Walk along Lake Biwa canal

My little web space has officially turned into a flower photography blog !

It’s probably due to the fact that a lot of my downtime lately has been devoted to go and smell the roses flowers, quite literally ! The cherry blossoms season is now mostly over, but I can happily say that I really enjoyed it this year. These wanderings also gave me a chance to discover a few places in Kyoto I had never walked, which is always nice.

After a few busy weeks at work, I needed to breeze some fresh air and decided to walk along the Lake Biwa canal. This aqueduct was built at the end of the 19th century, between Lake Biwa – the largest lake in Japan- and the city of Kyoto, to transport water, merchandises and people as well as to generate electricity.

Late March through mid-April, the cherry trees that border this canal are all in different states of blossom, which really makes for a dreamy walk. The day I went, the  weather was cloudy and the sky turned grayer and grayer as I was progressing, still it was so beautiful ! (And it only started to rain once I decided to put my camera back in my bag, which was just perfect !)

In March, I…

What a month it was.

It felt and still feels like it was a time out of time. Does it make sense ?

It went by so fast, and at the same time it felt like slow motion.

I don’t remember the beginning of the month, but have very clear memories from the 11th. I had just entered our apartment, went to wash my hands and started to feel dizzy. I went to drink a glass of water and still felt dizzy. Then I looked up and saw the ceiling lamp swaying gently. After a quick check, every single hanging thing was swaying. It was so very strange. I sat down and thought for a minute that it was over, but as I checked the ceiling, the lamp was still moving. More than 2 minutes had passed.

I used to live in a region with very frequent earthquakes. A few a week. Then we moved to Kyoto where I only felt 3 of them in 2 years. Usually, your common earthquake starts strong, lasts for 20, 30 seconds, sometimes just a bit more, and then stops. This one was so incredibly long. It felt more like an underground wave than an earthquake.

When it finally stopped, I knew something big must have happened because such a slow shaking over a few minutes couldn’t be a good sign. I switched the TV on to discover that every single channel was in alert mode, the tsunami alert having already been issued and the whole coastline being at risk. I stayed like that, a bit awestuck until the evening, as I watched the tragedy unfold in front of my eyes in the safety of my living room. Mails were sent, lots of them. Then mails started to come, the phone started to ring.

G. got back home in the evening, having felt the quake, but without knowing exactly what had happened. And we stayed there, stuck to the TV, for 2 days straight, trying to process the images on the screen.

That was the beginning of March in my memory.

So, a whole lot happened in March, among which

  • Friends came to live with us for a while
  • Family came to live with us for a while
  • I cooked and cooked, and cooked some more
  • I cried a lot at other people’s loss and misfortune
  • I got angry a lot at how the crisis was sometimes handled
  • I cried some more
  • I prayed a lot, asked dear friends and family to send good thoughts for the people in Tohoku
  • I was amazed and comforted by people’s good heart
  • I prepared an emergency bag. The one we have been talking about for years, and never quite got around packing.
  • I listened to a lot of French pop.
  • I caught a nasty cold just after our friends left.

But most of all, I think March got me grateful. Grateful for friends and family, for a roof above my head, a warm bed at night, a job, and drinkable tap water. Grateful also for the amazing amount of love we’ve felt. And curiously maybe, March also got me hopeful. The immediate response from people all over the world, the burst of kindness and generosity, all these reminded me of the sheer amount of good there is in the world.

We’ve just started to settle back in a more “normal” daily life. April is here, marking the beginning of the fiscal and school year. Cherry trees are in bloom. My heart is quite full and I feel…a bit restless. I suspect a lot of reorganizing and making is going to take place in April. For now, I just want to take my camera out and keep on recording this beautiful season.

(Edit: just as I was writing this post, the apartment started to shake. It turns out another big earthquake just hit Fukushima. All is fine here in Kyoto, but  my thoughts go to all the evacuees and the people in the northern regions.)

How to help Japan ?

We’re starting to settle down in the after.

A few days after the earthquake hit Japan, and multiple waves of tsunami hit the coasts, as the enormity of the disaster just started to sink in, and the nuclear crisis started to occupy the front lines, a friend commented that Japan will never be the same. At the time, we all agreed, foreigners and Japanese included. A few days later, I’m still convinced it is true. This event, with all its ramifications and consequences, will probably set the delimitation for a before and an after. Japan, as many countries, has known quite a few major disasters; this one somehow seems to set the bar for recovery higher than it’s ever been.

In the midst of this crisis though, we’ve witnessed a lot of good. Cohesion among people, genuine empathy and a strong desire to help those touched the most by the disaster. Somehow this all gives me hope that it will eventually be ok, even if the road is long.

The relief effort toward the most devastated areas is complicated by the amount of destruction and damaged lifelines, by the tsunami mud that covers everything, by the limited space to construct temporary housing etc. The list of hurdles is unfortunately really long.

A lot of people, including family and friends, have asked me what they could concretely do to help. I already mentioned ShelterBox in an earlier post, but many organizations and funds have mobilized to provide relief to the people in the most affected areas. You can find this information in many other places on the web, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to put it here as well.

  • Save the Children has also responded.“Save the Children has been working in Japan for 25 years. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Save the Children deployed emergency response teams to assess the needs of children and their families. Multiple child-friendly spaces have been established in evacuation centers in Sendai City where displaced families are staying. Child-friendly spaces provide children with an opportunity to play with other children while freeing up parents to work on the recovery. More child-friendly spaces will be set up in the coming days. (…) Donations to the Japan Earthquake Tsunami Children in Emergency Fund will exclusively be used to help provide disaster relief and support for Japanese children. In addition to immediate relief, this fund will help support long-term recovery plans to restore education and child care in Japanese communities ravaged by the disasters.”
  • Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has already sent teams to the Iwate and Miyagi prefectures. They have been treating patients in the most affected areas, notably providing much needed care for chronic diseases. Complementary teams of psychologists have also been sent to help deal with the variety of stress disorders common among evacuees.
  • The Salvation Army in Japan immediately dispersed teams following the disaster to the most severely affected areas where they are distributing basic necessities to survivors. These teams will also assess the damage to discern the next steps in their relief efforts.
  • UNICEF is also coordinating efforts to help the children of Japan.
  • The Red Cross has already contributed more than $10 millions for Japan.

A lot of Etsy shops are also participating in the relief effort.

Quite naturally, the last few posts have mostly been about what is happening right now in Japan. I will probably keep on writing about it,  because it somehow helps me process, but I’m also going to go back to talking about other things too. As crazy as it may seem (and from here, believe me, it does seem crazy) life is going on. A bit different than it was before, but it is going on.

Once again thank you for your sweet messages, they really warm my heart !

 

 

For Japan with Love

From Shelter Box :

“We’ve all seen the images and videos rolling in of the devastation from the Japan earthquake and tsunamis. While aftershocks and tsunami scares are still happening days later, the nation is in for a long long road of recovery. So far, the death toll is estimated to be 2,800. In just one town, 9,500 are missing. Not only do the survivors have to suffer the loss of loved ones, but as temperatures fall, electricity, water and food are now scarce to none. Many have tried to go back to their homes and to start picking up the pieces, only to find the tsunamis have plowed their homes down and there is literally nothing for them to come home to. Convenience stores have lines hours long and a limit of 10 items to each person. The second crisis has only begun and so many are left helpless.

We are not ones to sit and do nothing. While as much as we’d like to hop on a plane and fly there to help with the search and rescue, the immediate need for help for those in Japan is the dire need for shelter. This fundraising page is specifically geared to help with that. Utterly Engaged and Ever Ours have handpicked ShelterBox as the organization to donate to.

ShelterBox provide emergency shelter and lifesaving supplies for families around the world who are affected by disasters at the time when they need it the most. Each large green ShelterBox is tailored to a disaster but typically contains a disaster relief tent for an extended family, blankets, water storage and purification equipment, cooking utensils, a stove, a basic tool kit, a children’s activity pack and other vital items. A whole box costs $1,000 (US), so we’re hoping to raise enough to send 5 boxes.

Please join us. We know it won’t save the nation, but we strongly believe every little helps. Whatever you can contribute, we truly appreciate.”

More detail on Lydia’s Ever After.

Kyoto update : after the quake

I don’t even know how or where to begin.

After the quake, we spent the first 2-3 days in a haze of broadcasting news and Internet updates, only to realize that completely immersing ourselves in the news might not be the healthiest thing to do in the long term.

Now that almost a week has passed, it feels a bit like being caught in a bad disaster film, except we’re not just in the audience anymore. What is happening is obviously very real, but is so enormous that it lacks reality. Does it make any sense ?

My heart aches when I think about the tragedy people in the northern part of the main island have faced and are still facing. I can’t even imagine the amount of grief. Lost parents, lost children, friends, devastated towns, it all breaks my heart. I hear people talking about how they survived the first, second and third waves of the tsunami just to come back to a world where they don’t have a family anymore. Just typing these words make me choke up. Even now, I find it difficult to comprehend the severity of the crisis.

In Kyoto, everything is fine. We are starting to notice a shortage in heating oil and emergency products (like flashlights, compressed gas cylinders, etc.) but nothing that really affects our daily life for now. We definitely feel very lucky…and powerless at the same time.

Since Tuesday, a family of friends from the northern part of the island has come to live with us. I’m really glad they’re here, safe and sound. Our apartment is really tiny for more than twice the usual number of people, but it’s all OK. I hope they can relax a bit after the crazy days they have been through just after the quake.

The nuclear crisis is nowhere near to be contained and that’s the one thing we’re the most worried about, though, once again, we are far enough to not feel any immediate threat.

Thank you all for your concern and your sweet messages. In such a tension filled atmosphere, it’s really nice to know that people are thinking and caring about us.

Earthquake : we’re fine

I’m watching at my tv screen in disbelief as the extent of the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami unfold.

A little bit before 3:00 this afternoon a major earthquake hit Japan. At a magnitude of 8.9, it is the strongest earthquake ever recorded here. Although it was felt the strongest in the northern part of the main island, we felt it in Kyoto too, more than 700km away.

The first impression is that it lasted so long. I first thought I was dizzy, but it turned out the ground was just still shaking. What a strange feeling. I’m used to the normal 15-20 seconds quakes, but this one, more than a minute long, literally left me a little bit off balance.

I grabbed my computer and called my mum in France because I knew she would hear about it as soon as she wakes up. While we were talking, e-mails started to accumulate in my box. Friends and family wanting to know if we were ok. I answered them as soon as I ended the call with my mum. So thankful to have people in my life who care enough to be worried. I sent my share of worried e-mails too, while watching on tv the first waves of tsunami sweep the shores . So thankful we don’t live near the sea or a river.

So tonight, images of devastation filling my eyes and weighting on my heart, I feel incredibly thankful for my friends and family who are safe and sound, for the ones who care for me. And my heart and thoughts go to all the people who won’t be able to go home tonight, for those whose home just vanished in the waters or collapsed after the quake, for those who worry about their loved ones, for those who are scared.

Would you please join me and send a few thoughts their way ?

 

First hint of Spring

Celebrating the season is part of the tradition in Japan, and yearly festivals scattered through the months remind us of the passing of time.

I love how the blossoming of seasonal trees and plants is cause for celebration. Camellia, plum trees, cherry trees, peonies, irises, hydrangea and lotuses are all favorites, but I’m particularly fond of plum blossoms. They look somehow quite similar to cherry blossoms but when you get to know them, are actually so different. Plum blossoms are pretty, cute and fun, while the beauty of cherry blossom is more subdued, more subtle, and has lot to do with how quick they are blown away by the spring wind. I find plum blossoms are more friendly…if it makes sense !

This year, I really wanted to go plum-watching, but was not really in the mood for the hassle of a crowded shrine or temple. After a bit of research, G. and I discovered that the park of the Imperial Palace has a plum garden. We had high hopes for a quiet atmosphere since the park is so big and major plum sites are scattered elsewhere around the city. It turned out even better!

Some people were walking around, enjoying the view, but not enough to be referred to as a crowd, the weather was cold but perfect, many kinds of plum trees were blossoming gently, each displaying its own shape and colors, and its own smell. As we were walking towards the plum garden, the air around us became sweeter, kind of Spring-like, with a hint of fresh leaves thrown in the mix. It is so difficult to describe a smell, but we had an amazing time enjoying the sweet perfume of the plum trees !

Spring was definitely in the air !


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