a poem by Kenji Miyazawa

This is an old poem that almost every schoolchild knows. Poet Kenji Miyazawa lived in Iwate Prefecture, which took much damage from the earthquake and tsunami.

Unbeaten by rain
Unbeaten by wind
Unbowed by the snow and the summer heat
Strong in body

Free from greed
Without any anger
Always serene

With a handful of brown rice a day
Miso and a small amount of vegetables suffice

Whatever happens
Consider yourself last, always put others first
Understand from your observation and experience
Never lose sight of these things

In the shadows of the pine groves in the fields
Live modestly under a thatched roof

In the East, if there is a sick child
Go there and take care of him
In the West, if there is an exhausted mother
Go there and relieve her of her burden
In the South, if there is a man near death
Go there and comfort him, tell him “Don’t be afraid”
In the North, if there is an argument and a legal dispute
Go there and persuade them it’s not worth it

In a drought, shed tears
In a cold summer, carry on
Even with a sense of loss

Being called a fool
Being neither praised nor a burden

Such a person I want to be

(Translated by Catherine Iwata, Rev.Fredrich Ulrich, Sophie Sampson, Helene Bartos, Minaeri Park, Mokmi Park, Yasuko Akiyama)
March 27, 2011

the milk situation

We are in a new normality, made evident by milk.

It was one of the first items to disappear after the quake, along with rice and instant ramen. But just as I was getting around to the idea black coffee, it made a comeback. Three days ago I spotted a batch of 200ml mini-cartons in a Kabukicho convenience store (which I bought multiples of, to my shame). Then yesterday I saw these full-sized one-liter cartons in a department store:


It should have felt that things are moving back to the way they were, but it didn’t: The package was unfamiliar as was its place of origin, Shimane Prefecture, which is closer to South Korea than it is to Tokyo.

Someone really made an effort to get them here. Yet in Fukushima and in prefectures nearby the farmers are throwing their milk away, because higher-than-normal radiation has made it unsellable.

While on the subject, of milk here are some images of carton design from the Milk Tour Nippon 2011, held last month:



The package on the left shows a crested ibis, an icon of Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture. On the right is apple milk from Aomori Prefecture:

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This yoghurt package from Appi-kogen highland in Iwate Prefecture was particularly eye-catching. It’s the work of none other than Yusaku Kamekura (1915-1997), better known for his posters for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics :




I slept at the office the night of the quake, but not well. In the morning I woke to news of the possible meltdown. In the afternoon I walked over to the Ginza neighborhood.

Tokyo changes constantly, but Ginza is unique because it has always maintain a certain sophistication, a poise. Even if you’ve been to the place just once, you can probably recognize it in an old photograph. This day it looked like it always does, reassuring, albeit a bit empty for a Saturday.

I bought a box of chocolates for the upcoming White Day. I put a coin in a monk’s bowl. I had a blueberry juice. Then I noticed these butterflies:


Over the seasons I’ve taken photos of this window many times (see here, here, here or here). In fact I’d taken one just a few days before, following an unusual snowfall.


It was surprising to see a change of display so soon. I took note of the date on the glass, March 11, and remembered how window-dressers work through the night. Imagine while Nature was gathering its force, their hands were bringing us Spring.

The main Ginza intersection in the afternoon after:


















It’s after midnight and the ground is still shaking. Prayers for all those affected.

Sometimes we get a shake-up to bring us back to reality. This earthquake today — the largest I’ve felt here ever. The sound of things breaking; people running. I happened to be in Shinjuku, right by Yodobashi Camera, looking at a sushi display in a window. It was rolling. I turned and saw the signboard for a 270-yen izakaya, beating like the woofer on a stereo.

Then I noticed people: Streaming out from offices; the Yodobashi workers holding down the wares; cooks and waiters holding up each other and looking to City Hall, swaying. Buildings looked like a scene from “Inception.” I ran for the sturdiest one in sight, or tried: I damaged my Achilles heel badly a week before in the Tokyo City Marathon.

The word “repeatability” then came to mind. I had read it somewhere, and after a year focused on running, a year when I gave up almost every other activity, I understood: What did it mean to run 42 kilometers one day, if I couldn’t run to safety in the middle of an earthquake?

Some things I noticed as it happened:

  • Tokyo people are much more physical then they initially appear. I saw lots of people locking arms and holding hands. Especially women, who were also the first to laugh between the shocks. Businessmen suddenly had helmets on.
  • The people at Yodobashi Camera, who I always assumed were wage slaves, are actually very dedicated. They helped customers out and held down the goods, and were back on their bullhorns even during the aftershocks.
  • The Chinese waitresses at the conveyor sushi shop in the underground mall are a lot more tech-savvy then me. They came up with their TV phones tuned to the tsunami in Miyagi, while Japanese were still watching the buildings around.
  • The phone system stopped. I was waiting for the “are you safe” robo-call from my company but it never came. Instead I got a “push” from the Huffington Post: “Huge Earthquake Strikes Japan.”
  • It was impossible to get a taxi. I ended up going home to find my room rearranged and the gas on switched on. Just then an aftershock came. I got on my bicycle and rode to work. I remembered there was canned bread and bottled water there. I reached my desk and the safety call finally arrived.
  • I found myself with a half-charged camera and without my press armband. I swore I would never let such a thing happen. It did.
  • While Shinjuku was still shaking I walked up to the fifth floor of Yodobashi Camera to buy new brushes for my electric toothbrush. On the way back down I joined a crowd in front of the large-screen, high-definition TVs, watching the brown tsunami swallowing northern Japan. I was amazed by the crispness, the clarity. I cried.