Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The New Hakata Station

If you haven't done so already I'd just like to remind everyone that there is plenty of time left to donate to the tsunami relief efforts. Loads of people out there need your help! Info on places to donate if you are in Japan or Canada I put in this previous post.

One of the side effects of the disaster - which it bears repeating is the worst natural disaster to ever strike an industrialized nation - in Kyushu has been the cancellation of a bunch of train-related PR events. The Shinkansen which opened between Tokyo and Osaka way back in 1964 finally made its way to this backwater a couple weeks ago. Well, actually its been in Fukuoka for a while, but they only just completed the Kyushu line, which connects all the way down to Kagoshima. The Kyushu Shinkansen made its massively anticipated first run on March 12, 2011 - a day that planners thought would be one just like any other but in actual fact turned out to be the day after the disaster. While the train ran on time, all the celebratory events that would have attracted massive crowds were, as one would expect, quietly canceled.

Some of these events revolved around Hakata station, Fukuoka's main station and one end of the new Shinkansen line. The station, whose entrance is pictured above, itself opened for the first time just days before the quake hit.

Since I arrived here two and a half years ago, Hakata station has been more or less a giant construction site that somehow managed to also serve as a train station. The new building is a massive structure that has been in the works for years. I have no idea what the old station looked like. The new one is 10 stories tall, most of which are devoted to the 229 stores that the massive shopping complex houses. Its construction has created a bit of controversy as its sheer size is seen as a threat to the merchants in Fukouka's other centre of consumer gravity, Tenjin, which looks to lose a lot of shoppers to the new behemoth.

The ribbon cutting ceremony of the station went ahead before the quake, but everything else has been canceled. Nonetheless, the station has become a massive attraction in its first couple of weeks. Ena and I decided to head over today to have a look at the thing as it has a ton of restaurants that we wanted to check out for lunch.

The entrance is quite impressive. I really do have to learn to take these "couple self-photos" in a manner that does not accentuate my double-chin though:
The place was an absolute zoo. Wall to wall people, from the 1st floor to the 10th (we went through them all). We got a seat at a Mexican restaurant on the 9th floor, which was quite nice. We had non-alcoholic margaritas with our lunches for just 100 yen extra:
After that we headed down into the cavernous interior of the beast:
They've got a lot of stores. A lot. Trust me. No shortage of stores here. Mostly clothes.

Some of them had neat stuff though. At the Tokyu Hands department store they have a fake lego model of the Fukuoka Dome with a baseball game going on which I though was really cool:
They even had little people playing the game and sitting in the stands. I want this, but it isn't for sale:
On the 8th floor I did a double take when getting off the elevators. They have a model railroad shop:
I love model railroads. My earliest childhood memory is from Christmas of 1979 when my dad and Grandpa surprised me with a big electric railroad that they had spent some time putting together. They are the best. Later in the 1980s when my Dad was transferred to Germany we put together a German railroad set together, which was a lot of fun. Looking around at the big train set they had in the store I recognized some of the buildings as being the same as our German set:
I convinced Ena to let me have a look. I love stores like this. With everything set up in glass cases looking really good:
You can see where this is going. Ena was really sweet and bought a train for me.

We couldn't afford any of the expensive new ones in the glass case, but this shop is great because it sells old used ones too for a lot cheaper. So we got one of those.

This is what it looks like. "N" scale. They come in their own box:
Open it up and hey, a train:
I also got some rails:
And we picked out some little people together:
We set them up on the coffee table and played with them for a bit. I have no way to make the train run (no transformer) and not enough track to actually make a loop, so our options were pretty limited:
The people didn't come with bases, so they were incapable of standing on their own. We just sort of piled them up here and there, which is all we could think of to do with them at this early stage in our sojourn into model railroading:
Very colorful. I like that.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stuff that Disgusts Me: People Laughing about the Tsunami

Its probably better not to blog when you are upset, but I'm going to go ahead and do so anyway.

One thing that a lot of people have been commenting on is how well people here have reacted in light of the scale of the tragedy. In a lot of countries disasters of this sort are a prelude to looting and a general "every man for himself" attitude. None of that has happened here. Even in the face of horrifying devastation and extreme scarcities of food, water, heating fuel and medical supplies for the close to half a million people who have lost their homes there have been no reports of looting, fighting or any disorder whatsoever among the survivors. The stoicism is best summed up by the elderly woman who, having spent hours trapped under the rubble, could only apologize to her rescuers for putting them to the trouble of having to save her.

Truly incredible.

I contrast this with the reaction I've been seeing from what I can only describe as truly awful individuals: Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. They actually find this massive tragedy to be a laughing matter. Literally, they are laughing about it. Like it is a joke. Thousands of people dead, thousands more missing. Funny stuff.

I stumbled onto these videos by "The Young Turks", who do some internet based political commentary pieces. The guy does an excellent job of pointing out just how awful Beck and Limbaugh are, and I recommend watching the (short) clips, which include the above mentioned incidents of them laughing about all of this.

The video about Beck is here and the video about Limbaugh is here.

I can't say much more as the Young Turks guy pretty much highlights just how much of a failure as human beings these two are. In Beck's defence I will acknowledge that he is clearly just a simpleton who is on a planet of his own and probably doesn't realize how inappropriate it is to be laughing when discussing tragedies like this.

Limbaugh though is way worse. He is actually mocking the victims of this tragedy directly. Beck is more laughing at his own bizarre religious rantings rather than the tragedy itself. Limbaugh though just finds what is happening here to be hilarious. Seriously, watch the clip. He is mocking these people:
Whose homes now look like this:
Who have lost loved ones and, as I write this, are struggling to survive in horrendous conditions without many of the basic necessities of life. These people are actually dying in these shelters it is so bad.

Hilarious stuff indeed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nuclear disasters, tsunamis, earthquakes and stuff

I'd like to thank everyone back in Canada, America and the UK for expressing their concern over the past few days for our safety. As the above photo, taken on Sunday, indicates, Ena and I are alive and well.

We actually took a few hours on a sunny afternoon to get away from the news of the multiple unfolding disasters going on all around here to sit quietly in a garden in town and have some tea:
We are indeed lucky to be alive and in a place where it is still possible to do this. Not everyone in this country is so lucky, as I'm sure you are all aware.

For that reason I'd like to put a good word in for some charities that are collecting donations to help the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the tsunami. I've sorted these into Japan and Canada based charities. Sorry for only putting those countries up, but that is where most readers of this blog come from and I have to economize on my time!

In Japan:

Peace Winds Japan

Japan Platform

Japanese Red Cross Society

In Canada:

CARE Canada

Oxfam Canada

Canadian Red Cross

Doctors Without Borders

Please give generously, people need your help!

Anyway, we are all quite concerned here about events going on up north. Entire towns have just been completely destroyed. I'm reminded of photos of Hiroshima after the bombing when I look at the images of towns along the coast in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures.

One of the side effects of this being reported in the press has been a run on emergency goods at stores in Tokyo. I was surprised when shopping today to discover that a bit of this had spread as far as Fukuoka. I was picking up groceries at our Jusco. Everything looked normal and there definitely hasn't been a wave of panic buying like what is going on up north, but still there was noticeably less stuff of the "emergency goods" type on the shelves.

The shelves where they keep the cheap bottled water had been stripped clean:
They still had some bottled water, but only the expensive stuff. So people are definitely stocking up on that.

The cheap toilet paper was also completely sold out:
ARGH! People, some of us actually need to be buying this stuff!

They were also out of tissue:
The cup-ramen aisle still had a fair amount left, but it was noticeably less well-stocked than usual:
At the cash register I noticed that the TVs they usually broadcast advertising on were all turned off with signs saying "turned off to conserve energy" on them. This is now a country that simply doesn't have enough electricity to go around:
Its not exactly a huge deal, but I give them credit for making an effort.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami

There was a big earthquake up in Touhoku today. Looks like a bad one. We couldn't even feel it down here in Fukuoka, so we are safe. Just glad that we live on a hilltop, our apartment is only a few hundred metres from the coast if a tsunami ever does hit.

Anyway, you know it is a bad earthquake if the newscaster has to wear a helmet while reporting it from the studio!

Edited to add:

I've noticed in the past couple hours that people overseas seem to be visiting this post looking for info about the quake in Fukuoka and Kyushu.

So here is what I know. There has been no damage in Fukuoka prefecture. NHK reported a tsunami warning (their lowest level one) for the Seto inland sea side of the prefecture near Kitakyushu, as well as Oita and Miyazaki prefectures. Kagoshima, Nagasaki and Kumamoto and most other areas of Kyushu also have warnings, though the quake didn't do any damage and couldn't even be felt way down here.

So if you've got friends or family in Kyushu, they are probably OK.