Hello again. A few things to cover before getting started:
I’m fine. The earthquake/tsunami which hit Japan on March 11th was definitely felt where I live, but I live well outside of the disaster areas. I’m also far from the troubled Fukushima Nuclear Power plants and it’s mandatory evacuation zones. Although Niigata Prefecture is Fukushima Prefecture’s neighbor, there was relatively little damage sustained. The Iiyama Line, a route connecting Niigata and Nagano Prefectures, suffered a partial collapse, closing the line until it’s repaired. It’s expected to be reopened sometime around the end of the month.
All other lines in Niigata Pref. continue to run, some with limited services. The seasonal Banestsu Monogatari steam train running to and from Aizu-Wakamatsu in Fukushima has indefinitely been suspended. Other trains which often serve tourism purposes have also been cancelled for the time being. Although inconvenient, it still pales in comparison to the extend of damage caused on the east coast of Japan.
The Joban Line, which runs from Tokyo to Sendai, runs along the coast for most of the journey. Needless to say, much of it was devastated.
The Yamada Line, which runs from Sendai to Miyako, Iwate Pref., and the Kita-Riasu Line, going from Miyako toward Hachinohe, Aomori Pref., was also heavily damaged, if not completely washed away.
In the hours after the disaster, numerous trains went missing and were swept away from the tsunami. There are stories of passengers leaving the train and leaving for higher ground, but I haven’t been able to find information on everything.
The Tohoku Shinkansen, also sustained damage to its power lines and support pillars on hundreds of spots along it’s 675 km route. Consequently, about 75% of the line was closed for inspection and repairs, which is a shame since the new E5 series shinkansen was only in service for about a week before the disaster happened. Sendai Station also had a lot of structural damage. You can see the extent of it here (fast-forward about 59 seconds in):
Although the line has been reopening in sections, its expected to continue full service on April 20th. Remember, this was a freakin’ 9.0 magnitude earthquake. The quickness of repairing not only the shinkansen line, but all other lines has been nothing short of amazing. Freight lines were also quickly reopened in order to transport relief goods to the affected areas.
So, I’ve been thinking. How can I help? I’ve already donated money, but I wish there was more I can do…
…and then the answer came to me. Continue to travel. Japan is amazing, and while I’m here, I want to continue to see as much of it as I can, whether it be by rail, car, bicycle, piggy-back a drunk businessman, whatever. From what the numbers are saying, foreign tourism is way down. Not only that, even those already living here are a bit timid to start traveling to and fro again.
Despite the continuing aftershocks, and the uncertainty of the nuclear “crisis,” I don’t think thats a reason to stay home. I see continuing to sightsee as a win-win for both Japan and myself. The money I spend goes right back into the economy, and the memories I receive are priceless. The entire Tohoku region still has incredible places to visit, and I’m still determined to visit it someday.
Japan WILL recover, and I hope to contribute to the recovery effort as much as everyone else. It’s the least I can do.
Finally, some things related to the site. I know it’s been a while since the last update, but there are plenty of things to write about, so expect some new posts throughout the week. First, I’ll be taking the train out to Joetsu City tomorrow to do a little cherry blossom partying. Also, Golden Week holidays is upon us at the end of this month, which means a trip to Kyoto and Hiroshima!! Finally, I’ll update about my trip to Okinawa last month, including a ride on the Okinawa monorail.
Until then, see you next time!