A Bit of Welcome News from Japan

March 21, 2011

With Syunbun No Hi (the national holiday on which Japanese visit the graves of departed loved ones) just around the corner, the battered country finally got a bit of welcome and uplifting news: nine days after a devastating earthquake and tsunami slammed the northeast coast of Honshu, 16-year-old Jin Abe, and his 80-year-old grandmother, Sumi Abe, were found alive amidst the ruins of the coastal city of Ishinomaki. Jin stood atop the roof of his collapsed house, draped in towels to keep the cold at bay. He told a police rescue party that his grandmother was trapped inside the house. It took some forty minutes for the rescue team to extricate Sumi Abe from the rubble. The pair had been trapped in what remained of their kitchen after the earthquake, and had survived on yoghurt, water and Coca-Cola from their refrigerator. Eventually Jin was able to dig out of the wreckage and climb to the roof. Here the story takes a twofold path, depending on which news service is doing the telling: either he was able flag down a search helicopter or his cries for help were heard by a ground rescue team. In any event, although both had suffered from exposure and dehydration, they were coherent and able to talk with paramedics; they were taken to a local hospital for treatment, and at last report, both were doing well. An English language report from grassrootsnews.tv can be viewed on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ut_8grfciOo

In Tokyo, a few hundred kilometers to the southeast of the disaster area, things are pretty subdued. Gas stations are, for the most part, closed. The ones that are open, like the Shell station near my apartment, have short hours and strict limits (20 liters per customer, a bit over five gallons). Gas has gone up from about 120 yen per liter (pre-quake price) to 150 yen; converted to US prices and measurements, it is now about $7 per gallon.

Store shelves are empty of staples. When I went shopping yesterday there was no water available other than Evian, which was on sale (!) at 80 yen for a half-liter bottle. No rice, no milk, no butter, very little tea, no batteries, no candles, no flashlights, no eggs, no noodles, no just-add-water quickie lunches. Meat and vegetables were available in seemingly normal quantities, and at the usual prices, as were baked goods; canned and frozen foods were readily available as well. I managed to score a couple of cartons of fruit juice, and some hot dogs. I really like my morning coffee, preferably with milk or cream, but as neither of those could be found, I took advantage of a Marie-Antoinette-let-them-eat-cake moment, and dissolved a medium sized scoop of Haagen-Dazs French Vanilla ice cream into my steaming brew. Perhaps not the Heart Healthy option, but sometimes you just gotta say “what the hell”.

A last-minute update: at 11:13 this morning, a scant thirteen minutes after my local supermarket opened, there were but sixteen one-liter cartons of milk left on the shelf. I bought one of them.