Saturday, March 26, 2011

Staying & Helping

Why we stayed
As I write this entry, thousands of people in Yokosuka have left Japan with the "voluntary" evacuation.  While many have chosen to leave, we decided to stay.  I'm sure many people have their opinions as to what would make us stay during such a period of unknown, but we are committed as a family to stick it out here unless the evacuation were to become mandatory.  We have tried to remain calm for the sake of ourselves and our children and have not felt the fear others have felt about the situation.  If you know our family, then you know that we always have our own agenda.  We are continuing on with our lives here with work, school, and helping the people in Japan who desperately need it....because this is now our home.

There have been many people/organizations helping the Japanese in the aftermath of the earthquake/tsunami.  Here are a few examples:

 1) Yokosuka Japan Tsunami Relief Support.   So happy this is still going strong and that I can help.  Check out the link on Facebook:!/home.php?sk=group_170728166310449&notif_t=group_activity 

2) Operation Tamodachi- NAF- Atsugi.  This operation has been amazing!  They were even featured on the news.  Here's the link:

3) This letter was forwarded to me by a Japanese friend who was so grateful that the U.S. is helping her people.

A report from a Junior Officer on board the USS MUSTIN
Dated: March 17, 2011

Dear friends and family,

We are now operating off the coast of Northern Japan amidst a tremendous amount of floating debris and derelict fishing vessels. The feeling I get is one of both tragedy and hope. The place is like a floating graveyard. Pieces of people’s lives just wash by our ship. Meanwhile, those still alive ashore are fighting lack of supplies and cold weather. This morning it was snowing. Through our efforts, we are able to help many people that would otherwise be trapped and isolated from ordinary rescue efforts due to the lack of accessible roads and railways. Our helos are operating constantly to provide food, water, clothing, and blankets to people ashore. We are patrolling to identify the abandoned boats, cargo, and various other bits of debris. It’s amazing to see how MUSTIN has come together to do whatever we can to help. We are running clothing drives and asking people to donate money and the results are phenomenal. Every helo that takes off is loaded with more supplies. If only we had known before we left homeport, we could have brought more. I just went through my closet and gave away all my sweatshirts and sweatpants, extra towels, socks, t-shirts, and even my Severn blanket from high school. The ship is giving away as much supplies as we can afford.

The radiation hazard is not as much of a concern as the media has stated, however we are taking the necessary precautions to avoid any exposure. They are being extremely careful about the location of our ships and where we transit. If the plants melt down, the risk obviously increases, but for now, we are in no danger.

This has definitely been a growing experience for me. When the quake happened, I was just leaving the ship on my way home. I sat in a few hours of traffic and came home to a city with no electricity, no running trains, and no communication because cell phones were down too. People were crowded in the streets and a Japanese woman was shouting something over a loudspeaker and I had no idea what was going on. It was a little scary at first, but I lit some candles and ate the food I had left in the fridge. I was later contacted and told I needed to get back to the ship, given time to get what I needed, and here I am. Our schedule is constantly changing, but for now we will continue to do what we can with the supplies we have.

Thank you to every one of you that has sent a note and told me that we are in your thoughts and prayers. As the days continue, I realize more and more how much your support means to me and to our mission. As the days continue and the count of the numbers of lives affected increases, it becomes more and more apparent how severe a event like this is and how much effort it’s going to take to recover.

I am in complete amazement. The number of recipients of this e-mail has grown exponentially, and I quite literally have received replies from people all over the world. I have shared your thoughts and prayers with my sailors and they appreciate the support as much as I do. I am writing to give a second
update on the events off the coast of Sendai.

I stood watch this morning from 2-7 am, carefully maneuvering through the darkness so as not to hit half submerged cargo boxes and overturned boats. To add to the challenge, our visibility decreased from about 8 miles to less than one in a matter of minutes as we entered into a blizzard. And if that wasn’t enough, we still are remaining cautious of the radiation hazard a couple hundred miles away and feeling various aftershocks. In my Captain’s words, “You couldn’t write this stuff.” Every day has been an adventure.

Today our helo was vectored off to an isolated hospital with SOS showing on the rooftop. This hospital contained over 200 patients still alive and in desperate need of supplies. We delivered food, water, clothing, and blankets. The pilots are about to make a final run for the day right now and are calling for any last things we can bare to give up. I managed to grab another jacket from my closet and my old UGG boots. I figure I don’t need much more than coveralls and a pair of black boots to live on a ship.

A major concern for us out here on the water is the people we left behind. The Navy has around 25,000 people living in the Yokosuka area. As a preemptive measure, they have just begun voluntary evacuation of families from Japan due to the uncertainty of the nuclear plants and the potential for the winds to shift and spread radiation to the south. They also are feeling the many aftershocks from the initial earthquake, including a six that occurred just across Tokyo Bay from the base. For me, I only have to worry about the state of my household goods, for most of my sailors, they have a lot more on the line.

Please keep all of these people affected in your prayers, from those suffering from injury and loss, to those isolated, yet struggling to survive, and finally for the Sailors and their families who want to help, but must care for their own at the same time.

Many of you have asked how you can help and for now, I don’t have much information as we are only doing what we can from the ship. However, people from our ship are donating money to the American Red Cross who has been working with the Japanese Red Cross to tailor to their specific needs. I will try to find a point of contact in Japan that can provide more information on donations.

Again, thank you for your support, your prayers, your pictures, and the notes you have sent. I am very thankful to have such an awesome group of people to lift me up.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Another update

We went to a Town Hall meeting last night to listen to an Admiral field questions about our current situation.  According to what we learned, we are in no imminent danger due to the radiation here.  The levels are within normal range (although they do become elevated in the rain...which it had been doing for the last couple of days).  We were also told the U.S. and Japanese governments are monitoring, and testing the radiation levels daily.  Good news for those of us still residing in Japan.  Iodine tablets became available to us on Monday.  This is strictly for precautionary measures, and there has been no order for us to take them.  My mom even has some on hand since she lives very close to a Nuclear Power Plant in California.  

The kids returned to school yesterday.  While many families have left, or are still leaving, we were reassured that school would remain open to teach the children that are planning to remain here.  My youngest son had to go into another class since he only had 5 kids in his class.  Luckily, they have 8 classes in his grade.  It will take some adjusting to, but hopefully we can just make it through this school year.  This will be the school year they will always remember.........full of transitions!

Interesting article from an American living in Japan during the current crisis:

Amongst all the chaos here, there are amazing plants and flowering trees blossoming.

*****Messages from our Japanese friends/neighbors*****


How  are  you ?  I  hope  you  and  your  family  are fine. 
I  miss  you  and  class. 
I  hope  we  will  see  you  on  this  coming  Friday  but  I  still  waiting  the  message  from  Family  support  center  whether  we  can  have  the  class  or  not.
After  the  earthquake  and  the  trouble  of  power  plant  in  Fukushima  everyone  are  nervous.  I  hope  everything  are  getting  move  forward.
Take  care  and look  forward  to  seeing  you.

Arigatou Gozaimasu Shannon!!! Looking forward to get together with you when you back ♥ I am so glad I met you!!!   (She thought we did the "voluntary" evacuation...but I told her we were still here.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

3rd Update

I've been wanting to do another update but there has been too much information we've been given and it has been changing daily.  We continue to try to keep a good attitude and are still safe.  I'm just grateful that we live out in town because the Japanese are continuing with their daily lives.  They are concerned with the effects of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear power plant, but continue to hold their heads high.  They are remarkable people and we're fortunate to be in a country when they are not only brave, but concerned about how we Amerika-jin are doing.

Some families have chosen to leave the base on their own, while others are choosing to "voluntarily" evacuate.  The process has been slow and some military dependents who received orders to return stateside have chosen to cancel their orders.  We are not choosing to "voluntarily" evacuate at this time.  If the evacuation becomes "mandatory" we will go to my mom's house in California.

The schools decided to close last Friday, and are still closed today (3/21).  We've heard that school may resume tomorrow.  It will be good to have the kids back at school.  They need to be educated and kept busy during this time.

We have also kept ourselves occupied a few days helping with the winter clothes drive for the victims up North.  There have been numerous shipments delivered to the devastated area via boat, helicopter, and truck.  So rewarding.  I'm glad that the boys and I were able to participate in this incredible mission.  Thank you to those of you back home who have figured out ways to help the people of Japan.  

Radiation Levels (we are under Kanagawa):

Miscellaneous sites we use for current information:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

2nd Local Update

Below is another link that provides good information to us here in Japan.  It even gives a readout of the radiation levels in every Prefecture (we're in Kanagawa) as of yesterday.  We have been advised to limit our time outdoors, but work and school are still in session.  The evacuation area has increased to 50 miles today (U.S. Embassy is suggesting this), but Yokosuka is over 200 miles from the Nuclear Power Plant.

We have recently been given information on putting together a 72 hour Emergency Bag.  This isn't a bad idea, even if you aren't confronting a crisis.  You can never have enough Emergency Preparedness training or knowledge.

We are trying to remain calm and optimistic for ourselves and our family.  We are also trying to limit what we are seeing or reading because it truly doesn't help at times such as these.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Local Update

Train Stations that are open are on limited service. 3/15
Closed Train Station.  3/15

Shell gas station closed.  Gas shortage.

Its been 5 days since the earthquake and we've been feeling some effects from the disaster.  Here is a local update:

There have been scheduled blackouts since yesterday.  We are grouped according to where we live.  Today our blackout was from 1520-1820.  Citizens have also been requested to minimize their use of electricity (and gas) during the non-blackout period.  The Power Plants damaged in the earthquake produced a lot of energy for Japan.  If everyone does their part to reduce energy usage, then the plants will have time to cool down.  We've been scaling back on our heat and using our lights considerably less.  

Limited Train Service
Certain trains are still not running on a their regular schedules in our area. Yesterday (3/14) , there were so many Japanese walking, who normally ride the train.  We had heard that the trains were running, but when I went by one of the stations, it was already closed for the day.  It made for an interesting  bicycle commute from town to home since the Japanese got off work 2 hours early.  I ride through 5-6 tunnels in the pedestrian walkway.  I must of said "gomenasai" or "sorry" a zillion times.  Luckily the trains are running a little more regular today.  I have noticed that the local Japan Railway (or JR Line) station close to the base has been closed for the last two days.

P.S.  Since writing this portion last night, I can tell today that the Keikyu Line trains are running on a regular (or close to it) schedule.  This is a good sign!
    There has been a gas shortage since the earthquake.  On base you could only get 10 gallons of gas over the weekend.  They are completely out today, but expect a delivery tomorrow.  In town I have seen gas stations closed, or open with a lineup of cars 1/2 mile long.  Its been advised to not drive at this time. 

    I know that the media has been focusing on the potential radiation risks from the Power Plant in Fukushima.  People have been evacuated that live close to the plant, but we are quite a distance away (5 hours or so) from that area.  For precautionary measures it was advised for us to stay indoors yesterday (the kids had to stay indoors for the afternoon portion of their school day), but I have not heard an update today.  I have faith in the professionals who are closely monitoring this situation.

    There continues to be numerous aftershocks since Friday.  I was just saying last night how I hadn't felt any yesterday...knock on wood.  Well, last night when most of us were sleeping, our cell phone earthquake alarms went off at 10:26p.m.  I woke to the glass shaking, and to some rumbling.  Justin could feel the ground under him on the main floor moving for awhile after the aftershock.  I've read that aftershocks are common after such a large earthquake.  We're ready for them to stop.

    Ways We Are Helping
    There are have been many ways to help with this cause.  The Red Cross has been taking food, clothing, hygiene and cash donations on base.  The Spouses Club I belong to has also started a winter clothes and personal care (including diapers) drive for the victims.  The club's organizer has put the word out so that anyone who wants to come sort and pack boxes over the next week is welcome to help.

    Thanks again for all the well wishes and concern.  We have people round-the-clock looking out for our safely.

    Informative Websites:

    Saturday, March 12, 2011

    Earthquake Hits Japan

    The road was shortly cordoned off.
    Where I was during the earthquake.
    Earthquake alarms sent messages to our phones.

    Although we are geographically living in a place that is used to, or prone to earthquakes, its something to experience one in person. The large 8.9 earthquake hit north of us up in Sendai just before 3:00p.m. on 3/11/11.

    Before the quake, we were just going about our day.  My husband was at work, my oldest was at a friend's house in one of the Towers, my middle son was stretching for track in the school gym, and my youngest was with a friend who lives close to his school, and I was visiting with my neighbor from Bremerton and her young son at a park near the water on base.  I was sitting on part of the play structure talking to my oldest (on the phone) when he said, "Do you feel that?" My immediate thought was "oh no".  The ground was shaking, the waves in the water were crazy, the lamp posts were swaying and the metal canopy above the play structure was shaking. I've heard rumors that it was a few minutes long.....but it seemed to go on forever. 

    I think in any emergency situation the immediate need to contact loved ones is human nature.  I heard that the cell phones were down after the quake, so I felt so frantic not being able to reach everyone here.  Thank goodness Lee Ann was with me.  She was very helpful and calm.  I must say that I didn't relax until about 2 hours after the quake....when I finally heard from my oldest.  He and a friend headed to a park out in town that's on higher ground.  Good thinking since there was a tsunami warning for our area through 2200 last night. 

    I'm so grateful that we had the car with us yesterday.  Its not a commuter car, but we had it on base because of all the evening activities that were supposed to take place.  If we didn't have the car, we would've been walking home like everyone else since the trains stopped running.  The traffic was backed up and it took us almost an hour to go less than 3 miles.  Once we were home, we didn't notice any damage to the house, or our neighborhood.  We are on top of a hill, so we felt safe from a tsunami.

    We were able to post on Facebook, and email loved ones back home yesterday.  Thank you for all the love and support you sent our way.  I'm grateful we were safe, but am completely saddened by the devastation up to the north of us.  The media footage is horrific and heartbreaking.  We send out hope and strength to all the Japanese as they prepare to move forward after yesterday's tragedy.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    Riding The Trains (Densha)

    Platform "2" to Shinagawa.
    Train Timetables.  Trains start running at 0500 to just before Midnight.
    Yokohama Station- busy place especially on a Sunday!
    Our family had little experience riding trains until we came to Japan.  We'd used them a bit when we lived in San Diego, but overall we were novices to this "new" way of commuting.  At first, just thinking about purchasing a train ticket was challenging.  We've made huge progress since being here, but it hasn't been free from trial and error.  Here's a little rundown of how to get onto the correct train.

    1) At the ticket machine there is an English button that will walk you through everything.  Most of the time there is a map above the kiosk that will tell you how much it will cost to where you are going.  In the event that we weren't sure or that the map was solely in Japanese, we just put in a certain amount of Yen and did a fare adjustment at another Kiosk once we were at our destination.

    2) Once you ticket spits out of the machine then you walk through the turnstile.  Put your ticket into the slot and it will pop up at the other end.  Grab it before you head up to the train.  I forgot to grab my ticket once and had to ask the ticket booth attendant (that was interesting to try to explain) to fetch it for me.  I'm happy that it was in the lock box at the turnstile and that someone was able to help me.

    3) Now, after you have your tickets you need to figure out which train to take.  The trains will show the "final" destination on large signs so that will guide you to the correct platform.  Once on the platform, there is usually (unless at a smaller station where you will just look at the timetables shown in blue and pink on the wall) a digital train schedule that will show times, platforms and destinations.  The trains that say "local" or also known as "black trains" will stop at every stop until the final destination.  To shorten your trip you can use the red or green trains..or express trains.  This is a good option if you're heading up to Yokohama or up to Tokyo.  The trains run from around 0500 to just before Midnight.

    Once you've made it to your final destination, the trick is always how do I make it back?  Just as long as you back track, make sure to have a phrase book handy, get an English map of the train systems if possible (they have them on base) and of course just ask for help.  Language barrier or not, someone has always been willing to lead us into the right direction.


    • Turn off your phone, or use manner mode on the trains.
    • Get a Pasmo or Suica card.  
    • Do not stay on the train when everyone else has gotten off.  This means its probably at the end of  its route.  We did this once and someone helped us get onto another train
    • Do not blare your headphones on the train.  
    • Avoid taking the train around 9am during the weekday if possible.  This is rush hour and you will be standing, or crammed into the train.
    • Make sure you don't get too relaxed or into a good conversation and end up missing your stop.  This happened to me and a friend just yesterday. 

    Saturday, March 5, 2011

    The Language Barrier

    Probably one of the most difficult things about adjusting to our new home has been the language barrier.  We came to Japan equip with 2 years of High School Japanese (Justin) , Japanese phrase books, a little bit of Rosetta Stone, travel guides, and vast information from people currently living in Japan, or who had lived here in the past.  While all this information was invaluable we've found communicating our basic daily needs a bit  interesting and sometimes challenging.  Just  knowing how or what to say is something we've always taken for granted back at home....not here.  We rejoice when we get the correct thing we ordered on the menu, onto the correct train, or when we can say a certain combination of words to get our point across.

    We are fortunate that we have so many resources available for us to learn the language.  Not only are there  free conversation classes during the week, but there is a bi-monthly Saturday class, and minimal fee classes both on and off base.  There is just so much to chose from depending on your interest and skill level.  Currently, three of us have been taking a 10 week conversational class (I'm doing it during the day, while the other two are taking the night class).  This has given us basic information we can use when shopping, eating out, needing directions, basic greetings, etc.  Its also given us the opportunity to network which I find extremely useful being new to the area. 

    This week I was able to go with a friend to sit in on an intensive language class taught out in town.  We wanted to see what it was like since the next semester is starting in April.  I was very impressed with what I saw.  The instructor spoke Japanese to the students plus the book they are using is written in Japanese.  All the students in the class looked like they were able to follow along and understand what was being asked of them.  I signed up for the class which will be finished shortly after the kids are out of school for the summer.  I'm grateful for the Japanese people who are willing to donate their time and energy in helping us Amerika-jin integrate into their society.

    Here are a couple favorite reference books we've been using: