Wow, it has been a whole week since I last posted. That seems like a record for me. I have been really busy, so I should have a lot to write, but I don't have too much time at the computer, so I will try to briefly summarize what has happened in the last seven days.
I was with the Waterworks and Sewerage Bureau last week. I hadn't really thought about how much work goes in to getting 400,000-plus people clean water everyday, not to mention getting rid of all the dirty water we create. Yokosuka's Waterworks have done a lot to prepare for disasters by creating large above and below ground tanks through which everyone's clean water flows that close off automatically in the event of a sudden pressure drop, let's say caused by pipes being broken in an earthquake. These tanks are capable of supplying local residents with up to 3 months of water, assuming everyone uses only what they are rationed. Yokosuka has an advanced computer mapping system that displays the location of 99% (roughly) off all the water and sewerage pipes (big and small) in the city - from the large lines that go under streets, to the small ones that come out of your faucet. I toured some of these facilities, a large dam, and water purification and filtration facilities. I was surprised at the level of security at these facilities - many of them have security cameras and locked gates with a large sign letting all know that 'Terrorist Countermeasures are in effect'. On Friday I visited some sewerage treatments plants. As you can imagine, these are not the most pleasant-smelling places in the world, but I'm glad someone does this job. It certainly needs to be done.
I slept really late on Saturday and spent a large part of the afternoon cleaning my apartment and waiting for Maiko to get here. Now it wasn't her fault she was late - it was the planet's. We had a fairly large earthquake on Saturday afternoon - the largest I have ever had the pleasure to experience. I have been in a few small temblors before here in Japan, and until Saturday, I thought they were kind of fun. This one, however, did make my heart skip a beat or two and paralyzed me for a few seconds. I was talking with Craig, a Brit who used to teach in Isesaki when I lived there, when it happened. He lives in Chiba now, which is on the other side of Tokyo Bay. I think I felt it first, then he did, and it was really weird to be talking to someone fifty miles away experiencing the same thing you are. I had my drapes open to let in some sunlight and I watched an electrical pole sway back and forth while praying it didn't fall over into my apartment. I am the type of person who likes to think he is prepared for these things, but I just sat there dumbfounded while my apartment shook. I have decided to duck into my tiny closet if another one of these things hits us.
We had a mild aftershock not too long after the main quake. I heard a warning announcement being played over loudspeakers and I went out to see if I could understand what they were saying. I decided right away that these sirens and the money Yokosuka spent on installing a state-of-the-art warning system was worth it. There was a warning in English, too, presumably for the large American population here. I was a bit unnerved, but everyone around me was back to normal within two or three minutes of the quake, which was in a sense even more unnerving.
I knew Maiko was on her way, so I spent about 15 mintues trying to call her and make sure she was OK. Apparently, she was at the train station when it hit, which I can imagine was really scary. She did finally get to Yokosuka, but what should have been a 90 minute to 2 hour trip took her 5 hours. Now that might seem like a bit of an inconvenience to some, but I was just relieved that JR (Japan Rails) was doing its job by making sure the tracks and trains were safe.
There wasn't any serious damage here in Yokosuka, but from what I've seen on the news, there was a bit in Tokyo. Thankfully, there were no fatalities and only a few mild injuries. We had a minor quake last night, which was noticeable but not severe. All the same, after being bounced around a bit the day before, it raised my pulse a bit.
Putting our rattled nerves to rest, we went out to Enoshima Island the next day. We had lunch with Maiko's mom and Nishio-san at a nice mom-and-pop sashimi place. Some of it was really good, some of it was OK, and some of it was not exactly great. (Yes, there are some foods I don't care for...) It was a great lunch, which we followed up by a walk on the rocky shore and around the touristy shops on the island. We then went to the Enoshima Aquarium, which was recently renovated and is supposed to be one of the best in Japan. We saw a dolphin show and a bunch of sea creatures that made me feel guilty because I had some of their cousins for lunch. Either way, it was still a good time.
We had Italian for dinner. Sashimi is great, but even if you eat a ton of it and get stuffed, you will be hungry again in a few hours. The same cannot be said of large plates of pasta, meat, and cheese. Italian food here is a little pricey, but every once in a while, you want a meal that will fill you up.
Fast-forward to today. I had to get up really early because we left City Hall at 8:30 to go to a Prefectural Disaster Training School. This is where all of the firefighters, ambulance paramedics, and rescue team workers in Kanagawa (with the exception of Yokohama, which has its own school) train after they are hired. I went with a group of Chinese officials and firefighters who work for the national Chinese fire agency. We got to watch some of the students train and view all of the facilities. It was a good day, but long.
I will try to load some pictures on flickr later this week. I am with the Public Safety Division, so I have to go over what I have done so far and come up with some questions to tie things together. Tomorrow I have been invited to go to dinner with the Public Saftey Division, then on Wednesday I have another event to go to. I was invited by one of the people at the commander's office from the U.S. Naval Base. Originally it was scheduled for tomorrow, but since I had already accepted the dinner invitation I couldn't attend. Their schedule has changed, so I can make it. I am not sure exactly what it is, but judging from the original invitation, it is a conference on the future of China and U.S.- Taiwan relations, right up my alley! Thursday, I have a Chinese lesson, and I think I am going back to Gunma on Friday for the weekend to visit my old homestay family and some of the teachers I used to work with. I didn't see them last time, and as a friend of Bill W. here told me, I will be kicking myself for a long time if I leave Japan without telling them 'thank you'. They put up with me for almost two years, so I owe them at least that.
Hopefully I can find some time here and there to load pictures and maybe say hi to people by e-mail. I will try to post again if I get some major news, but the posts might be sporadic for the next seven or eight days.
Sore de ha...