Archive for March, 2011

Nishiogi Shopping (2)

March 15, 2011

As of 12:45 PM, the Coop in Nishiogikita had fresh fruits and vegies.  Still no milk, bread or rice and the shelves are nearly empty of many other things.  As I left, a large delivery truck was unloading refrigerated goods, so perhaps the shelves will be replenished soon.

Many shops are closed, and those that are open, like convenience stores and the Coop, have turned off many of their lights.  The interior is dim yet perfectly adequate, which makes me realize how much electricity we use unnecessarily.  Do convenience stores and supermarkets really need to be so brightly lit even when conditions are normal?

A sign in front of the train station confirms that the areas in our neighborhood which will experience blackout are Shoan 3, Zenpukuji 1 to 4, and Nishiogikita 3 to 5.  The blackout will occur from 3:20 to 7 PM.  I saw a train go by on the Chuo Line heading toward Mitaka about 10:30 this morning, and it was nearly empty.  Buses are not so full either, and there seem to be plenty of taxis around.

I have not yet found milk, but bread of various kinds can be found in smaller bakeries, all of which have lines in front of them.  I waited 10 minutes in front of Lisdor Mitsu, just south of Nishiogi Station.  They have bagels and several fresh baked loaves of their popular brewer’s yeast bread.  There was a line at Dila’s Asanoya Bakery (in the station building), made to wait outside.  A young man at the door would let people in periodically.  This seemed a good arrangement to let people buy their bread  in comfort.  The shelves, seen through the windows, were piled high with their products.

Seiyu at Nishiogi Station has reopened.  I did not go in, so I don’t know what they have available.  The post office in Nishiogi 2-chome has a sign out front announcing that they will close early today, at 2:30 PM.  Various small eateries near the station were open and serving lunch.



Power Outage Update

March 14, 2011

It’s confusing out there!  Anyway, a visit to the home page of Suginami City Hall discovered this interesting bit:


“Areas scheduled for power outage:  Shoan 3-chome, Zenpukuji 1 through 4-chome, Nishiogikita 3 through 5- chome.  *Kami Igusa is out of the targeted areas.”

Does this mean other parts of Suginami-ku will not experience power outages?  No explanation is given.  To some extent—no, to a great extent—the confusion is understandable.  But a notice like this leaves questions unanswered that you can’t help but think they could have answered if they’d tried.   Or maybe the people down at City Hall are just as confused and exhausted as the rest of us…

In times like this, when voices of authority are not reliable, we have to rely on our own wits.  Even if you are not in one of the areas scheduled for an outage, it won’t hurt to stock up on water and batteries and candles just in case.

Suginami-ku home page: <;

Just now (1:10 PM) Tokyo Electric (Tepco) held a press conference to announce that Group 3 would also continue to have electricity for the time being.  About Group 4 (places like Shinagawa and Meguro) they will make an announcement later.  The Tepco spokesman looked peaked.  Everyone, in fact, who appears on TV to make announcements and updates is looking frazzled.   I want to send them all a loud THANK YOU for the intensive work they have to do without rest even though they all must be as worried and anxious and upset as everybody else.

Power Cuts in Tokyo

March 14, 2011

There seems to be little information available in English about the planned power outages in the Tokyo area.  This site has a list of the areas and neighborhoods, the group number they have been assigned to, and a schedule of the outages for each group:

The site is in Japanese, but there is a map with colored areas matched to times for scheduled outages which you should be able to understand even if you cannot read Japanese. [Update: The map has disappeared from the site.]  The only problem with it is that the 23 wards have no color, are left white.  Does this mean the 23 wards will not experience power cuts?  It is not clear.  Tokyo Tree‘s neighborhood is listed as being in Group 1, with outage scheduled for 6:20 AM to 10:00 AM, and 4:50 PM to 8:30 PM.  However, at 6:20 nothing happened.  According to NHK news, Tepco did not carry out the outage for group 1 at the scheduled time but are still apparently planning to carry it out at some point.  It is not clear to me why group 1 did not experience power cuts.

We have also been warned that loss of electricity will or most likely will mean loss of water supply, land phone line, and internet.  There is no mention of the effect on gas supply.  We are cautioned to unplug electrical appliances so that when the electricity comes back on, nothing has been left on.  Traffic lights may not be working.  People are requested to avoid driving, but if you are driving, you are requested to drive slowly especially when approaching an intersection without traffic lights working and no traffic cop around.   As of this writing, JR is operating the Chuo and Yamanote lines, but not others.  If you are planning to use the train or subway today, be prepared for delays or in some cases no train at all.  I just heard that the monorail is running on schedule.

Nishiogi Shopping

March 13, 2011

I just got back from another tour of the ‘hood.  Nishiogikubo’s Seiyu—proud member of the “WAL*MART Family”—is closed.  A sign on the shuttered entrance says they are closed till further notice due to the earthquake and refers shoppers to other Seiyu stores in Kichijoji and Ogikubo.  What do you suppose happened?  Possibly I was the last person to buy anything there before they closed.  At that time, while things had fallen off shelves, I saw no signs of damage to the building itself, which, after all, the recorded announcement kept assuring us was “safe.”  I would venture a guess that they were all sold out of everything, were it not for their referral of shoppers to nearby Seiyu stores.

If you hurry, maybe you can get that last set of tissue paper.

Moving on to Seijo Drugs to pick up some vitamins, I found the place crowded with shoppers and the line too long to stick around and wait in.  Out back the shelves normally full of tissue and toilet paper were nearly empty.  There’s a run on these items, and I passed people loaded down with them on the street.

Yesterday I had done a big shop at the Coop, but there had been no bread, bananas, strawberries or broccoli.  Today too no bread, and the fruit section was empty except for a few lonely kiwis and avocados.  Fresh vegies too were wiped out except a couple of bunches of celery, asparagus, and cucumbers.  Milk all gone, eggs all gone, rice all gone.  Shoppers were wandering around exclaiming, “But there’s nothing here!”  There is still some processed packaged food left, though, and for some reason lots of fresh flowers.  Signs above the empty compartments apologized for being sold out of just about everything due to the earthquake.

I then checked out Fuji Garden, right next door to the Coop, across the street from Daiso.  They’ve got lots of everything there, especially in the fresh foods department.  So if you want something besides kiwi and celery, pop next door for more variety.  What Fuji Garden is out of, though, is milk, bread, tofu, and fresh noodles. [The Coop (Seikyo) is located at Nishiogikita 1-2, next to the railroad tracks.]

Is this just a temporary glitch in the system?  Or are we really in for long-term shortages?  That remains to be seen.  I’ve got four and a half rolls of toilet paper at home and five box of tissues.  Let’s see what happens when I run out…

Photo Essay: Torii downed by earthquake

March 12, 2011

Main Gate completely demolished

Two entrance gates, or torii, of our local shrine, Ogikubo Hachiman, were damaged by the recent earthquake.






A tree also hurt

sign of the times



mighty posts have fallen






Inspecting the scene

side gate also hurt


Maybe this one can be repaired?

intact torii at another shrine


March 11, 2011

I had just come back from a dentist appointment in Kanda, taking the Tozai subway line to Nishiogikubo Station.  I dropped in at Seiyu to buy some underwear and was carrying it to the check out counter when I noticed that the clothing hanging up on the walls was swaying back and forth.  I froze in the middle of the large open clothing department.  A salesclerk came running through calling out to everyone to take shelter in a safe place.  Like where?  I wondered.  The standard drill is to take cover under a table or desk, or lacking that a doorframe.  But there was nothing like that around me.  Two other shoppers ran behind the counter and crouched down.  I dropped to the floor next to the outside of the counter and started praying loudly.  I felt exposed and vulnerable.

I’ve been in Tokyo during countless earthquakes, including being on the 38th floor of a skyscraper,  and in a swaying elevator,  and I’ve had a couple of photographs in glass frames fall shattering to the floor at midnight, but nothing was ever like this.  I don’t know how long it lasted.  I did not have the presence of mind to time it.  But it felt abnormally long.  An announcement came repeatedly from the store’s PA system telling us that the building was safe, so not to worry.  But it was a recording and failed to reassure me.

When the worst was over, I found myself standing up and actually paying for the undershirts at the cash register.  I think both I and the salesclerk were in a state of shock and weren’t sure how to proceed.  Was the store still open for business?  Maybe we just wanted to do something normal, carry on as usual.  I walked out of the store through the cosmetics department past aisles cluttered with fallen bottles of shampoo and deodorant.

Outside the store is a narrow alleyway lined with tiny drinking and eating facilities where the clientele are usually sitting on stools at a counter right out in the open.  Now the alleyway was crowded with people standing around talking to each other excitedly about the earthquake.  I passed many with cell phones pressed to their ears.  I arrived back at the train station where people were just standing around as if waiting to see what would happen next, looking lost as their plans for the late afternoon had suddenly fallen apart.  Where to go now?  What to do?  A man came along and asked two young women dressed in waitress uniforms if they were all right.

I turned right and went down another narrow alley to Dante coffee shop.  I had no idea if it would still be open for business, but I was shook up and wanted to be in a comforting place.  A customer was just leaving, and two more were standing at the counter, the cups at their seats sitting in saucers of spilled brown liquid.  I asked the master if he were still open, and he said yes, so I went in and sat down.  He explained that the gas had cut off so it would take a few minutes longer than usual to make the coffee.  I told him where I had been and we talked about the experience.  He said it was the strongest quake he had ever felt in his life, and he looks to be in his 50s.  I ordered the coffee featured for the day, Blue Mountain, and he laughed and apologized.  The sign for the coffee of the day had fallen to the floor, and the Blue Mountain under it was for another day.

I figured out that more than the sign had fallen as the master walked about behind his counter, crunching broken glass underfoot.  The two people at the counter left after paying the master the half price he charged them for the coffee that had spilled.  A woman came in, saying she had intended to go shopping at Seiyu  but they weren’t letting anybody in.  Since I was starting to calm down, I felt foolish for having gone through with my shopping.

Dante is illuminated by pendant lamps, and has a small bell attached to the front door which rings whenever someone opens or closes it.  The bell began to “ting ting ting” though no one had opened the door and the pendant lamps began to swing back and forth.  “After shocks,” the master announced, but these after shocks felt as strong as the usual earthquake, and if you’ve just experienced one much stronger, these after shocks can be terrifying.

He brought me my coffee.  I savored it, and savored the vase of yellow tulips on the counter in a glass vase that had not been thrown to the floor.  Bach played softly in the background.  The master swept up spilled coffee beans from the floor.  If this was the end, then Dante seemed a good place to be, a place of mental if not physical safety.

There was no news of where the earthquake had been centered or what was happening elsewhere.  The other customer said that no one could get through on their cell phones.  About 4 o’clock I decided I’d better get on home and inspect the damage.  I opened my door to broken dishes, broken glass scattered everywhere, windows wide open, refrigerator and bookshelves shoved away from the walls.  I haven’t even begun to make a dent in the mess.

And now, four hours after the quake first hit, I am sitting here at my desk, and as I have been typing this post, and even now the room is shaking back and forth.  As computer and TV are fine, I now know that the quake was centered off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture in northeast Japan, and the tsunami warnings are uppermost on everyone’s mind.  I do not yet know what the magnitude was of Tokyo’s share.   I’ve dug my earthquake kit out of the back of the closet, and now must begin cleaning up the mess.

Bill of Rights Comes Due; Embassy Refuses to Pay

March 9, 2011

Still unresolved since the Tree last reported on it [see “Futenma Update,” June 23, 2010] is the issue of the relocation of Futenma Air Base to Henoko.  Politicians are apparently too busy engaged in power struggles on the Diet floor and in back rooms to deal with this hot potato up front and decisively.  The mainstream media here as well have found other more entertaining diversions, like the sumo bout-rigging scandal or the recent case of a student using his cell phone to copy answers to entrance exam questions, to report as news.  Lost in all this vaudevillian soft-shoe and shuffle is any serious news of what’s happening in Okinawa.


Meanwhile, the eyes of the world’s media outlets are on events in Africa and the Middle East.  I have an email subscription to Global Voices, “an international community of bloggers who report on blogs and citizen media around the world.” <>  In their email notice of Sunday, February 20, 2011, the following stories among others were posted:  “Arab World:  The Uprisings Continue,” “Algeria:  Protesters Hurt as police try to stop demonstration,” “Bahrain:  Protestors continue to camp at Pearl Roundabout,” “Morocco:  Across the Nation, Demonstration.”  A story was filed for Japan, too:  “Japan:  It’s Nursing Time on Twitter!”  You would think that all must be quiet here in Japan, and that all the turmoil is concentrated in other parts of the globe.


But things are not quiet on Okinawa, and the apparent large percentage of the population that is more concerned with personal than political issues represents not general satisfaction with the way things are so much as a sublime indifference to it.  Not treating an event as “news,” however, does not mean it never happened; nor does ignoring it mean that it will quietly go away.  On the same day of the above-mentioned Global Voices posting which gave the impression that all was quiet on the Japan front, a report appeared in the citizen reporter blog JANJAN (Japan Alternative News for Justices and New Cultures) on a demonstration that had taken place that same day near the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.


According to a post by citizen reporter Umigata Masashi, “Two Protesters Arrested near American Embassy” 「米大使館付近で逮捕者2名発生」,  approximately 200 people gathered near Shinbashi Station to march to the Embassy to deliver a formal written notice protesting the construction of helipads in the village of Takae in Okinawa for use by the U.S. military.  The march was sponsored by the “Don’t Tread on Okinawa!” Emergency Action Committee.  Although the march was orderly and protesters kept to the sidewalks, they were accompanied and outnumbered by a sizable force of both uniformed and plainclothes police, who also filmed them with video cameras.


One day last fall I attended an event at the Okura Hotel, located across the street from the American Embassy.  My route from the subway exit to the hotel took me right past the Embassy, and I arrived a few minutes late because I had not allowed time for the detour I was forced to make.  The Embassy is surrounded by Japanese policemen who ensure that nobody who has no business at the Embassy sets foot on the public sidewalk that runs next to it outside its gates.  When I attempted to do so, I was stopped and instructed to take a wide semi-circular rather than direct route to the hotel.  I felt at the time not only put out by the inconvenience but embarrassed at my position.  Here was I, an American citizen, being ordered by a Japanese policeman to keep away not from some secure area belonging to Japan but from the grounds of (what I apparently foolishly think of as) “my own” Embassy, which now resembled more a military stronghold than the diplomatic outpost of a democratic nation.


It was no surprise, then, to read in the JANJAN report that when the protest marchers reached the vicinity of the Embassy, they had to stop because the Embassy does not permit political demonstrations in front of its buildings.  However, several marchers began to call out to the others to move on to the Embassy anyway, and everyone began chanting loudly in chorus.  At this point, the police moved in and arrested two of the protesters for “interference with a government official in the exercise of his duties.”  After the arrest, representatives of the Emergency Action Committee went to the Embassy to deliver their written notice protesting the helipad construction, but the Embassy refused to accept it.


Mr. Umigata appends some commentary to his report that is especially of interest to the Tree.  He notes that while President Obama apparently welcomed the recent citizen revolution in Egypt, it seems to be a different story when it comes to citizens protesting in Japan.


Ironically, “it was America who taught democracy to Japan after the war. And now America is teaching Japanese people again to assert their anger and take action,” he writes.


He suggests that this protest march, and the arrests made, are a sign that the usually well-behaved Japanese people, who are perceived as “obediently listening to whatever their superiors say,” are undergoing change.  They are becoming more excited, and they are getting angry.  The refusal of the Embassy to accept the letter of protest will, he predicts, “up the voltage.”  “The dislike of America will increase, which may be a sign that we will grow into an independent democratic nation.”  He ends his post in English:  “Thank you, America!!”


[For the full article (in Japanese) with photographs of the scene visit <;.  For a video of the event, see <;.  Many thanks to Umigata Masashi for permission to quote extensively from his post, sine qua non.]

When I read Mr. Umigata’s post and learned of the Embassy’s rejection of the protesters’ petition, I could not help being reminded of the scene in ANPO [see previous post, “Film Review:  ANPO“] where the Embassy personage tosses his cigarette butt at the crowd before turning away from them.  Has nothing changed in the 50 years since that event?


Film Review: ANPO

March 9, 2011

It begins with a close-up of a painted image of a dog with an unnatural human-like mouth smeared with bright red lipstick.  The camera moves about the canvas, zooming in and out, revealing a little more.  Above the dog is a dark monster, red tongue hanging out, who holds the dog by the tail in one claw-like hand and by one ear in the other hand.  Tied around the dog’s neck is a white napkin with the words “Yellow Stool” scrawled across it.  The scene then changes abruptly to another painted image, that of Manhattan in flames, encircled by a fleet of Mitsubishi Zeroes.


The film is ANPO:  Art X War (2010), a documentary by the American filmmaker Linda Hoaglund.  The word anpo (a shortened form of anzen hoshou “security”) refers to the Japan-US Security Treaty. The film deals, however, not so much with the Security Treaty per se but with the responses of Japanese visual artists to various issues connected with it, including the 1960 mass protest against the signing of the revised Treaty, the continued presence of US bases on Japanese soil, especially in Okinawa, the ill treatment of Japanese women by GIs stationed at those bases, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, war guilt of the Japanese, and the fire bombings of Tokyo.  Because the film explores these issues through the eyes of the artists, it comes across more like an art exhibit than a documentary.  Some of the artists speak on screen so we have their words to mull over as well, but most of what we see is the art works themselves, and it is those works which speak most eloquently and appeal to viewers most forcefully.  Being works of art rather than reason, they do not argue what to do about the Security Treaty itself, but rather pose some troubling questions and leave the drawing of any conclusions up to viewers.


The scene of New York burning is from “Map of an Air Raid of New York” by Aida Makoto (1996).  It shows skyscrapers, many easily identifiable such as the Chrysler and Pan Am Buildings, engulfed in flames.  In the foreground a fleet of Zeroes forms a figure eight, the sign of infinity.  This scene, interspersed with shots of the artist being interviewed, is accompanied by a melancholy instrumental rendition of Takemitsu Toru’s anti-war song “All That the Man Left Behind When He Died.”


Mr. Aida:  “For the Japanese, whether or not we like America is a loaded question that isn’t easy to answer.  Whether or not you like France is a matter of personal taste.  But America is a more searing presence, with love and hate always flip-flopping.”


The rest of the film, and the artists and artworks featured in it, elaborate on this basic theme.  While many of the works depict the horrors of war, and some express anger not so much at the US military presence as at the Japanese politicians who allow it, the impression that comes through loudest and clearest is of a deep wellspring of unresolved and complicated anger toward America hidden beneath the quiet surface of Japanese society.  This unresolved anger and its implications is perhaps best expressed by the two paintings that open the film.


The Zeroes were, of course, designed as fighter jets, not bombers.  They were turned into bombers, however, in the latter years of the war when they were used for kamikaze suicide attacks on American ships.  Thus, “Map of an Air Raid” depicts New York being attacked by airplanes turned into bombs themselves.  The scene would be reminiscent of 9/11 were it not for the fact that it was painted five years before that event.


The “Yellow Stool” makes several reprise appearances, and eventually it becomes clear that the dog represents Japan, and the dark monster who holds it in his grip is the United States.  On another level, the dog represents the women who were hired by the Japanese government in the early days of the Allied Occupation to work as prostitutes serving the American GIs posted to Japan.  A bit of film footage shows a young white soldier with his arm slung casually around the shoulders of a pretty Japanese woman.  They are both smiling and looking happy, but the man keeps stroking the woman’s cheek with the hand that lies on her shoulder, and she keeps reaching up and pushing the hand away, even while she continues to smile, even while he keeps ignoring her signal and returning his hand to her cheek, while she continues to smile, like the dog in “Yellow Stool.”


Another painting:  “And Still They March” by Katsuragawa Hiroshi.  A man wrapped in bandages and barbed wire walks on crutches away from us down a long red-carpeted gray-walled corridor toward a black rectangle of a doorway at the further end.  One leg is in a brace and the other has been removed at the knee.  His bottom is unbandaged but also unclothed.  Around his head the bandages have been wrapped in such a way as to suggest the ziggurat-like dome of the Diet Building.


When I first saw the title, I thought the painting depicted soldiers going to war, again and again and again, despite the futility of war, despite its horrors, despite the damage that it does to everyone and everything.  But listening to the interview with the artist, and looking more closely at the painting, I realized he meant to depict the Japanese parliament.  Despite the widespread protests against the Treaty, in which millions of citizens participated, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Kishi effectively cut off all debate and shut out the opposition from the vote to approve the Treaty. “Parliament wasn’t functioning anymore so I wrapped it twice in bandages, but it’s Parliament hobbling along on crutches,” explains the artist.


“March” may also refer to the protest marches, and the determination of the people not to give up.  Parliament may not have been functioning, but ordinary citizens were filling the streets demanding that their voices be heard.  Artist Ikeda Tatsuo participated in that 1960 demonstration, and tells of a friend who marched with him.  Because he had had polio as a child, this friend walked with a crutch, dragging one leg behind him, “desperately chanting and zigzagging” for three kilometers.


ANPO includes scenes from a film made of that protest [Rage at ANPO (1960), Tomizawa Yukio, dir.], and in one of them, the march has arrived at the U.S. Embassy.  The camera zooms in on a white man standing on a balcony of an Embassy building watching the goings-on and smoking a cigarette. He flips his cigarette butt down at the crowd and exhales a cloud of smoke before turning away.


In the end, the protest failed to stop the signing of the revised Treaty.  One scene shows Mr. Katsuragawa’s painting being taken out of storage, perhaps on its way to be photographed for the film.  It had been stored not in a museum but in the attic of the garage of a kerosene salesman, a friend of the artist.  So too did the protest march end with everybody going home and putting their anger into storage, not to be shown in public.  As Mr. Ikeda asks at the end of the film:  “So what the hell is democracy?”


[To view a trailer of ANPO, visit <;.  For an excellent critique of the film, see Ryan Holmberg, “Know Your Enemy:  ANPO,” Art in America, Jan. 1, 2011, at <;.   Future screenings will be held at the Hong Kong Film Festival on March 24 and 27, at the Association of Asian Studies/ICAS Film Expo 2011 in Honolulu on April 2, and at the Harvard Film Archives in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 11.]