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Japan 2012

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Komal and I had breakfast together yesterday and both of us were a little taken aback when two guys walked in and ordered beer. Before 9am.

Today I went for breakfast alone at 8.30am. As I was arriving, a group of 4 people chatted to me as they were leaving, and the lady apologised for their behaviour, because they were drunk. One of the guys told me that he owned a gay bar in town, and I got the impression that hadn’t long finished work.It was quiet when they left. Until I noticed the two guys sat at the counter were snoring.

Spent the morning in the hotel with Komal, putting together an article for the website about the event. I have also told Hideyuki that I’m happy to administrate the website, so I had a brainstorm about changes to make to it.

Komal and I went to Kansai University around 1pm, but Komal had to post something to Tokyo first. Two people who don’t speak Japanese in a Japanese Post Office, where none of the signs are translated, attempting to get a large envelope for the parcel and do everything correctly. You have to describe what is in the parcel for air mail. It was a plaque of Northumbria University. They had no idea what we were talking about, but tried to check somehow. I had visions of them checking Google Translate, coming up with the Japanese for ‘dental plaque’ and having no idea what we were talking about.

Anyway, it worked. Parcel sent. And off we went to the university. I think we were more of an annoyance to Hideyuki than anything else, because we didn’t really need to see him and we made him late for a faculty meeting. But, he has set up a meeting with a community organisation in Kyoto for Friday.

Technology.

I imagine most people know the Japanese like their technology, but I just wanted to mention a couple of great things I saw yesterday. The first was a ‘bike conveyor’. These are narrow strips located next to steps on footbridges that are activated automatically on contact. So you walk up the steps and just hold your bike while it goes up the conveyor! And on the other side there is a ‘bike slope’.

The second is the seats on the Limited Express train. These trains have seats in pairs, similar to UK trains. But. All the seats can be turned around! So everyone can face the direction of travel, or you can turn seats to face each other if you’re in a group. An incredibly simple idea.

Japan 2012

Kainan

Much better day today. Despite waiting ages for Hideyuki in the hotel. Anyway, when he eventually arrived, we all went over to Kansai University. Hideyuki had some work to do, so me and Komal sat in a classroom and were very studious. Hideyuki joined us after his work and I presented what I did yesterday for him to comment on and make suggestions.

Around 1pm we left for Kainan, where Hideyuki is working with other universities, the local government and a school on tsunami preparation and evacuation. Kainan is quite far from Takatsuki, so it took us almost 2 hours on the limited express train. The area Hideyuki is working in is at an elevation of 2 metres. They had a tsunami in 1946 which reached about 6 metres, and are basically expecting their next tsunami soon. They were working on 6 metres again, but the Tohoku tsunami worried them a bit: 40 metres is quite a bit higher than 6 metres!

Komal and I followed Hideyuki to a meeting in the school which was essentially a debrief from an evacuation drill in November. About 2,000 of the 5,000 residents participated, and the school is involved because students are taking part in the evacuation plans and procedures. This is quite a big deal because children are usually seen as vulnerable victims in disasters.We also went to another meeting at the Disaster Management Centre, which involved everyone at the school meeting, except the school staff. Both meetings were in Japanese, but Hideyuki has scribbled English translations on the handout for me!

The government people also took us on a bit of a tour of the town. We visited an evacuation point at 10 metres elevation, down a street which could barely fit a Mini: bit of an issue if an earthquake topples the buildings on either side before a tsunami hits! Also, the only thing they have at the site is solar lighting. No shelter or water points. The Disaster Management Centre also doubles up as an evacuation centre, but again, they’re a bit concerned that it won’t be enough after Tohoku. We were also shown the entrance to the marina and port. There has been some work done on building a tsunami barrier. Unfortunately a permanent barrier has obvious effects on the local economy. So they considered a barrier that could be raised following a tsunami warning. But, in the event of a tsunami wave crashing into the barrier, it would then hit a part of the city on the opposite side of the inlet. Difficult decisions to be made.

The second meeting went on so long that we were pushing our luck to catch our train, or wait an hour until the next one. So Komal, Hideyuki and I ran into the station, through the barrier (we already had tickets), up two escalators, and along the platform, just in the nick of time.

We got back to Takatsuki around 8pm and went to Watami for dinner, the same restaurant as Friday night. Good food, but I had to scrape fish paper off my food again!!

Japan 2012

Quiet day

Komal and I discussed research further this morning. He asked me to put together a simple plan of what I want to do, and also possible interviews in the UK and Japan. I then closed myself in the hotel room until cabin fever started setting in later in the afternoon. I went for a wander to the mall on the other side of the station.

I might have to indulge in some tights and leg warmers before leaving: they have some pretty cool ones here! I also went down to the supermarket on the ground floor of the mall and found loads of tofu! Much better selection than in the UK, where there’s pretty much just one choice. I also managed to use the self-checkout despite all the instructions being in Japanese!

Komal and I went to a cheap cafe around the corner for supper, and that was pretty much the excitement of the day.

Bowing

It’s a big deal in Japan. Pretty sure I’ll come back to the UK and bow to everyone there too! You bow when you meet someone, when you say goodbye, when you say thank you, and many other times in between. Generally, when the Japanese person you’re communicating with bows, you bow in return! And you have to make a bit of an effort, not just a nod of the head. The train conductor even walks into the carriage, thanks you for travelling with them, and bows before checking tickets.And the girl pushing the refreshments trolley. It’s kinda nice though: just another sign of the politeness of the Japanese people.

Which many of us could learn from, especially hospitality and retail staff (me included). When you walk into a cafe here, all the staff welcome you, bow and thank you for your (potential) custom. Similar when you walk into shops. In fact, you don’t even have to walk in: just pass by.

Japan 2012

Arriving in Japan, or Fish Paper

The not-so-great view from my hotel room

We arrived in Kansai Airport 10am but had to hang around until 11.30am because Neill’s plane was delayed (Neill is Assistant Chief of Northumberland Fire & Rescue). Once he arrived we took the train to Takatsuki Kyoto Hotel, which took about 2 hours!

One thing that seemed apparent from the train is that Sunday is laundry day. Most apartments (ranging from 2-storey to many-storey buildings) have balconies, and almost all had clothes rails on. We travelled through Rinku town and it was interesting to see agriculture in the middle of an urban area: fields and fields of cabbages in amongst loads of houses.

There is hardly any space between houses. They don’t seem to do terraces like the UK, but there are really narrow gaps between buildings, and very little outside space (usually just room for one car).

So we reached the hotel around 2pm and decided to meet in the foyer around 6pm to go for food. I wanted to work on my presentation, so showered and sat in front of my laptop. And then the tiredness hit me. I climbed into bed and next thing I knew it was 5.45pm.

We went to a mostly fish restaurant for dinner, where me meal began with a tofu salad topped with bonito, or “fish paper” as it became known to us. Thankfully the rest of my meal was a bit more veggie friendly and didn’t involve scraping fish paper aside!

We left around 8.30pm: a few of us went back to the hotel while the rest tried to find the Newcastle game in a bar. I tried to get a bit more work done on my presentation before crashing out.

Electric toilets

Big thing over here. Some offer bidet facilities. Some make water sounds to disguise your own sounds. Some flush when you first sit down. But the best have heated seats. A bit unusual I know, but it is really nice to have a heated seat on a very cold day!

And any electric toilets are a welcome alternative to traditional Japanese toilets, which are holes in the ground.

One irritating thing about public toilets though: the tap water to wash your hands is freezing cold, and they don’t supply paper towels or dryers because Japanese people carry their own towels. So unless you’re prepared, you leave with a warm bum but cold hands.

Japan 2012

Leaving for Japan

So off to Cardiff to get my flight to Japan. I think Komal assumed Cardiff would be my nearest airport because it is in Wales like me. I don’t think I’ll bother telling him that Liverpool, Manchester, East Midlands, Leeds and Birmingham are all closer; and Cardiff is only slightly closer to home than Newcastle.

The reason.

Me, Liv and Shaun were all asked if we wanted to go to Japan as part of a study tour, with the intention of doing research for our dissertations for the MSc Disaster Management & Sustainable Development. It is being funded and all we have to do is come up with some research comparing the UK and Japan. Shaun didn’t have to because he was already well on his way with his dissertation. There was also going to be a UK conference in September which we would attend and write up the conference proceedings to. Originally we were going to Japan in June, but the UK Foreign Office wouldn’t clear insurance in Fukushima because of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster. Then we were going at the end of July, but Hideyuki (our Japanese contact) got pneumonia. By this time Shaun was basically finished and Liv had settled on doing her work on South Korea, which she visited in June and July. Komal said he would arrange for me to go in September, after the UK conference.

As exciting as the trip would be, I looked forward to it less when I found out I would be going alone.

So we got to the UK conference. I missed most of the first day because Mum got married that weekend and I was so tired I overslept. To be fair, I was trying to get up at 3am to start driving at 4am. And Liv couldn’t afford the train ticket, so Shaun frantically made notes on the conference and took audio recordings for the first day. I arrived after lunch and took over the notes for the final session. I then made notes on the next two days, when we visited Tyne & Wear Fire & Rescue HQ, a Community Fire Station, SafetyWorks, and Newcastle City Council. On the third day we travelled to London for a meeting in Cabinet Office. So we put all the notes together and we are now published. Huzzah!

During this conference I found out that Shaun and everyone else would be visiting Japan in January for a study tour. So I told Komal that I would be happy to wait until then, and that would give me time to do background reading and stuff.

So that’s where we’re up to. I’m on the study tour with everyone else, and then staying a week longer to do interviews and research for my dissertation. The students have to do presentations on their research on Monday morning. I have an interview with a Japanese MP and also senior policymakers. Nervous? Me?

Shame I didn’t use all that time between September and now to do more reading. Or more relevant reading at least.