at the flyers they keep stuffing in my postbox. (Yes, spammarketing works). It was only traditional in a Japanese sense, though, as the stuffings lay on a millefeuille-crust which was further cut in squares, something they specify in the booklet, as thought anyone gave two shits. Maybe someone does. But I don’t have much respect for someone who judges pizzas based on how they are cut.

A emporter

Take-away (or take-out for all you native English speakers) cost 20% less than the listed price, which was 1360, affordable but not exactly cheap. I also have concerns over the marketing aspect of listing your prices at their max and lowering them on not-so-special occasions. Online orders get -5%, take home gets -20%. Considering there are no seat or tables in the restaurant which is actually just an ordering counter, one would suspect that most people go for the take-out option. Instead, while being pleasantly surprised on the spot, the list price almost acted as a deterrent and made me avoid going to Domino’s altogether. They could revise those flyers.

Once I had received my pizza I cycled to the small park next to my apartment, sat down and dug in, occasionally returning the odd baseball to kids who were playing nearby. The Italian traditional was a very pleasant surprise. Unlike pizzas in Japanese restaurants, this actually was one, millefeuille crust or not. It was so delicious, actually, that after concentrating for 5 secs to throw a baseball back to some kids (far too hard as well, poor fellows had to run to the other side of the park to get it and I was the one who ended up apologizing) a huge crow had appeared to claim a stake in my cheesy goodness. That came out wrong.

What’s a GYM?

Yet the real challenge of the day was still ahead. After a quick pit stop at home, I headed to the gym with my new and shiny Alien card, which proved where I lived and the info of an emergency contact so someone could save my if I die exercising. At the local gym, the lady at the first counter taught me how to use the ticket dispenser, after which I was able to go to the training room area. There, a linguistically challenged but friendly guy made me fill information sheets about general stuff and how susceptible I was to injuries. Then he proceeded to introduce me each and every machine in the room. To my great disappointment, there was no standard benchpress. In fact, there were no barbells altogether, no pull-up bar, and the heaviest dumbbells weighed 5 kilograms. Every exercising opportunity was based on those boring machines where you have to sit as to prevent people from pulling any stunts where they could drop a heavy barbell over themselves AND DIE! That meant that there was no squatting, no deadlifts, no pull-ups, no benches and no lunges, ergo no possibility to do anything I would’ve liked. They had free blood pressure measurement which they keep statistics of though, so that was interesting. And also two of those Japanese rodeo machines that make you look relatively daft when you ride them.

The gym costs 200 yen / pop and for a reason nobody explained to me, shampoo and soap are not allowed to be used in the showers. Despite its obvious shortcomings as a gym, it’s either this or paying 10000/month for a private gym in Hiroo, so I guess I’ll just adapt and learn to enjoy machines that aren’t exactly ideal for people of my height.

La complainte de l’heure de pointe

Cycling produces so many stories daily that it would kill me to report them all, but what happened on Thursday alone caused me to generate enough bile to be worth mentioning. It appears that unified regional elections are coming up in Japan, something which can no longer be ignored anywhere when traveling around. This is due to the fact that Japanese live in a world torn in two: In the world of balance nobody says a thing, and in the world of ruin all communication consists of yells and grunts. The vans that drive around the city with loudspeakers repeating the name of their supported political candidate forever are part of the fucking world of ruin.

My day started on a really bad note when I got stuck in traffic behind a slow-driving bullshit-spouting van just before arriving at work. I know that after what happened in Finland a week ago it’s just a pot and kettle issue but is there seriously any merit in campaigning by only raising awareness of a candidate’s name? Especially when the method raises irritation levels accordingly. “Ooh, a name! Sounds great! I’ll vote for that name!”

The part that completely destroyed me and almost made me fall of my bike was when I ran into three campaign assistants in my neighborhood later in the evening. Again, their sole purpose was to wave, smile, and repeat the name of their candidate in keigo while riding bikes. Only, this time, there was nobody out to hear them, which made into a spectacular performance in futility.


I have alluded before to the fact that cyclists are essentially above the law in Japan, not entirely unlike Steven Seagal is in his movies. Traffic lights don’t apply to cyclists, and neither do car lanes. The pavement is essentially a no man’s land where survival of the fittest is the reigning life philosophy. While I take advantage of these characteristics all the time, I do take great pride in seeing where I’m going. I can’t stress how important this is. Many a day have I had the urge to yell at people unable to leave their goddamn mobile phones alone while cycling and who consequently swirl wildly in every direction.

Today, there was a different type of retard who just suddenly swerved from the pavement to the car lane without looking and almost run into me. The guy didn’t bother turning his head to see if there was someone coming from behind and, in addition, he had noise-cancelling earphones on. What the fuck? There are two senses needed to know what happens around you when riding a bike, vision and hearing. If you can’t bother using the former and just arbitrarily cancel the other, I am required, by law, to run you over. Why do people have to behave like tools?

Luckily, one cyclist managed to provide me with entertainment as well. As I was cycling home from my weekly Muteppou ramen dinner, I was overtaken by a policeman who was hauling ass on his bike. It was dark so obviously no front light – which is required by law – was needed. Clearly this wasn’t standard procedure, as only seconds later he burst into ongoing traffic and ran through a red light just to prove my earlier point. What I realized two minutes later was that he had caught up with a car and was reprimanding the driver about something or other. It didn’t really occur to me to pull over and ask for details.

Let’s recapitulate: He drove at the maximum speed his legs allowed with no protection or lights while breaking every imaginable traffic law within the time span, only to catch up with someone who had presumably committed a minor infraction. That’s either an incredible expression of diligence or a ridiculous attempt to exert authority. I’ll never know which, but in any case I couldn’t contain my laughter for a good while afterwards.

Update: JapanProbe also posted an article that proves I’m not alone with my opinion on the campaigning methods of Japanese politicians. One of the finest examples of drunken gaijin behavior.


A Night at the Embassy

The Finnish Embassy in Tokyo organized a small event on the 9th of April to allow for Finnish citizens to get together and discuss the sphere of confusion in which Japan has been engulfed during the past month. By being in attendance, I was reminded of quite a few details I had managed to forget as well as able to get access to some novel data.

The event can be divided into three subjects and speakers:

-Finnish Ambassador Jari Gustafsson talked about general risks, communication, traveling, living in Tokyo and explained some of the mechanisms behind the decisions that the embassy had taken in the most hectic weeks after the main quake of March 11.

-Heikki Mäkipää, Head of the Finnish Institute in Tokyo, tapped into his knowledge in geology to give us in-depth information on the current situation concerning possible aftershocks, geological causes for the earthquake and where to turn to for further information.

-The Head of Tekes Japan, Reijo Munther, an engineer with a strong background in nuclear reactors (and cooling systems thereof), shared his views on the Fukushima plant, the imminent dangers it represents as well as put general radiation levels in a Finnish context.

Concerning the media

The ambassador was quick to point out that which has been repeated over and over on the internet for weeks, yet it was still nice to hear it from an official source:  the Japanese are more used to handling earthquake situations and have reacted to the situation very calmly, as opposed to foreign countries who… well… haven’t. In Finland in particular, where earthquakes never reach a magnitude a human being could perceive, merely the mention of an earthquake throws news outlets into scandal-seeking mode. A couple of questions directed at the ambassador today concerned the farce of Finns hoarding iodine pills and the notion that small local newspapers in Viitasaari supposedly knew more about the embassy’s crisis plans than the embassy itself.

Mr. Gustafsson had been in Finland when the quake first struck, and spent the whole day answering different media about the event. He had firsthand experience on how every medium that day was striving to discover the one word that would allow them to publish the most fear mongering story available. On the same morning, one expert source had inadvertently blurted out the term China Syndrome, which had soon been taken out of context and diffused everywhere by overly zealous news outlets who should be washed down the sink and shit-listed.

Concerning communications and traveling

The Finnish Embassy is still discouraging non-essential travel to the Tokyo area, but these limitations are likely to loosen within the following weeks or months.

When all else fails, obsolete technology is here to the rescue.

In the context of mobile phone networks, March 11 indicated that the loss of a mere 10% of network capacity renders mobile phone calls useless in the case of a disaster. If a strong aftershock were to strike Tokyo, this would certainly happen. As experienced during the main earthquake, however, mobile data was still widely available and for example Skype calls via mobile phones worked normally. Similarly, although normal home phone lines experienced issues and were sometimes cut, public phones were devoid of complications, leading to a suggestion for everyone to arm themselves with phone cards.

Finnair remains one of the very few European airlines offering direct flights to Narita airport without the need for crew changes. This means that 3 daily flights from Japan (Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka) to Helsinki are constantly rolling, so were the living conditions in Japan to take a turn for the worst, a way out would most likely remain available.

Concerning aftershocks (Kuaket pois!)

The danger and risks evoked by aftershocks were something I hadn’t properly grasped until now. The area affected by the shocks has been constantly reviewed as the epicenters of new aftershocks spread and now covers an area 600kms long practically covering all of Honshu. This means that devastating aftershocks are a possibility anywhere from Tokyo to Hokkaido. A possibility, not an eventuality.

Can you hear the cry of the planet?

Mr. Mäkipää introduced two scenarios prepared by international seismology experts; these scenarios were labeled the hopeful scenario and the negative scenario. In the first scenario, strong aftershocks come to a relatively quick end (obviously this scenario took a huge blow with the 7,1 magnitude aftershock on the 7th of April) and the situation soon calms down as the accumulated pressure in the lithosphere subsides.

The negative scenario concerned the possibility of a significant aftershock with a magnitude above 7, which in the worst-case scenario could hit directly south of the Tokyo area, causing massive damage. Regardless of location, a strong aftershock would definitely cause new problems to the already damaged infrastructure and dangerously stretched rescue and sheltering resources of Eastern Japan. Although there is a possibility for an occurrence of this nature, the probability was not discussed beyond the perspective that it will diminish with time. General guidelines urged us to keep this in mind until summer, asking for increased awareness and vigilance in the near future. While there is no imminent danger, the situation is by no means over.

Concerning radiation

Mr. Munther had a very relaxed approach towards all of the radiation concerns that have been presented up until now. He maintained that the major radiation risk still only concerns a very limited area near the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors while also admitting that no real breakthrough in cooling the reactors had been reached during the past 3 weeks. At the same time, the personnel working on repairing the plant is growing tired, which causes some concern.

He also admitted that until the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake he had been under the belief that the 7 meter-high anti-tsunami wall as well as having the emergency cooling pumps 20 meters above sea level would combine to be an adequate level of precaution at the Fukushima plant. History proved otherwise. The plant is now essentially future scrap metal, but precarious cooling and repairing efforts will need to go on for months, if not years.

Looks pretty good right now

Concerning the tap water scare in Tokyo at the moment, he made a couple of interesting comparisons. First of all, the limits for water radiation levels in Japan are really low compared to European standards. The limit for drinking water is 300 becquerels/kg in Japan while it is set far higher in Finland at 500 becquerels/kg. He demonstrated the disparity by stating that water from drill wells in Finland often reaches as high as 460 becquerels/kg. According to this analysis, when tap water in Tokyo exceeded 100 becquerels/kg (Japanese limit judged safe for children to drink) a couple of weeks back, it would have remained “very good drinking water.”

There is still good reason to keep a reasonable amount of water reserves at home, not due to radiation, but potential aftershocks. Mr. Mäkipää emphasized that in the event of a strong aftershock, it is crucial to stop drinking tap water immediately until a damage assessment has been made. This is due to the possibility of pipes breaking and sewage mixing with drinking water.

As an interesting anecdote, the scarcity of bottled water in Eastern Japan is reportedly not only related to the lack of water itself. One important bottle cap factory in Sendai was destroyed in the original quake, leading to a 30% loss of capacity in the entire Japanese bottle cap industry.

All of the statements in the post (with the exception of my media bashing) are direct translations of comments provided by Finnish government officials, although in a more relaxed, informal environment. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of any of the above.


Senya Ichiya

17 nights. Never before in my life have I spent 17 nights in a row at the same hotel, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. I have to admit that towards the end the sojourn began taking a toll on me as the environment was not really designed for the creation of anything meaningful. Luckily, those days are now over and I am finally returning to Tokyo to assess damages, empty my trash cans that have probably become alive during my absence and eventually resume work as usual.

The Bard’s Song

I was recently relayed the list of final changes I have to make to my thesis before I can get it printed. The list was substantial and overwhelmed me in such a way that instead of tackling the issue I opted to spend the following couple of days protecting the Sword Coast from the Iron Throne.

Once I get back home, however, my diet will consist of finishing the thesis, writing a paper to get my final 3 credits, go to work, study Japanese and write more job applications. The order of importance may vary.

Tokyo Safety Disclaimer: I won’t drink tap water and I hired a guy with a Geiger counter to follow me wherever I go and help me make my saving throws against radiation with a modifier of +3. Looking at that last sentence, I get the feeling might have played slightly too much D&D during the past 24 hours. I will also try my hardest not to get stuck in an elevator when the blackouts strike. Or maybe the opposite. It could prove to be quite the introspective moment when stuck in an elevator alone for a couple of hours. I could become enlightened or… bored?

Just Communication

Thanks to long train trips and relentless queuing for muteppou, I’m really close to finishing reading the Love Hina series in Japanese. While the comic itself is a relatively repetitive and stereotypical love story about a hopeless purikura nerd and a tsundere, there is one peculiarity that really sticks out when following the events unfold in this day and time: Love Hina relies heavily on plot mechanics that imply that geographical separation equals complete loss of communication. Anyone reading this blog may now realize this is not the case, anymore.

The original comic was published between 1998-2001, as arguably one of the last contemporary stories that were able to realistically rely on the aforementioned equation, which was effectively destroyed within a few years by the increasing prevalence of mobile phones and online communication. I felt it was rather interesting thinking that in only 10 years, a common and plausible storytelling device became unusable due to its now ludicrous nature.

Not unrelated to the previous paragraphs, I am also looking for a new manga series that includes full furigana, so suggestions are very welcome.


P.S. Just arrived in Nerima, everything is fine.

Delusions of Grandeur

It has proved quite interesting to follow the amount of traffic generation to the site before, during, and in the aftermath of the Tōhoku earthquake. While most of the hits are generated by my mom and the innumerable people she has forwarded my blog to, it’s still encouraging to see that I’m not paying for hosting only for the sake of draining my bank account.


Not surprisingly, public interest in my life multiplied by 40 on the very day the earthquake hit. Then it dwindled for a couple of days until the nuclear scare got out of hand and traffic reached a record number that most likely won’t be surpassed until the first shots of World War III occur in my back yard. Potentially.

The World at Large

After seeing the huge influx in readership numbers during the earthquake crisis I’ve began to follow traffic charts slightly too much, forcing myself to write posts even when I haven’t really felt like it, just to see if I could artificially keep the numbers up. That strategy will now be revised as no matter how much I write, the stories are still aimed at people who at least know me, or are otherwise interested in stalking my life. This severely limits the amount of general traffic to the site, and I don’t really see any reason to change that. Writing about tourism tips is hardly appealing, and writing without inspiration is both taxing and results in lower quality output.

Although I would like to embrace Frank Herbert’s comment on inspiration and looking at my older texts I can agree with most of his views, I have a very difficult time putting words in the right order when I’m in lazy mode. I also recently realized that I usually only get an urge to write when I am bereft of outside distractions or otherwise deep in thought. Most frequently this inspirational time lapse occurs when wandering around aimlessly, getting incredibly frustrated with something or just before falling asleep. Rarely in these situations am I able to write things down on the spot. This dilemma often leads to the dismissal of a topic altogether or the creation of a watered down version later when I eventually reach the needed tools.

One of the things I really enjoy with writing, and life in general, are quotes. I tend to include them everywhere, much to the chagrin of people around me. Their amount varies strongly by post, but I am quasi-unable to publish any text within which I would not be able to accredit several words or expressions to specific people or situations. Some references are very direct and apparent, while others are taken out of context and surreptitiously hidden from those not concerned. In theory, at the very least. This is also something that I will not give up on, no matter how taxing it is for the reader.

Both my current and former blog contain a wide array of personal, historical, linguistic and pop culture references, which leads to a situation where the full extent and depth of posts can sometimes only be understood by people who enjoy similar hobbies as I do, are very close to me, or at worst (or best), only me. Different people can decipher different things within a post and may feel like missing some others. In the ideal circumstances, readers should be oblivious to not comprehending an obscure reference as they are not meant to notice it in the first place. Maybe some day I’ll be able to write about things that the public at large could care about, but now is not the time.

Enough of this pseudo-artistic nonsense.

I recently had a phone conversation with my boss. Due to random rolling blackouts and confusion in Tokyo, the office will remain closed until further notice. The main implication here is that I’m still stranded in Osaka until at least early next week. Today, I went to retrieve some KI pills from the honorary consulate general in Shinsaibashi and explained that they weren’t really for me to use, but rather work as a placebo to lower my dad’s blood pressure some 8000 kilometers to the West. He agreed that it was an acceptable reason and gave me a 5-day supply of emergency iodine to fill my thyroid with just for kicks.

Days in Osaka keep following the same general pattern, except I managed to catch a cold now, which makes everything so fucking much more enjoyable.


P.S. Nyt on hyvä aika alkaa seurata kaikkien aikojen oudointa Jukola-suunnistusporukkaa johon itsekin kuulun (ainakin nimellisesti). Fanittamaan pääsee osoitteessa http://www.facebook.com/teamheiaheia ja blogia voi seurata osoitteessa http://heiaheia.larksnest.org. Samalla asiaan vihkiytymättömien kannattaa liittyä heiaheia.comiin ja alkaa pitää kirjaa liikuntasuorituksistaan sekä kannustaa muita tuttujaan verkossa. Lisään edellämainitut linkit myös sivupalkkiin kaikkien iloksi.

Shangri La

The situation seems to have calmed down a bit, which is a very welcome change considering I’m exiled in a city that hardly even acknowledges that there is something abnormal happening elsewhere in Japan.

It is quite difficult to write about a general area of Osaka as well as a hotel that I have covered at least twice before during my adventures in the Far East. Besides, the past few days have been incredibly calm and dull, and I have lately come to realize by following different media that readers actually crave for catastrophes and tragedy, which unfortunately I am currently not able to provide from my safe haven.

One of the first things to came to mind after arriving in Osaka was that it beats Tokyo on many levels. The objective reasons I was able to identify were that Osaka is far less westernized, less crowded and just more likable in general. Having spent one of the best years of my life in the area can also affect the sentiment. Particularly the Shin-Imamiya-Namba-Nipponbashi area is a place that is more reminiscent of Finland than anything I’ve found in Tokyo so far: a relatively quiet downtown area mainly constituted of alcoholics.

On Wednesday I attempted to apply for a re-entry permit, the receipt of which would have made my life a hell of a lot easier if I had had to leave the country in haste. Unfortunately, to get a re-entry permit one needs to know the exact departure date, rendering it impossible to really get one just in case. In addition, I would need an alien permit first, something I need to apply for in my area of residence, i.e. at the Nerima Ward Office in Tokyo. Bref, le plan est  à l’eau.

I extended my stay here for two more days on Thursday morning, but had to initially check out and check in to a different type of room on that very day because the original one was not available anymore. Considering I had been skyping home to soothe my parents until 5:30 in the morning, the checking out at 10 was not my favorite moment of the week. Not as bad as some other checkouts, though. I then proceeded to wander outside for several hours enjoying the marvelous supplies of Den Den Town before returning to the hotel, this time to a Japanese type room instead of the previous Western type.

Attempting to adhere to several requests to retrieve some potassium iodide pills, also just in case, I studied the indispensable Japanese nomenclature and gathered enough courage to go inquire about said preventive medicine in a nearby drusgstore. Pros: they understood what I was looking for on the first try. Cons: They laughed at me. It turns out that the government possesses the whole supply of said pills, and the drugstore obaa-san emphasized that I should definitely be okay if I stay around these parts.

As this post is incredibly mundane already, let’s cover some other boring topics. I’ve been enjoying the furo at the hotel daily and also come to realize that this place, at a price equivalent to about 20 euros a night, provides me with a level of comfort that is perfectly acceptable. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone on their honeymoon, but for the sake of sleeping and using a computer it’s more than fine. The beer vending machine downstairs might add to this warm and fuzzy feeling as well. Let me put it this way; if Hotel Chuo feels inadequate, then you’re spending too much time in your room instead of experiencing Japan.

Extended weekend coming up because my birthday on Monday is a public holiday in Japan. This traces back to the late 70’s when I saved Emperor Showa from crocodiles during a rafting trip in northeastern Australia. True story.


Anxious Heart

At the end of another hectic day I find myself at the very place where my first Japanese adventure began in 2008, Hotel Chuo in Shin-Imamiya, Osaka. I have to emphasize how much I appreciate being in a place completely devoid of panic, and as a physical manifestation of that appreciation I just marched to the nearby combini to buy a real beer and some snacks. Although a celebrating would be inconceivable due to the general situation in the country, I truly believe I’ve earned some safety and comfort. My next move is to hit the public bath as soon as it opens.

Last night marked the first time I’ve ever been woken up by an earthquake. It very much resembled waking up from a nightmare. During the 15 seconds that I was sentient, I had the time to consider running out and also measure my heart rate, which was substantial. As soon as it was over, I fell asleep faster than an Engrish-speaking guard in the original Metal Gear.

Late in the morning my boss called me and suggested taking refuge in the West, as apparently I had no family or friends tying me to Tokyo to suffer with the rest. That rhymed. It didn’t rhyme on the phone, though. I’m awesome. Looking at the situation back in Tokyo with people getting increasingly anxious I finally decided to take a shinkansen towards Osaka on the very same day. Clear movement out of Tokyo was perceived all along the way with large numbers of people moving towards the Shinagawa and Tokyo stations with a reasonable amount of luggage that should not be present on any normal day.

The shinkansen ticket buying system was retarded, but I won’t go into details as it did already waste half an hour of my life. I also made the mistake of entering the first shinkansen I saw, which was already full. Considering I had a non-reserved seat (cheaper), I ended up having no seat at all until Nagoya. Despite all this, the journey was relatively painless. Tomorrow I’ll be applying for the alien registration card and re-entry permit, just in case. Update: this is not possible, as I do not really live in Osaka.


Pimeä tie, mukavaa matkaa

When I went to sleep last night everything seemed to be increasingly under control. I called my boss around 8 and confirmed that I should go to the office tomorrow, provided it’s physically possible. Well I have an awesome bike so not even canceled trains are able to thwart that. In addition, the rolling blackouts were supposed to occur in Nerima at 6:20-10:00 and 16:50 to 20:30 which basically meant that going to work would allow me to follow the news and keep in touch with people instead of lying in bed reading manga. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter, I’m just quite interested in knowing when some inconceivably destructive incident occurs again. There’s a history of those during the past couple of days. The office is situated in downtown Tokyo, in an area exempt of blackouts due to a large concentration of political institutions, including most of the embassies.

Of course, the rolling blackouts did not actually begin today either because TEPCO cannot get their shit together. In unrelated news, going to the office had also been canceled but I had been out of reach so I ended up cycling there anyway before learning of the change of plans. After hearing some other negative news about the Fukushima plant, I went to Shibuya to have a Japanese pizza buffet for lunch and witness the relatively quiet streets again. I guess I’ll ramble about the unique attributes of Japanese pizza some other time.

What do you mean Jim rubs birds

I recently stated that life in Tokyo is proceeding as normal. This is only partially true, although far closer to the truth than the widespread panic in western media. A couple of peculiarities can be observed. People are still emptying stores of all fresh food. Not food that actually doesn’t spoil and could save you if you were isolated from all services for months though, only the good stuff. I don’t know if the locals will combat the growing fear by stuffing themselves full of sushi and steaks but it sure appears like that. Another specific phenomenon is the rush to gas stations. Throughout Monday there were lines of dozens of cars attempting furiously to secure something they widely believe to be the last tankful of gas in the city.

Because I’m personally affected by the situation in Japan as well as have the unpleasant task of calming people back in Finland and elsewhere who believe I will be dead within a week, I tend to place emphasis on conveying news reports that do not concentrate on scaring people with vague comparisons to historical events and repeating the term “radiation” like a fucking buzzword. Some misinformation can be attributed to the intermedia degrading grapevine effect. I totally made that term up.

According to the information collected, Tokyo should be fine. I have yet to hear about a nuclear plant accident that would have been inherently lethal 240kms away from the main location. Even if and when the current hazard escalates further, the damage will most likely only concern Fukushima and it’s surroundings, i.e. the danger will remain relatively local. I am currently scouting the possibility to go to west Japan for some contemplating but just to be clear: leaving Japan is my last goddamn resort. If I leave, I can’t come back. Therefore, I’m very reluctant to fly back home due to rumors and misinformed opinions. I hope that those who care about me understand this and can trust me in making the right choice while taking all variables into consideration. In all honesty, I have enough to cope with here as is.


Imaginations From the Other Side

I left the office at 6:30 in the morning to catch a train home, as supposedly trains were beginning to run around 7. This was partly untrue. Although impatient commuters rushed into Ebisu station the moment it opened, public announcements made it very clear that no means of rail transportation were moving. That did undoubtedly concern the JR Yamanote Line as well, one of the two lines vital for me to get home. After a relatively shocking day and night that comprised no actual sleep, I didn’t quite enjoy the situation, but considering I wasn’t exactly one of the worst off, I looked at the options presented to me: figure out a workaround, or wait until 8, hoping that the trains would start running then, something the station staff hinted towards but did not explicitly promise.

Swarming Ebisu station

I chose to walk to Shibuya once again and hoped the Fukutoshin metro line would be working so that I could finally get somewhere. The streets of Shibuya were eerily empty, and no shops were open besides the standard 24/7 convenience stores, most of which were already getting replenished. The few people available for direct observation showed no signs that only 17 hours earlier the strongest earthquake ever registered in Japanese history had occurred.

By chance, the Fukutoshin line was in operation, as was the Seibu-Ikebukuro line. Thus, 18 hours after the first shocks began I was finally able to get home for some damage evaluation. As I had expected, the television was on the floor, but besides that, the few pieces of furniture I possess were only slightly misplaced. After turning on the TV to watch the incessant rolling news and damage reports I was once again reminded how absurd it sounds to talk about a catastrophe in Tokyo. Granted, Tokyo did get hit and suffered some damage coupled with a few unlucky deaths. It is the national capital and a huge megalopolis. Yet, most of the peculiarities in Tokyo yesterday were due to confusion and fear, not large-scale destruction.

Damage to my humble dwelling was all but cosmetic

Only a few hundred kilometers to the North, cities were swallowed by tidal waves, houses were razed and industrial plants burst into flames. Hundreds of people are still missing. Nuclear plants may or may not be failing. These are things people ought to be more concerned about. The international mass media seem to be concentrating slightly too much on the plight of Tokyoites, which is a very secondary problem when compared to the actual disaster areas. Can something be very secondary? It can now.

I can personally attest to the fact that Tokyo is already rapidly recovering from these recent events. Sendai, however, is a very different story.



Yesterday evening I was at home watching Tokyo University entrance results on television and immensely enjoying the fact that the general reactions of students seemed to coincide with what I had read in several shounen manga stories. Today, I was supposed to spend a generic day at work and go to the local Hiroo 7/11 afterwards to inquire as to why there had been a goddamn toenail in my bento box on Tuesday.

As all of those who have followed the news lately can probably foresee, that was not going to happen. When I say foresee I mean blogifically, not historically.


I had felt an insignificant tremor on Tuesday, something that I had at first believed to be a co-worker rubbing a pencil eraser vigorously on the table at the other side of the cubicle wall. While I did eventually correctly identify the phenomenon as a slight earthquake, it had not prepared me in the least for what was to occur on Friday.

It is very difficult to me to accurately depict the chain of events that happened closer to the epicenter, so I will content myself with reporting what I experienced at our office in Hiroo, Tokyo. I began writing a quick update to this blog at 14:48 local time during my late lunch break in order to notify people that I had finally managed to get the old Kansai material back online. Simultaneously, a shaking very similar to the one I had gone through a couple of days prior, began. It rapidly escalated into a more serious type of trembling that prompted me to stop my current activities and seek some instructions from the few co-workers present in the building at that specific moment. I also realized by that point that I had gone through no procedures concerning potential earthquakes, and while I did know where the escape route was, I had not properly grasped the magnitude that a quake needed to attain before the secret passage could be used.

Luckily, soon after I had finished putting my shoes on as a preparative measure, we were all given the suggestion to evacuate to the ground level from our 6th floor office. The interpretation was different depending on the party involved, however. A couple of co-workers rushed down, while another colleague suggested that I could go down as well. Or not. Apparently it was up to personal preference. For some reason, one of our employees stayed at his desk and continued working, content and uninterrupted. After a couple of minutes spent outside to (incorrectly) assess that the worst had passed, the rest of us also returned to the office and resumed whatever we had been doing.

It did not take long for the earthquake to counterattack, however, and in less that half an hour we found ourselves on the streets again, this time also accompanied by the heroic colleague who had silently refused to descend the first time, all trembling due to adrenaline reserves having quickly become depleted. I say all not to sound like a pansy but it could just as well only have been me. I actually needed a soda from a nearby vending machine to muster enough energy for the tedious climb back up. It is inferred in the previous sentence that we did climb back up again. Here, I just spelled it out for you.

Once again, we were at the office and all four of us returned to our daily chores, not bothered about what had just happened. Twice. Eventually, though, as an increasing number of public announcement cars were driving around the ward warning inhabitants about tsunamis and ambulance sirens were getting ever louder, someone introduced us to the idea of everybody returning home.

The Aftermath

I was originally supposed to meet Basti at 6:30 at the Hachiko exit in Shibuya for a couple of standard Friday beers but he had been unreachable since the beginning of the earthquake and supposedly working on the 27th floor in an unknown building somewhere in southern Tokyo. In retrospect, I should never had assumed that the original  plan was still in motion, but at that time I failed to realize how a seemingly minor earthquake like that could prevent us from enjoying a few beers. How wrong i was.

According to anyone I asked, nobody had ever experienced an earthquake like this. Neither in magnitude nor length. And to put things in perspective, the Japanese earthquake scale goes up to 7, and while it was 7 in the regions which were close to the epicenter, it only reached a 5 within the Tokyo metropolis. To put it bluntly, we had been lucky.

Realizing that by that point all trains had been canceled and the streets were jammed with panicky citizens trying to drive or take cabs home, I really had no other alternative left than to go to Shibuya anyway and try to pass the time until trains would begin running again.Walking towards Shibuya station in this ethereal atmosphere was indeed a novel experience. Japanese people were incredibly calm, and the only reason to suspect this was a day different from any other was that there were many times more people on the streets than usually, and an incredible amount of people, even by Japanese standards, were texting while walking. One technology zealot went as far as attempting to text with two phones at once.

I arrived at Shibuya station about an hour and a half before I was originally supposed to, so I decided to have a snack and savour the general atmosphere for a while. In order to avoid sounding like an insensitive prick at this point, although it might already be too late, I have to emphasize that I had no idea of the gravity of the situation; I had been cut from all international media outlets since leaving the office and Japanese TV broadcasts did not really get through my thick skull.

Shortly after hearing an announcement that nothing train or metro related would improve for at least a “couple of hours”, I bumped into a random Canadian guy who I ended up befriending while waiting for Basti to potentially show up at the rendez-vous point. After watching the disaster news at a nearby bar for close to an hour, we decided to go for dinner. It only took us a couple of minutes outside before we ran into Basti and a friend of his by sheer coincidence. He had assumed the plan had automatically been called off when the biggest earthquake in Japanese history hit, but I was not so lenient. Appointments need to be kept no matter the circumstances.


The rest of the night was interesting but deviates too much from the main story to be told in detail. We enjoyed a couple of beers, met up with a pathological liar who was “an architect” and “worked over there”, notions he repeated at least half a dozen times during the evening for a purpose that remained unclear to me, and eventually split up to head home.

The problem about heading home was that trains weren’t running and I didn’t really feel like walking 16 kilometers back to Nerima. Instead, I opted to walk back to the office and hope for either the emergency exit still to be open or the elevator to be reinstated. I stopped at several 24/7 combinis on the way only to realize that shelves had been emptied of all lunchboxes and other instant foods by foraging citizens who had slowly spiraled into panic and gone properly mad with overestimating their nourishment needs. For undisclosed reasons, nobody had bothered buying some of the most nutritious products available such as almonds and nuts, which were left for me to scavenge.

Around midnight I finally reached the office, which was still open thanks to a colleague who had stayed behind. We enjoyed some instant noodles before I decided to spend the rest of the night writing about the events of an exceptionally unique day while they were still fresh in my mind. There are still constant aftershocks as well.


P.S. I was also interviewed for Le Temps in French but I have no idea if they will ever use any of that material.